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

Not very satisfactory

March 12, 2012

ONE YEAR AFTER THE DISASTER / Summaries prove government's ineptitude / Chaos reigned at nuclear emergency response HQ over decision-making process, evacuation zones



The summaries of meetings held after the outbreak of the crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant expose the ineptitude of the government in dealing with the disaster.

The 76 pages of summaries were compiled from notes and other materials following revelations that the government had failed to keep minutes of the meetings. They were released Friday.

Although they cover 23 meetings of the Nuclear Emergency Response Headquarters, they barely scratch the surface of what was discussed.

The decision-making process on such key policies as responses to a nuclear meltdown is still a matter of conjecture.

The release of such inadequate summaries has once again put the government on the spot for its lackadaisical attitude toward keeping records on important meetings.

"We should've been prepared for an emergency by [setting up a system] to tape-record meetings that take place in confusing situations, so the recordings could be used to produce ex post facto minutes," Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Yukio Edano told reporters Friday following release of the summaries. Edano was chief cabinet secretary when the nuclear crisis erupted.

The first meeting of the Nuclear Emergency Response Headquarters, which is headed by the prime minister, began after 7 p.m. on March 11, the day when the government declared a state of emergency at the Fukushima plant.

Although the government was supposed to take the lead in swiftly resolving the crisis, the summaries suggest it was completely confused and decided on a mishmash of policies with little transparency.

Symbolic of this confusion was the government's assessment of the meltdown.

Members of the headquarters were briefed that the plant had activated emergency cooling systems, run mainly on batteries, after losing its power, the summaries said.

"After [the batteries go dead in about] eight hours, the reactors probably will undergo a meltdown," an unknown speaker was quoted as saying in the summaries.

According to an analysis by Tokyo Electric Power Co. in May, a meltdown is believed to have started at the No. 1 reactor on the night of March 11.

However, members of the headquarters apparently were not aware of the imminent danger.

"No radioactive materials have been detected to have leaked from the plant. There is no need to take special action," another unknown speaker was quoted as saying in the summaries.

In line with this statement, the government issued an evacuation order only to people within a three-kilometer radius of the plant.

However, the government received a report from TEPCO saying it would release steam from the plant's reactor into the atmosphere to reduce pressure inside. As a result, the government expanded the evacuation area to 10 kilometers early in the morning of March 12.

But opinion was divided in the Cabinet on the size of the evacuation zone.

In the third meeting of the headquarters, which started early in the afternoon of March 12, Koichiro Gemba, then state minister in charge of national policy, called on the headquarters to reconsider the evacuation zone.

"There is the possibility of a meltdown. Shouldn't we review the 10-kilometer-radius zone [and expand it further]?" Gemba was quoted as saying.

However, the summaries indicated that discussions on this subject were far from adequate.

Three hours after this meeting, a hydrogen explosion ripped the No. 1 reactor building apart, an incident no one in the government had anticipated. As a result, the evacuation area was expanded to 20 kilometers in the evening, a decision made far too late.

The summaries also show confusion in the government's chain of command was compounded when hydrogen explosions occurred at the plant's Nos. 3 and 4 reactor buildings.

At the eighth meeting held in the early afternoon of March 15, then Internal Affairs and Communications Minister Yoshihiro Katayama made a complaint.

"Who is leading this operation? We've received numerous requests, but many of them seem pointless," he was quoted as saying. "They are piecemeal and childish. There is a lack of command [in the government]."

Katayama apparently was critical that the integrated command had been split up, so operations were being carried out on the basement floor of the Prime Minister Office's crisis management center and on the fifth floor, where Prime Minister Naoto Kan was working.

However, Kan put all the blame on TEPCO, according to the summaries.

"Ninety percent of the raw data comes from TEPCO," Kan said. "Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Banri Kaieda and Goshi Hosono, special adviser to the prime minister, are assigned to deal with TEPCO, but communication is insufficient."

At a meeting on the evening of March 16, at which the overheating of the spent nuclear fuel storage pool of the No. 4 reactor was on the agenda, Kan was quoted as saying testily: "It's out of question [for TEPCO] to withdraw [from the Fukushima plant]. We may end up being exposed to higher levels of [radioactive] materials than those released in the Chernobyl disaster."

At the 10th meeting on March 17, Cabinet members expressed frustration over the situation as comprehensive policies still had not been worked out, even though six days had passed since the disaster.

"We should order local residents [around the nuclear power plant] to evacuate based on the worst-case scenario," Gemba was quoted as saying. "I've already devised an evacuation plan."

It is not known if that plan was approved.

The government was later criticized for failing to come up with an evacuation plan by utilizing data from the System for Prediction of Environmental Emergency Dose Information (SPEEDI), a system for predicting the spread of radioactive materials.

The summaries show the issue had not been discussed, either at the Nuclear Emergency Response Headquarters or the government-TEPCO joint headquarters.

The April 4 release into the sea of water contaminated with low-level radiation from the Fukushima plant drew international criticism. The summaries show the headquarters discussed the issue only once at the 13th meeting on April 11, when Kaieda reported that the measure was an "emergency step and unavoidable."

After the summaries were released, one Cabinet member called for further investigation.

"The decision-making process has not yet been fully clarified," he said.

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