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Environment minister retracts radiation remarks, refuses to resign

Environment Minister Tamayo Marukawa answers reporters' questions in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward, on the evening of Feb. 12, 2016. (Mainichi)

Environment Minister Tamayo Marukawa has retracted her controversial remarks that denied the scientific grounds for the radiation criteria set after the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant disaster, while ruling out the possibility of stepping down.

At a press conference on Feb. 12, Marukawa announced the withdrawal of her earlier comments in which she said "there is no scientific evidence" for the government's long-term goal of lowering the annual additional radiation exposure dose to 1 millisievert or less through decontamination and other efforts.

Her retraction, which came five days after she made the remarks during a speech in Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture, marks a major about-face as she had earlier practically denied making such comments, on the grounds that she had no recollection of them.

"I would like to extend my sincere apologies once again to disaster victims, including those in Fukushima," Marukawa said on Feb. 12. However, she stopped short of offering her resignation as a Cabinet minister.

"I've concluded that I should retract my remarks in order to maintain my relationship of trust with people in Fukushima. It is my responsibility to work to live up to the wishes of Fukushima," the environment minister said.

Marukawa apparently surmised any further denial of her own remarks would aggravate her relations with the Fukushima Prefectural Government and other disaster-hit local governments, while opposition parties were eager to grill her further in the Diet. By retracting her statements the minister aimed to defuse the situation.

According to reports by the Shinano Mainichi Shimbun, Marukawa made the remarks during a meeting of House of Councillors members of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party on Feb. 7, where she said the government's long-term radiation goal was "decided by the then environment minister without any scientific grounds" -- accusing then Environment Minister Goshi Hosono of the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ). In response, the DPJ demanded Marukawa step down from her post.

Later at a Diet session and on other occasions, Marukawa effectively denied making such remarks, saying, "I don't remember using such phrases. I'm sorry my point didn't get across due to insufficient explanation."

On Feb. 12, however, Marukawa said she came to believe she made those remarks after examining a note recording her remarks and a testimony by an attendee of the Feb. 7 meeting. She then telephoned Fukushima Gov. Masao Uchibori to offer an apology.

The long-term radiation goal, which was introduced during the reign of the DPJ government, provides that decontamination work and other efforts should be carried out to lower the annual radiation exposure dose for the general public at normal times to 1 millisievert or less after deducting exposure to natural radiation.

Marukawa said on Feb. 12, "The government will work together to achieve that goal," emphasizing that the current administration will uphold the long-range goal.

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