*Document shows Tepco recognized risk of huge tsunami at Fukushima plant in 2008 — The Asahi Shimbun

” Tokyo Electric Power Co. in 2008 recognized the “indispensable” need for countermeasures against a towering tsunami at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, but it ended up doing nothing, an internal document showed.

The document was disclosed on June 18 by TEPCO, operator of the Fukushima plant, at the request of its shareholders who have filed a lawsuit against the utility’s executives. The plaintiffs are demanding that company executives be held responsible for the nuclear crisis at the plant that was triggered by the March 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami.

“It is indispensable for us to develop measures against a higher tsunami than currently estimated,” the document says.

The plaintiffs argue that the document proves that TEPCO executives at the time could foresee the possibility of a huge tsunami striking the nuclear plant. They say the utility in 2008 estimated a 15.7-meter tsunami could hit the plant based on earthquake predictions by a governmental organization.

But TEPCO said its 2008 estimate could not be “a factor that inevitably forced them to take concrete countermeasures because there were differences of opinion, even among experts, on how to estimate a quake.”

The in-house document was distributed during a TEPCO meeting held on Sept. 10, 2008, to discuss countermeasures at the Fukushima nuclear plant against earthquakes and tsunami.

Akio Komori, a managing executive officer and director of the plant at that time, attended the meeting.

The document says it is “difficult to completely deny” the government findings on a possible earthquake and tsunami, and that the company had “no choice but” to raise the maximum height in its estimates for tsunami.

According to the shareholders suing the TEPCO officials, the document includes a sentence that says, “This contains sensitive information and must be returned.”

In another document submitted to the Tokyo District Court by TEPCO in the lawsuit, the company says, “The (2008) document just mentioned the possibility of some sort of anti-tsunami measures required in the future and did not point out any specific risk of tsunami.” ”

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Updated 10/1/14: Continuing to piece together March 2011 — The Japan Times

The Japan Times continues to piece together the March 2011 nuclear catastrophe based on recently released transcripts, including the accounts of Tepco management and workers at the Fukushima site during the early stages of the disaster. For more articles based on the transcripts, view an earlier blog post HERE.

Updated Oct. 1, 2014:

1) As radiation levels soared at Fukushima No. 1, plant chief Yoshida rescinded evacuation order

2) Tears, hopeful promises of reunion as Tepco workers evacuated Fukushima No. 1

3) Four days later: ‘Fukushima 50′ recount start of nuclear crisis

Posted Sept. 26, 2014:

Helplessness as reactor 2 lost cooling

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” While reactors 1 and 3 at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear complex suffered core meltdowns, the cooling system for reactor 2 continued to work for three days despite the loss of power following the earthquake and tsunami of March 11, 2011.

The fact that the reactor 2 core isolation cooling system lasted much longer than expected was a “blessed relief,” Fukushima No. 1 chief Masao Yoshida would later say. If it hadn’t been for that, all three units could have spun out of control simultaneously.

Reactor 2′s cooling system finally stopped functioning at 1:25 p.m. on March 14. With no electricity to reactivate it, workers had to depressurize the reactor pressure vessel housing the nuclear fuel so that firetrucks could pump in seawater.

Using car batteries to manipulate valves and release steam from the vessel, the depressurization process finally started at 6:02 p.m. About 20 minutes later, however, the central control room for reactors 1 and 2 reported that the water level had drained to 3.7 meters below the top of the nuclear fuel in reactor 2, leaving it fully exposed. There was also no sign the seawater was entering the reactor.

Just then, a member of Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s firefighting unit returned to the emergency response office and said the firetrucks that were supposed to be injecting water into the reactor had run out of fuel. Yoshida, 56, had already issued instructions that the trucks be kept refueled on a continuous basis.

“Didn’t I tell you?” Yoshida asked, looking up helplessly from his desk at the center of the emergency response office.

Yoshida would later recall that this felt like a “turning point,” beyond which “we had run out of all options and I thought I might really die.”

With no time to lose, the firefighting team immediately rushed back to the firetrucks, having to carry the fuel containers themselves because the tanker had a flat tire after driving over rubble scattered by the hydrogen explosion that had ripped through the reactor 3 building earlier that day.

In the emergency response office, Toshiko Kogusuri, 55, of Tepco’s management team, had been secretly ordered by the head of the team to secure as many buses at the plant as possible. Kogusuri felt Yoshida was starting to consider an evacuation. She asked officials of partner companies in the office building to lend their buses, saying she needed them for on-site transportation of workers.

