Shortly after hydrogen explosions rocked the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant last March, then Prime Minister Naoto Kan verbally lashed Tokyo Electric Power Co. officials and ordered them to contain the crisis at all costs, according to company records obtained Thursday.
“It doesn’t matter if the company executives aged around 60 die at the accident site. I’m going there, too,” Kan is quoted as saying when he went to Tepco headquarters in the early hours of March 15.
“Japan could go to ruin if the situation stays as it is,” Kan also said. “If Tepco abandons the Fukushima plant, reactors and spent nuclear fuels could collapse and radioactive substances could be released,” the records show.
“It will be twice or three times worse than (the amount of radioactive fallout from) Chernobyl, and you know what that means,” Kan said.
It was already known that Kan lashed out at Tepco officials during the March 15 visit, but detailed records of his exact words had not been made public.
On speculation that Tepco would pull everyone out of the facility, Kan, using strong words repeatedly, told the company officials: “Tepco will definitely go bankrupt if you retreat. You cannot clear out even if you want to.”
Kan, in urging Tepco to contain the crisis, vowed to call up the Self-Defense Forces or police if necessary and use as much money as needed, the records show.
Declaring the establishment of a joint government-Tepco task force, Kan instructed the company officials, including Chairman Tsunehiko Katsumata, to limit the number of top-level officials involved in crucial decision-making to five or six, saying: “Why are so many people in here? The important decisions should be made by five or six people. Don’t be silly!”
A six-member private-sector panel looking into the nuclear crisis has praised Kan’s call for Tepco not to withdraw from the plant and the establishment of the joint task force, saying they helped contain the crisis.
On Wednesday, a Diet-appointed panel investigating the Fukushima crisis pointed to the existence of video footage from the early morning of March 15 showing Kan fiercely scolding senior Tepco officials.
The footage was recorded by Tepco’s in-house videoconferencing system that enabled the head office and Fukushima No. 1 to exchange information on a real-time basis.
The footage has no sound for unknown reasons, but Sakae Muto, then executive vice president in charge of nuclear issues at Tepco, told the panel he remembers Kan speaking “in very fierce terms that a withdrawal of all the workers cannot be allowed.”
Muto, now serving as a Tepco adviser, stressed that the utility’s intention was to withdraw “some of the workers” and not all of the more than 700 employees who were then at the plant.
“The No. 2 reactor was in an extremely tense situation and we thought it was not reasonable to keep people who did not have to be there in such a dangerous situation,” Muto said. “But we were all thinking hard to somehow stabilize the No. 2 reactor and I can say that there was no intention to withdraw all the workers.”
Muto also said it was difficult in the early stage of the crisis to judge whether a meltdown was occurring, and denied any intention to make the disaster look less severe than the actual situation.
Muto told the panel that access to reactor data was “extremely limited” after power was lost in the wake of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.
But Muto also said he and other people dealing with the situation were mindful from the time the plant was hit by the natural disasters that “reactor cores would be damaged in an extremely short period of time unless water was properly injected into the reactors.”
A recently compiled summary of the meetings of the government’s nuclear emergency headquarters showed the government was aware on March 11 of the possibility of a meltdown.
And yet it took until May for Tepco to announce an estimate that meltdowns occurred in three reactors.
The Diet-appointed panel, led by Kiyoshi Kurokawa, former president of the Science Council of Japan, is to compile a report in June. Its probe is separate from the activities by a government-appointed investigation committee.