The Man who saved Japan, Masao Yoshida — Asia Times

” It was the proverbial 3 a.m. telephone call, three days into the unfolding crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan in March 2011.

Then Prime Minister Naoto Kan was snatching sleep on the couch in his office when Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano woke him with the news that the utility in charge of the plant, Tokyo Electric Power Co., was abandoning the stricken facility.

Fearful that this would entail a massive evacuation of northern Japan and possibly Tokyo, Kan’s instinctive first reaction was to call Masao Yoshida, the superintendent at the plant site about a three-hour drive northeast of the capital.

Yoshida assured him that the report was not true. “There are still some things that we can do,” he told the premier. This was as explosions blew out reactor buildings at the plant, crippled by an earthquake and tsunami, and as fears grew that reactors had started to melt down.

Two days earlier, Kan had flown to the plant by helicopter to inspect the accident site first hand. During a 20-minute meeting with Yoshida, he sized him up as a man he could trust in the crisis, especially as the prime minister rapidly lost faith in Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco) executives.

Almost nobody associated with the Fukushima disaster came out of it looking good, not Kan, not the regulators (such as they were), and certainly not the executives at Tepco’s downtown headquarters.

The exception was Yoshida, often touted as the “hero” of the Fukushima disaster, although he was too modest to claim the title for himself.

Yoshida is the central figure in a new book on the nuclear meltdowns called Yoshida’s Dilemma, One Man’s Struggle to Avert a Nuclear Catastrophe by Rob Gilhooly, a Japan-based journalist and photographer.

Gilhooly’s book is the best and most comprehensive account of the nuclear disaster in English so far (a Japanese translation is under discussion). Much of the subject matter is technical, but the author is skillful enough to make it readable and accessible to the general reader.

In writing the book Gilhooly drew on interviews with officials at the nuclear plant, extensive visits to the Fukushima area and the plant site, as well as three comprehensive government and private investigations into the accident.

It is not clear from the book whether he interviewed Yoshida on-the-record. Yoshida was known to avoid the limelight and gave very few interviews. He’s not mentioned in the book’s acknowledgements.

Yoshida took early retirement in late 2011 after being diagnosed with esophageal cancer. He died in July, 2013. The illness is not thought to have been linked to radiation exposure.

Even former PM Kan lamented, “I wish I had had the chance to talk to him at length about the nuclear disaster.” It is rather astonishing that possibly the two key players in the nuclear tragedy never really compared notes.

Yoshida did give one rare interview to a counselor from Kyoto who had earned his gratitude by treating and counseling workers who faced social ostracism and other problems because they worked at Fukushima.

The only time during the interview that Yoshida showed much emotion was when he denied ordering any abandonment of the plant. That is a question that has lingered over the Fukushima story even after his death.

In 2014 the Asahi newspaper published and then retracted a story that Yoshida had ordered the 700 or so plant workers to leave the site.

Yoshida explained to a government investigation committee that he had ordered the evacuation of nonessential personnel from the plant, but kept back 50 to 60 engineering staff to tackle the cascading disaster and at no time contemplated abandoning the plant on Japan’s Pacific coast.

He and his group of engineers became known as the “Fukushima 50” that risked their own lives to contain the calamity.

By most accounts, Yoshida, who had worked for Tepco for 32 years, was a typical Japanese company man, but he surmounted the stereotype in the way he handled the accident.

For example, massive amounts of water were being pumped into the damaged reactors for cooling and as all sources of fresh water were depleted at the site, Tepco executives ordered him not to use sea water as a replacement.

The executives, still apparently under the delusion that the reactors could be brought back into service some day, opposed salt water as it would have contaminated the reactors beyond all repair.

Yoshida ignored these orders from head office and ordered his plant workers to pump seawater into the damaged reactors. This was a critical decision at a critical moment in the disaster.

“Just keep pumping,” he told subordinates. “Pretend you didn’t hear me [tell Tepco executives he was pumping fresh water] and just keep pumping.”

The Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission established by the parliament later concluded that (Yoshida’s) disregard for corporate headquarters instructions was possibly the only reason that the reactor cores did not explode.

It was Masao Yoshida’s finest hour. ”

by Todd Crowell, Asia Times

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‘Yoshida’s Dilemma: One Man’s Struggle to Avert Nuclear Catastrophe’: But for him, Fukushima could have been much worse — The Japan Times

” Disaster response, even at its most heroic, can fall to people who would rather be somewhere else.

So it was for Masao Yoshida, who, while helming the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant during the disaster in 2011, gave the groan, “Why does this happen on my shift?”

But in some ways Yoshida, an industry veteran of 32 years, was the right man to handle the crisis. His leadership during those days on the edge, at times in defiance of orders from the top of the utility that employed him, is at the center of Rob Gilhooly’s new book “Yoshida’s Dilemma: One Man’s Struggle to Avert Nuclear Catastrophe.”

Gilhooly writes from the eye of the storm, putting the reader in the plant’s control room with almost claustrophobic immediacy. One of his challenges was to render the emergency in real-time. How much can prose, moving forward in measured steps, convey a lethal technology unraveling in extremis? How do you convey the breakdown of machinery without getting mired in technical detail?

“It was difficult,” says Gilhooly, who spent almost four years researching and writing the book. “What struck me about the plant workers — it sounded like complete chaos. My decision was not to make it sound orderly. I wanted it to appear chaotic, without the writing becoming chaotic itself. I tore my hair out over the technical details, because I wanted the book to be readable.”

In the end, the book is a cumulative experience — an intense ride that rewards endurance. Gilhooly weaves in the history of nuclear energy in Japan, interviews with experts and re-created conversations among the plant workers.

“Yoshida was a straight talker from Osaka — a larger-than-life personality,” says Gilhooly, who interviewed the superintendent off the record. “He was different from the other superintendents, more prepared to stick his neck out. He was sharper, more bloody-minded. When tipping his hat to authority, he may have done so with a quietly raised middle finger.”

This attitude might have saved lives, when, after a hydrogen blast at the No. 1 plant, Tepco HQ in Tokyo ordered staff to evacuate. Yoshida knew that the executives had little idea of what was actually happening at the plant. Going behind the backs of his superiors, he contacted then-Prime Minister Naoto Kan, insisting that leaving the plant would be reckless. The utility also ordered that seawater not be pumped through the reactor as coolant, since that would render it useless for energy generation in the future. Exposed to life-threatening levels of radiation, Yoshida and his team defied the order, scrambling to cool the overheating reactor with seawater.

The desperate move worked. The team managed to cool the reactor, and later the Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission, which was authorized by the Diet, concluded in its report that “(Yoshida’s) disregard for corporate instructions was possibly the only reason that the reactor cores didn’t explode.”

In Western media coverage of the Fukushima disaster, much was made of Japanese groupthink. A culturally ingrained obedience and a reluctance to question authority was blamed in part for the disaster. Still, the responses vary, and some staff put safety concerns over company loyalty.

“I didn’t want to editorialize,” says Gilhooly, who writes with a calm, thoughtful voice, avoiding the temptation of melodrama. “But yes, Yoshida — and others — refuted the stereotype that was used to explain parts of the disaster.”

Gilhooly is talking to a Japanese publisher, but thinks a translated version may prove difficult: His sources spoke freely about the events at the plant assuming the interviews wouldn’t be published in Japanese. Still, Gilhooly, who takes a stand in the book against using nuclear energy, hopes to fuel the ongoing debate in his adopted home.

“I just wanted to know the truth,” he says. “There is a discussion that needs to happen about nuclear power — about disaster un-preparedness in Japan. I wanted to contribute to that argument. It’s six years on and already we are airbrushing some things out.”