That was a lie, but the companies did not ask questions and agreed to cooperate.

Just before 8 p.m., about 700 Tepco employees and 150 other workers from other companies, including plant manufacturers and Tepco-affiliated firms, were inside the building. More than 90 minutes had passed since the firetrucks had stopped injecting water into the reactor.

Yoshida felt he should no longer keep contract workers, who had worked day and night from the beginning of the crisis on March 11, on-site.

Many workers were sitting in a corridor on the second floor and on the stairs of the office building. Yoshida went up to them and said: “Thank you for dealing with the situation until now. It is OK to go home. Please evacuate carefully as roads on the way may have caved in.”

He spoke in such a calm tone that the workers did not realize the gravity of the situation.

The contract workers all departed, some in their cars, by roughly 8:30 p.m., leaving only Tepco employees at the plant. By that time, Kogusuri had managed to secure six buses. Yoshida then asked the head of Tepco’s management team whether there was any place people could evacuate to.

Tepco’s local thermal power station and the Fukushima No. 2 nuclear plant were nominated. The team head told Yoshida that the No. 2 plant was ready, having prepared a facility for the injured and a gymnasium to house the others.

At about 8 p.m., the injection of seawater into reactor 2 started after the firetrucks had been refueled, to the relief of the emergency response office. Even so, the situation remained tense because radioactive steam still had to be vented from the reactor to prevent the containment vessel from rupturing, which would expose the nuclear fuel to the external environment.

With workers unable to operate the venting valves, the pressure continued to build, to the point that the water injection had to be halted again.

Shiro Hikita, at 56 an experienced leader of one of the equipment restoration teams, felt that the reactor’s containment vessel could break at any time. “If there was a switch somewhere to end this situation, I would go out there to push it. I wouldn’t even mind dying in order to do it,” he thought to himself.

Early on March 15, silence engulfed the emergency response office as the point of no return neared. Yoshida stood up and started staggering around, mumbling to himself, “It’s all over.”

As he returned to his seat, he leaned back in his chair, crossed his arms and closed his eyes.

He was later quoted by aides as saying that he was thinking about what might happen if the reactor 2 containment vessel failed, discharging a catastrophic amount of radioactive materials: Tepco would have to abandon any pretense of controlling the situation inside the No. 1 plant and might even have to abandon the No. 2 facility. People from Fukushima to Tokyo, about 220 km away, might have to evacuate.

He could not think of a way to avoid such a scenario.

Hikita, the equipment team leader, saw Yoshida’s body slide from the chair onto the floor. At first he thought Yoshida had collapsed but then realized he was sitting cross-legged as if meditating. With his eyes closed, Yoshida did not move for several minutes.

Yoshida later said he was calling to mind the faces of his longest-serving colleagues: “There were about 10 or so. I thought those guys might be willing to die with me.”

At that point, the building housing the emergency response office was still the safest place at the plant, but there was the risk of contamination if the reactor 2 containment vessel ruptured.

Yoshida was searching for the right time to allow Tepco employees to leave the plant, except for a skeleton crew to keep watch over the reactors’ condition and to continue the water injection process. But even if all of his crew stayed on-site, there was only so much they could do, Yoshida thought to himself. ”

* * *

Tepco plea to evacuate enraged Kan

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” FUKUSHIMA — A senior Tokyo Electric Power Co. official broke down and wept in the prime minister’s office when the utility felt it had exhausted all options to prevent an utter catastrophe at the Fukushima No. 1 plant.

“I’m sorry. We’ve tried many things, but we are in a situation beyond our control,” Susumu Kawamata, 54, head of Tepco’s Nuclear Quality and Safety Management Department, told Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry Banri Kaieda in March 2011 before bursting into tears.

A member of the government’s nuclear safety panel who witnessed the scene thought it spelled the end for one of Japan’s biggest companies.

Shortly after 4 a.m. on March 15, Prime Minister Naoto Kan was sitting face to face with Tepco President Masataka Shimizu, telling him that withdrawing workers from the No. 1 plant was not an option. By that stage, the ravaged complex had experienced hydrogen explosions in the buildings housing reactors 1 and 3 and was facing a potential rupture of the reactor 2 containment vessel.

About 8½ hours prior to that meeting, Tepco’s top-level officials had started to consider evacuating employees from the plant. At around 7:30 p.m. on March 14, Tepco Managing Director Akio Komori, who was at an emergency response center set up 5 km from the plant, suggested the idea during a teleconference with officials at the utility’s Tokyo head office.

