The late chief of the disaster-hit Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant criticized politicians in his testimony, saying they completely failed to grasp the dire situation that workers faced at the height of the crisis, and that they only brought about further confusion, according to documents disclosed by the government Thursday.
In his testimony, Masao Yoshida, who led efforts to stabilize the Fukushima plant after it was struck by a huge earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011, recalled when workers tried to carry out an emergency release of radioactive steam from the No. 1 reactor to avoid a rupture of its containers caused by rising pressure — an operation called venting.
In the early hours of March 12, 2011, Yoshida and his workers, despite being hampered by high levels of radiation at the complex, were already trying to implement the operation manually after the plant suffered a blackout, when then industry minister Banri Kaieda — unaware of what was going on — issued an order at 6:50 a.m. to carry out the venting.
Yoshida said he felt like the office of then Prime Minister Naoto Kan was “the farthest away” from where he was. “Basically, they thought the vents (from where radioactive steam is released) would open as soon as the minister ordered. It doesn’t work like that,” he said.
He also recalled that senior government officials, and Kan himself, called him directly numerous times to ask “pretty entry-level questions” when he was “very busy” in dealing with the catastrophic situation at the plant.
The former plant chief’s 400-page testimony also highlighted the poor corporate governance of Tokyo Electric Power Co., the operator of the crippled plant, which brought about further mess.
The documents showed senior officials at TEPCO headquarters in Tokyo put more priority on the opinion of the prime minister’s office, rather than trying to understand the difficult situation at the plant and support Yoshida.
“At that point, they were like, ‘do it (venting) now, do it now’…there was a clear gap” over the perception of how serious the situation was between his team and the TEPCO headquarters, he told a government panel that was examining the Fukushima meltdowns.