21 Juin 2012
June 22, 2012
Tokyo Electronic Power Co. has defended its actions following the March 11, 2011, earthquake and tsunami, claiming that interference by the Prime Minister's Office confused workers at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant during the initial period of the crisis there, according to a final report by TEPCO.
The report, released Wednesday, was compiled by an in-house panel convened in June last year. The report was based on about 600 hearings with employees and others, as well as computer analysis on why meltdowns occurred in the plant's reactors.
The 1,200-page report, however, left many issues unclear, such as why the No. 2 reactor released massive amounts of radiation into the air. Also, it made almost no references to the responsibilities of TEPCO Chairman Tsunehisa Katsumata and other executives.
The release of the report wraps up TEPCO's investigation of the crisis before a shareholder meeting next Wednesday.
"We've made the best possible efforts in conducting our investigation," said Executive Vice President Masao Yamazaki, head of the in-house panel, during a press conference Wednesday at the utility's headquarters in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo.
The report emphasized that intervention by then Prime Minister Naoto Kan and other top government officials in the Prime Minister's Office "caused unnecessary confusion by making unrealistic demands."
Kan phoned Masao Yoshida, then head of the plant, the day after the Great East Japan Earthquake.
Kan and one of his aides spoke with Yoshida, proposing that the plant's reactors could be cooled down by referring to the 1979 nuclear crisis at Three Mile Island in the United States, the report said.
It described the instructions as "unrealistic given the actual state" of the reactors.
Regarding information released to residents near the crippled plant, which was criticized as being insufficient, the report again blamed the Prime Minster's Office.
TEPCO found it difficult to release information without approval from the office after it expressed dissatisfaction over TEPCO's release of a photo of the No. 1 reactor, which was hit by a hydrogen explosion the day after the disaster, the report said.
As a result, the utility could not promptly announce that pressure inside the No. 3 reactor's containment vessel was increasing March 14 until it obtained government approval, the report added.
Regarding safety measures against tsunami, the report repeated that TEPCO had been "unprepared" for a tsunami of the size triggered by the Great East Japan Earthquake because it was beyond the scope of its estimates.
TEPCO estimated in the spring of 2008 that the plant could be hit by a tsunami as high as 15.7 meters. However, the report justified the utility's failure to take any countermeasures at that time because it was "just a provisional estimate."
"We're sorry we failed to prevent the reactor cores from being damaged," the report said.
However, the report repeated excuses regarding the tsunami by describing it as "one of the most powerful tsunami ever seen" and "a giant tsunami beyond our imagination."
Denies withdrawal plan
Regarding whether TEPCO considered withdrawing all workers from the crippled Fukushima plant, the report insisted the utility did not have such a plan. It cited an internal document stipulating that all employees "except for emergency workers" should be evacuated quickly in the event of an accident.
The report said the utility "found it odd" when Kan shouted that withdrawing all workers from the plant would be unacceptable during his visit to TEPCO's headquarters.
When the Diet-appointed Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission conducted a hearing last month with then Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Banri Kaieda, he mentioned a telephone call he received from then TEPCO President Masataka Shimizu.
"They used the word 'withdrawal,' and never mentioned that some [of the plant's workers] would remain there," he told the panel.
However, the panel announced June 9 that it "cannot confirm that TEPCO made a decision to withdraw all workers" from the plant, based on Yoshida's testimony.
A similar investigation by the government also supported this when it released an interim report in December.
On the other hand, the Independent Investigation Commission on the Fukushima Nuclear Accident, set up as a private-sector panel by the Rebuild Japan Initiative Foundation, said, "There is not enough evidence to support TEPCO's claims" that all top government officials at the Prime Minister's Office believed the utility would withdraw all workers from the crippled plant.
An internal Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) report on the Fukushima nuclear meltdowns released on June 20 heaps blame on the government for worsening the situation, while absolving the firm of nearly all responsibility for the disaster.
Speaking at a news conference on the release of the report, TEPCO Vice President and internal investigative committee chair Masao Yamazaki admitted that there were "some problems" with how the utility responded to the March 2011 meltdowns. Furthermore, the report states that "all parties connected to the disaster, including this company, should reflect deeply on what happened."
However, Yamazaki maintained that TEPCO had "successfully carried out all prescribed procedures" and "employees did everything they could under difficult circumstances.
"There was trouble with several reactors simultaneously, and it was a very severe situation. Despite a total power failure, aftershocks and multiple tsunami warnings, (TEPCO staff) managed to cope," he added. The document itself traces the release of radioactive materials from the plant -- estimated at the equivalent of roughly 900,000 terabecquerels of radioiodine -- but does not address whether TEPCO could have done anything to lessen the severity of the disaster.
The report reserved particularly scathing criticism for former Prime Minister Naoto Kan, who visited the stricken plant just a day after the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami triggered the nuclear disaster. Specifically, the report blamed Kan's visit and subsequent contacts with then Fukushima No. 1 plant manager Masao Yoshida for "promoting useless confusion" in the opening days of the crisis.
Yoshida was quoted in the report as saying an "oppressive" Kan was "in a fit of rage and screamed at me" during a March 15 video conference. "He demanded to know if anyone had run away, and if anyone had, who they were," Yoshida's statement read. Kan has repeatedly insisted that TEPCO had hinted it wanted to abandon the plant soon after the crisis began, but the report includes internal documents calling for evacuation of "all but essential emergency personnel," and concludes the staff was well aware of the need to deal with the meltdowns.
The committee also turned criticism of its "slow" public release of "meager" information on the developing crisis back on the government, concluding that Tokyo had "restricted both the content and the timing of information releases."
One example quoted was photos of the March 12 hydrogen explosion that blew apart the No. 1 reactor building. The photos were released before reaching the Prime Minister's Office, which allegedly viewed this as a problem. Then TEPCO President Masataka Shimizu subsequently told TEPCO staff, "From now on, all information goes to the PM's Office first, and nothing is to be released until we get permission from them."
The report states that as a result, information on rising pressure in the No. 3 reactor containment vessel on March 14 was released late as TEPCO tried to coordinate with the government.
The pattern of laying blame at the government's feet repeated itself throughout the TEPCO committee's findings. For instance, the committee claimed that responsibility for the No. 1 plant's failed tsunami defenses lay not with the utility, but with the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology and the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency for "not instructing (TEPCO) to implement anti-tsunami measures immediately" -- despite a 2008 government report warning of massive waves.