“If we don’t make a decision at some point, things could get crazy. Please start setting the criteria for evacuation,” Komori, 58, requested.

Tepco Executive Vice President Sakae Muto, 60, ordered his subordinates at the head office to craft an evacuation plan, while Fukushima No. 1 chief Masao Yoshida started to secure enough buses. Procedures to send employees to Tepco’s Fukushima No. 2 nuclear plant were also being decided.

Shimizu, Tepco’s 66-year-old president, phoned Kaieda, who had been placed in charge of dealing with the unfolding disaster, and Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano, 46, repeatedly to seek approval for the “evacuation” of workers.

But Shimizu did not communicate clearly that Tepco would maintain a minimum core of employees to monitor the situation and continue to oversee water injection into the three reactors that had suffered core meltdowns.

Kaieda, 62, said he thought Tepco was seeking approval for a “complete withdrawal” from the plant and turned down Shimizu’s request. But at 3 a.m. on March 15, as the condition of reactor 2 worsened, Kaieda decided to ask Kan, 64, to make a decision. He woke up Kan and briefed him on the situation.

“If people withdraw, the eastern part of Japan will be destroyed,” Kan replied, and immediately summoned Shimizu to his office. As soon as Shimizu set foot inside the reception room, Kan lashed into him, saying, “I heard that you are thinking about a withdrawal, but that’s impossible.”

The Tepco president’s response — “we do not have in mind such a thing as withdrawal” — was stunning to Haruki Madarame, 62, the head of the government’s nuclear safety panel who was present for the talks. Madarame later recalled wondering, “What happened to all those talks” about getting the Tepco workers out?

While officials in the prime minister’s office had misunderstood Tepco’s intentions, Shimizu was also at fault for a lack of clarity in his statements.

Kan then told Shimizu he would launch a joint accident response task force. Based in Tepco’s head office, the unprecedented task force saw the government and Tepco jointly deal with the escalating crisis.

Kan announced he was leaving for Tepco’s head office right away, but Shimizu pleaded for two hours to make the necessary preparations. Kan turned and ordered Shimizu to have everything ready within an hour.

The prime minister was still in a white-hot rage when he arrived at Tepco headquarters, unable to hide his distrust and fury toward the company.

“Tepco will go 100 percent bust if it withdraws. You won’t be able to escape even if you try!” he screamed at Tepco Chairman Tsunehisa Katsumata, 70, Shimizu and other senior executives before 200 other Tepco employees present. “It doesn’t matter if senior (Tepco) officials in their 60s go to the site and die! I will also go. President, chairman — make up your minds!”

Kan’s diatribe, which continued more than 10 minutes, was relayed live to employees in the emergency response office at the Fukushima No. 1 plant via a teleconference system.

Kan later said he was totally unaware that he had been “yelling at everyone,” explaining, “I might have used strong words to tell them to somehow hang on until the last minute, but I didn’t mean to scold them.”

Kan was one of many senior politicians who, up until that point, were unaware Tepco had set up a teleconference system connecting its head office with Fukushima No. 1.

“I was really surprised,” said Kan, who had learned of the March 12 hydrogen explosion in the reactor 1 building from the TV news rather than Tepco. “There was this huge screen connected to the No. 1 plant. I wondered why information was coming so slowly to the prime minister’s office given the existence of this system.”

Although the joint task force was meant to improve communications, Kan soon realized it was too late to rein in the crisis.

Up at Fukushima No. 1, Takeyuki Inagaki, 47, head of one of the plant’s equipment restoration teams, was among the hundreds of employees in the emergency response office who witnessed Kan’s tirade via the teleconference system. “Even though we were doing our best, we felt like we had been shot in the back with a machine gun,” he later recalled.

Yoshida, 56, the plant chief, was about to answer a call from the Tokyo office when a chilling sound swept through the response office at 6:14 a.m, albeit duller than that of the two previous hydrogens blasts.

Those present felt their blood freeze as they were told by reactor operators that the pressure inside the reactor 2 suppression chamber, connected to the containment vessel, had dropped to zero.

If the chamber did not remain airtight, radioactive steam could pour out into the external environment, leaving no safe place inside the plant or in the surrounding area.

“The suppression chamber might have a gapping hole. A hell of a lot of radioactive substances could come out,” Inagaki informed Yoshida, who instantly decided it was time to evacuate the site. “

Updated 8/27/14: Fukushima mistakes revealed: NHK World; Kan slams Tepco over request to “withdraw” from crippled plant — GlobalPost

Updated Aug. 27, 2014: Watch NHK World video, “Fukushima mistakes revealed”

* * *

Posted Aug. 26, 2014:

Another piece of the March 2011 puzzle:

” An official of Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s nuclear power division wept at the prime minister’s office in Tokyo as the utility felt it had exhausted all options to prevent the worst from happening at the crisis-hit Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in March 2011.

