LDP policy chief apologizes for remarks on nuclear disaster

The policy chief of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's Liberal Democratic Party apologized Wednesday over her remarks that drew criticism for making light of the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster.

"I retract (the remarks) and offer my apology," said Sanae Takaichi, who said on Monday that Japan should keep using atomic power while pointing out there was no death directly linked to the crisis.

The remarks sparked criticism from both ruling and opposition camps with the opposition parties urging her to resign as LDP policy chief and a lawmaker.

Takaichi told reporters at the party's headquarters that she has left the decision of whether she should resign as the LDP policy chief to "the hands of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe."

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said at a press conference that Abe wants Takaichi to stay on as policy chief, given that she has already backtracked on her remarks and apologized.

"The prime minister told me over the phone that he wanted Ms. Takaichi to be careful about what she says, and continue to soundly fulfill her role as policy chief. And I told her about that," Suga said.

The row over her remarks, however, could negatively affect Abe's position for restarting nuclear power reactors, most of which remain offline nationwide due to safety concerns.

In a speech in Kobe on Monday in which she called for the resumption of atomic power generation in Japan, Takaichi said, "No one has died" in the crisis following the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami in eastern Japan, adding, "So, we have little choice but to utilize (nuclear reactors) while ensuring maximum safety."

After facing fierce criticism, Takaichi tried to clarify her remarks Tuesday, saying, "My way of phrasing things was bad." But On Wednesday, she even faced protest from a Cabinet member.

"I'm very angry," Masako Mori, minister in charge of declining birthrate, told reporters after meeting with Takaichi. Mori, a House of Councillors member, is elected from Fukushima Prefecture.

The LDP chapter in Fukushima submitted a letter of protest to the party's leadership, saying Takaichi "is not fully aware of the current situation in Fukushima and lacks consideration" for people affected by the crisis.

The letter also noted many people remain evacuated due to radiation fears, and that more than 1,400 people have died for reasons related to the disaster, including those who committed suicide due to negative mental health.

Radiation fears forced more than 150,000 people to flee their homes in Fukushima Prefecture as of May, the government said, while seriously damaging farming and fisheries industries in surrounding areas.