“We faced the threat of having to evacuate 30 million people from Tokyo, Yokohama, the capital area, because of the accident at the Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant,” Kan told a group of about 20 first-term DPJ lawmakers.
“Compared to thermal energy, the impact of a nuclear reactor accident is just too great, so I had to shut down the reactors.”
Kan also foresaw a backlash against his July 13 speech urging Japan to end its dependence on nuclear energy by comparing his current position to his political background as a grassroots campaigner.
“As a citizen activist, it’s easy to think of the future, but as prime minister you can only think of the here and now, so it’s really tough,” the prime minister said.
Kan received little backing from his party, however.
DPJ Secretary-General Kazuya Okada was quick to distance himself from Kan. “Of course it wasn’t the party,” Okada said. “It was a statement as prime minister.”
Former Foreign Affairs Minister Seiji Maehara used Kan’s stance to fire a veiled shot at the unpopular prime minister, who has pledged to resign following passage through the Diet of a series of bills related to reconstruction of Tohoku and the budget needed to carry out the rebuilding.
“His direction is correct,” Maehara, a Kan critic within the DPJ, said. “Now we need a tight system in place to bring it about.”
Maehara supporter Takashi Kii was less circumspect in his criticism. “The prime minister’s policy contained absolutely nothing that has been discussed within the party,” he said.
Azuma Koshiishi, head of the DPJ in the House of Councilors, was slightly more supportive. “He’s got to resign from the prime minister’s position, so there’s nothing strange about him wanting to express his thoughts to the people,” Koshiishi said.
Business leaders took a much harsher line. “His speech invited the misunderstanding that a shift to using renewable energies can be made in the short-term, and his statements were rash,” Yasuchika Hasegawa, secretary-general of the Japan Association of Corporate Executives, said.
Jiro Ushio, head of the Japan Productivity Center, was also critical of Kan’s anti-nuclear declaration. “What stands out for me are those who can’t see anything other than what’s immediately before them. People with authority should consider the negative effects of what they say before they say it,” Ushio said.
Japan Business Federation (Keidanren) Chairman Hiromasa Yonekura was dismissive of the prime minister and called on the national and local governments to direct their attention to reviving the disaster-stricken areas.