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Saturday, June 9, 2012

Tepco never requested total Fukushima No. 1 evacuation: ex-president


Staff writer

Former Tepco President Masataka Shimizu denied allegations Friday that he requested permission from the government to evacuate all workers at the Fukushima No. 1 plant in the early days of the nuclear crisis.

But in testimony to a Diet panel examining the causes of the disaster, Shimizu admitted his communication with certain ministers may have caused confusion.

Whether Tokyo Electric Power Co. asked to withdraw all employees at the wrecked power station is one of the major issues being investigated by the panel, which has already questioned Naoto Kan, the prime minister at the time, and several key ministers.

If the six-reactor Fukushima No. 1 complex, which suffered three meltdowns, had been abandoned, more meltdowns, mainly involving spent-fuel pools, could have potentially occurred and discharged a catastrophic amount of radioactive fallout. Earlier reports said such a scenario could have led to the evacuation of Tokyo.

Kan, then industry minister Banri Kaieda and Yukio Edano, the ministry's current head who was chief Cabinet secretary when the March 2011 disasters sparked the nuclear crisis, have all stated before the panel they believed Tepco was planning a full-scale evacuation.

On Friday, however, Shimizu told panel members the utility "at no stage considered a complete pullout," noting Tepco executives intended to leave a skeletal crew on-site to bring the crisis under the control even if conditions worsened.

Still, Shimizu conceded he can't remember if he clearly informed government officials of this plan, saying, "I remember mentioning an 'evacuation' but I'm not sure whether I used the term 'partial.' "

Tepco's former chief said he assumed the plan to leave a limited number of workers on-site at all times had been understood by the government, and expressed confusion over allegations that Tepco was planning to completely abandon the facility.

When asked if his communication with government ministers was unclear, Shimizu cited a number of factors that could have caused misunderstandings as the utility was in the midst of Japan's worst nuclear plant disaster.

Kaieda previously told the panel he received a phone call from Shimizu on the night of March 14 to inform him that conditions at reactor 2 were becoming more hazardous, and that he thought Shimizu had requested a complete pullout during their conversation.

Edano said he also arrived at the same conclusion following a separate call from Tepco's ex-president, but Shimizu on Friday said he doesn't fully remember the details of that discussion.



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The Japan Times

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