Japan’s economy, trade and industry minister resigned on Saturday over his comments about radiation contamination in crisis-hit Fukushima, Japanese media reported.
Yoshio Hachiro, appointed only a week ago in the new government of Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, provoked anger when he called the area around the crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant a “shi no machi” or a “town of death”.
Kyodo News reported that Noda had accepted Hachiro’s resignation, which came a day before Japan was set to mark six months since the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, which left 20,000 dead or missing and sparked the nuclear crisis at Fukushima.
Witnesses have also said that after his visit to the nuclear plant, Hachiro looked as if he was rubbing his jacket against a journalist, while making a remark to the effect that “I will infect you with radiation.”
On Saturday, he denied the media reports of the incident but also declined to elaborate on what exactly happened, saying it was during an unofficial meeting with reporters.
In a press conference on Saturday, Hachiro, apologised repeatedly and said Noda had accepted his resignation.
Hachiro’s remark and apparent joking about radiation were widely seen as insensitive and immediately prompted opposition parties to demand Noda dismiss him.
The “town of death” comment was seen as particularly outrageous because the government cannot provide evacuated residents with a firm timetable for their return.
It has said that some areas near the Fukushima site will be uninhabitable for years due to high levels of contamination.
Tens of thousands remain evacuated from homes, farms and businesses in a 20 kilometre (12 mile) radius around the Fukushima plant and in some pockets beyond after the quake and tsunami sparked reactor meltdowns and the spewing of radiation into the environment.
As economy, trade and industry minister, Hachiro was charged with addressing Japan’s energy policy amid a post-Fukushima public nuclear backlash, with the majority of the nation’s reactors offline for safety tests.
Hachiro’s missteps are not the first to affect Noda’s administration.