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Gov't releases transcripts of interviews

September 11, 2014

Yoshida transcripts on Fukushima nuclear crisis released

Staff Writer

Masao Yoshida, chief of the crippled Fukushima No. 1 power plant, had lost hope and was exhausted on the night of March 14, 2011, three days into the nuclear meltdown crisis.

When he saw workers from companies cooperating with Tokyo Electric Power Co. at the plant’s emergency headquarters, Yoshida just muttered: “Everyone, please just go home. Just go back home.”

Yoshida was urging all nonessential workers to leave in case another catastrophe hit the plant, and possibly all of eastern Japan. At the time, both the pressure and temperature were surging inside of quake-hit reactor No. 2, evoking fears of the worst-case scenario.

“All of the nuclear materials could escape and spread. Our image was that of a catastrophe for eastern Japan,” he is quoted as saying in the government’s formerly top-secret transcripts of its interviews with him, finally released Thursday after leaks.

Any explosion in reactor No. 2 resulting in the release of massive amounts of deadly nuclear material would immediately halt the injection of coolant water into reactors 1 and 3, putting them in the same situation as reactor 2.

“This is the part I really don’t want to recall,” Yoshida said during the interview session, which took place in August 2011.

Prompted by months of media reports based on apparent leaks of the text, as well as formal disclosure requests from the media, including The Japan Times, the government on Thursday released more than 400 pages of the Yoshida transcripts, which cover his testimony from July to November 2011 to its investigative panel on the disaster.

The government initially refused to disclose the transcripts because Yoshida had asked, in a May 2012 written request, that they not be publicized. But after the leaks, the government relented and posted them on its website Thursday.

In the interviews, Yoshida explained in detail how the crisis developed and how he and his team responded. He also stressed that, during the crisis, he and his colleagues never thought of withdrawing everyone from the crippled plant.

Given the lack of information from the plant, the government’s leaders, including Prime Minister Naoto Kan, suspected that Tepco’s top executives in Tokyo were at one point considering pulling everyone out and abandoning the six-reactor station.

“(Tepco’s) head office and the prime minister’s office may have been having absurd discussions (about a withdrawal), but did (the workers) run away? They didn’t,” Yoshida is quoted as saying.

He said that even when he was pondering the worst-case scenario, he thought he would have to keep a skeleton crew on hand, including himself. Nonessential workers, however, would have been urged to leave, he added.

The release of the transcripts has drawn a great deal of public attention because Yoshida, who died of esophageal cancer last year, is viewed as a national hero for containing the crisis and people wanted to know more about the already published accounts of his actions.

But another reason is because some of those accounts seemed to contradict each other.

The Asahi Shimbun, which claimed in May to have the full text of the interviews, published several reports about them. One said that Yoshida on March 15, 2011, ordered workers to find somewhere on the No. 1 plant grounds to avoid radiation, but most didn’t follow that directive and instead fled to the nearby Fukushima No. 2 plant, 10 km to the south.

That report caught the attention of overseas media because it contradicted the story that was perpetuated about the brave “Fukushima 50″ who stayed to handle the emergency. Later, the Asahi’s rival, the Sankei Shimbun, claimed that the Asahi’s report was erroneous.

The full text released Thursday, which has the names of some people redacted for privacy, shows that both reports could be described as at least partially correct: Yoshida said he did not order workers to evacuate to the No. 2 plant, but nonetheless workers went there. But he also said he later concluded the workers’ decision to go to No. 2 was far more appropriate than following his order.

“Actually, I never told them to go to 2F,” Yoshida is quoted as saying, referring to the still-functioning Fukushima No. 2. “(Later) I came to believe that going to 2F was by far the right thing to do if only you gave more thought to it.”

In the interviews, Yoshida often used blunt language to criticize top Tepco executives and government leaders for intervening in technical decisions that should have been left to the plant chief.

He also alleged that the desperate effort by Self-Defense Forces personnel, firefighters and police officers to get water into the dangerously hot spent-fuel pools “were all meaningless” given the small amount of water they were working with.