The book points out the gulf between rural Fukushima and the large cities consuming the energy it produced. Gilhooly talked to Atsufumi Yoshizawa, Yoshida’s deputy at the plant, who recalled the first home leave with his boss, a month after the disaster:

“Tokyo was … as though nothing had happened. They were selling things as usual, women were walking around with high heels and makeup as usual, while we didn’t even have our own clothes (which had been contaminated). I remember thinking, ‘What the hell is this? How can it be so different?’ I realized just how useless it would be to try and explain the situation at the plant to these people, what we had been through and the fear we had faced.”

It is a punch in the gut, then, to read about Yoshida’s death from esophageal cancer at age 58, just two years after his exposure to radiation. It’s one of the many elements of the Fukushima crisis that stirs anger, demanding a change that honors the lessons and sacrifice.

Gilhooly points out that, unlike Yoshida in the stricken plant, Japan has the chance to make positive choices about the future, choices that should be informed by the suffering in Fukushima.

“We should think more about how we use energy,” he concludes. “There are things we can do better, with small changes in lifestyle.” ”

by Nicolas Gattig, The Japan Times

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*Japan’s government should stay out of U.S. sailors’ lawsuit against Tepco — The Japan Times

” Dear Prime Minister Shinzo Abe,

Let me first acknowledge that after four long years of silence, the Japanese government has finally taken a position regarding the lawsuit filed against Tokyo Electric Power Co. in the U.S. by more than 450 American sailors, marines and civilians who were on board the USS Reagan and accompanying military ships off the coast of Tohoku after 3/11.

These young people experienced serious health problems resulting from, they allege, radiation exposure while participating in Operation Tomodachi, the U.S. military’s humanitarian rescue mission launched in response to the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami of March 11, 2011, and subsequent multiple meltdowns at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant.

While the Japanese government’s acknowledgement of the suit is welcome, the unconditional support it has given to Tepco is a matter of deep concern. Even now, U.S. service personnel find themselves prevented from seeking justice because Tepco, with the support of the Japanese government, is doing its utmost to ensure the case will never be heard in an American court.

The Japanese government submitted an amicus curiae brief to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals on Feb. 3. An amicus curiae (friend of the court) brief is one presented by a party not directly involved in the suit in the hope of influencing the outcome. The brief contains two points:

1. “The Government of Japan has developed a comprehensive system to ensure compensation for victims of the Fukushima Nuclear Accident.”

2. “Damage claims brought in tribunals outside of Japan threaten the continuing viability of the compensation system established by the Government of Japan.”

Examining the first point, if the Japanese government truly had “a comprehensive system to ensure compensation for victims,” there would be no need for the U.S. service members’ lawsuit. Yet, as you know, the Japanese government and its subsidiaries have, to date, not paid a single yen to any non-Tepco-related victim of radiation exposure from Fukushima No. 1. This includes, as of March this year, a total of 173 children from the prefecture who underwent surgery after being diagnosed with suspected thyroid cancer, 131 of whom were confirmed to have had cancer.

If the Japanese government will not admit that the suffering of its own children was caused by radiation exposure, how confident can young Americans be that the apparently radiation-induced injuries they experienced will be recognized as such, let alone compensated for, in Japan?

Further, at least seven of these previously healthy young Americans have already died and many others are too ill to travel to Japan even if they could afford to, let alone reside in this country during lengthy legal procedures, which typically take years to resolve. This is not to mention the prospect of expensive legal costs, including for court fees, hiring Japanese lawyers, translation of relevant documents, etc. And let us never forget, Prime Minister, it was the Japanese government that requested the assistance of these American military personnel.

As for the second point above, I agree the U.S. military personnel’s lawsuit threatens “the continuing viability of the compensation system established by the Government of Japan.” For example, if a U.S. court were to ascribe the plaintiffs’ illnesses to radiation exposure, how could the Japanese government continue to claim that none of the many illnesses the children and adults of Fukushima presently experience are radiation-related? The American service personnel truly serve as “the canary in the coal mine” when it comes to demonstrating the damaging effects of radiation exposure. Moreover, this canary is out of the Japanese government’s ability to control.

