In the days immediately after the crisis began at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, the government received a report saying 30 million residents in the Tokyo metropolitan area would have to be evacuated in a worst-case scenario, former Prime Minister Naoto Kan revealed in a recent interview.
Kan said he contemplated the chaos that would ensue if such a measure were taken.
“It was a crucial moment when I wasn’t sure whether Japan could continue to function as a state,” he said.
After the March 11 earthquake and tsunami crippled the plant, Kan instructed several entities to simulate a worst-case scenario. One of those assessments said everyone residing within 200 to 250 km of the plant — an zone that would encompass half to all of Tokyo and cut clear across Honshu to the Sea of Japan — would have to be evacuated.
“I felt risk was at its highest during the first 10 days of the crisis,” said Kan, who resigned earlier this month.
He also said that when the catastrophe struck, there were no effective safeguards in place because “we had never foreseen a situation in which a quake, tsunami and a nuclear plant accident would all happen at the same time.”
As for Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s failure March 11 to vent the radioactive steam being generated by the plant’s ailing reactors despite his repeated requests, Kan said that issue remains a mystery.
“Even the Tepco officials (who were with me) at the prime minister’s office were unable to explain why they were not doing the venting, so I wasn’t sure whether there was good communication between Tepco’s head office and the Fukushima plant,” he said.
Because of this, Kan said he decided to take action and go to the plant himself the next day. That was when Kan reportedly had a heated exchange with the on-site manager.
Later, a few days after returning to Tokyo, Kan heard March 15 that then Tepco President Masataka Shimizu wanted his staff in the Fukushima facility to evacuate.
Kan said he was outraged.
“I thought that was intolerable,” he said. He subsequently rejected Tepco’s request.