*Note: This is a provisional translation for reference purposes only.
1. Post-Cabinet Press Conference
Friday, April 28, 2023
Press Conference Room, METI Main Building
Basic Policy on the Final Disposal of Specified Radioactive Waste
At the beginning, I would like to mention five points.
First, a ministerial meeting on the final disposal was held before today’s Cabinet meeting. A Cabinet decision was made on the revision of the Basic Policy on the Final Disposal of Specified Radioactive Waste.
Going forward, we would like to accelerate the activities stipulated in the policy toward the final disposal, such as conducting a nationwide tour intended to raise interest among local governments, creating opportunities for consultation with local governments that are interested in or aware of this matter, gradually making requests to local governments starting at the stage before acceptance of a survey, and providing government-wide support for local governments that accept surveys.
As for detailed information, the administrative staff will give you a briefing later.
Instruction to consider measures related to the retail electric power business
Let me move on to the second point.
With regard to cases of information leakage, illegal viewing of customer information, and cartel activity by electric utility companies, we have already taken strict measures, including issuing business improvement orders and suspending eligibility for participation in public bidding. In addition, taking into consideration the discussions held by expert panels of the Agency for Natural Resources and Energy and the Electricity and Gas Market Surveillance Commission on recurrence prevention and promotion of competition, today, I instructed the administrative staff to consider measures to realize sound competition in the retail electric power business in the future.
More specifically, the instruction concerns three items. The first is the creation of systems and mechanisms for ensuring thorough blocking of access to non-public information held by general electricity transmission and distribution utility companies. The second is the creation of a system to realize so-called non-discrimination between internal and external entities, that is, stable electricity trade with internal companies, including group companies and affiliated companies, and outside companies alike, and across different regions. The third is the development of a competitive business environment that enables users to select attractive, stable fees and services.
As for detailed information, the administrative staff will give you a briefing later.
Approval of Projects under the Economic Security Promotion Act
Third, today, based on the Economic Security Promotion Act, we approved eight storage battery projects and two semiconductor projects.
Based on the approval, we will support capital investment and technology development related to production of storage batteries, semiconductors and related parts and materials. These investment projects are worth a total of around 680 billion yen. We plan to provide subsidies of up to 184.6 billion for the storage battery projects and up to 56.4 billion yen for the semiconductor projects. In particular, under the joint project of Honda and GS Yuasa, a production capacity equivalent to the current overall manufacturing capacity in Japan is scheduled to be built with a total investment of around 430 billion yen. We strongly hope that this will lead to a stable supply of storage batteries and the promotion of GX.
As will be announced later, we will also provide support to Panasonic Energy, Resonac, Renesas and Ibiden. In any case, we will continue steady efforts to ensure a stable supply of storage batteries and semiconductors. We will promote domestic development and manufacturing for strategically indispensable, critical technologies.
G7 Digital and Tech Ministers' Meeting in Takasaki, Gunma
Fourth, if circumstances allow, I will visit Gunma Prefecture today and tomorrow to participate in the G7 Digital and Tech Ministers' Meeting to be held in Takasaki City, Gunma Prefecture. At the digital ministers’ meeting, discussions will be held on matters such as cooperation in the social implementation of new and emerging technologies, including autonomous driving and drones, and how governance harmonious with AI and other innovations can be exercised. In addition, under co-sponsorship with the World Economic Forum, or WEF, we will hold the DX Summit there. Representatives from government, industry, academia and civil society will hold discussions on the challenges and response to social changes brought by DX. Through occasions like this, we would like to hold discussions on international cooperation in the digital sector toward strenuously promoting DX while, in principle, striking a balance between the creation of innovations and various institutional systems, regulations, and rules.
Visit to Europe
Fifth, from tomorrow, April 29, till May 8, I will visit eight European countries. The countries I am scheduled to visit are Iceland, Denmark, Belgium, France, the Czech Republic, Poland, Bulgaria and Romania.
Through meetings with relevant ministers and other officials, Japan, as the G7 Presidency, would like to promote collaboration with Europe on matters such as: the strengthening of supply chains; critical emerging technology sectors, including semiconductors; energy cooperation related to nuclear power, hydrogen, and geothermal power; and the promotion of trade and investment.
