Image: Naoto Kan
AP
Prime Minister Naoto Kan has been criticized for delays in construction of temporary housing for evacuees in the wake of March's magnitude 9.0 quake and massive tsunami.
msnbc.com news services
updated 6/2/2011 4:28:06 AM ET 2011-06-02T08:28:06

Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan survived a no-confidence motion Thursday over his response to the country's massive tsunami and ensuing nuclear crisis, but said he is willing to resign once the country's recovery takes hold.

Kan won by a margin of 293-152 in the 480-seat lower house. The remaining members were absent or abstained from the vote.

Before the session, Kan urged lawmakers to let him stay on and push ahead with measures to bring the country through the crisis caused by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami that left more than 24,000 people dead or missing and crippled a nuclear power plant northeast of Tokyo. He said he would consider resigning after they firm up.

Kan did not specify a date for when he might step down or say how he would determine that the recovery was on track. Opponents immediately slammed that, saying Japan cannot afford to have a lame duck administration.

Story: UN report highlights Japan nuclear plant flaws

Kan, in office just one year, has been criticized for not acting fast enough on the crisis, and for a perceived lack of leadership.

"Once the post-quake reconstruction efforts are settled, I will pass on my responsibility to younger generations," he said. "The nuclear crisis is ongoing, and I will make my utmost efforts to end the crisis and move forward with post-quake reconstruction works."

Could be gone in months
Japanese media reported Kan could stay on for a few months.

"I don't think it will be long," said Yukio Hatoyama, a ruling party member who preceded Kan as prime minister.

Kan, who became prime minister just a year ago, has been criticized for delays in construction of temporary housing for evacuees, and a lack of transparency about evacuation information. His government is also embroiled in a debate about compensation for victims.

The disaster — believed to be the costliest in history — has been a huge drain on Japan's already fragile economy.

Japan's government has said the cost of the earthquake and tsunami could reach $309 billion, making it the world's most expensive natural disaster on record, with extensive damage to housing, roads, utilities and businesses. Japan's ballooning debt is already twice the size of the country's gross domestic product.

On Wednesday, the largest opposition group, the Liberal Democratic Party, submitted the no-confidence motion along with two smaller opposition groups.

"We have reached the conclusion that having you step down by a no-confidence vote would be the only way to save our country from this crisis," senior LDP senior lawmaker Tadamori Oshima told Kan over a chorus of cheers and jeers in the parliament chamber.

Video: Japan criticized for nuclear disaster response (on this page)

Although his Democratic Party of Japan controls the lower house, where the no-confidence motion was submitted, dozens of ruling party lawmakers — including Hatoyama and another senior powerbroker — have expressed concern with his leadership, creating a deep rift.

"Worst-case scenario' avoided
The motion and the ruling party split have complicated Kan's efforts to unite the government behind his reconstruction plans, which involve a huge injection of funds and possibly tax increases.

"The worst-case scenario has been avoided," said Seiji Adachi, senior economist at Deutsche Securities in Tokyo. "If the no-confidence motion had passed, it would have created a political vacuum capable of significantly delaying post-disaster reconstruction."

March's magnitude 9.0 quake and the massive tsunami that followed damaged the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant, causing the worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl in 1986. About 80,000 residents have been forced to evacuate towns contaminated by the radiation-leaking plant.

Kan's fortunes were sagging before the crisis began, but have plummeted since.

In the 1990s, Kan was a crusading health minister who stood up to his own bureaucracy to lift the lid on a horrific AIDS scandal, but he was seen as an uninspiring prime minister even before the earthquake with a popularity rating below 20 percent.

He emerged as prime minister last June only after other leaders of his Democratic Party resigned. He already is Japan's fifth leader in four years.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

Video: Japan criticized for nuclear disaster response

  1. Closed captioning of: Japan criticized for nuclear disaster response

    >>> we're back and we have an update tonight on the situation in japan. the earthquake, the tsunami, but mostly the meltdown in the nuclear plant outside tokyo. it's now been almost three months since that disaster. tonight, a team of u.n. investigators is criticizing the japanese government for, quote, failing to act on evidence that the plant was so vulnerable. robert covered the story initially. he's gone back to japan tonight to see what has happened since.

    >> reporter: the damage, including three nuclear meltdowns, is far worse and more dangerous than anyone knew in the days after the accident. u.n. experts say the government should have been better prepared for the devastating tsunami.

    >> what you have to do is look at what is around your country. and design things to withstand those hazards for your country.

    >> reporter: the u.n. team said efforts to contain the accident have been exemplary. to contain the heat, workers are still pouring in thousands of gallons of water a day. for now, the highly radioactive liquid builds up in this barge. fire cannons spray a sticky blue resin to try to keep the particles in place. experts say the biggest radiation release happened with the hydrogen explosions in the first few days. some blown out to sea. but a severely contameinated area is 40 miles around the area, perhaps for years. it has affected technology, business, even the plant itself.

    >> people regard the people at the plant as heroes. and now there are new heroes. this man heads 260 scientists and researchers offering to fix the plant because at their age, there's less chance the radiation will damage their health.

    >> we have to fix fukushima.

    >> the retires have yet to get a response.

    >> i think they're very, very brave, and it's very courageous for them to raise their hand to do this.

    >> reporter: seeking to help in an accident that remains out of control almost three months after it began. robert bazell , nbc news, toque you.

Photos: After Japan's earthquake and tsunami - week 8

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  1. A radiation measuring instrument is seen next to some residents in Kawauchimura, a village within the 12- to 18-mile zone around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, on April 28. Most residents of Kawauchimura have evacuated in order to avoid the radiation, but some remain in the area of their own accord. (Koichi Kamoshida / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. A brazier heats the house of Masahiro Kazami, located within a 12-mile radius of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, April 28. (Koichi Kamoshida / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Volunteers help clean a cemetery at Jionin temple in Ishinomaki, Miyagi prefecture, northeastern Japan, on April 29. Many volunteers poured into the disaster-hit region at the beginning of the annual Golden Week holiday. (Hiro Komae / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Japanese government adviser Toshiso Kosako is overcome with emotion during a news conference on April 29 in Tokyo announcing his resignation. The expert on radiation exposure said he could not stay on the job and allow the government to set what he called improper radiation limits for elementary schools in areas near the tsunami-damaged Fukushima nuclear plant. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Fuel rods are seen inside the spent fuel pool of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant reactor 4 on April 30. (Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. A volunteer girl from Tokyo works to clean the debris of a house in Higashimatsushima, northern Japan, on April 30. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Farmer Tsugio Sato tends to his Japanese pear trees in Fukushima city, May 1. He said he expects to harvest the pears in October. Farmers and businesses face so-called "fuhyo higai," or damages stemming from the battered reputation of the Fukushima brand. (Hiro Komae / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Members of Japan Ground Self-Defense Force in protective gear receive radiation screening in Minamisoma in Fukushima prefecture, after searching for bodies at an area devastated by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. (Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Ruriko Sakuma, daughter of dairy farmer Shinji Sakuma, rubs a cow at their farm in the village of Katsurao in Fukushima prefecture on May 3. Thousands of farm animals died of hunger in the weeks following the quake. (Yoshikazu Tsuno / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
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