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Tuesday, Aug. 7, 2012
Tepco airs internal crisis footage
Tokyo Electric Power Co. on Monday began allowing journalists to view 150 hours of teleconferencing footage between its headquarters and the Fukushima No. 1 plant, showing how executives interacted with workers in the first five days of the meltdown crisis that erupted on March 11, 2011.
Some of the footage, which was finally disclosed after resistance from Tepco, portrayed the extreme tension and chaos that reigned as the crisis escalated toward hydrogen explosions in reactors 1 and 3, raising fears the primary containment vessels would give way.
The footage also showed Tepco Managing Director Akio Komori, one of the key executives involved in handling the crisis, urging others to decide the conditions for withdrawing the workers after the utility surmised that the fuel rods in reactor 2 were fully exposed at 6:22 p.m. on March 14.
"Somebody needs to come up with a criterion for a pullout. At some point we need to make a decision on whether we can stay at the plant or (its) control rooms. Please start considering the criterion," Komori said around 7:30 p.m.
Tepco claims it was only discussing a partial withdrawal and never considered a total pullout from the plant.
Then Prime Minister Naoto Kan and other government officials, however, suspected that Tepco was considering a total evacuation, which would have led to even more meltdowns and a catastrophic release of radioactivity over eastern Japan.
Only a third of the 150 hours of footage was provided with audio.
The teleconferencing network connects the major Tepco facilities, such as Fukushima No. 1 and No. 2, an off-site control center and the Kashiwazaki-Karia nuclear plant in Niigata Prefecture. The footage is divided into several screens focused on these places.
The audible 50-hour portion was recorded at Tepco headquarters, while the silent 100-hour portion was recorded at Fukushima No. 2.
Tepco claimed the audio and visual components have to be recorded separately and that Fukushima No. 2 failed to activate its audio recorders.
The silent footage includes the time when Kan visited Tepco headquarters early on the morning of March 15.
Apparently Kan had a heated exchange with the utility's officials over their handling of the crisis, but the camera was shooting Kan from behind and facial emotions were not captured.
Kan, who had little information and feared Tepco was thinking of quitting the plant, went directly to Tepco headquarters to take charge of the situation by setting up a joint headquarters. Tepco claims the emotional exchange with Kan only undermined morale; Kan claimed the visit was useful in getting a grip on the crisis.
The footage also showed another heated exchange involving Tepco workers. Soon after reactor 3 was rocked by a hydrogen explosion at around 11 a.m. on March 14, Masao Yoshida, then chief of the plant, hurriedly called Tepco headquarters.
"It's probably reactor 3, and it has just exploded!" Yoshida said.
The report caused a big stir at the plant and Tepco HQ, as the voices of confused workers can be more loudly heard in the footage. Some yelled "Check the parameters of reactor 3!" while others called around to check if everyone was OK.