17 Juin 2016
June 17, 2016
COMPILED FROM THE ASAHI SHIMBUN AND WIRE REPORTS
June 17, 2016 at 10:15 JST
An outside investigation team appointed by the operator of Japan's damaged Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant said Thursday that an instruction from the company's then-president to avoid using the term "meltdown" delayed the full disclosure of the status of three reactors.
Tokyo Electric Power Co. described the condition of the three reactors as less serious "core damage" for two months after a March 2011 earthquake and tsunami destroyed the plant.
The panel of three TEPCO-commissioned lawyers said the company used the milder term despite knowing that the damage far exceeded its meaning because of the instructions by then-President Masataka Shimizu. The report said he was apparently under pressure from the prime minister's office, but that the panel did not find direct evidence of that.
Naoto Kan, who was prime minister when the nuclear accident occurred, has issued a statement that he had never given any instruction for TEPCO to refrain from using the term.
TEPCO reported to the authorities on March 14, 2011, 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. The company's internal manual defined a "meltdown" as a core condition with damage exceeding 5 percent of the fuel.
In May 2011, TEPCO finally used the description 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. But 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 when officials were peppered with questions about the reactor conditions. TEPCO's vice president at the time, Sakae Muto, had 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 about the conditions of the reactors, 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 since not been found.
"Mr. Shimizu's understanding was the term 'meltdown' could not be used without permission from the prime minister's office," Tanaka told 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."
The Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, Japan's nuclear regulatory unit at the time of the accident, was also reluctant to use the word. Two spokesmen were replaced between March 12 and 13, 2011, after suggesting meltdowns had occurred.
Government and parliamentary investigations have suggested officials, seeking to play down the severity of the Fukushima nuclear crisis, resisted using the term. Tanaka said his investigation, which did not interview government officials, could not track down what exactly happened between Shimizu and the prime minister's office.
The prime minister's office has denied putting any pressure on TEPCO and the safety agency over language. But previous investigations of the accident show it demanded they coordinate with the office and unify approaches before making any announcement.
TEPCO has said the delay in confirming the meltdown didn't affect the company's emergency response at the plant. Although the reactors have been stabilized significantly, the company is still struggling with the plant's decades-long decommissioning.
Delays in the announcement of meltdowns 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 that was revised after the Fukushima accident.
June 16, 2016
The president of Tokyo Electric Power Co. during the Fukushima nuclear crisis told employees not to publicly use the term “meltdown,” apparently in response to government pressure, a third party report released Thursday said.
The report, compiled by three lawyers, said it is highly likely the government at the time pressured Masataka Shimizu, then Tepco’s president when the monstrous earthquake and tsunami disabled the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant on March 11, 2011, about the utility’s disclosures in the early stages of the crisis.
The report said someone in the government, then headed by Prime Minister Naoto Kan of the Democratic Party of Japan, was unhappy Tepco had revealed a photo of the blown-up building for reactor No. 1 on March 12 without telling the government in advance.
The Prime Minister’s Office then called Shimizu the same day. After Shimizu returned to Tepco’s Tokyo headquarters, he told his fellow executives that they needed to check with the Prime Minister’s Office whenever disclosing information to the public, according to the report.
The report also said Shimizu sent a note on March 14 to Vice President Sakae Muto, who was overseeing the plant and holding a news conference, to warn him not to say meltdown.
“Considering this fact, it is presumable that the Prime Minister’s Office requested Shimizu to be careful about admitting to a meltdown in public,” the report said.
The panel thought this was a critical point that required further investigation but was unable to track down a specific bureaucrat who made such a request. Yasuhisa Tanaka, who headed the panel, said it conducted hearings with 60 Tepco employees but did not talk to anyone from the government side.
Tepco did not acknowledge that a reactor meltdown had occurred until May 15, 2011 — two months after the fact.
Asked whether Tepco was intentionally covering up the meltdowns, Tanaka said that was probably not the utility’s intention at the time.
“Looking at the situation back then, we think it was difficult for Tepco to use the term meltdown because even the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency couldn’t use it” due to apparent government pressure, Tanaka said.
The Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency was Japan’s nuclear watchdog at that time.
The panel spent about three months investigating why Tepco could not publicly reveal the meltdowns occurred earlier than it did.
In February, nearly five years after the crisis, Tepco announced it should have declared the meltdowns earlier, citing the existence of a company manual that listed what constitutes a meltdown. The manual says that meltdown is a state in which 5 percent or more of the fuel rods is damaged.
As of March 14, 2011, Tepco estimated that 55 percent of the fuel rod assemblies in reactor No. 1 and 25 percent of those in reactor No. 3 were damaged but did not declare that they had melted until May that year.
Niigata Prefecture has been pressuring Tepco to look into why it took about two months for the utility to admit to a meltdown.
Niigata hosts Tepco’s Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear plant, which the firm desperately wants to restart, but Niigata Gov. Hirohiko Izumida has stressed that he won’t give the green light until the Fukushima crisis has been thoroughly investigated.
Tepco had explained to Niigata that it did not use the term meltdown because there was no clear definition of it. But it found the manual in February, which contradicted the explanation and led to the third-party investigation.
The report said that workers at the Fukushima plant were apparently following the manual but seemed to avoid using the term meltdown, presumably because there was a common understanding within the company not to use it.
Tokyo Electric changed its name in April to Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc