Japan’s power industry at crossroads as Fukushima decommissioning costs rise – The Mainichi

” The Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry’s plan to add the increased costs of decommissioning the tsunami-hit Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant was scrapped before the end of the year due to a public backlash.

It is estimated that the costs of decommissioning the crippled power station would snowball from 2 trillion yen to 8 trillion yen. An internal document that the ministry had compiled by September last year stated that the costs of compensation payments as well as the decommissioning expenses should be added to power transmission fees that new power companies pay for the use of major utilities’ power grids.

If the decommissioning costs that are expected to increase by trillions of yen were regarded as TEPCO’s debts, the utility would fall into a state of capital deficit — in which the company’s debts surpass its assets. It could force TEPCO to delist its stock on stock markets and make it difficult for banks to continue loaning to the firm.

To avoid such a situation, the Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry has decided to change the accounting rules to allow TEPCO to book the decommissioning costs in separate years. To do so, however, it is necessary to guarantee that the costs can be recovered from TEPCO every year. Two plans surfaced to enable this.

One is to accumulate money to be saved through TEPCO’s cost-cutting measures and management reform at the Nuclear Damage Compensation and Decommissioning Facilitation Corp. (NFD), which would control the decommissioning costs. The other is to add part of the decommissioning costs to transmission fees.

In October, a senior ministry official told LDP legislators behind closed doors, “It’s safer to add the costs to the transmission fees than relying on TEPCO’s management reform.”

However, experts as well as the general public intensified their criticism of the plan to add decommissioning expenses to the transmission fees despite the earlier plan to make sure that TEPCO fully secured funds for decommissioning the plant.

In response, the ministry changed its policy. In a Nov. 8 document that the ministry released when briefing LDP members, it stated the two plans as ways to certainly secure enough funds for decommissioning the plant. However, in its Dec. 1 document, the plan to add the costs to transmission fees was dropped.

“We considered the use of transmission fees but we can’t implement it because of mounting criticism of the plan,” said a ministry official in charge of the matter.

On the other hand, major power suppliers besides TEPCO have footed the costs of paying compensation to those affected by the Fukushima nuclear crisis. An expert committee dealing with the matter proposed at the end of the year that the increase in the amount of compensation payments should be raised by adding the amount to transmissions fees.

Saying that power companies that own nuclear plants should have saved money to respond to nuclear accidents, the panel recommended that new power companies should shoulder part of the costs because their customers had previously benefited from nuclear power run by major utilities.

The committee also proposed that major power suppliers be obligated to supply less expensive electricity, such as power generated at nuclear plants, to new power companies. In other words, the panel attempted to take the carrot-and-stick approach to convince new market entrants.

In response to the recommendations, the Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry will implement the proposals after soliciting public comments. As a result of the implementation of the plan, the monthly electric power bill for a standard household in Japan, excluding Okinawa Prefecture where there are no nuclear plants, would rise an average of 18 yen over a 40-year period from 2020.

The ministry patiently and carefully formed consensus among legislators over the plan. The committee’s conclusion was based on its explanatory document that the panel presented to the LDP shortly before.

House of Representatives member Taro Kono and a few other LDP legislators calling for an end to Japan’s reliance on atomic power voiced opposition, but they fell far short of a majority.

Minako Oishi, an adviser on consumer affairs who sits at the experts’ panel, repeatedly voiced opposition to adding compensation costs to transmission fees on the grounds that it would run counter to the purpose of liberalizing the power market. She also released a written statement to that effect. However, she was unable to overwhelm the firm alliance between politicians and bureaucrats.

“I have the impression that the conclusion had been drawn in advance. Such a serious matter as the additional financial burden of dealing with the Fukushima accident should’ve been discussed at the Diet,” Oishi said.

On Dec. 20, 2016, the ministry’s expert committee compiled its recommendations estimating that TEPCO needs to shoulder 16 trillion yen of the cost of dealing with the Fukushima nuclear crisis. The recommendations urged TEPCO to merge each of its divisions, including nuclear power and power transmission, with those of other companies — effectively leading to a split of the utility — and advance into the global market.

On the same day, a message by TEPCO President Naomi Hirose was released through the company’s in-house computer network. “If we steadily continue our work without hesitation, we can open up new opportunities. This is something that only TEPCO can do,” the message said.

However, the message reflects Hirose’s anxiety. Hirose told TEPCO executives the following day at the headquarters, “I’m worried whether employees can maintain their morale. Please try not to make them feel weak.”

TEPCO failed to achieve its goal of getting out of state control as early as fiscal 2017 by improving its business performance — because there are no prospects that its idled Kashiwazaki-Kariwa Nuclear Power Plant in Niigata Prefecture can be reactivated in the foreseeable future.

TEPCO Director Keita Nishiyama sat at the news conference on July 28 with Chairman Fumio Sudo and President Hirose, and read a statement saying that “the government needs to clarify its policy” on how to shoulder the costs of dealing with the nuclear crisis, which is expected to worsen. Nishiyama is a bureaucrat that the ministry loaned to TEPCO as a board member after placing the utility under state control.

His tough statement indirectly asks the government for assistance. A TEPCO executive said, “It’s not a type of statement written by a private company insider.”

At the news conference, the ministry suggested that it would take the opportunity of discussions on how to shoulder the costs of dealing with the Fukushima nuclear crisis to embark on its long-cherished goal of restructuring the electric power and atomic energy industries.

About two months later, the ministry set up two expert panels — one on TEPCO reform and the other on the reform of the electric power system.

“In Japan, the demand for power has stagnated. In particular, regulations on the atomic energy business are stiff. Therefore, the power industry is a declining industry. There’s no time to lose in promoting business tie-ups and overseas expansion. Discussions shouldn’t be limited to TEPCO reform,” said a ministry official.

However, some TEPCO officials have expressed displeasure at the move. “Infrastructure companies like us are different from manufacturers. It’s important to ensure stable power supply. It’s not true that we should just increase our profits,” one of them said.

At the same time, executives of other major power companies reacted coolly to TEPCO.

“We don’t know how much of the costs of dealing with the Fukushima accident we’ll be required to shoulder,” one of them said.

“TEPCO’s arrogance that stood out in the industry is still fresh in our memory,” another commented.

The ministry and the expert panel on TEPCO reform share the view that TEPCO needs to carry out the largest-scale reforms since Yasuzaemon Matsunaga, the “king of the power industry” who established major power companies’ regional monopolies in order to ensure stable power supply.

However, Japanese semiconductor and liquid crystal manufacturers and other companies that were integrated on the initiative of the Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry have not grown as the ministry had aimed.

As such, it remains to be seen whether TEPCO will join hands with other power companies and gain entry into the global market as the ministry envisages. “

by The Mainichi

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Fate of Fukushima No. 2 nuclear plant remains unknown — The Japan Times

” The government is struggling to decide the future of Tepco’s Fukushima No. 2 nuclear power plant, which has been suspended since the March 2011 disaster.

There have been increasing calls for decommissioning the power plant located just a few kilometers south of the wrecked Fukushima No. 1 installation.

The government has been finding it difficult to reach a clear conclusion on Fukushima No. 2’s fate, as it and Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings have been busy dealing with its older counterpart that suffered three reactor meltdowns following the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

On Dec. 21, the Fukushima Prefectural Assembly voted unanimously to adopt a resolution calling on the central government to decommission the No. 2 plant “at an early date,” arguing that the facility is an obstacle to the prefecture’s recovery from the 3/11 disasters.

A temporary halt to the cooling system for a spent fuel pool at the No. 2 plant caused by an earthquake in November rekindled fears of another meltdown crisis.

In 2011, the prefectural assembly adopted a petition calling for decommissioning all reactors in Fukushima.

The assembly has also adopted a series of written opinions demanding the decommissioning of the No. 2 plant, which is located in the towns of Naraha and Tomioka.

Demands from local communities “have been ignored by the central government,” one person said.

The central government’s official position is that whether to decommission the plant is up to Tepco.

As the government has already lifted the state of emergency for the No. 2 plant, it has no authority to decide the decommissioning under current regulations.

If an exception were made, the central government could receive a barrage of requests for decommissioning reactors all over the country, sources familiar with the situation said.

“Such a situation would destroy Japan’s whole nuclear policy,” a senior official at the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry said.

Some people have called for creating a special law on decommissioning Fukushima No. 2, but others have raised concerns that such a step could infringe on Tepco’s property rights, the sources said.

Some officials in the central government have said that no one believes the No. 2 plant can continue to exist.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his Cabinet have left room for making a political decision on dismantling the facility, saying that the plant can’t be treated in the same way as other nuclear plants due to fear among Fukushima residents of another nuclear accident.

Since the government effectively holds a stake of more than 50 percent in Tepco, it can influence the company’s policy as a major shareholder.

But Tepco now needs to focus on dealing with the No. 1 plant. A senior company official said that it “cannot afford to decide on decommissioning, which would require a huge workforce.”

