丸川環境相 撤回しても残る「軽さ」

--The Asahi Shimbun, Feb. 16
(社説)丸川環境相 撤回しても残る「軽さ」
EDITORIAL: Marukawa’s gaffe about Fukushima heightens doubts about Cabinet's aptitude

Environment Minister Tamayo Marukawa caused a stir by claiming the government had no scientific grounds for its radiation decontamination target around the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant.

Her comment came in a Feb. 7 speech on the government’s long-term goal of reducing radiation levels near the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant to an annual dose of 1 millisievert or less.

“There are people who worry about radiation no matter how much the levels have been lowered, people who might well be described, appropriately or not, as an ‘anti-radiation camp,’” Marukawa said. “While such people were making noise, the environment minister at that time decided (on the target) without any scientific grounds.”

Her remarks were reported the following day by The Shinano Mainichi Shimbun, a local newspaper.

Decontaminating areas polluted with radioactive materials and curbing additional exposure to radiation is one of the top policy priorities for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Cabinet.

Nearly five years since the nuclear disaster unfolded, decontamination efforts alone appear unlikely to achieve the long-term target in some areas. Residents from these areas have no hope of returning to home soon.

The Democratic Party of Japan-led government set the long-term decontamination goal based on recommendations of the International Commission on Radiological Protection. The panel recommended annual doses in the range of “1 to 20 millisievert” as a yardstick for recovery from the accident.

The government’s decision to adopt the stricter end of the recommended range for the decontamination target reflected strong demand for absolute safety and security among communities in the affected areas.

Responding to residents’ desire to return home as soon as possible while pursuing the tough long-term goal has proved a formidable challenge.

The goal, determined after considering a complicated mix of factors, has forced the government to continue making strenuous efforts while learning from mistakes.

If Marukawa didn’t know this background, she should be accused of failing to do her homework. Or did she know all these facts and was simply trying to demean the previous DPJ-led government?

Even more troubling is how she flip-flopped in replying to questions about her remark.

The environment minister initially responded to questions posed at the Diet and from reporters by repeatedly saying she had “no recollection of using such wording” in the speech.

On the morning of Feb. 12, however, she changed her account and admitted having made the comments. She retracted the remarks in the evening that day.

Did she really forget making the remarks? Or did she bet that people would eventually forget the matter if she kept saying she had no memory of saying such things?

In any case, Marukawa’s remarks raise serious questions about her aptitude for her job.

However, Marukawa is not the only Cabinet member who has made a verbal blunder indicating a disturbing carelessness in speech.

In a Feb. 9 news conference, Aiko Shimajiri, the state minister for Okinawa and Northern Territories affairs, could not read the kanji characters for the Habomai group of islets, and asked her secretary how the characters should be read. The Habomai islets are part of the Northern Territories, a chain of islands claimed by Japan but occupied by Russia.

Abe himself recently made an embarrassing verbal error.
In an Internet program of his Liberal Democratic Party, Abe misnamed the 2014 Stockholm agreement in which North Korea promised a fresh investigation into the fates of Japanese citizens it had abducted decades earlier. Abe mistakenly called it the Oslo Agreement, a 1993 peace accord between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization.

Nobody is free from slips of the tongue or misunderstandings.

But the above-mentioned errors are serious because dealing with the nuclear disaster, tackling the territorial dispute with Russia and resolving the North Korea abduction issue are important challenges placed high on the Abe Cabinet’s policy agenda.

These gaffes could call into question not only the ministers’ qualifications for their jobs but also the Cabinet’s stances toward the issues.

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