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Tuesday, Aug. 7, 2012
Tepco's actions unacceptable
Tokyo Electric Power Co. has started showing to media groups and journalists 150 hours of teleconference footage recorded during the first days of the nuclear crisis at its Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. It is deplorable that Tepco did not volunteer to show the footage earlier. At first it refused to disclose it, citing the need to protect the privacy of Tepco employees and subcontract workers. It only agreed to disclose the footage after trade and industry minister Yukio Edano prodded the company to do so.
Although it agreed to release the footage, Tepco attached various conditions to showing the footage, including restrictions on the activities of journalists. Tepco's attitude will deepen mistrust over its activities. It will convey the message that Tepco is not taking serious its responsibility for a disaster that made large areas of Fukushima Prefecture uninhabitable and uprooted the lives of tens of thousands of people.
Given the scale of the disaster, the video footage should never have been regarded as Tepco's private property. It is indispensable in revealing the truth of the unprecedented nuclear disaster. The video footage may provide answers to crucial questions such as whether Tepco planned a full pullout from the plant. It also covers exchanges between the prime minister's office and Tepco over the pumping of sea water into the No. 1 reactor and the release of radiation into the atmosphere. At the very least, media access to this material must be guaranteed, and the government should take steps to ensure the video footage becomes part of the public record.
The footage was recorded for four days from March 11, 2011, when the nuclear disaster began. It mainly covers teleconferences between Tepco headquarters and Tepco officials at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant. Strangely, only about 50 hours of the footage includes audio. Among the silent portions is the footage of then Prime Minister Naoto Kan's March 15 visit to Tepco headquarters, during which he reportedly had heated exchanges with Tepco officials over their handling of the disaster.
The restrictions Tepco placed on reporters who view the video included a ban on making their own recordings of the Tepco footage and a ban on disclosing the names of Tepco officials and workers seen on the footage, except those whose names were disclosed by Tepco's own investigation. Moreover, Tepco has censored the video by blurring its employees' images and disguising their voices. Tepco even prohibits media organizations from disclosing video footage they have collected on their own.
In view of the critical importance of the footage to understanding how the disaster unfolded, Tepco should remove the restrictions. If Tepco refuses, steps should be taken to force them to do so.