Let us further suppose that an American court were to award $3 million per person as compensation for the deaths, currently standing at seven, of the military personnel who were irradiated. By contrast, the Japanese government continues to deny compensation, for radiation-induced illnesses let alone deaths, to its own citizens. This would surely impact the “viability” (not to mention reputation) of the Japanese government in its ongoing denial of radiation-related injuries to non-Tepco employees.

Let me close by noting that there is one Japanese political leader who has accepted personal responsibility for the injuries inflicted on American service personnel. I refer to former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi who, after meeting with injured servicemen and women in San Diego in May, initiated a fund to meet as many of the medical needs of these sailors and marines as possible.

Fortunately, thanks to the support of thousands of ordinary Japanese, he has already raised $700,000 toward his $1 million goal. With tears in his eyes, Koizumi explained that he could not ignore the suffering of hundreds of formerly healthy young Americans who willingly put themselves at risk in order to render aid to the Japanese people.

Prime Minister Abe, I call on you to end the Japanese government’s unconditional legal support of Tepco. Further, if the Japanese government has a conscience, please immediately provide medical aid and compensation to the hundreds of American victims of Operation Tomodachi. ”

by Brian Victoria

online source

Japan Times pdf

Reassessing the 3.11 disaster and the future of nuclear power in Japan: An Interview with former Prime Minister Kan Naoto — The Asia-Pacific Journal

” Introduction

For more than two decades, the global nuclear industry has attempted to frame the debate on nuclear power within the context of climate change: nuclear power is better than any of the alternatives. So the argument went. Ambitious nuclear expansion plans in the United States and Japan, two of the largest existing markets, and the growth of nuclear power in China appeared to show—superficially at least—that the technology had a future. At least in terms of political rhetoric and media perception, it appeared to be a winning argument. Then came March 11, 2011. Those most determined to promote nuclear power even cited the Fukushima Daiichi accident as a reason for expanding nuclear power: impacts were low, no one died, radiation levels are not a risk. So claimed a handful of commentators in the international (particularly English-language) media.

However, from the start of the accident at Fukushima Daiichi on March 11 2011, the harsh reality of nuclear power was exposed to billions of people across the planet, and in particular to the population of Japan, including the more than 160,000 people displaced by the disaster, many of whom are still unable to return to their homes, and scores of millions more threatened had worst case scenarios occurred. One authoritative voice that has been central to exposing the myth-making of the nuclear industry and its supporters has been that of Kan Naoto, Prime Minister in 2011. His conversion from promoter to stern critic may be simple to understand, but it is no less commendable for its bravery. When the survival of half the society you are elected to serve and protect is threatened by a technology that is essentially an expensive way to boil water, then something is clearly wrong. Japan avoided societal destruction thanks in large part to the dedication of workers at the crippled nuclear plant, but also to the intervention of Kan and his staff, and to luck. Had it not been for a leaking pipe into the cooling pool of Unit 4 that maintained sufficient water levels, the highly irradiated spent fuel in the pool, including the entire core only recently removed from the reactor core, would have been exposed, releasing an amount of radioactivity far in excess of that released from the other three reactors. The cascade of subsequent events would have meant total loss of control of the other reactors, including their spent fuel pools and requiring massive evacuation extending throughout metropolitan Tokyo, as Prime Minister Kan feared. That three former Prime Ministers of Japan are not just opposed to nuclear power but actively campaigning against it is unprecedented in global politics and is evidence of the scale of the threat that Fukushima posed to tens of millions of Japanese.

