Tepco now says reactor seawater injection wasn’t halted

by Masami Ito

Staff Writer

Tokyo Electric Power Co. in an apparent flip-flop Thursday claimed it did not temporarily stop the injection of seawater into the damaged Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant on March 12, a day after the deadly earthquake and tsunami.

On Saturday, the utility announced that the injection of seawater into reactor unit 1 had been suspended for close to an hour.

The media reported that Prime Minister Naoto Kan ordered Tepco to stop due to the risk of starting a chain reaction in an event known as a “recriticality,” and suggested the halt may have caused the situation to deteriorate. Kan later completely denied the allegations, saying he nor the government gave such orders.

On Thursday, Tepco Vice President Sakae Muto said that the utility decided on its own to halt the seawater injection temporarily because it had not gotten the government’s approval yet, but plant director Masao Yoshida decided it was necessary and ignored the utility’s order.

“It has become known that the plant director decided that the water injection into the nuclear reactor was most important in preventing the accident from spreading, and in reality, the injection had been continued without a temporary suspension,” Muto told a news conference.

Initially, Tepco said workers began pumping seawater into reactor 1 at 7:04 p.m. March 12 and stopped at 7:25 p.m., resuming the injection after 55 minutes.

The original announcement was made based on notes and statements of Tepco officials in Tokyo, and the utility only began the hearings with workers at the crippled plant Tuesday, Muto said.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano expressed displeasure at a news conference later Thursday over Tepco’s flip-flop.

Tepco “needs to grasp the facts accurately and report them to us — otherwise, we will struggle to deal with the situation and, moreover, the people will have doubts and distrust,” Edano said. “This is not something that the utility needed to hide, but I think it needs to review how it has been collecting information and conveying it.”