Former PM Kan – TEPCO had failed to provide vital information as the crisis developed

Author: 1 Comment Share:

 In the wide-ranging interview, Kan offered new insights into the stresses at the top of government as it struggled to cope with the March 11 earthquake, tsunami and the nuclear disaster.

Naoto Kan was told by his industry minister at 3 a.m., four days after the start of the crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, that the plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co., was proposing to withdraw from the stricken facility.

JAPAN‘S former premier Naoto Kan feared Tokyo would be rendered uninhabitable by the Fukushima nuclear crisis, he said in an interview published today in which he recalled the “spine-chilling” thought.

He added it would have been “impossible” to evacuate all of the 30 million people in the event of a mass exclusion zone encompassing Tokyo and the Kanto region, and said that this risk made nuclear power too dangerous an option.

[quote]

“I thought nuclear plants were safe as they were supported by Japan’s technology. But I changed my mind after the experience of the March 11 disaster,” Kan said.

“Japan wouldn’t stand as a country if the uninhabitable zone (around the crippled Fukushima plant) had to spread out to 100 or 200 kilometres.

“Evacuating 100,000 or 200,000 people is a really grave situation, but if 30 million people were to be subjected, evacuating them all would be impossible.

“When I think of safety not being outweighed by risk, the answer is not to rely on nuclear.”

“When you think of the chances of an accident that could make half the country uninhabitable, you cannot possibly take that risk, even if it was once in a century,” he said.

[/quote]

After the calamity, Kan declared a shift in the country’s energy policy towards renewables.

His successor Yoshihiko Noda has suggested Japan will eventually phase out atomic power generation in the resource-poor nation, Asia’s second-largest economy.

In his first interview since leaving office, the former prime minister told The Asahi Shimbun on Sept. 5 that he had briefly stared into an abyss in which the plant’s damaged nuclear reactors might have been abandoned.

“I thought, ‘What would happen if (TEPCO) withdrew?’ If we left the plant unattended, everything might have melted down and things might have gone far beyond Chernobyl,” Kan said.

“The word ‘withdrawal’ was not in my mind. The important thing was how we could, at all costs, bring the situation under control,” Kan said.

He revealed that he still did not know why some of his instructions in the first days of the nuclear crisis were ignored, that TEPCO had failed to provide vital information as the crisis developed, and that he believed the pro-nuclear Ministry of Trade, Economy and Industry (METI) had itself proposed the suspension of the Hamaoka nuclear power plant in Shizuoka as a way to allow other suspended nuclear plants to reopen.

Excerpts from the interview follow:

[quote]

Question: Can you explain what was behind the decision to vent the No. 1 reactor, which was the focus of the initial response to the accident?

Kan: Everyone involved, including officials of the Nuclear Safety Commission of Japan, the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA) and TEPCO, all agreed that venting should be conducted since pressure in the core was increasing.

When I told Masao Yoshida, the head of the Fukushima plant, to conduct venting, he said: “I understand. We will do it.”

When I subsequently asked TEPCO officials, “How did it turn out?” I was told, “It has not yet been conducted.” There was no explanation for why they did not carry out my instructions.

I still do not know the reason. Because communications were inadequate over the venting, I felt the need for direct communication with those at the Fukushima plant.

[/quote]

[quote]

Q: You flew by helicopter to inspect the Fukushima plant on March 12, but were you ever warned that it might be dangerous?

A: Not really. The reason I went to the plant was because we were not receiving accurate information from the plant.  I felt I had to go there and speak with those in charge or I would never know what was going on.

[/quote]

[quote]

Q: Do you believe the decisions about the area of evacuation were correct?

A: We gradually expanded the range after taking into consideration the direct dangers from a core explosion as well as the risks involved in actually evacuating. I do not believe that the manner in which we made the decision was mistaken.

[/quote]

[quote]

Q: Did you receive an immediate report about the hydrogen explosion that occurred on March 12?

A: The report from TEPCO did not come immediately. The report that came after about 50 minutes did not touch upon the hydrogen explosion. Although TV reports showed the explosion, no report came to us. It was never expected that all power sources would be lost, so the situation was not developing according to the possible scenarios that had been assumed.

[/quote]

–Establishing a unified command–

[quote]

Q: Is it true that TEPCO said it wanted to withdraw from the Fukushima No. 1 plant on March 15?

