Fukushima panel shocked by destruction

by Masami Ito

Staff Writer

Members of an expert panel investigating the crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 power plant visited the site for the first time Friday, where they were shocked by the extent of the damage from the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, committee leader Yotaro Hatamura said.

Hatamura, a professor emeritus at the University of Tokyo, was one of four panel members to make the trip. They spent a couple of hours each at the Fukushima No. 1 and No. 2 power plants.

“The biggest impression was that something awful was happening there,” Hatamura said at a news conference just before midnight Friday. “The Fukushima No. 2 plant managed to avoid a serious situation because it was able to maintain cooling functions, but the No. 1 plant, unfortunately, became a calamity.”

Covered with white protective suits and masks, the members made their way around the crippled plant, where they saw the crumbled remains of a 10-meter-high seawall and the destroyed building housing the No. 3 reactor, ripped apart by an explosion a few days after the temblor hit.

“It was an extremely shocking sight,” Hatamura said. “I didn’t have any idea as to how the situation was going to be dealt with.”

Tokyo Electric Power Co., which owns the Fukushima No. 1 plant, hopes to stabilize the plant and achieve cold shutdowns of its reactors by January.

Hatamura did not comment on the likelihood of meeting this timetable but said the plant would see a major breakthrough if Tepco succeeds in cleaning the highly radioactive water accumulating there and cycling it through to cool the reactors.

The panel members met with plant director Masao Yoshida, who explained the current situation and how efforts are progressing to stabilize the facility.

“I got the strong impression that Director Yoshida was desperately giving everything he had to stabilize the plant while dealing with various things at the site,” Hatamura said. “He said he strongly felt that we must never let anything like this accident happen again. I felt the gravity of the words that came from the person who was dealing with this head on.” Hatamura was appointed head of the independent panel last month.