Sept. 12 (Bloomberg) -- Yukio Edano, the face of Japan’s response to the March 11 earthquake and nuclear disaster, was named head of the ministry responsible for regulating atomic power in the country.
Edano was appointed after Yoshio Hachiro stepped down from the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry on Sept. 10, following criticism for describing the evacuation areas around the wrecked Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear plant as “towns of death.” Hachiro also joked about radiation.
As chief of staff in the last government Edano led daily briefings on the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crisis, the world’s worst since Chernobyl 25 years ago.
“Picking Edano was inevitable because there are no other people as well informed on the nuclear crisis,” Shinichi Nishikawa, a professor of politics at Meiji University, said today by phone before Edano’s appointment was confirmed.
Since breaking the Liberal Democratic Party’s half-century grip on power two years ago, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda’s Democratic Party of Japan has chosen three prime ministers and four finance chiefs, while other Cabinet officers have been forced to step down for inappropriate remarks.
Hachiro came under criticism for his comments and actions after a visit to Fukushima on Sept. 8 to inspect progress in recovery from the nuclear crisis.
At one point he rubbed the sleeve of his protective coverall against a reporter saying, “Do you want some radiation?” local media including the Nikkei newspaper reported Sept. 10.
“Disappointed, that is the only word I can say,” Goshi Hosono, minister in charge of the response to the Fukushima nuclear crisis, told reporters yesterday when asked about Hachiro’s resignation. “We don’t have time for these kinds of setbacks as we try to contain the accident and set the new energy policy.”
Noda’s predecessor Naoto Kan was criticized for comments by Ryu Matsumoto, who quit one week into the job of reconstruction minister after publicly chastising the governor of tsunami- devastated Miyagi prefecture for being late to a meeting.
Matsumoto ordered the media present not to report the incident, before a video of the exchange was posted on the Internet.
The earthquake and tsunami caused the meltdown of three reactors at the Fukushima plant, leading to radiation leakage and the evacuation of almost 160,000 people in a 20-kilometer (12-mile) zone. The earthquake and tsunami left almost 20,000 people dead or missing.
Nuclear power provided about 30 percent of the electricity in the world’s third-biggest economy before March 11. About 80 percent of Japan’s 54 reactors are now offline, with more shutting for scheduled maintenance in the months ahead.
Noda has tried to convince the public that despite the Fukushima crisis, atomic power is needed to save the economy.
Industry leaders have said they may shift production overseas if power supplies aren’t stable, threatening an economic recovery. Japan’s gross domestic product shrank at an annualized 2.1 percent rate in the three months ended June 30, the Cabinet office said Sept. 9.
With the majority of opinion polls showing Japan’s public opposes nuclear power, Noda needs to convince his electorate so- called stress tests of reactors will make them safe to restart.
Sixty-eight percent of respondents to an Asahi newspaper poll published on Aug. 8 said they wanted Kan’s successor to continue his policy of phasing out atomic energy.
Noda’s approval rating was 65 percent in a poll published Sept. 4 by the Yomiuri newspaper, the country’s biggest. The Nikkei newspaper and Kyodo News rated his popularity at 67 percent and 63 percent respectively. None of the polls gave a margin of error.
“Japan has had sloppy trade ministers who lack leadership,” said Minoru Morita, a Tokyo-based independent political commentator. “That post is responsible for ending the nuclear disaster and boosting the economy. We need strong leadership there.”
--With assistance from Takashi Hirokawa in Tokyo. Editors: Aaron Sheldrick, John Brinsley
To contact the reporters on this story: Chisaki Watanabe in Tokyo at firstname.lastname@example.org; Mariko Yasu in ?? at email@example.com
To contact the editors responsible for this story: Teo Chian Wei at firstname.lastname@example.org; Peter Langan at email@example.com