The reality is that in terms of electricity share and relative to renewable energy, nuclear power has been in decline globally for two decades. Since the Fukushima Daiichi accident, this decline has only increased in pace. The nuclear industry knew full well that nuclear power could not be scaled up to the level required to make a serious impact on global emissions. But that was never the point. The industry adopted the climate-change argument as a survival strategy: to ensure extending the life of existing aging reactors and make possible the addition of some new nuclear capacity in the coming decades—sufficient at least to allow a core nuclear industrial infrastructure to survive to mid-century. The dream was to survive to mid-century, when limitless energy would be realized by the deployment of commercial plutonium fast-breeder reactors and other generation IV designs. It was always a myth, but it had a commercial and strategic rationale for the power companies, nuclear suppliers and their political allies.

The basis for the Fukushima Daiichi accident began long before March 11th 2011, when decisions were made to build and operate reactors in a nation almost uniquely vulnerable to major seismic events. More than five years on, the accident continues with a legacy that will stretch over the decades. Preventing the next catastrophic accident in Japan is now a passion of the former Prime Minister, joining as he has the majority of the people of Japan determined to transition to a society based on renewable energy. He is surely correct that the end of nuclear power in Japan is possible. The utilities remain in crisis, with only three reactors operating, and legal challenges have been launched across the nation. No matter what policy the government chooses, the basis for Japan’s entire nuclear fuel cycle policy, which is based on plutonium separation at Rokkasho-mura and its use in the Monju reactor and its fantasy successor reactors, is in a worse state than ever before. But as Kan Naoto knows better than most, this is an industry entrenched within the establishment and still wields enormous influence. Its end is not guaranteed. Determination and dedication will be needed to defeat it. Fortunately, the Japanese people have these in abundance. SB

The Interview

Q: What is your central message?

Kan: Up until the accident at the Fukushima reactor, I too was confident that since Japanese technology is of high quality, no Chernobyl-like event was possible.

But in fact when I came face to face with Fukushima, I learned I was completely mistaken. I learned first and foremost that we stood on the brink of disaster: had the incident spread only slightly, half the territory of Japan, half the area of metropolitan Tokyo would have been irradiated and 50,000,000 people would have had to evacuate.

Half one’s country would be irradiated, nearly half of the population would have to flee: to the extent it’s conceivable, only defeat in major war is comparable.

That the risk was so enormous: that is what in the first place I want all of you, all the Japanese, all the world’s people to realize.

Q: You yourself are a physicist, yet you don’t believe in the first analysis that people can handle nuclear power? Don’t you believe that there are technical advances and that in the end it will be safe to use?

Kan: As a rule, all technologies involve risk. For example, automobiles have accidents; airplanes, too. But the scale of the risk if an accident happens affects the question whether or not to use that technology. You compare the plus of using it and on the other hand the minus of not using it. We learned that with nuclear reactors, the Fukushima nuclear reactors, the risk was such that 50,000,000 people nearly had to evacuate. Moreover, if we had not used nuclear reactors—in fact, after the incident, there was a period of about two years when we didn’t use nuclear power and there was no great impact on the public welfare, nor any economic impact either. So when you take these factors as a whole into account, in a broad sense there is no plus to using nuclear power. That is my judgment.

One more thing. In the matter of the difference between nuclear power and other technologies, controlling the radiation is in the final analysis extremely difficult.

For example, plutonium emits radiation for a long time. Its half-life is 24,000 years, so because nuclear waste contains plutonium—in its disposal, even if you let it sit and don’t use it—its half-life is 24,000 years, in effect forever. So it’s a very difficult technology to use—an additional point I want to make.

Q: It figured a bit ago in the lecture by Professor Prasser, that in third-generation reactors, risk can be avoided. What is your response?

Kan: It’s as Professor Khwostowa said: we’ve said that even with many nuclear reactors, an event inside a reactor like the Fukushima nuclear accident or a Chernobyl-sized event would occur only once in a million years; but in fact, in the past sixty years, we’ve had Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, Fukushima. Professor Prasser says it’s getting gradually safer, but in fact accidents have happened with greater frequency and on a larger scale than was foreseen. So partial improvements are possible, as Professor Prasser says, but saying that doesn’t mean that accidents won’t happen. Equipment causes accidents, but so do humans.

