17 Juin 2016
THE ASAHI SHIMBUN
Former government leaders vehemently rejected suggestions in a report that they were pulling the strings behind a suspected meltdown cover-up when the Fukushima nuclear disaster was unfolding in 2011.
The report, compiled by an investigation panel commissioned by Tokyo Electric Power Co., operator of the crippled nuclear power plant, said Masataka Shimizu, who was TEPCO president at the time of the accident, instructed employees not to use the term “meltdown,” leading to a delay in the official announcement.
But the report also implied that Shimizu was acting on orders from high up in the government.
Yukio Edano, who was chief Cabinet secretary of the Democratic Party of Japan-led government when the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami triggered the nuclear crisis on March 11, 2011, described the report as preposterous.
“As far as I know, it is unthinkable for government officials back then to ask TEPCO to do such a thing,” Edano, now the secretary-general of the opposition Democratic Party, told reporters on June 16.
He accused the panel of merely skimming the surface of the matter and sidestepping the truth behind the instructions to avoid using the term “meltdown.”
“It is utterly irresponsible for the panel to say that it did not uncover that (Shimizu) was instructed by who and what,” he said.
The third-party panel of legal experts said in the report released on June 16 that it can be assumed that Shimizu understood that he was requested by the prime minister’s office to seek its approval beforehand if the company were to announce the “meltdown.”
The panel also said it would be difficult to conclude that TEPCO’s delay in declaring the meltdown was a “deliberate cover-up.”
“Since TEPCO released information on radiation levels inside the reactors and other related data at that time, just not using the term meltdown cannot be described as an act of a deliberate cover-up,” the panel said.
TEPCO declared the meltdown at three reactors at the Fukushima No. 1 plant in May 2011, two months after it occurred.
According to the report, Shimizu entered the chief Cabinet secretary’s office, which is located at the prime minister’s office building, by himself on March 13, 2011. The following day, Sakae Muto, vice president of TEPCO, explained the conditions of the reactors at the plant.
During the news conference, Shimizu handed a memo to Muto through a TEPCO public relations official, telling him not to use the word “meltdown” on the instructions of the prime minister’s office, according to the panel.
Naoto Kan, who was prime minister at the time of the disaster, denied giving the instruction to TEPCO.
“I myself have never given directions to TEPCO not to use the expression ‘meltdown,’” Kan, a member of the Democratic Party, said in a statement.
One reason for the lack of clarity in the report is that Shimizu, who was interviewed twice for a total of four hours, said, “I do not remember very well” with regard to who gave what instructions.
Another TEPCO employee interviewed by the panel said Shimizu “was under tremendous pressure and must not have a detailed recollection.”
The panel interviewed about 60 former and current TEPCO officials but no government officials and bureaucrats who were involved in dealing with the crisis.
“Our authority to investigate is limited, and it is difficult (to uncover the entire truth) in such a short time,” said Yasuhisa Tanaka, the lawyer who headed the investigation.
Tanaka and another panel member, Zenzo Sasaki, a former prosecutor at the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office, were also in charge of the third-party investigation into the accident conducted in 2013.
That investigation, based on interviews of TEPCO officials, came under fire for “only arbitrarily presenting TEPCO’s argument that is convenient to the company.”
The findings by the latest panel showed TEPCO officials looking into the nuclear disaster were aware of Shimizu’s order not to use “meltdown,” but TEPCO’s in-house investigation team did not include it in its report in 2012, apparently believing it was not significant enough to mention.
“TEPCO’s efforts to share information inside the company were insufficient,” Tanaka said. “It lacked consideration for local governments, which should have been top priority.”
The revelation that Shimizu ordered the avoidance of “meltdown” fueled feelings of distrust toward TEPCO among local governments hosting TEPCO nuclear power plants.
“We are still in this stage of the investigation even five years after the accident,” said Toshitsuna Watanabe, mayor of Okuma, which co-hosts the crippled Fukushima plant.
Hirohiko Izumida, governor of Niigata Prefecture, home to TEPCO’s Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant, called for a further investigation to reveal the whole picture of the Fukushima disaster.
“We need to step up efforts to uncover what has not been sufficiently investigated before,” he said. “TEPCO, as an organization, should make a sincere response without hiding anything.”
The latest panel was established in March at the request of the Niigata prefectural government’s technology committee, which aims to determine why TEPCO waited until May 2011 to announce the triple meltdown.
