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In retrospect

June 12, 2012


Panel raps Prime Minister's Office over nuclear crisis

The Yomiuri Shimbun



Excessive intervention by the Prime Minister's Office impeded efforts to contain the crisis at Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, a Diet-appointed panel has concluded.

The Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission finalized the main points of its investigation results Saturday, ahead of its final report.

The commission also concluded that the delay in reacting to the crisis by the Prime Minister's Office caused serious confusion in the evacuation of local residents.

The panel will likely conclude, in its final report to be submitted to heads of both chambers of the Diet at the end of June, that the Prime Minister's Office was most responsible for confusion in the response to the nuclear crisis, sources said.

In Saturday's meeting, panelmember Shuya Nomura, a professor at Chuo University's law school, detailed the final report's six main points, which were approved without objection.

The first point is the Prime Minister's Office's excessive intervention in the response to the nuclear crisis.

Nomura was harshly critical, saying: "Officials at the Prime Minister's Office made frequent calls to workers on site to ask inappropriate basic questions. To answer such questions, the workers had to waste their time and energy.

"The Prime Minister's Office's frequent intervention confused the chain of command [at the plant]." The comment apparently referred to such actions as then Prime Minister Naoto Kan calling then plant chief Masao Yoshida.

Regarding concern that TEPCO hinted it would withdraw all workers from the crippled plant, Nomura said the panel could not find any evidence to show the firm had made such a decision.

Although it has been said that one of the few "achievements" of the Prime Minister's Office through its intervention was to block the full withdrawal of workers, the premise of this claim has now been refuted, observers say.

Nomura also said TEPCO's headquarters "did not coordinate with the Prime Minister's Office's intervention, but simply conveyed instructions [from the office] to workers on site."

The panel's second point is that the crisis-control system and other relevant functions of the Prime Minister's Office must be drastically reconstructed.

Concerning initial responses of the Prime Minister's Office, Nomura said, "It failed to play the role it should have, leading to delays in issuing evacuation instructions and releasing information on the nuclear crisis."

The statement is based on the fact Kan declared a nuclear emergency more than one hour after TEPCO informed the government of the plant's critical situation, which caused a delay in issuing evacuation instructions to residents in the affected areas.

Given the Prime Minister's Office's excessive intervention, the panel suggested in the third point that in principle, during a serious accident, matters inside a nuclear power plant should be handled by the utility, while outside issues should be covered by the government.

The panel also pointed out difficulties in using the System for Prediction of Environmental Emergency Dose Information, or SPEEDI, a system that predicts the spread of radioactive substances, to issue evacuation instructions at the outset of the crisis.

In terms of the overall administration of nuclear security, the panel said the government apparently undermined the safety and health of local residents.

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