Bloomberg News

Tepco Weighed Using Firearms to Avoid Fukushima Explosion

August 07, 2012

Tepco Weighed Using Firearms to Avoid Fukushima Explosions

A handout screen shot shows Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s videoconference between the company's Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear power station in Fukushima and Tepco's headquarters in Tokyo held on March 14, 2011. Source: Tokyo Electric Power Co. via Bloomberg

As the first hydrogen explosion rocked the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear plant, Tokyo Electric Power Co. (9501) officials scrambled to prevent a second blast, at one point weighing the use of firearms to shoot a hole in the reactor building to release the pressure.

“It was probably the last resort,” Hironobu Unesaki, a nuclear engineering professor at Kyoto University, said by phone yesterday.

Footage of videoconferences between the nuclear plant and Tepco’s headquarters in Tokyo in the days after the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami were released yesterday, showing confusion and tension among engineers and executives about how to contain the crisis, the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl. More than 160,000 people were evacuated from the area after the damaged Fukushima reactors caused meltdowns and released radiation.

Officials were discussing methods to release hydrogen gas building up inside the facility housing the No. 3 reactor after the first explosion rocked the No. 1 unit on March 12, 2011. Videos show officials considering the use of firearms and a helicopter to drop an object into the reactor housing to make a hole, with those who proposed the actions at one point suggesting they may sound “wild” or “absurd.”

The plan was never carried out. Two days after the first hydrogen explosion, the building containing reactor No. 3 also blew up. The proposed solutions were likely rejected because those who would have carried out the plans would have been endangered had another explosion occurred, Unesaki said.

‘This is Serious’

“Headquarters, headquarters. Serious, this is serious,” plant manager Masao Yoshida called out to Tepco executives in a videoconference with headquarters in Tokyo soon after the second explosion occurred, videos of the crisis showed.

The exchanges are included in more than 150 hours of video recorded from March 11 to March 16 last year after the magnitude-9 earthquake and tsunami crippled cooling and power systems at the Dai-Ichi plant, causing the meltdowns and radiation leaks. Tepco altered parts of the videos to conceal the faces and names of employees though some executives can be seen and identified.

Tepco made about 90 minutes of selected footage available to the public while allowing reporters to access all 150 hours at the utility’s head office until Sept. 7. The utility isn’t planning to release its in-house videoconference footage recorded after March 16, Shinji Obata, spokesman for the company, said by phone today.

For the video, click here.

To contact the reporters on this story: Tsuyoshi Inajima in Tokyo at tinajima@bloomberg.net; Yuji Okada in Tokyo at yokada6@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Andrew Hobbs at ahobbs4@bloomberg.net


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