Video footage showing Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s response to the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant calamity shows the utility was reluctant to use seawater to cool the melting core of one of its reactors because the salt would ruin it.
Partial footage from teleconferences between its head office and the plant showed that the head office said injecting seawater was “wasteful” because it would corrode the inside of the reactor.
The remark was made March 13 to Masao Yoshida, who was in charge of the plant when it was crippled by monster tsunami from the Great East Japan Earthquake two days before. Struggling with a blackout and dwindling supplies of fresh water, Yoshida was preparing to use seawater as an emergency measure to cool reactor 2 in a failed effort to prevent a meltdown.
The head office was apparently concerned the salt in the seawater would ruin the pressure vessel and other parts of the reactor, forcing Tepco to decommission it.
In the final report of its in-house probe, released in June, Tepco denied hesitating to use seawater. But the footage clearly shows the idea was questioned by a headquarters official involved in the crisis response.
“You sound like you want to inject seawater right away, don’t you?” the official, whose name and title were not disclosed, is heard asking.
“I think using seawater in a hasty way would be wasteful because materials will be corroded. Can we agree that we have the option of waiting as long as possible in order to use fresh water?”
Yoshida replied: “We don’t have the option of using fresh water. That will cause another delay.”
“You know that using fresh water means we’ll be able to use the reactor later because it won’t be damaged by salt, right?” Yoshida asked. “When a massive supply of cooling water is needed like it is now, it’s very hard to stick to just fresh water. I don’t think there’s any other way but to use seawater.”
“I understand that for now,” the official replied.
Soon after, other members of the task force can be heard commenting, “What a waste!”
Kan slams silent footage
Former Prime Minister Naoto Kan has criticized Tokyo Electric Power Co. for heavily editing the limited video coverage it released of its real-time records of the disaster, including a portion in which his emotional speech to the utility’s executives and workers was silenced.
In the footage of Kan at Tepco headquarters, he is shown from behind, gesturing and giving what appeared to be an emotional and chastising speech for about 20 minutes. On Wednesday, he said he was only trying to boost morale in a critical situation.
“It’s so unnatural. Tepco says there is no sound, but they have said all kinds of things about my visit there, which makes it even more suspicious,” he said. “The sound must be somewhere.”
The content of Tepco’s video conference is crucial evidence, “equivalent to the communications between a pilot and a control tower in an airplane accident,” Kan said.
The video also revealed that plant officials freaked out about all of the shattered plant’s spent-fuel pools, not just the heavily loaded one perched atop reactor 4. With their cooling systems knocked out, they feared the pools would dry out, allowing the spent fuel rods to heat up and melt, releasing catastrophic amounts of radiation directly into the air because the pools are not protected by containment chambers.