19 Mai 2012
May 19, 2012
The government's initial response to the Fukushima nuclear crisis was held up because it took more than one hour to persuade then Prime Minister Naoto Kan to declare a nuclear emergency, the industry minister at the time has revealed.
Banri Kaieda made the disclosure when he attended a session of the Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Committee as an unsworn witness Thursday.
It was the first time the committee conducted an open hearing investigation of a Diet member. Kaieda is a House of Representatives member from the ruling Democratic Party of Japan.
On the evening of March 11, 2011, Tokyo Electric Power Co., the operator of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, informed Kaieda of a critical situation at the plant. Kaieda, who was the economy, trade and industry minister at the time, hurried to the Prime Minister's Office and asked Kan to declare a nuclear emergency, he told the panel.
However, it took more than one hour until Kan issued the declaration because "it took time to get the understanding of the prime minister," Kaieda said.
Kaieda asked Kan to issue the declaration and establish the Nuclear Emergency Response Headquarters to be headed by the prime minister.
However, Kan responded, "On what grounds?"
Yukio Edano, who was chief cabinet secretary at the time, special advisers to the prime minister and other staffers then scrambled to confirm relevant laws--such as the Law on Special Measures Concerning Nuclear Emergency Preparedness--that would justify the issuance of the declaration and establishment of the headquarters, Kaieda told the panel.
While they were desperately trying to confirm the legal basis for these actions, Kan attended a meeting of ruling and opposition party leaders and engaged in other business.
Holding back the issuance of the emergency declaration resulted in delays in the efforts by authorities to inform residents near the nuclear station about the accident.
Some members of the Liberal Democratic Party and other opposition parties have ripped into the initial response of the DPJ-led administration. "The delay reduced the time residents had to decide whether they should evacuate," an opposition lawmaker said.
Kaieda admitted that communications between the Prime Minister's Office, TEPCO's head office and the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant were poor and chaotic.
"It was like we were playing Chinese whispers. I thought, 'This situation has to change,'" Kaieda told the independent panel during the hearing, which lasted about 2-1/2 hours.
There have been conflicting reports over whether then TEPCO President Masataka Shimizu told the government he intended to withdraw all workers from the crippled plant on March 15, 2011. Kaieda said he remembered Shimizu telling him about "an evacuation from the No. 1 plant to the Fukushima No. 2 power plant."
"I clearly recall three words President Shimizu said when he telephoned me. 'No. 1 power plant,' 'No. 2 power plant' and 'evacuation,'" Kaieda said. "There was never any mention of leaving some workers at the plant" to try to stop the crisis from spiraling out of control.
TEPCO insists it never intended to evacuate its workers from the complex after it was battered by the March 11 earthquake and ensuing tsunami.
Current TEPCO President Tsunehisa Katsumata told a hearing investigation by the committee Monday that "there is no truth" in the claim that the utility asked the government for permission to pull all its workers from the nuclear plant.