TEPCO initially said it did not have the criteria for defining and determining a meltdown.
But it announced in February this year that the company “found” an in-house manual that explained whether a meltdown was taking place.
June 17, 2016 (Mainichi Japan)
TOKYO (AP) -- A Japanese opposition leader who was a senior official during the 2011 Fukushima nuclear plant crisis denied Friday that he or the prime minister at the time pressured the president of Tokyo Electric Power Co. not to use the term "meltdown."
Democratic Party Secretary-General Yukio Edano called a special news conference to refute a finding in a new report that then-TEPCO President Masataka Shimizu apparently came under political pressure not to use the word. The report did not find direct evidence of that.
"The fact that I or then-Prime Minister (Naoto) Kan ordered or requested then-President Shimizu to avoid using the term 'meltdown' under any circumstance does not exist," Edano said. He said the timing of the report was suspicious ahead of an Upper House election next month.
The report released Thursday by a team of three lawyers appointed by TEPCO found that an instruction from Shimizu to avoid using the term "meltdown" delayed full public disclosure of the status of the nuclear plant, which suffered three reactor meltdowns after a major earthquake and tsunami hit the northeastern Japanese coast on March 11, 2011.
The utility used the less serious phrase "core damage" for two months after the disaster.
TEPCO reported to authorities three days after the tsunami that the damage, based on a computer simulation, involved 25 to 55 percent of the fuel but did not say it constituted a "meltdown," the report said. Yet the company's internal manual defined a meltdown as damage to more than 5 percent of the fuel.
In May 2011, TEPCO finally used "meltdown" after another computer simulation showed fuel in one reactor had almost entirely melted and fallen to the bottom of the primary containment chamber, and that the two other reactor cores had melted significantly.
TEPCO has been accused of softening its language to cover up the seriousness of the disaster, though the investigation found TEPCO's delayed acknowledgement did not break any law.
In the 70-page report, the lawyers said Shimizu instructed his deputy not to use the word "meltdown" during news conferences immediately after the crisis. TEPCO's vice president at the time, Sakae Muto, used the phrase "possibility of meltdown" until March 14, 2011.
Video of a news conference that day shows a company official rushing over to Muto when he was about to respond to a question, showing him a memo and hissing into his ear, "The prime minister's office says never to use this word."
Yasuhisa Tanaka, the lawyer who headed the investigation, said interviews of 70 former and current TEPCO officials, including Muto and Shimizu, showed that Muto had planned to use the word "meltdown" until he saw the memo, which has not been found.
"Mr. Shimizu's understanding was the term 'meltdown' could not be used without permission from the prime minister's office," Tanaka said at a news conference at TEPCO headquarters. "The notion that the word should be avoided was shared company-wide. But we don't believe it was a cover-up."
Edano criticized the report as "inadequate and unilateral," and said the team didn't talk to him or Kan.
Tanaka said his investigation, which did not interview any government officials, could not track down what exactly happened between Shimizu and the prime minister's office.
The Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, Japan's nuclear regulatory unit at the time, was also reluctant to use the word. Two spokesmen were replaced between March 12 and 13, 2011, after suggesting meltdowns had occurred.
TEPCO has said the delay in confirming the meltdowns didn't affect the company's response to the emergency.
The issue surfaced earlier this year in a separate investigation in which TEPCO acknowledged that a company manual had been overlooked, reversing its earlier position that it had no internal criteria for a meltdown. TEPCO has eliminated the definition of a meltdown from the manual in revisions after the Fukushima disaster.
Former prime minister Naoto Kan has denied telling anyone to avoid using the word "meltdown" in the aftermath of the Fukushima nuclear accident.
Kan released a statement on Friday. He was prime minister at the time of the March 2011 accident.
In the statement, Kan says he never gave instructions to Tokyo Electric Power Company or the now-defunct Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency to avoid using "meltdown" or its Japanese equivalent.
Kan says the TEPCO panel should clarify who gave such an order. He says people from the utility were in the prime minister's office at the time, in addition to politicians and bureaucrats who were dealing with the accident.
Kan says what TEPCO describes as a "third-party" panel never questioned him about the issue. He went on to say that lawyers and other panel members were chosen by the utility, so they were not independent at all.
Kan said the most important point in verifying the details of the nuclear accident is to disclose all the testimonies that TEPCO officials gave to a government inquiry, as well as the recordings of teleconferences held during the crisis.