The main opposition Democratic Party plans to pursue a suprapartisan law that would urge Tepco to decide to decommission the plant at an early date.

“While understanding calls for early decommissioning, we have no choice but to wait for the No. 2 plant’s four reactors to reach the end of their 40-year lifetimes,” a lawmaker of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party said.

The four reactors launched operations between April 1982 and August 1987. ”

by Jiji

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A Maverick former Japanese prime minister goes antinuclear — The New York Times

” TOKYO — William Zeller, a petty officer second class in the United States Navy, was one of hundreds of sailors who rushed to provide assistance to Japan after a giant earthquake and tsunami set off a triple meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in 2011. Not long after returning home, he began to feel sick.

Today, he has nerve damage and abnormal bone growths, and blames exposure to radiation during the humanitarian operation conducted by crew members of the aircraft carrier Ronald Reagan. Neither his doctors nor the United States government has endorsed his claim or those of about 400 other sailors who attribute ailments including leukemia and thyroid disease to Fukushima and are suing Tokyo Electric, the operator of the plant.

But one prominent figure is supporting the American sailors: Junichiro Koizumi, the former prime minister of Japan.

Mr. Koizumi, 74, visited a group of the sailors, including Petty Officer Zeller, in San Diego in May, breaking down in tears at a news conference. Over the past several months, he has barnstormed Japan to raise money to help defray some of their medical costs.

The unusual campaign is just the latest example of Mr. Koizumi’s transformation in retirement into Japan’s most outspoken opponent of nuclear power. Though he supported nuclear power when he served as prime minister from 2001 to 2006, he is now dead set against it and calling for the permanent shutdown of all 54 of Japan’s nuclear reactors, which were taken offline after the Fukushima disaster.

“I want to work hard toward my goal that there will be zero nuclear power generation,” Mr. Koizumi said in an interview in a Tokyo conference room.

The reversal means going up against his old colleagues in the governing Liberal Democratic Party as well as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who are pushing to get Japan, once dependent for about a third of its energy on nuclear plants, back into the nuclear power business.

That Mr. Koizumi would take a contrarian view is perhaps not surprising. He was once known as “the Destroyer” because he tangled with his own party to push through difficult policy proposals like privatization of the national postal service.

Mr. Koizumi first declared his about-face on nuclear power three years ago, calling for Japan to switch to renewable sources of energy like solar power and arguing that “there is nothing more costly than nuclear power.”

After spending the first few years of his retirement out of the public eye, in recent months Mr. Koizumi has become much more vocal about his shift, saying he was moved to do more by the emotional appeal of the sailors he met in San Diego.

Scientists are divided about whether radiation exposure contributed to the sailors’ illnesses. The Defense Department, in a report commissioned by Congress, concluded that it was “implausible” that the service members’ ailments were related to radiation exposure from Fukushima.

To many political observers, Mr. Koizumi’s cause in retirement is in keeping with his unorthodox approach in office, when he captivated Japanese and international audiences with his blunt talk, opposition to the entrenched bureaucracy and passion for Elvis Presley.

Some wonder how much traction he can get with his antinuclear campaign, given the Abe administration’s determination to restart the atomic plants and the Liberal Democratic Party’s commanding majority in Parliament.

Two reactors are already back online; to meet Mr. Abe’s goal of producing one-fifth of the country’s electricity from nuclear power within the next 15 years, about 30 of the existing 43 reactors would need to restart. (Eleven reactors have been permanently decommissioned.)

A year after the Fukushima disaster, antinuclear fervor led tens of thousands of demonstrators to take to the streets of Tokyo near the prime minister’s residence to register their anger at the government’s decision to restart the Ohi power station in western Japan. Public activism has dissipated since then, though polls consistently show that about 60 percent of Japanese voters oppose restarting the plants.

“The average Japanese is not that interested in issues of energy,” said Daniel P. Aldrich, professor of political science at Northeastern University. “They are antinuclear, but they are not willing to vote the L.D.P. out of office because of its pronuclear stance.”

Sustained political protest is rare in Japan, but some analysts say that does not mean the antinuclear movement is doomed to wither.

“People have to carry on with their lives, so only so much direct action can take place,” said Koichi Nakano, a political scientist at Sophia University in Tokyo.

Antinuclear activism “may look dormant from appearances, but it’s there, like magma,” he said. “It’s still brewing, and the next trigger might be another big protest or political change.”

Some recent signs suggest the movement has gone local. In October, Ryuichi Yoneyama was elected governor in Niigata, the prefecture in central Japan that is home to the world’s largest nuclear plant, after campaigning on a promise to fight efforts by Tokyo Electric to restart reactors there.