Q: Today it’s five years after Fukushima. What is the situation in Japan today? We hear that there are plans beginning in 2018 to return the refugees to their homes. To what extent is the clean-up complete?

Kan: Let me describe conditions on site at Fukushima. Reactors #1, #2, #3 melted down, and the melted nuclear fuel still sits in the containment vessel; every day they introduce water to cool it. Radioactivity in the vessel of #2, they say, is 70 sieverts—not microsieverts or millisieverts, 70 sieverts. If humans approach a site that is radiating 70 sieverts, they die within five minutes. That situation has held ever since: that’s the current situation.

Moreover, the water they introduce leaves the containment vessel and is said to be recirculated, but in fact it mixes with groundwater, and some flows into the ocean. Prime Minister Abe used the words “under control,” but Japanese experts, including me, consider it not under control if part is flowing into the ocean. All the experts see it this way.

As for the area outside the site, more than 100,000 people have fled the Fukushima area.

So now the government is pushing residential decontamination and beyond that the decontamination of agricultural land.

Even if you decontaminate the soil, it’s only a temporary or partial reduction in radioactivity; in very many cases cesium comes down from the mountains, it returns.

The Fukushima prefectural government and the government say that certain of the areas where decontamination has been completed are habitable, so people have until 2018 to return; moreover, beyond that date, they won’t give aid to the people who have fled. But I and others think there’s still danger and that the support should be continued at the same level for people who conclude on their own that it’s still dangerous—that’s what we’re saying.

Given the conditions on site and the conditions of those who have fled, you simply can’t say that the clean-up is complete.

Q: Since the Fukushima accident, you have become a strong advocate of getting rid of nuclear reactors; yet in the end, the Abe regime came to power, and it is going in the opposite direction: three reactors are now in operation. As you see this happening, are you angry?

Kan: Clearly what Prime Minister Abe is trying to do—his nuclear reactor policy or energy policy—is mistaken. I am strongly opposed to current policy.

But are things moving steadily backward? Three reactors are indeed in operation. However, phrase it differently: only three are in operation. Why only three? Most—more than half the people—are still resisting strongly. From now on, if it should come to new nuclear plants, say, or to extending the licenses of existing nuclear plants, popular opposition is extremely strong, so that won’t be at all easy. In that sense, Japan’s situation today is a very harsh opposition—a tug of war—between the Abe government, intent on retrogression, and the people, who are heading toward abolishing nuclear reactors.

Two of Prime Minister Abe’s closest advisors are opposed to his policy on nuclear power.

One is his wife. The other is former Prime Minister Koizumi, who promoted him.

Q: Last question: please talk about the possibility that within ten years Japan will do away with nuclear power.

Kan: In the long run, it will disappear gradually. But if you ask whether it will disappear in the next ten years, I can’t say. For example, even in my own party opinion is divided; some hope to do away with it in the 2030s. So I can’t say whether it will disappear completely in the next ten years, but taking the long view, it will surely be gone, for example, by the year 2050 or 2070. The most important reason is economic. It has become clear that compared with other forms of energy, the cost of nuclear energy is high.

Q: Thank you. ”

Interview by Vincenzo Capodici

Introduction by Shaun Burnie

Translation by Richard Minear

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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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Near miss at Fukushima is a warning for U.S., panel says — Richard Stone, Science

” Japan’s chief cabinet secretary called it “the devil’s scenario.” Two weeks after the 11 March 2011 earthquake and tsunami devastated the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, causing three nuclear reactors to melt down and release radioactive plumes, officials were bracing for even worse. They feared that spent fuel stored in the reactor halls would catch fire and send radioactive smoke across a much wider swath of eastern Japan, including Tokyo.