In France, I will be accompanied by members of startups as part of the business mission. In Bulgaria and Romania, I am scheduled to be accompanied by members of IT-related companies as part of the business mission. We would like to promote business-to-business partnerships as well. In Iceland, geothermal power is being actively utilized, and in Belgium, I am scheduled to visit Imec. In France, I will hold meetings with relevant ministers, in particular hoping to reaffirm our cooperative relationship on energy.
Q: After today’s Cabinet meeting, you, as well as Vice-Minister Tada and Director-General Kataoka, remained in the room and talked with Prime Minister. I assume that you probably discussed the reconstruction of Fukushima, the decommissioning of the reactors, and the treated water. Could you tell me anything about the discussion, if possible? Also, yesterday, Tokyo Electric Power indicated that the timing when the tanks for treated water will be filled up will be later than February next year. I would like you to confirm whether there is no change in the government’s plan to start the discharge of treated water around spring-summer this year.
A. First, we explained to the Prime Minister the status of efforts toward the reconstruction of Fukushima, particularly the decommissioning of the reactors, and the current situation of preparations for the discharge of ALPS-treated water. As I recently held an online meeting with Director General Grossi, I provided explanations about the IAEA’s initiative. I also described how this matter was included in the G-7 communique. In addition, I explained that steady progress is being made in Tokyo Electric Power’s tunnel construction work. I also went over the current situation regarding the discharge of the treated water that is planned to start in spring-summer as you mentioned. We reaffirmed that we will proceed with the preparations under this plan while repeatedly providing explanations so that we can ensure as many people as possible understand what we are doing. The Prime Minister instructed us to carefully proceed with these preparations.
Regarding the tanks, the amount of contaminated water generated has substantially decreased. Thanks to the effects of the measures so far taken, and also probably because of the small amount of rainfall, the amount of contaminated water generated per day has fallen to around 90 cubic meters, so the goal of reducing the amount below 100 cubic meters has already been achieved. As a result, I have heard, it was announced that the timing of the tanks being filled up has been slightly delayed, till around February-June 2024. The amount has fallen to the lowest level probably because of the small amount of rainfall and the effects of the measures so far taken, but we will continue to steadily take the necessary measures to reduce the amount of contaminated water generated.
In any case, for the reconstruction, it is important to proceed with the decommissioning of the reactors, and to do that, it is also necessary to discharge ALPS-treated water and reduce the number of tanks. Therefore, as I already mentioned, we would like to proceed with the preparations, carefully and with a sense of alertness, according to the schedule—around spring-summer this year.
2. Extraordinary Press Conference
Friday, April 28, 2023
Shibukawa City, Gunma Prefecture
Q: What were the achievements of the DX Summit and bilateral talks that took place earlier today? In particular, Ms. Vestager, Executive Vice President of the European Commission, has a positive view of AI and espouses its necessity. What did you discuss with her? Please also let us hear what you are looking forward to regarding tomorrow’s program.
A: First, the DX Summit that has been jointly held by the WEF and METI is being participated in by the representatives of various sectors, including business, academia, civil society, and governments. In the leadup to the G7 Digital and Tech Ministers’ Meeting starting tomorrow, the summit discussed the future vision of and issues involved in digital society. We have already heard a report on the sessions, and it was understood that governance should also be renewed flexibly and promptly according to the development of technology and changes in the situation, so I believe that the key word is “transformation” after all. I see that promptness, flexibility, and change have been common issues in many sessions. With such highly meaningful proposals given, I hope that the discussions at the Ministers’ Meeting beginning tomorrow bear these perspectives in mind.
Next, I exchanged opinions with Ms. Vestager, Executive Vice President of the European Commission. While we also talked about regulations, we basically shared our general understanding to coordinate our policies toward the social implementation of emerging technologies. The topic we especially took time to discuss was cooperation in the area of semiconductors. One aspect is research and development, the second is building up the resilience of the supply chain, and the third is emergency response. We agreed that we will advance cooperation between the EU and Japan in the future.