Like Mr. Koizumi, he is an example of how the antinuclear movement has blurred political allegiances in Japan. Before running for governor, Mr. Yoneyama had run as a Liberal Democratic candidate for Parliament.

Mr. Koizumi, a conservative and former leader of the Liberal Democrats, may have led the way.

“Originally, the nuclear issue was a point of dispute between conservatives and liberals,” said Yuichi Kaido, a lawyer and leading antinuclear activist. “But after Mr. Koizumi showed up and said he opposed nuclear power, other conservatives realized they could be against nuclear power.”

Since he visited the sailors in San Diego, Mr. Koizumi has traveled around Japan in hopes of raising about $1 million for a foundation he established with another former prime minister, Morihiro Hosokawa, an independent who has previously been backed by the opposition Democratic Party, to help pay some of the sailors’ medical costs.

Mr. Koizumi is not involved in the sailors’ lawsuit, now before the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco. Tokyo Electric is working to have the case moved to Japan.

Aimee L. Tsujimoto, a Japanese-American freelance journalist, and her husband, Brian Victoria, an American Buddhist priest now living in Kyoto, introduced Mr. Koizumi to the plaintiffs. Petty Officer Zeller, who said he took painkillers and had tried acupuncture and lymph node massages to treat his conditions, said the meeting with Mr. Koizumi was the first time that someone in power had listened to him.

“This is a man where I saw emotion in his face that I have not seen from my own doctors or staff that I work with, or from my own personal government,” said Petty Officer Zeller, who works at the Naval Medical Center in San Diego. “Nobody has put the amount of attention that I saw in his eyes listening to each word, not just from me, but from the other sailors who have gone through such severe things healthwise.”

Mr. Koizumi, whose signature leonine hairstyle has gone white since his retirement, said that after meeting the sailors in San Diego, he had become convinced of a connection between their health problems and the radiation exposure.

“These sailors are supposed to be very healthy,” he said. “It’s not a normal situation. It is unbelievable that just in four or five years that these healthy sailors would become so sick.”

“I think that both the U.S. and Japanese government have something to hide,” he added.

Many engineers, who argue that Japan needs to reboot its nuclear power network to lower carbon emissions and reduce the country’s dependence on foreign fossil fuels, say Mr. Koizumi’s position is not based on science.

“He is a very dramatic person,” said Takao Kashiwagi, a professor at the International Research Center for Advanced Energy Systems for Sustainability at the Tokyo Institute of Technology. “He does not have so much basic knowledge about nuclear power, only feelings.”

That emotion is evident when Mr. Koizumi speaks about the sailors. Wearing a pale blue gabardine jacket despite Japan’s black-and-gray suit culture, he choked up as he recounted how they had told him that they loved Japan despite what they had gone through since leaving.

“They gave their utmost efforts to help the Japanese people,” he said, pausing to take a deep breath as tears filled his eyes. “I am no longer in government, but I couldn’t just let nothing be done.” “

by Motoko Rich

contributions from Makiko Inoue

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Former Japan PM accuses Abe of lying over Fukushima pledge — The Guardian; The Denver Post

The Guardian: ” Japan’s former prime minister Junichiro Koizumi has labelled the country’s current leader, Shinzo Abe, a “liar” for telling the international community that the situation at the wrecked Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant is under control.

Koizumi, who became one of Japan’s most popular postwar leaders during his 2001-06 premiership, has used his retirement from frontline politics to become a leading campaigner against nuclear restarts in Japan in defiance of Abe, a fellow conservative Liberal Democratic party (LDP) politician who was once regarded as his natural successor.

Abe told members of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in Buenos Aires in September 2013 that the situation at Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant was “under control”, shortly before Tokyo was awarded the 2020 Games.

IOC officials were concerned by reports about the huge build-up of contaminated water at the Fukushima site, more than two years after the disaster forced the evacuation of tens of thousands of residents.

“When [Abe] said the situation was under control, he was lying,” Koizumi told reporters in Tokyo. “It is not under control,” he added, noting the problems the plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco), has experienced with a costly subterranean ice wall that is supposed to prevent groundwater from flowing into the basements of the damaged reactors, where it becomes highly contaminated.

“They keep saying they can do it, but they can’t,” Koizumi said. He went on to claim that Abe had been fooled by industry experts who claim that nuclear is the safest, cleanest and cheapest form of energy for resource-poor Japan.

“He believes what he’s being told by nuclear experts,” Koizumi said. “I believed them, too, when I was prime minister. I think Abe understands the arguments on both sides of the debate, but he has chosen to believe the pro-nuclear lobby.”

