Ex-METI Minister Kaieda admits he distrusted Tepco at start of nuclear crisis


Former industry minister Banri Kaieda admitted Thursday there were moments during the early days in March 2011 of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant disaster when he suspected Tokyo Electric Power Co. was trying to downplay the triple-meltdown crisis.

Testifying before a Diet-appointed panel investigating the nuclear disaster, Kaieda said he thought Tepco may be trying to make the crisis appear “less serious” than it actually was when an emergency venting operation to prevent damage to one of the reactor containment vessels was delayed.

“I felt Tokyo Electric was somewhat hesitant, although actually that was not true,” said the former economy, trade and industry minister, who was the first politician to attend the panel’s hearings, which are open to the public.

Kaieda also expressed regret that information-sharing between officials at the prime minister’s office, the utility’s head office in Tokyo and the crippled plant was “thoroughly lacking.”

“It was like we were playing a game of whispers,” he recalled, suggesting his frustration at the time.

Kaieda, a Lower House member of the ruling Democratic Party of Japan, served as industry minister until last September. The nuclear regulatory body falls under the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry.

Another panel, which has been tasked by the government to investigate the disaster, has already questioned Kaieda, but the hearing was closed to the public.

The Diet-appointed panel plans to conduct a hearing on May 27 with current METI Minister Yukio Edano, who was chief Cabinet secretary when the nuclear crisis was triggered by the March 11, 2011, megaquake and tsunami.

Three of the six reactors at the plant suffered meltdowns, making it the world’s worst nuclear accident since the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.