An SDF helicopter, dipping a huge bucket in the ocean, flew over the fuel pools and tried to dump the water into them. Water cannon trucks operated by the SDF, firefighters and police also shot water at the pools, and they were all praised as brave heroes.

But Yoshida said much of that water didn’t even reach the targets. “Even if all of the (water) had gone into the pools, the amount would have been something like 10 or 20 tons. That would be meaningless,” he said. He didn’t elaborate, but the spent fuel pool for reactor 4, for example, had the capacity to hold 1,425 tons of water.

Yoshida also sought to defend himself for not preparing for a monster tsunami, despite a 2008 simulation by experts that showed 15.7-meter waves could hit Fukushima No. 1 if a powerful earthquake were to hit off the coast. Yoshida was at that time the head of Tepco’s nuclear equipment management department, which is responsible for preparing for potential natural disasters such as quakes and tsunami. In the aftermath of 3/11, media outlets harshly criticized Tepco for ignoring the simulation.

But according to Yoshida, the simulation was fully hypothetical and based on an arbitrary assumption that a mega-quake would take place in the sea off Fukushima, with no scientific studies showing such a possibility.

No one in academia had said such a scenario was likely before the March 11 quake, and no one in the government was seriously considering such a possibility, Yoshida said. With no consensus among quake and tsunami experts, Tepco could not have assumed that such a big tsunami would hit the Tohoku region, Yoshida argued.

“I want to raise a loud voice to say this. This time, (the tsunami-quake disasters) killed 23,000 people. This is not just about issues regarding the safety of a nuclear power plant,” Yoshida said. “If you (criticize) us, why didn’t you take measures to prevent those people from dying? . . . People just discuss the design of a nuclear power plant.”

Govt. releases interviews about nuclear accident


Sep. 11, 2014 - Updated 14:56 UTC+2

Japan's government has released transcripts of interviews about the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.

The government on Thursday disclosed interviews with 19 of 772 government and Tokyo Electric Power Company officials. A government-appointed panel carried out the interviews between 2011 and 2012.

The released interviews include those of former plant manager Masao Yoshida and former prime minister Naoto Kan, who were both in their posts at the time of the 2011 accident.

The government had not disclosed the testimony. But it reversed its initial policy after some media outlets published what they say are transcripts of Yoshida's testimony.
Asked about TEPCO's possible removal of all staff members from the plant at the time of the accident, Yoshida said he spoke over the telephone with Goshi Hosono, an advisor to Kan at that time.

Yoshida said he told Hosono he believed they would need to evacuate those who were not directly involved and that they were preparing to do so.

Hosono said he'd never before worked with such a strong sense of tension, and that he had no memory of what he said then.

Then-chief cabinet secretary Yukio Edano recalled conversations with then-TEPCO president Masataka Shimuzu.
Edano said he had heard from someone that utility officials were talking about withdrawal from the plant. Edano said he then received a telephone call from Shimizu, who said something similar.
Edano said he didn't remember the exact words Shimizu used, but he was sure the president was talking about a full-scale withdrawal. Edano said other government officials received separate phone calls and that he couldn't have misunderstood the nature of the conversation.

Then-prime minister Naoto Kan spoke about his time at the headquarters of the utility after the accident.

Kan said he told TEPCO officials that they were the party in charge and that he urged them to work as if their lives depended on it.

Kan said he told them that there was no way to escape or withdraw. He said he urged the chairman and president to get prepared to have employees over 60 years old go to the accident site.

Kan reportedly said he himself was resolved and that TEPCO would collapse if they decided on withdrawal.

Then-industry minister Banri Kaieda spoke about Shimizu's appearance at the prime minister's office.

Kaieda said cabinet ministers were frustrated with the utility and their sense of distrust was at a peak. He said the ministers felt pressed to summon the president to tell him what to do.

Former plant chief Yoshida said in testimony that he wondered what the ministers were making a fuss about. Yoshida said he wanted to make sure that people were not leaving and that he by no means had told his employees to get away.

The government plans to release testimony by other interviewees subject to their consent by the end of the year.

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