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Wednesday, June 1, 2011
Confusion over the information on the injection of sea water into the No. 1 reactor at the stricken Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant highlights the communication problems plaguing the prime minister's headquarters and Tokyo Electric Power Co.
Both should realize that their credibility has been severely damaged. On May 21, the joint government-Tepco headquarters announced that although Tepco started injecting sea water into the reactor at 7:04 p.m. on March 12 — the day after the earthquake and tsunami hit the plant — it stopped the injection at 7:25 p.m. but resumed it at 8:20 p.m.
In the Diet, Prime Minister Naoto Kan faced criticism because of suspicion that his interference caused the interruption of the injection.
On May 26, Tepco revealed that there was no interruption. It explained that (1) Tepco management and the power plant head, Mr. Masao Yoshida, had agreed in a TV conference that the sea water injection should be suspended because a Tepco official who visited the prime minister's headquarters reported that in the absence of Mr. Kan's judgment on the sea water injection, there was an "atmosphere" against it; that (2) despite the agreement, Mr. Yoshida continued the injection; and that (3) he raised no objection to the agreement during the conference.
Tepco management must be criticized for deciding to suspend the injection because of the "atmosphere" at the prime minister's headquarters. It ignored Tepco's accident management manual, which gives a nuclear power plant head prerogative to inject sea water into a reactor in an emergency situation.
Mr. Yoshida's decision to give priority to cooling the reactor and continue the sea water injection was correct. But he should be criticized for failing to insist on his prerogative during the conference and for hiding his unilateral action.
This development points to the distrust people on the scene have toward Tepco management.
The management's decision seems to have been influenced by Mr. Kan's earlier behavior. He should improve communication with Tepco. He (and Tepco management) must leave technical decisions to people who best know and understand the situation at hand.