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TEPCO releases previously withheld footage

December 1, 2012

Fukushima plant chief defied TEPCO headquarters to protect workers





By NAOYA KON/ Staff Writer

Exasperated by his superiors, the manager of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant rejected orders to send workers back into the crippled plant a week after the disaster struck.

“My people have been working day and night for eight straight days,” Masao Yoshida barked at officials of Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s head office in Tokyo during a teleconference on March 18, 2011. “And they’ve been going to the site a number of times. They pour water, make checks and add oil periodically. I cannot make them be exposed to even more radiation.”

TEPCO, the operator of the plant, allowed journalists on Nov. 30 to view the video footage of its in-house teleconference following the disaster.

Like earlier footage released by the utility, the latest clips underscored the chaos and confusion at the plant and TEPCO headquarters after the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami caused the triple meltdown.

“All workers are approaching 200 (millisieverts) in exposure or have even topped 200,” Yoshida said. “I cannot tell them to go and connect wires under high radiation.”

Yoshida had asked for an increase in manpower since the accident began. His frustrations over TEPCO’s lack of progress in providing additional support boiled over in the teleconference with the head office.

“If we do the work under a plan with no feasibility, it will end in failure. We cannot do it unless we have thorough help,” he said.

Sakae Muto, an executive vice president at the Tokyo office, could not provide a specific plan for extra help.

“We are now seeking people from a wide range, including former employees, and are planning to figure out the necessary manpower by tomorrow morning,” Muto said. “We will prepare to send those people to you as soon as possible.”

Yoshida stepped down as the plant’s chief for health reasons in December 2011. Muto also resigned.

By NAOYA KON/ Staff Writer


We'll die if it explodes': Gov't ignored Fukushima plant manager's plea



The government prioritized spraying water from helicopters at the tsunami-hit Fukushima nuclear plant after a high-level political decision, spurning the plant manager's request that water be promptly sprayed from fire engines, footage of a teleconference of the plant operator shows.

Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), operator of the crippled Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant, released to the media on Nov. 30 the video footage of about 336 hours of meetings that had been previously been withheld.

The footage shows teleconferences held between TEPCO headquarters and workers at the plant, as well as with a local accident task force and at other locations between March 16 and 23 and between March 30 and April 6, 2011.

In the meetings, executives and employees talked about a response to the nuclear disaster, such as how water should be poured into a pool holding spent nuclear fuel in the power station's No. 3 reactor building and whether to discharge water contaminated with radioactive substances. It also records the voice of a politician who was at the company headquarters.

In August, the utility had released footage of about 150 hours of TEPCO teleconferences between sometime immediately after the March 11 accident and March 15 last year.

The newly released footage shows that then plant manager Masao Yoshida protested at TEPCO headquarters on March 16 for failing to issue any clear order to spray water into the No. 4 pool for spent nuclear fuel although it was feared that water levels would decline considerably.

"We'll die if it explodes," Yoshida said.

Goshi Hosono, then aide to the prime minister, tried to calm down Yoshida saying, "We'll continue efforts to reduce such risks as much as possible."

Hosono then asked Yoshida whether the plant manager and other workers wanted water to be sprayed from the ground.

"We'd like to do so promptly," Yoshida replied, insisting that water be sprayed from fire engines.

In the end, however, Hosono rejected Yoshida's request, and told him that the government would spray water from Self-Defense Forces (SDF) helicopters. "We made the decision after consulting with Prime Minister Naoto Kan and others in an emergency meeting," Hosono told Yoshida.

At 9:48 a.m. on March 17, SDF helicopters began to drop water onto the plant's No. 3 reactor building.

The footage shows employees at TEPCO wavered between hope and despair when they watched the SDF operations on television.

"Good. It hit the target. One more time," one employee said.

"The water hasn't reached the target," he said shortly afterwards. "It's just like a mist."

Plant workers appeared irritated at the headquarters' slow response to the buildup of radioactive water on the premises of the power station.

"There's no time to create a new water tank. Dealing with water is an urgent task," Yoshida said in one of the teleconferences, hinting at the need to release water contaminated with low levels of radioactive substances into the sea.

TEPCO went ahead with the release of such tainted water into the sea on April 4, drawing fire from the public.

Of the 336 hours of footage, TEPCO only picked up parts recording discussions on the release of radioactive water into the sea and other matters, edited them into about 110 minutes of footage and uploaded the video to its website (http://photo.tepco.co.jp) after altering sections that would otherwise identify individual employees.

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