As for the governance of emerging technologies, I put forward the view that flexible and prompt governance friendly to innovation is important, as proposed earlier today. Ms. Vestager also recognized the importance of innovation. Although there was no particular discussion on specific regulation methods, we have a shared recognition regarding the importance of innovation, and I am looking forward to discussing what kind of governance is desirable for the promotion of innovation tomorrow. Moreover, there are the DX Summit and bilateral meetings to come. Based on the achievements of those bilateral talks, I am willing to reach a consensus in the Ministers’ Meeting starting tomorrow on agile, prompt, and flexible governance, instead of across-the-board, ex-ante regulation, as the first point. As the second point, I would like to definitely reach an agreement on the general direction toward strengthening international cooperation on promoting innovation by securing data utilization and interoperability. With today’s discussion results also taken into consideration, I look forward to having a thorough discussion beginning tomorrow.
ROK export control
Q: Earlier, METI reclassified the ROK as Group A, which means the country is treated preferentially for export. This will be the first overall relaxation in four years. I would like to hear your opinion on the largest reason for the decision. In other words, what kind of concerns were resolved opening the way for the new classification?
A: We had a policy dialogue on export control for eight days from April 10 to 25, for 38 hours in total. During the policy dialogue, Japan carried out a rigorous examination of the export control system and institutions in the ROK, and on the operations and viability thereof, by also visiting the ROK to check the on-site situation. I would like to refrain from mentioning the details, since they include exchanges related to the security of both countries. Having said that, in the course of this policy dialogue, which took a considerable amount of time and included actual onsite confirmation, we found that a department in charge of examination has been newly established in the ROK with a substantially increased staff. The number of examinations per staff member is reaching the same level as that of Japan. Thus, one of the reasons is that the export control system in the ROK is being improved and enhanced. Secondly, an export control system of the similar level as that in Japan is being established in the ROK, in terms of list regulations and catch-all regulations including the development of relevant legal systems. We have confirmed that the system is also being operated securely. Further, regarding measures to prevent the circumventing of exports from our country to third countries, including North Korea, we have confirmed that necessary measures are taken securely under cooperation with the export control authorities and customs. Back in 2019, there were concerns regarding export control in the ROK. Legal systems were underdeveloped, and the number of staff was far less than that in Japan. There were also concerns about circumventing exports to third countries. The ROK took several years to deal with these problems by increasing personnel and developing legal systems, and it has achieved improvements. In particular, we confirmed that measures against North Korea are being considerably enhanced. Cooperation between Japan and the ROK is also necessary regarding measures against North Korea.
Against this backdrop, the ministry started a call for public comments today on the bill to amend the Cabinet Order to add the ROK to Schedule 3 of the Operation of the Cabinet Order on Export Trade Control, or Group A, under the Foreign Exchange and Foreign Trade Act.
Naturally, various opinions will be provided through public comments, and we will make a decision based on such opinions. However, regarding the export control system of both countries, especially from the perspective of Japan, it is important to confirm whether the system will continue to operate securely in the ROK in the future, which means continuous policy dialogues will be necessary. We have also confirmed that appropriate responses, including the review of system or operation thereof, should be taken as needed. A decision on the solicitation of public comments was made from such a perspective.
There are other concerns regarding the ROK, including its import restrictions on foods produced in Japan, and its reaction to the planned discharge of ALPS-treated water into the sea. It is necessary that both countries actively work for the resolution of such concerns. Regarding such issues, I intend to continue to put forward requests to the ROK on various occasions.
Q: Some said at the DX Summit that Ikaho bears a resemblance to Davos. I would like to hear what kind of potential you find with Ikaho as a venue for this kind of convention.
A: The view from this window is very similar to the scenery I observed from the venue hotel in Davos, and the only difference is the season, such as whether you see snow on the ground or not. Ikaho is a renowned hot spring resort, and many participants appreciate the fact that the Summit is being held in such a resort. People from the WEF also said that this place may be suitable for a “Spring Davos.” Further, it is a resort with an abundance of nature that is not far from the metropolitan area, taking about an hour from Tokyo by Shinkansen followed by less than an hour from the closest Shinkansen stop. Thus, I welcome the ongoing promotion of Ikaho as a prospective site for international conventions, and I am sure that it will attract great attention from many people throughout the world.