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Friday, Sep. 23, 2011
To the brink of worst case
More than six months since the crisis at Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant started, people not directly affected by it appear to be gradually losing their acute concern about the crisis.
Former Prime Minister Naoto Kan's recent interviews with mass media serve as a reminder of its serious nature.
The interviews show that a critical moment in the unfolding drama came when Tepco management expressed their desire to withdraw staff from the stricken nuclear power plant. Mr. Kan rejected Tepco's request, considering it out of the question.
If staff had been withdrawn, the nuclear power plant accidents would have gone out of control, leading to severe meltdowns. Mr. Kan said up to several dozen times more radioactive materials than in the 1986 Chernobyl accident could have been released into the environment.
Although his handling of the crisis was not perfect, he should be praised for rejecting Tepco's request. Tepco management should be asked what they think would have happened if they had pulled staff out.
Mr. Kan said if staff had been withdrawn, there wouldn't be anybody living in Tokyo now.
He disclosed that he received a report that said 30 million residents in the Tokyo metropolitan area would have to be evacuated in a worst-case scenario. In reality, such a large-scale evacuation would have been impossible.
Irrespective of their opinion about nuclear power generation, people should pay serious attention to Mr. Kan's remark: "It was a crucial moment when I wasn't sure whether Japan could continue to function as a state." In the first week of the nuclear accidents, he said he was so worried that he felt chills going down his spine.
Mr. Kan was apparently irritated by the apparent bad communication between the Tepco head office and the plant. Despite Mr. Kan's repeated requests, Tepco could not vent radioactive steam from the stricken reactors on March 11 and Tepco officials could not explain to him why this was not being done.
The nuclear energy establishment should humbly listen to Mr. Kan's indictment that "the myth of infallible safety (of nuclear power) was not born but was created" by Tepco and the government, which he said suppressed discussions on the dangers of nuclear energy.