Thanks to a lucky break detailed in a report released today by the U.S. National Academies, Japan dodged that bullet. The near calamity “should serve as a wake-up call for the industry,” says Joseph Shepherd, a mechanical engineer at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena who chaired the academy committee that produced the report. Spent fuel accumulating at U.S. nuclear reactor plants is also vulnerable, the report warns. A major spent fuel fire at a U.S. nuclear plant “could dwarf the horrific consequences of the Fukushima accident,” says Edwin Lyman, a physicist at the Union of Concerned Scientists, a nonprofit in Washington, D.C., who was not on the panel.

After spent fuel is removed from a reactor core, the fission products continue to decay radioactively, generating heat. Many nuclear plants, like Fukushima, store the fuel onsite at the bottom of deep pools for at least 5 years while it slowly cools. It is seriously vulnerable there, as the Fukushima accident demonstrated, and so the academy panel recommends that the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and nuclear plant operators beef up systems for monitoring the pools and topping up water levels in case a facility is damaged. It also calls for more robust security measures after a disaster. “Disruptions create opportunities for malevolent acts,” Shepherd says.

At Fukushima, the earthquake and tsunami cut power to pumps that circulated coolant through the reactor cores and cooled water in the spent fuel pools. The pump failure led to the core meltdowns. In the pools, found in all six of Fukushima’s reactor halls, radioactive decay gradually heated the water. Of preeminent concern were the pools in reactor Units 1 through 4: Those buildings had sustained heavy damage on 11 March and in subsequent days, when explosions occurred in Units 1, 3, and 4.

The “devil’s scenario” nearly played out in Unit 4, where the reactor was shut down for maintenance. The entire reactor core—all 548 assemblies—was in the spent fuel pool, and was hotter than fuel in the other pools. When an explosion blew off Unit 4’s roof on 15 March, plant operators assumed the cause was hydrogen—and they feared it had come from fuel in the pool that had been exposed to air. They could not confirm that, because the blast had destroyed instrumentation for monitoring the pool. (Tokyo Electric Power Company, the plant operator, later suggested that the hydrogen that had exploded had come not from exposed spent fuel but from the melted reactor core in the adjacent Unit 3.) But the possibility that the fuel had been exposed was plausible and alarming enough for then-NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko on 16 March to urge more extensive evacuations than the Japanese government had advised—beyond a 20-kilometer radius from the plant.

Later that day, however, concerns abated after a helicopter overflight captured video of sunlight glinting off water in the spent fuel pool. In fact, the crisis was worsening: The pool’s water was boiling away because of the hot fuel. As the level fell perilously close to the top of the fuel assemblies, something “fortuitous” happened, Shepherd says. As part of routine maintenance, workers had flooded Unit 4’s reactor well, where the core normally sits. Separating the well and the spent fuel pool is a gate through which fuel assemblies are transferred. The gate allowed water from the reactor well to leak into the spent fuel pool, partially refilling it. Without that leakage, the academy panel’s own modeling predicted that the tops of the fuel assemblies would have been exposed by early April; as the water continued to evaporate, the odds of the assemblies’ zirconium cladding catching fire would have skyrocketed. Only good fortune and makeshift measures to pump or spray water into all the spent fuel pools averted that disaster, the academy panel notes.

At U.S. nuclear plants, spent fuel is equally vulnerable. It is for the most part densely packed in pools, heightening the fire risk if cooling systems were to fail. NRC has estimated that a major fire in a U.S. spent fuel pool would displace, on average, 3.4 million people from an area larger than New Jersey. “We’re talking about trillion-dollar consequences,” says panelist Frank von Hippel, a nuclear security expert at Princeton University.

Besides developing better systems for monitoring the pools, the panel recommends that NRC take another look at the benefits of moving spent fuel to other storage as quickly as possible. Spent fuel can be shifted to concrete containers called dry casks as soon as it cools sufficiently, and the academy panel recommends that NRC “assess the risks and potential benefits of expedited transfer.” A wholesale transfer to dry casks at U.S. plants would cost roughly $4 billion. ”

by Richard Stone, Science

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