“I’m sorry. We’ve tried many things, but we are in a situation beyond our control,” Susumu Kawamata, the 54-year-old head of the Nuclear Quality and Safety Management Department, told industry minister Banri Kaieda before breaking down.

A government nuclear safety panel member who witnessed the scene thought it marked the end of one of the most prestigious companies in Japan.

Shortly after 4 a.m. on March 15, Prime Minister Naoto Kan, 64, was sitting face to face with TEPCO President Masataka Shimizu, 66, telling him that the utility does not have the option of withdrawing its people from the plant, which had already experienced explosions at the Nos. 1 and 3 reactor buildings and was facing fears of a reactor containment rupture.

It was about eight and a half hours before their meeting that TEPCO’s top-level officials started considering the evacuation of its employees from the plant.

At around 7:30 p.m. on March 14, TEPCO’s Managing Director Akio Komori, who was at an emergency response center set up about 5 kilometers from the plant, started off the discussion at a teleconference session with the officials at the Tokyo head office.

“If we don’t make a decision at some point, things could get crazy. Please start setting the criteria for evacuation,” Komori, 58, said.

Executive Vice President Sakae Muto, 60, ordered his subordinates at the head office to craft an evacuation plan, while Fukushima Daiichi plant chief Masao Yoshida started arrangements to secure buses. Procedures to send employees to TEPCO’s Fukushima Daini nuclear power plant were also being decided.

Shimizu phoned Kaieda, the 62-year-old economy, trade and industry minister in charge of dealing with the accident, and Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano, 46, many times to seek approval of staff withdrawal, which he called an “evacuation.”

But Shimizu did not say clearly that TEPCO would keep the minimum necessary number of people inside the plant to monitor the situation and to continue water injections into the troubled reactors.

Kaieda said he thought TEPCO was seeking a “complete withdrawal” from the plant and had turned down the request from Shimizu.

At around 3 a.m. on March 15 when the condition of the No. 2 reactor deteriorated, Kaieda decided to ask Kan to make a judgment on the issue. He woke up the prime minister who was taking a nap on a sofa and briefed him about the situation.

“If people withdraw, the eastern part of Japan will be destroyed,” Kan said, rejecting the idea and having Shimizu come over to his office.

As Shimizu stepped inside the reception room on the fifth floor of the office, Kan immediately said, “I heard that you are thinking about a withdrawal, but that’s impossible.”

Shimizu’s response was stunning to Haruki Madarame, the 62-year-old head of the government’s nuclear safety panel who was also attending the talks. Shimizu said in a thin voice, “We do not have in mind such a thing as withdrawal.”

Madarame said later, “I thought, what happened to all those talks” about getting workers out?

Officials in the prime minister’s office had misunderstood TEPCO’s intentions, while the utility’s president was at fault for making unclear remarks.

The exchanges led Kan to launch an unprecedented accident response task force in which the government and TEPCO would jointly deal with the nuclear crisis inside the utility’s head office in Tokyo.

The prime minister told Shimizu he would set up the task force and that he would go to TEPCO’s head office right away. Shimizu said he needed about two hours for preparations, but Kan told Shimizu to get it done in an hour.

Kan was still furious when he arrived at TEPCO headquarters, unable to disguise his distrust of the company.

“TEPCO will go 100 percent bust if it withdraws. You won’t be able to escape even if you try!” Kan yelled at TEPCO Chairman Tsunehisa Katsumata, 70, Shimizu and other executives. There were about 200 TEPCO employees in the same room.

“It doesn’t matter if senior officials in their 60s go to the site and die. I will also go. President, chairman, make up your minds!” Kan said.

Kan’s speech continued for more than 10 minutes, which was relayed to employees inside the emergency response office at the Fukushima Daiichi plant through a real-time information-sharing teleconference system.

Kan later said he was totally unaware that he had been “yelling at everyone.” “I might have used strong words to tell them to somehow hang on until the last minute, but I didn’t mean to scold them.”

Kan was among the many politicians who came to know for the first time that TEPCO had a teleconference system hooked up to the crisis-hit plant.

“I was really surprised. There was this huge screen connected to the Daiichi plant. I wondered why information was coming so slowly to the prime minister’s office despite the existence of this system,” said Kan, who had been irritated to learn of the explosion at the No. 1 reactor building on March 12 from the TV news before TEPCO reported it to the government.

