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Confusion reigned after disaster

September 12, 2014

Testimony shows confusion at Fukushima plant, chief's anger


The newly released transcripts of testimony by Masao Yoshida, the late chief of the disaster-stricken Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant, revealed not only his leadership qualities to cope with the crisis in the immediate aftermath of the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami in 2011 but also the weakness in his preparation for nuclear contingencies.

''As a result, nobody came to help us. I am still full of resentment and bitterness,'' Yoshida said in his testimony.

In response to questions from a governmental investigative panel on the Fukushima nuclear disaster, Yoshida expressed anger at the prime minister's office and the headquarters of Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), the operator of the nuclear power plant.

The TEPCO head office was supposed to back up Yoshida and his team at the nuclear power plant but did not offer help. Instead, the TEPCO headquarters simply conveyed messages from the prime minister's office, baffling the Yoshida team.

During a meeting on the night of March 12, one day after the huge quake and tsunami struck the Fukushima nuclear power plant, then Prime Minister Naoto Kan asked Haruki Madarame, chairman of the Nuclear Safety Commission at the time, about the possibility of recriticality if seawater were pumped into the plant's No. 1 reactor. But Madarame did not give a clear-cut answer. Ichiro Takekuro, then a fellow and senior adviser to the TEPCO leadership, listened to the dialogue between Kan and Madarame and telephoned Yoshida to tell him to stop pumping seawater into the reactor. But Yoshida did not heed the advice and kept pumping seawater.

In his testimony, Yoshida said Takekuro ordered him to follow the order without question. He also recalled that he never thought of stopping pumping in the seawater.

When asked about Kan's visit to the stricken nuclear power plant on the early morning of March 12, Yoshida said he had no idea, adding, ''He came, sat and left.'' Meanwhile, Kan harbored a growing sense of frustration over the alleged absence of essential information from the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency and TEPCO headquarters. Kan said in his testimony that he decided to visit the Fukushima plant to talk directly with Yoshida and his team in the absence of smooth communications.

Yoshida categorically denied the possibility that he had contemplated a total pullout from the disaster-hit nuclear power plant amid the nuclear crisis. During questioning by the investigative panel, Yoshida was visibly irritated about TEPCO head office's handling of the crisis, heaping scorn on then TEPCO President Masataka Shimizu and calling him ''that man.''

Tsuneo Futami, former chief of the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant and now professor at Tokyo Institute of Technology, said after reading Yoshida's testimony that TEPCO headquarters should have fully explained their decisions in response to orders and inquiries from the prime minister's office and protected the team.

September 12, 2014(Mainichi Japan)

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