Japan’s Emperor Akihito ‘Deeply Concerned’ About Nuclear Crisis

In an extremely rare appearance, Japan’s Emperor Akihito has made an unprecedented public address in which he expressed deep concern about the escalating nuclear crisis.

Japanese Emperor Akihito addresses the nation at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo on Wednesday, March 16, after Friday's powerful earthquake and tsunami that hit northeastern Japan. He expressed his condolences and urged Japan not to give up hope. Photo: Imperial Household Agency of Japan

Japanese Emperor Akihito, in an unprecedented television address to the nation, said on Wednesday that he was “deeply worried” about the ongoing nuclear crisis at several stricken reactors and asked for people to act with compassion “to overcome these difficult times.”

An official with the Imperial Household Agency said that Akihito had never before delivered a nationally televised address of any kind, not even in the aftermath of the Kobe earthquake in 1995 that killed more than 6,000 people. The address was videotaped.

“The number of people killed is increasing day by day and we do not know how many people have fallen victim,” he said. “I pray for the safety of as many people as possible.

He continued: “People are being forced to evacuate in such severe conditions of bitter cold, with shortages of water and fuel. I cannot help praying that rescue work is done swiftly and people’s lives get better, even a little.”

Dressed in a dark suit, the 77-year-old Emperor said he was ‘deeply worried’ about troubled nuclear reactors in the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, which was damaged by last week’s 9.0-magnitude earthquake and a devastating tsunami.

“I am deeply concerned about the nuclear situation because it is unpredictable,” he said. “With the help of those involved I hope things will not get worse.”

“I sincerely hope that we can keep the situation from getting worse,” he said solemnly. “I hope from the bottom of my heart that the people will, hand in hand, treat each other with compassion and overcome these difficult times.”

The ageing monarch also paid tribute to the military, police and fire department personnel involved in disaster response efforts, as well as national and local governments and rescue teams from abroad.

“I wish to thank them for their rescue efforts around the clock,” he said. “I have received messages of condolence from heads of state of various countries with kind words that their hearts are with the victims. Allow me to convey the words to people in the afflicted areas.”

Japan’s nuclear crisis continued as the government said Wednesday that the inner shell of reactor 3 might be damaged and rising radiation levels forced workers to be ordered out of the complex.

The emperor’s speech was his first public remarks since the earthquake and tsunami rocked the region on Friday. It was the first video message by a Japanese emperor.

The emperor said he received letters from many heads of state, in which they expressed sympathy to Japan and said the victims were in the thoughts of their people.

The emperor expressed the hope that people in Japan would deal with the challenges they face. “‘I sincerely hope that the people will overcome this unfortunate time with a sense of caring for others,” the emperor said.

Japan is reeling from what Prime Minister Naoto Kan has called its worst crisis since the end of World War II, when the country had to rebuild from its devastating defeat.

For elderly Japanese at least, the sudden message from the Emperor doubtless called to mind the August 15, 1945, radio broadcast by his father, Emperor Hirohito, announcing the country’s surrender in World War Two.

The United States ambassador to Japan, John V. Roos, issued a statement on Wednesday addressing the growing public unease over the nuclear crisis. American officials agreed with the Japanese government’s advice urging people living within about 12 miles of the Daiichi plant to evacuate, and within about 18 miles to remain indoors.

“Let me also address reports of very low levels of radiation outside the evacuation area detected by U.S. and Japanese sensitive instrumentation,” Mr. Roos said in the statement.

“This bears very careful monitoring, which we are doing. If we assess that the radiation poses a threat to public health, we will share that information and provide relevant guidance immediately.” [via Yahoo! News, The Telegraph (UK) and The New York Times]

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