Former Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan said concern that Tokyo Electric Power Co. (9501) may evacuate all workers from its Fukushima atomic plant after last year’s quake and tsunami prompted him to create a joint response center.
Kan, who was prime minister at the time of the disaster that wrecked the plant and caused radiation leaks, spoke today before the probe headed by Kiyoshi Kurokawa, a professor emeritus at Tokyo University.
“When this withdrawal issue was raised as a possibility, I felt we needed to integrate the government and Tokyo Electric’s decision making or else a terrible situation would arise,” Kan told the commission. The body comprising officials from the government and the company known as Tepco was established on March 15, he said.
Then Trade Minister Banri Kaieda woke Kan early on March 15 with news of a plan by Tepco President Masataka Shimizu to withdraw staff from the crippled reactors. The former premier said he disagreed with the proposal because he had been assured by plant manager Masao Yoshida that more could be done to control the mounting crisis.
When Kan called Shimizu, the company president assured him that the withdrawal wouldn’t occur, he said. Shimizu resigned in May last year.
The company’s view is that it never requested a complete withdrawal. A statement to this effect is on Tepco’s website.
Kurokawa, the head of Japan’s latest probe into the Fukushima nuclear disaster, promised to dig deeper than previous inquiries into the events that unfolded after last year’s March 11 earthquake and tsunami. He has said he will present the findings of the commission, which has subpoena powers and was appointed by Japan’s parliament, by June.
Kan’s testimony came a day after Trade Minister Yukio Edano recollected his own response as then-chief cabinet secretary to Tepco’s proposal that workers be evacuated from the plant.
“I received a phone call from Tepco’s president about full withdrawal from the plant,” Edano told the investigation. “My response was that will make the situation worse and uncontrollable.”
Kan said at today’s hearing that he was concerned about a meltdown at the station because it housed six separate reactor units and seven spent fuel pools.
“In terms of Chernobyl, it was only one reactor,” he said. “This would not just be a few times more than the damage in Chernobyl but dozens of times, hundreds of times.”
The committee on May 15 questioned Tepco Chairman Tsunehisa Katsumata, who said it was the job of the company’s president to implement safety plans. Katsumata will be replaced as chairman in June following the government’s announcement it would nationalize the utility.
At an earlier meeting of the panel in February, Nuclear Safety Commission Chairman Haruki Madarame played down his own agency’s responsibility for the crisis, saying utilities and bureaucrats were to blame for lax enforcement of the country’s atomic safety rules.
Kurokawa’s 10-member parliamentary panel includes some of the most vocal critics of the government and Tepco before and after the March 11 accident.
They include seismologist Katsuhiko Ishibashi, who in 2007 warned of a catastrophic disaster at a nuclear plant similar to that which unfolded at Fukushima, and Mitsuhiko Tanaka, a former atomic equipment engineer and now an anti-nuclear activist.
Japan’s government said this month it will take control of Tepco and provide 1 trillion yen ($12.6 billion) as part of a bailout that is the nation’s largest since the rescue of the banking industry in the 1990s.
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