A: At around 3 a.m., METI minister Banri Kaieda told me that TEPCO said it wished to withdraw. I thought: “What would happen if it withdrew?” If we left the plant unattended, everything might have melted down and things might have gone far beyond Chernobyl. The word “withdrawal” was not in my mind. The important thing was how we could, at all costs, bring the situation under control.

Subsequently, I summoned Masataka Shimizu, then TEPCO president. It was not clear if TEPCO was going to stay on or wanted to withdraw. I thought: “This is tricky. I have to gain a grip on the situation.” I proposed to Shimizu that the government and TEPCO set up an integrated response office. He agreed.

[/quote]

[quote]

Q: Some say that the Japanese government declined the United States’ offer to assist in the response to the accident.

A: I never declined an offer. From the beginning, I consistently took the stance that I would be very pleased to receive assistance.

However, you cannot ask someone else to help only with the most dangerous part (of the response).

[/quote]

[quote]

Q: There were reports back then that you told an aide, “All of eastern Japan may be destroyed.”

A: I did not make such a remark, but I did have all of the possibilities modeled. If the evacuation zone had expanded to 100, 200 or 300 kilometers, it would have included the whole Kanto region. That would have forced 30 million people to evacuate, compromising the very existence of the Japanese nation.

That’s the biggest reason why I changed my views on nuclear power. If there are risks of accidents that could make half the land mass of our country uninhabitable, we cannot afford to take such risks, even if we are only going to be playing with those risks once a century.

[/quote]

[quote]

Q: Did NISA provide you with correct information on the situation?

A: NISA failed to function properly. Neither the underlying laws nor simulations had envisaged a critical accident such as a total power failure. Nobody had taken into consideration the scenario of a major earthquake and tsunami taking place simultaneously. Therefore, most of the information released by NISA shortly after the March 11 disaster was not consistent with statements made later by the agency in most cases.

[/quote]

[quote]

Q: METI came out against your policies at times. What do you think about it?

A: METI is on the side of nuclear power. That is why I made a Cabinet resolution to establish a new nuclear safety agency under the Environment Ministry. I do not think the momentum from that move will be redirected easily. I did all I could do while I was in office to move away from nuclear energy, but the final decision on the issue will be left to the voters.

[/quote]

[quote]

Q: Why do you think you had a confrontational relationship at one point with Kaieda on the issue of resuming operations at the Genkai nuclear power plant (operated by Kyushu Electric Power Co.)?

A: METI tried to set a precedent for resuming nuclear plant operations. NISA attempted to draw the whole picture for resumption and tried to give the green light by itself. METI (which oversees the agency) tried to restart the plant so that all other nuclear power plants that had suspended operations could follow suit. However, I did not think a decision by NISA alone would produce a public consensus (on this issue). I ordered the relevant ministers to establish rules that would involve the Nuclear Safety Commission of Japan (under the Cabinet Office).

[/quote]

[quote]

Q: Do you think these aggressive moves by METI were triggered by the suspension of operations at the Hamaoka nuclear power plant (operated by Chubu Electric Power Co.)?

A: The idea of the suspension was initially suggested by Kaieda. I did not order a plan to be prepared on that issue. I suspect the ministry originally intended to keep all other nuclear plants in operation by sacrificing operations at the Hamaoka plant.

[/quote]

[quote]

Q: When issuing the request for a suspension of the Hamaoka plant, were you acutely aware of the possibility of a major earthquake?

A: Yes, I was. Analyses by an expert government agency contributed to the decision. If an accident were to occur there, the transportation arteries between Tokyo and Osaka would be cut off. The Shinkansen train lines would be halted and the Tomei Expressway would be cut off.

[/quote]

[quote]

Q: Why do you think Japanese society believed in nuclear safety so blindly? Why were we unable to prevent the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant accident?

A: I would say the main culprit was social pressure to conform to majority views. Before the accident, it had become increasingly difficult to voice concern about the danger of an accident. For instance, if someone made remarks about the danger within the community of nuclear experts, that person was ostracized. The same held true of the central and local governments. Everyone followed the herd because of the fear of becoming an outcast.

[/quote]

Previous Article

Nobel Winner Urges Japan To Abandon Nuclear Power – Children have to live with radiation threats for 10, 20 or 30 years from now

Next Article

TEPCO to build iron wall on ocean side of Fukushima Daiichi plant to prevent radioactive water leaks