TOKYO, June 19 -- Japanese Environment Minister Nobuteru Ishihara on Thursday officially retracted insensitive remarks he made earlier this week insinuating that ultimately local officials in Fukushima Prefecture would be swayed by money when it came to agreeing whether to accept the government's plans to build storage units to contain massive amounts of radioactive soil accumulated since the 2011 nuclear disaster there.
But his retraction and reiteration of his apology were deemed insufficient by opposition parties, including the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), who jointly submitted a censure motion against Ishihara to the upper house of parliament Thursday.
The opposition parties also plan to submit a no-confidence motion against Ishihara to the lower house on Friday, according to party officials.
Ishihara's retraction, deemed insufficient by the opposition parties, came following an apology made Tuesday after his remarks infuriated officials and residents of Fukushima Prefecture, some Cabinet members, and, opposition party members who have called for Ishihara's resignation.
"I retract my comments and apologize for causing misunderstanding as the remarks were not made in a dignified manner," Ishihara said during a parliamentary session earlier Thursday, during which he was severely grilled by opposition party members as to the exact meaning of his remarks and the sentiments behind them.
But while Ishihara reiterated his apology and officially retracted his comments, he said he had no intention of relinquishing his position, despite opposition parties agreeing during an upper house session that they will jointly submit a censure motion against Ishihara.
Ishihara maintained, however, that despite his monumental gaffe and threats of a censure mention, he plans to continue to carry out his role as environment minister.
Ishihara's gaffe involves comments he made to reporters Monday stating that the lengthy negotiations between the central and local government of Fukushima would ultimately be concluded by " the monetary value" of accepting the central government's proposal to build temporary storage tanks for the contaminated waste, as local municipalities earmarked to house them would stand to benefit financially.
Ishihara, the son of author and former Tokyo governor Shintaro Ishihara -- himself no stranger to a slew of public indiscretions - - tried to clarify his remarks and limit the damage by saying that he meant to say that only once the local authorities accept the proposal, can any compensation terms be discussed.
But having being given the opportunity to retract his comments, he told reporters Tuesday that while he understood his comments were insensitive and could've been misinterpreted by local officials and the public in Fukushima Prefecture, he would not retract them as they were made at an informal news gathering and not at an official news conference.
Fukushima Governor Yuhei Sato was quick to denounce Ishihara's comments, saying that they were "regrettable" and "trampled" on the Fukushima residents' longing for their hometown, which was central to the March 2011 triple-meltdown of the Daiichi nuclear complex there, following a massive earthquake-triggered tsunami that led to the worst global nuclear crisis since Chernobyl in 1986.
Reconstruction Minister Takumi Nemoto, who is in charge of reconstruction of the areas hardest hit by the earthquake and nuclear disaster, also slammed Ishihara's comments, urging him to provide more clarification.
Since last December the central government and local Fukushima government have been at loggerheads over the construction of interim containment units for the contaminated soil, with the central government pushing to nationalize 16 square kilometers of land around the crippled Daiichi nuclear facility, operated by Tokyo Electric Power Co., with an aim for them to be operational early next year.
Local officials, according to sources close to the matter, have said they believe the storage facilities will not be temporary, despite the central government saying it will relocate them outside the prefecture in the future, and that Ishihara's remarks only serve to give the impression the residents likely to be affected in the towns near the crippled plant are only interested in receiving compensation and damages from the central government.
While both local and central governments understand that huge amounts of money will be needed to continue to tackle a myriad of issues stemming from the nuclear catastrophe, including decontamination work and compensation costs, Ishihara suggesting that by the government merely doling out cash all the problems will be solved, has been a huge insult to the local people in the disaster-hit area, observers said Thursday.
The consensus among local residents in Fukushima Prefecture is that money can't bring back what has been lost.
"Money can't replace the daily fear of radiation, contaminated crop fields, the smiles on children's faces and, certainly, money can't bring back the lives lost," Miyuki Hanaoka, a mother of two who lost her husband in the 2011 disaster, told local media.
"Ishihara should be ashamed of himself and step down as environment minister," the Fukushima resident said, adding that her thoughts echoed those of the entire prefecture.