Prime minister’s office not linked to teleconference system during nuclear crisis

Kyodo

The prime minister’s office was not linked to the government’s nuclear disaster teleconference system when the crisis broke out at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant March 11, 2011, government sources said Tuesday.

The teleconference system is designed to link the prime minister’s office, the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, off-site centers near nuclear power plants and local governments that host nuclear power plants, to help them share information and discuss measures to be taken.

Equipment for the system is located in a conference room on the fourth floor of the prime minister’s office, not in the crisis management center in the office’s basement floor, the sources said.

The government has already been under fire for failing to efficiently share information over the nuclear crisis and use its system for predicting the spread of radioactive substances.

The teleconference network was set up following the 1999 Tokaimura nuclear accident, which claimed the lives of two workers and injured another after they were exposed to radiation at a nuclear fuel processing facility in Ibaraki Prefecture.

The government spends ¥500 million to ¥600 million annually to maintain the teleconference system, the sources said.

The Japan Nuclear Energy Safety Organization and the Cabinet Secretariat are in charge of connecting the system to the prime minister’s office, they said.

The organization, which undertakes inspections of nuclear facilities and emergency response measures, said it was too busy supporting the nuclear off-site centers near the Fukushima No. 1 power plant and there were no requests from the prime minister’s office or NISA to connect the teleconference system with the prime minister’s office.

The Cabinet Secretariat said it doesn’t know why the prime minister’s office didn’t use the teleconference system, noting that many NISA officials went to the prime minister’s office and maintained contact with various organizations by phone and fax.

Cabinet Secretariat officials said the prime minister’s office will now maintain full-time connection with the teleconference system.

The system didn’t have an established link with electric power companies that operate nuclear power plants. After the Fukushima crisis, the teleconference system was linked with Tokyo Electric Power Co. and will be connected to other nuclear plant operators.

The teleconference system couldn’t be connected with nuclear off-site centers at the Fukushima Prefectural Government office and in the town of Okuma, which is close to the power plant, due to quake damage.

The teleconference system has so far been used in nuclear disaster drills. Naoto Kan, who was prime minister at the start of the crisis, used the system during a drill in October 2010.