After the Fukushima crisis, Koizumi said he had “studied the process, reality and history of the introduction of nuclear power, and became ashamed of myself for believing such lies”.

Abe has pushed for the restart of Japan’s nuclear reactors, while the government says it wants nuclear to account for a fifth of Japan’s total energy mix by 2030. Just three of the country’s dozens of nuclear reactors are in operation, and two will be taken offline later this year for maintenance.

Koizumi, 74, has also thrown his support behind hundreds of US sailors and marines who claim they developed leukaemia and other serious health problems after being exposed to Fukushima radiation plumes while helping with relief operations – nicknamed Operation Tomodachi (friend) – following the 11 March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

In 2012 the service personnel launched a lawsuit accusing Tepco of failing to prevent the accident and of lying about the levels of radiation from the stricken reactors, putting US personnel at risk.

Most of the 400 plaintiffs were aboard the USS Ronald Reagan, a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier that was anchored off Japan’s north-east coast while helicopters flew emergency supplies to survivors of the tsunami, which killed almost 19,000 people.

Medical experts, however, said the sailors would have received only small, non-harmful doses of radiation; a US defence department report published in 2014 said no link had been established between the sailors’ health problems and their exposure to low doses of Fukushima radiation.

Koizumi, who met several of the sick servicemen in San Diego in May, plans to raise $1m by the end of next March to help cover the sailors’ medical expenses.

“I felt I had to do something to help those who worked so hard for Japan,” he said. “That won’t be enough money, but at least it will show that Japan is grateful for what they did for us.”

Despite his opposition to Abe’s pro-nuclear policies, Koizumi was complimentary about his performance as prime minister during his second time in office in the past decade.

“As far as nuclear power is concerned, we are totally at odds,” Koizumi said. “But I think he’s reflected on the mistakes he made during his first time as leader and is doing a much better job second time around.”

In political longevity terms, Abe’s performance could hardly be worse. He resigned in September 2007 after less than a year in office, following a series of ministerial scandals, a debilitating bowel condition and a disastrous performance by the LDP in upper house elections. ”

by Justin McCurry

source

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Read a similar article by The Denver Post

Japan’s new environment minister pledges to build trust, contaminated waste storage facility in Fukushima — The Japan Times

” Newly appointed Environment Minister Koichi Yamamoto said Friday he will further efforts to build trust with people in Fukushima Prefecture to facilitate a stalled project to build a temporary nuclear storage facility.

The 2011 triple meltdown at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant has contaminated a large part of the prefecture while massive amounts of radioactive waste have been generated by decontamination work.

The government is planning to construct a huge temporary storage site near the Fukushima plant, but needs more than 2,300 landowners to agree to use their property for the project. So far it has only secured about 4.9 percent of the 1,600 hectares of land needed, owned by 234 people.

Although the government says it plans to store the waste for 30 years, no other areas have volunteered to host a final disposal site, leading many local residents to fear that the Fukushima site will end up being permanent.

“I’m aware that getting landowners’ consent is a very tough issue,” said Yamamoto, 68, a veteran Liberal Democratic Party lawmaker, during a media interview.

Yamamoto has learned from ministry officials that the situation is improving, and hopes to accelerate the momentum.

Storing contaminated waste at the site is crucial for Fukushima’s reconstruction work, which is currently stalled due to large amounts of waste piling up around the prefecture.

Meanwhile, some landowners are reportedly questioning the government’s commitment on this matter, as environment ministers have already changed four times since Prime Minister Shinzo Abe took office in December 2012.

But Yamamoto said the ministers have handled affairs properly. “This administration has been led by the LDP, so of course we have continuity and even (if) the minister changes (often), we share the same thoughts,” said Yamamoto.

He said 99 percent of the handover information he received from his predecessor, Tamayo Marukawa, was about Fukushima-related issues. “I have to make efforts to go to Fukushima often to make stronger connections than Marukawa did,” he said. Yamamoto plans to visit the temporary storage facility on Tuesday.

The government hopes to begin construction of the temporary storage site in October, the ministry said. ”

by Kazuaki Nagata

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Utility head blamed for late mention of Fukushima ‘meltdown’ — The Daily Star; DPJ leaders deny urging cover-up of Fukushima meltdown — The Asahi Shimbun

The AP via The Daily Star:

” TOKYO: An outside investigation team appointed by the operator of Japan’s damaged Fukushima nuclear 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.

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 Dai-ichi 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. ”

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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. ”

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