Sanae Takaichi, policy chief of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's Liberal Democratic Party, on Tuesday tried to clarify her earlier remarks that drew criticism for seeming to make light of the nuclear disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant in 2011.
In a speech in Kobe on Monday in which she called for the resumption of atomic power generation in Japan, where most reactors remain offline due to safety concerns, Takaichi said, "No one has died (in nuclear power plant accidents) including the Fukushima plants which suffered devastating explosions" after the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami in eastern Japan.
"So, we have little choice but to utilize (nuclear reactors) while ensuring maximum safety," she added.
Takaichi told reporters Tuesday, "If I have caused misunderstanding, it may be that my way of phrasing things was bad."
"I am aware that there are people who died due to poor health (after the disaster), even if it was not actually caused by radiation exposure, and others who killed themselves after losing their jobs and livelihood," she said.
Takaichi added she is not supporting the restart of nuclear power generation simply because there had been no deaths in the Fukushima plant disaster.
Radiation fears forced some 150,000 people to flee their homes in Fukushima Prefecture as of May, according to the government. The crisis has also seriously damaged farming and fisheries businesses in surrounding areas.
Takaichi's remarks sparked criticism from opposition parties, as well as from some lawmakers within the LDP and government.
"I believe politicians must be very careful with their own words so to avoid causing misunderstandings," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters.
But the top government spokesman also defended Takaichi, saying that some media reports had played up her remarks without taking the context into account.