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Tuesday, May 29, 2012
Kan tells nuke probe: 3/11 overwhelmed us
Crisis-handling law fell short; government in total disarray
Former Prime Minister Naoto Kan admitted Monday that the triple whammy that doomed the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant in March 2011 — the megaquake, tsunami and the meltdowns they unleashed — was beyond the scope of the national crisis-management system.
"The nuclear disaster special measures law does not assume a serious disaster" like Fukushima, Kan told a Diet panel probing the cause of the Fukushima crisis. Situations assumed under the law were "extremely insufficient."
This state of unpreparedness saw the prime minister's office fall into disarray, and saw communications with Tokyo Electric Power Co. — and even within the government itself — unravel, Kan said, adding he and his key ministers were not adequately briefed about the plant's situation in the first few days.
"We could hardly get information. We couldn't do anything," Kan said, adding that Tepco officials and the state's own nuclear experts could not explain what was going on in Fukushima.
Kan, who studied engineering at university, said he thus felt compelled to aggressively involve himself in Tepco's decision-making to bring the crisis under control, although many have criticized his actions as meddling and improper micromanagement.
The prime example, they argue, was Kan's visit to the plant on the morning of March 12, when the crisis triggered by the previous day's tsunami was only beginning to unfold. Kan was adamant that his visit was meaningful and helped his team grasp what was happening.
Kan and key ministers stationed themselves on the fifth floor of the prime minister's office, along with top bureaucrats and Tepco officials in order to make vital decisions, including issuing evacuation orders.
This small ad hoc group was not based on any law and resulted in poor chain-of-command communications, critics said.
Kan argued it was difficult to comprehensively deal with the unprecedented quake, tsunami and nuclear calamity at the crisis-management headquarters in the basement of his office.
He also noted that a nuclear crisis-management center set up 5 km from the Fukushima plant could not be used because it was damaged by the quake and contaminated by radioactive fallout.
It wasn't until March 15 that the government and Tepco started sharing the same level of information. On that day, Kan decided to take the unprecedented step of forming a crisis task force in Tepco's Tokyo headquarters.
He said that decision was prompted by rumors that Tepco wanted to evacuate the plant.
"In general, it would be unthinkable for the government to burst in on a private firm (and set up such a team)," he said.
Kan told nuclear experts to draw up worst-case scenarios, which included one that said fallout could fly as far as 250 km away from the plant and contaminate central Tokyo, prompting a bid to evacuate 30 million people.
Leak halts Kepco plant
OSAKA — Kansai Electric Power Co. said Monday a water leak forced it to halt a thermal power plant unit in Wakayama Prefecture in the morning and repairs will take a week.
Kepco halted unit 3 at the Kainan thermal power station at 12:12 a.m. after the leak was discovered near a pipe feeding boiler steam to the turbine. It later confirmed steam was leaking from it. Unit 3 can generate 600,000 kw.
Power demand in Kepco's service area Monday is estimated to reach up to 19.2 million kw. Since the western Japan utility's capacity stands at 21.81 million kw without unit 3, which gives it an excess of some 12 percent, the trouble isn't expected affect the demand-supply situation in the area, a Kepco spokesman said.