The joint task force was meant to improve communication between the government and TEPCO. But Kan would soon realize that it was too late to stop the crisis that started March 11 from growing more serious.

At the Fukushima Daiichi plant, hundreds of people inside the emergency response office were glued to the teleconference monitor showing the angry prime minister.

“Even though we were doing our best here, we felt we were being shot in the back with a machine gun,” Takeyuki Inagaki, 47-year-old leader of one of the equipment restoration teams, recalled.

After Kan finished talking, he moved to another room where there was also a monitor to communicate with the plant.

Yoshida, 56, was about to answer a call from the Tokyo office when a dull sound reached the emergency response office at about 6:14 a.m. The impact was smaller than that of the two previous explosions, but it was not an earthquake.

People’s blood ran cold as they heard from reactor operators that the pressure inside the No. 2 reactor’s suppression chamber, which is connected to the reactor’s containment vessel, had dropped to zero.

If the chamber was not airtight, a massive amount of highly radioactive steam could be released outside. Then there would be no safe place inside the plant, or in surrounding areas.

“The suppression chamber might have got a huge hole. A hell of a lot of radioactive substances could come out,” Inagaki told Yoshida.

Yoshida instantly decided it was time for evacuation. ”

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Indict Tepco execs over disaster: judicial panel — The Japan Times

” A judicial panel of citizens said Thursday it has decided that three former executives of Tokyo Electric Power Co. merit indictment over the 2011 nuclear disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 power plant.

The 11-member Tokyo No. 5 Committee for the Inquest of Prosecution voted that Tsunehisa Katsumata, chairman of Tepco at the time of the disaster, and two former vice presidents, Sakae Muto and Ichiro Takekuro, should be indicted.

The panel said the former executives had failed to take sufficient crisis management steps to ensure safety despite the possibility that a massive tsunami could trigger an unprecedented accident.

A group of Fukushima residents and others had filed criminal complaints against the Tepco executives for alleged professional negligence resulting in death and injury in connection with the nuclear plant disaster.

The Tokyo District Public Prosecutor’s Office decided last September not to indict former leaders of the Fukushima plant operator, saying it was difficult to foresee the scale of the earthquake and tsunami in March 2011 that triggered the worst nuclear crisis since the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.

But around 5,700 people, including Fukushima residents affected by the nuclear crisis, were dissatisfied with the prosecutors’ decision and asked the inquest panel to review the case last October.

With the latest decision, the Tokyo District Public Prosecutor’s Office is expected to resume investigations into the three former officials. If it decides not to indict them or does not announce a decision within three months, the prosecution inquest panel will discuss the case once again.

Katsumata and the two others will face mandatory indictment should the panel decide again that they merit indictment.

Tepco said in a statement that it stands ready to cooperate with investigations “sincerely” if requested.

“It is an appropriate decision. It is an extremely touching judgment,” Hiroyuki Kawai, an attorney representing those who sought a review of the prosecutors’ judgment on six former Tepco executives including Katsumata, Muto and Takekuro told a press conference.

The group argued the executives continued the operation of the Fukushima plant without implementing necessary safety measures, forcing many residents to be exposed to radiation and causing the deaths of patients and the elderly under severe conditions following the nuclear crisis.Of the other three, the panel said Akio Komori, former managing director, merits reinvestigation, while it decided Norio Tsuzumi and Toshiaki Enomoto, both former vice presidents, do not merit indictment.

“I am so happy and can’t put it into words. I think the members of the Tokyo prosecution inquest panel judged the case sincerely as consumers of electricity produced by Tepco,” said Ayako Oga, 41, an evacuee from Fukushima.

“I want the prosecutors to listen to Fukushima residents affected by the accident and indict them (the Tepco officials),” Oga said.

Miwa Chiwaki, 44, secretariat chief of the group said, “I cannot believe that nobody has taken responsibility for the accident.”

Concerning the Fukushima accident, then-Prime Minister Naoto Kan and other former government officials were also accused of bearing responsibility.

But the prosecutors dropped the case last year and a judicial panel supported their decision. ”

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Nuclear Watch: Blind spot in nuclear safety — NHK World

NHK World takes us back to March 11, 2011, and investigates radiation monitoring data at Fukushima No. 1 that is inconsistent with the data Tokyo Electric provided at that time. This video explains how it was possible for steam in the nuclear containment vessels to release high amounts of radiation in a venting process before the hydrogen explosions three years ago.

watch video