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information about Fukushima published in English in Japanese media info publiée en anglais dans la presse japonaise

Better late than never

March 9, 2012

Nuclear disaster taskforce minutes compiled



The government has released pieced-together minutes from its task force meetings after the crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant began on March 11th of last year.

On that day, the earthquake and tsunami knocked out external power and disabled the plant's backup generators. Then Prime Minister Naoto Kan declared a state of emergency at the nuclear plant, and presided over the first meeting of the task force on the evening of March 11th. But it was recently discovered that no minutes of that or subsequent meetings had been taken.

In response to public criticism, the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency interviewed those who had taken part in the meeting and studied their notes in order to prepare the minutes, which were released on Friday.
The minutes of the task force's first meeting show that an unidentified participant spoke about a worst-case scenario. The participant said meltdowns could occur if the core temperatures of the reactors were to rise after backup cooling batteries were exhausted, after about 8 hours.

The government had not yet issued an evacuation order at the time. But the record also shows that another member of the task force told the meeting that it may be necessary at some point to evacuate people from an area within 10 kilometers of the plant.

At the 3rd meeting, held after noon on March 12th, then National Policy Minister Koichiro Gemba pointed out the possibility of meltdowns occurring at the plant and asked whether a 10-kilometer evacuation radius would be sufficient.

At the time, an evacuation zone was set up within 10 kilometers of the plant. The zone was expanded to 20 kilometers after a hydrogen explosion occurred at the Number 1 reactor at 6:25 PM on March 12th.

The minutes offer no detailed accounts of how decisions were made on crucial matters, such as reviewing the evacuation zones. This makes it difficult to examine the government's decision-making process in handling the disaster.

Gov't recognized meltdown possibility hours after tsunami hit plant



TOKYO (Kyodo) -- The Japanese government was aware of the possibility of a nuclear meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant on the very day the complex was hit by the earthquake and tsunami last March, a summary of the meetings of the government's nuclear emergency headquarters showed Friday.

The possibility was pointed out by an unidentified attendee at the first meeting convened for about 20 minutes from 7:03 p.m. on March 11 last year, after the plant was hit by the magnitude 9.0 earthquake at 2:46 p.m.

The summary suggests that the government, from the beginning of the accident, had in mind the worst case scenario that may occur at the plant, about 220 kilometers northeast of Tokyo, but was reluctant to actively disclose information to the public.

It took a few months for the government to officially acknowledge that meltdowns had occurred in three crippled reactors. The government has also stirred controversy for replacing a spokesman of the nuclear safety agency, after he touched on the possibility of meltdown at a press conference on March 12.

After being criticized for failing to create minutes of the key gathering, the government compiled a 76-page summary of the headquarters' 23 meetings from recorded conversations and memos written by officials of the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency and other government organizations who were attending the meetings.

The document showed that a participant said, "There is a need to move emergency diesel generators to cool (the reactors), but they are not moving because of tsunami. The only thing that is moving is cooling (equipment) that can be operated by batteries. This will last for eight hours."

"If the temperature of the reactor rises after eight hours, there is a possibility that a meltdown will occur," the summary quoted a person as saying.

At the third meeting held at noon on March 12, then national strategy minister Koichiro Gemba was quoted saying, "There is a possibility of a meltdown. Is it OK with the evacuation zone set at 10 kilometers? Is there no need to reconsider?"

In the afternoon, the government decided to expand the evacuation zone to a 20-km radius from the plant.

At the seventh meeting on March 14, then Prime Minister Naoto Kan said that "the consensus of experts is that 20 km is enough," and Gemba argued, "Some experts have different views."

Gemba is a House of Representatives member, and his election district is in Fukushima Prefecture.

The summary of the fourth meeting on March 12, meanwhile, showed that Kan feared the nuclear crisis at the plant might turn into a situation similar to the 1979 accident at the Three Mile Island Unit 2 in the United States, which resulted in a partial meltdown of the reactor core.

He also said that Japan is "facing the biggest crisis in the postwar period" at a meeting on March 13.

The summary was unveiled just before the first anniversary of the natural disasters, which devastated the country's northeastern coast and triggered the world's worst nuclear crisis since the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.

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