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Japanese Ambassador to U.S. on Quake Recovery, Nuclear Crisis

March 22, 2011 at 12:00 AM EST
Judy Woodruff talks to Japan's ambassador to the U.S., Ichiro Fujisaki, about repair efforts at the damaged Fukushima nuclear reactors and what lies ahead for Japan as it struggles to clean-up and rebuild after the devastating earthquake and tsunami.
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JEFFREY BROWN: And to Judy Woodruff.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And for more on the progress being made and what lies ahead in Japan, we’re joined by the Japanese ambassador to Washington. He’s Ichiro Fujisaki.

Mr. Ambassador, thank you very much.

ICHIRO FUJISAKI, Japanese ambassador to the United States: Thank you very much for having me, Ms. Woodruff.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, first, our condolences on the loss of so many of your countrymen and countrywomen.

ICHIRO FUJISAKI: Thank you very much.

As it was said, 9,000 — more than 9,000 people have found to be dead. And more than 13,000 are still missing. But there is some good news. For example, just two days ago, as you have seen, two people, a grandmother and 16-year-old son, was found. So, the search-and-rescue is still going on.

JUDY WOODRUFF: How is the recovery going overall?

ICHIRO FUJISAKI: See, we have to be coping with three issues, the search-and-rescue; and supplying basic human needs, like food, electricity, water, and shelter; and coping with the nuclear — this nuclear issue, power plant issue.

And, as for electricity, it is coming back. About 220,000 or so households are out of electricity, but it’s coming out.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Still out of electricity.

ICHIRO FUJISAKI: Yes. Yes. But it’s — but the shelters, the — all this is a huge problem still.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Your prime minister called this the worst disaster for Japan since World War II. How do the people of Japan come back from this?

ICHIRO FUJISAKI: Yes, this is a very big challenge for us. It’s — but one thing that we find a little encouraging, even in these circumstances, all the people in the world are trying to help us.

And also, people are trying to cope with the situation honorably, and very few looting and things like that, and trying to be rather patient and resilient. So, we hope and — that we will come back soon. It’s — it will take time, but we are coming back.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Let’s turn to the nuclear issue. You — you mentioned it yourself. How close are the workers at the plant, officials there, the plants, to making it safe?

ICHIRO FUJISAKI: Yes, this is difficult to prejudge. The situation changes every day.

But we feel that we are approaching a stage where we could control this situation. I don’t say that we have arrived. We are trying to approach that. And there are six reactors we have to take care of. And, sometimes, smoke comes out. We have to put the water. And this activity is going on every day.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And — and how do you define getting it under control? What is — what is that going to mean, when what will have happened?

ICHIRO FUJISAKI: Things — to bring it under control means that we don’t — we’re not — we have the predictability of how it is and we don’t have to be worried that tomorrow some more accident may happen. It will gradually cool down. We’re trying to cool down the situation, the reactor itself and the pool with the fuel rods. And that is exactly what we’re working on.

JUDY WOODRUFF: I’m sure you’re aware of these new reports, Mr. Ambassador, that the plants, the plants that are now damaged, were storing more uranium than they were designed to hold, that they were skipping some of the mandatory check — checks that were safety checks that were supposed to have been done. What do you know about this?

ICHIRO FUJISAKI: I’m not informed of what kind of failure there was in procedure. We have to look into that carefully and we really have to ascertain what there was.

But I don’t think we should jump to a conclusion that there was some mistake or whatever. There are people who would like to draw one conclusion out of whatever, but I don’t think we are in a situation where we can really see the whole picture.

JUDY WOODRUFF: We have also heard, Mr. Ambassador, a number of Japanese citizens saying they don’t think your government has fully leveled with them, has not been fully forthcoming with everything it knows about what’s going on at the plants, at the nuclear plants.

ICHIRO FUJISAKI: I know that there are people who are saying this. And, after this kind of huge shock, it’s natural that, a day or two, there is some confusion, but it’s not an — intentional.

And the government is trying to be as transparent as possible, trying to put out all the data, and also exchange, for example, information with your experts. There are more than 50 experts from the United States there in Japan, DOE, NRC, and we’re trying to exchange. And, also, this is a matter of safety. So, people — government should be transparent and is transparent.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But there have been discrepancies between what your government has recommended in terms of safety and what, say, U.S. officials have recommended.

ICHIRO FUJISAKI: Exactly. Of course, it depends on the governments, what kind of — you’re talking about the range of evacuation and all that?

JUDY WOODRUFF: Right.

ICHIRO FUJISAKI: Yes. There are differences, yes.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And — and you’re saying that’s — how do you explain that?

ICHIRO FUJISAKI: Our chief Cabinet secretary has explained that, yes, in the foreign — if you’re in a foreign country, you would take a more conservative posture towards evacuation, rather than if you’re in — if you’re really managing the country, because, if you’re in the — the government, you have been knowing all the circumstances, but that it’s very natural for the foreign government to take a more conservative attitude towards those people of the — of your country.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And just finally, very quickly, how worried are you about the safety of food right now?

ICHIRO FUJISAKI: Food safety — regarding food, safety must be the top priority here in the United States and in Japan as well.

We have been taking a very cautious attitude about food safety. And so, we are monitoring very carefully, and some of the vegetables and dairy products you have seen, that we have brought in distribution restriction. And we are monitoring at sea as well now.

And if there’s anything that we are — will be — we are going to be concerned, I think we will take proper measures. This is a very top priority, not only for the foreigners but for Japanese.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Ambassador Fujisaki, we thank you very much for coming in to talk with us.

ICHIRO FUJISAKI: Thank you very much, Ms. Woodruff, for having me.

And what I want to say, just one — can I just — one — say one more thing?

JUDY WOODRUFF: Yes.

ICHIRO FUJISAKI: We in Japan are so grateful to Americans for extending their help, support to us, when — your rescue team was one of the first ones to be there.

Your forces are working day and night for search-and-rescue. And your experts are there to talk with us. I’m talking with your government officials every day several times. And your people are really extending great support to us, and the contribution, sympathy, Red Cross, NGOs, your companies. And you are standing with us in really a time of need. And we are very grateful to that. I just wanted to express that.

JUDY WOODRUFF: I’m sure that’s appreciated.

Thank you again.

ICHIRO FUJISAKI: No, thank you very much.