NISA told Tepco to delay reporting looming explosion

JIJI

The Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency ordered Tepco in March 2011 to delay announcing that the pressure level in one of the Fukushima No. 1 plant’s wrecked reactors was spiking to critical levels, teleconference footage released by the utility shows.

Images of Tokyo Electric Power Co. teleconferences during the initial stages of the nuclear crisis, as well as other materials and information, confirm that Tepco was forced to defer an announcement after pressure inside the reactor 3 containment vessel suddenly spiked to alarming levels around 6 a.m. March 14.

Masao Yoshida, then manager of the crippled plant, instructed workers to temporarily evacuate the reactor building, fearing a hydrogen explosion was about to rip it apart, and Tepco began preparing to announce the development to the press.

However, the utility was instructed to withhold the information by NISA, which is under the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry. The agency then made an announcement shortly after 9 a.m. March 14 — just two hours before a hydrogen explosion destroyed the upper part of the structure housing reactor 3.

The reactor 1 building had suffered a similar blast two days earlier. Both reactors, along with reactor 2, subsequently experienced catastrophic meltdowns.

Before the explosion occurred at reactor 3, a Tepco public relations team based at the Fukushima No. 1 plant prepared a press statement about the surging pressure level.

The footage, however, shows that in a conversation with the utility’s headquarters in Tokyo, one member of the team said, “We’ve been stopped by the government and are being made to wait before issuing any announcement to the press.”

“NISA officials are blocking any release of information on the matter,” a person who appears to be a head office employee says in the video images. “The agency’s officials are saying that (Tepco) should not be the entity to announce this either.”

Another voice on the recordings can be heard stating that NISA had refused to give Tepco permission to announce the pressure surge, saying, “We’ve been strongly requested, instructed not to announce this.”

NISA has said it kept Tepco’s announcement on hold because officials were unable to get in touch with its chief to obtain the necessary permission.