Tokai mayor slams Tepco, government

MITO, Ibaraki Pref. (Kyodo) The mayor of Tokai, Ibaraki Prefecture, has criticized the central government and Tokyo Electric Power Co. over their handling of the nuclear crisis in neighboring Fukushima Prefecture.

In a recent interview, Tatsuya Murakami, mayor of Tokai, where Japan’s first nuclear power reactor was set up in 1957, said the government and Tepco “obviously underrated the crisis” and “failed to take appropriate action.”

Murakami urged the central government and utilities to fully review the ongoing developments over the Fukushima No. 1 plant and to look into how to ensure the safety of reactors when their operations are resumed.

The March 11 killer earthquake and tsunami also stopped operations at Japan Atomic Power Co.’s Tokai No. 2 nuclear plant.

Murakami said the situation in the Tokai facility could have been as bad as at the Fukushima plant, noting one of its three backup power systems failed due to the tsunami.

“We were barely saved. There was a possibility that something similar to Fukushima could have happened,” the 68-year-old mayor said in reference to the Fukushima plant’s loss of electricity and vital cooling functions.

In Tokai, which hosts a number of nuclear research institutes, a criticality accident occurred at a nuclear fuel processing plant run by JCO Co. that claimed the lives of two people. In the September 1999 accident, more than 600 people were exposed to radioactive materials.

Murakami said the government and Tepco were slow to respond to the trouble at the Fukushima plant because they had believed it would not experience such an accident.

They were overconfident in their technologies and ended up responding only after problems occurred, he said.

“Nuclear power is a monster. They were caught off guard, saying nuclear power is safe,” he said.

Murakami said nuclear facilities cast a very large shadow for host local governments, which come to rely on them for finances and employment.

He said the central government, utilities and host municipalities have all erred in becoming mutually dependent on nuclear power without thinking about the danger.

Looking back on JCO’s accident, which hit sales of Tokai’s farm produce through rumors, Murakami said Fukushima produce now is actually contaminated.