TOKYO—Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda on Monday attempted to draw a line under a scandal that has rocked his fledgling administration, appointing popular lawmaker and former government spokesman Yukio Edano as the new industry minister after his predecessor made embarrassing remarks about the country's nuclear crisis.
Mr. Edano, 47, will succeed Yoshio Hachiro, who quit on Saturday only eight days into the job after he referred to the evacuated areas around the stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant as "a town of death" and allegedly joked about radiation with reporters.
The remarks were sharply criticized by opposition parties and were an unwelcome distraction for Mr. Noda as he attempts to focus on repairing the government's finances and moving ahead with the reconstruction of the quake-hit northeast.
Acting swiftly to try to contain the damage, Mr. Noda immediately accepted Mr. Hachiro's resignation and made a public apology on Sunday, the six-month anniversary of the devastating earthquake and tsunami that triggered the nation's worst-ever nuclear accident.
Moving on from the scandal is seen as crucial for the Noda government as ministers are set to face on Tuesday their first parliamentary session since the change of administration to discuss a supplementary budget for quake reconstruction.
Any lingering whiff of scandal could allow opposition parties to renew their criticism that the ruling Democratic Party of Japan is inexperienced and incompetent—a line they pursued against Mr. Noda's predecessor Naoto Kan—at a time when the new premier is looking to build consensus and clear legislative gridlock.
Support from the opposition-controlled upper house is seen as necessary for the government to smoothly pass the budget bill as well as legislation to fix Japan's social security system and proposed tax increases.
Mr. Hachiro's resignation seems like deja-vu for the ruling Democratic Party of Japan. Two months ago, reconstruction minister Ryu Matsumoto quit after remarks about the disaster-hit areas that were deemed offensive.
Former Chief Cabinet Secretary Edano was the public face of the government in the aftermath of the March 11 disasters and enjoyed broad public approval for his apparently tireless approach to holding regular briefings on live television. In recent public opinion polls, he was frequently mentioned as one of the most desirable candidates for the country's next prime minister.
The choice of Mr. Edano as industry minister—a portfolio that includes the country's nuclear power industry—also reflects the need for an experienced hand to deal with the task of rebuilding public trust in the government's energy policy after the Fukushima Daiichi disaster.
The government must tread a course between widespread public concern about the safety of nuclear power following the disaster and the need to restart idled reactors to prevent power shortages next year.
Write to Mitsuru Obe at email@example.com