Political Fallout of Japan's Tsunami Disaster

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Audio Transcript:

Lisa Mullins: I'm Lisa Mullins, and this is the World. Co-production of the BBC World Service PRI NWGBH in Boston. Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan survived a No Confidence vote in parliament today, but only after he promised to step down at a later date. Prime Minister Kan said he'd resign once he contained the crisis at the Fukushima power plant. Before calling it quits, the Prime Minister also wants to lay the groundwork for reconstruction from the earthquake and tsunami that devastated Northeast Japan back in March. The World's Marco Werman is in Tokyo. He says the Japanese leader has been under intense political pressure.

Marco Werman: Kan's main opposition party, the LDP, I think smelled blood in the water, and they felt they could push him aside while he's not doing so well managing multiple crises. Because there are multiple crises. Tsunami victims in the north living in evacuation centers. Some of them aren't getting into temporary housing fast enough. Many are angry that they've been forced evacuated from towns and villages in the radiation exclusion zone. And Kan and TEPCO, the utility that owns and operates the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant, have been sending mixed signal about progress with the plant, and that's led to misunderstanding among the public and fear. Then the final straw this week was TEPCO announcing that the nuclear crisis wouldn't be solved until next year earliest. And Kan, I guess, was able to sidestep the No Confidence vote in part by saying he'll resign once the nuclear crisis gets resolved.

Mullins: Yeah, and he has indeed then. The Prime Minister bought himself some time. What has he said that he's going to be doing then in the coming months to help with the multiple disasters?

Werman: Well, I was in one of those evacuation centers in the disaster area, Lisa. It's a modern convention center in the city of Koriyama. Many of the people who landed there lost their homes in the tsunami , or were in the radiation exclusion zone, or some of them had both affecting them. It's a really well-organized place, but you wouldn't want to live there. And for the people who make it their home, it's now almost three months on and it's getting old. Few hot meals, eating basically donated food from 7/11 type stores. They even announced over the PA system while I was at the convention center there that there was hot soup being served outside, and the people rushed into line like they'd never seen a hot bowl of soup in their life. So, Kan knows that taking care of those people is high in his list, but he hasn't really come out with a concrete step-by-step plan of action about what to do in the coming months for them. I think that's what they want to hear.

Mullins: Marco, Japan, of course, has to deal with the earthquake now, the tsunami. The nuclear disaster seems as if it would be an impossible task for any politician from any party. But I wonder if you can tell us what's ahead now for the Prime Minister since he survived this vote.

Werman: It's probably going to get more unsettled before things get resolved. As I said, Prime Minister Kan vowed to resign once the nuclear crisis gets resolved, but interestingly, I met with a man named Ida Tetsunari (sp.) the other day. He's with the Institute for Sustainable Energy Policies, and he's been advising Kan on the way forward energy-wise in Japan. Mr. Tetsunari told me something I hadn't heard before. He said the nuclear crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi Plant has gotten to the point where it's financially ruining TEPCO. That it's rapidly turning the company into a troubled asset, and that in a year, it'll either go bankruptââ?¬"which is unlikely because someone's got to deal with the Fukushima Plantââ?¬"or it'll get bought out by the government, whether it's Kan in power or the LDP. If TEPCO goes belly up and is turning to a government-owned business, that's going to be another big headache someone's going to have to inherit down the road.

Mullins: All right, the World's Marco Werman in Tokyo. Thanks Marco.

Werman: Sure, Lisa.

Mullins: Marco Werman's been working with videographer Emily Taguchi while in northern Japan. You can see some of their amazing footage and read Marco's blog posts from Japan at theworld.org.