A parliamentary panel investigating the handling of the Fukushima nuclear disaster reports that during the worst of the emergency, former Prime Minister Naoto Kan and his aides frequently made calls directly to the Fukushima nuclear facility to ask for basic information, which distracted workers and added to the already chaotic situation. Shuya Nomura, a member of the panel, reported that the Prime Minister’s office did not adhere to the established chain of communication by speaking to the regulating organization, the Industrial Safety Agency, as is stipulated by the national nuclear disaster management law.
In their defense, Mr. Kan and his aides have complained that in the heat of the emergency the company responsible for running the plant, Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), did very little in the way of keeping them informed as to how the crisis was developing, which gave them no choice but to pursue the information they needed directly. The panel was also critical of how Mr. Kan and his ministers handled data on the release of radioactive contamination. They claim that the government’s failure to release vital information may have caused needless exposures, and fueled distrust of the governments handling of the crisis. The panel’s full report is expected later this month.
The parliamentary panel is armed with the ability to issue subpoenas, and was also able to discover that at one point TEPCO had thought about withdrawing the majority of its workers, which would have left only ten to reckon with the still unfolding disaster. This idea—for which the former TEPCO president, Shimizu Masataka, is being investigated, among other things—was quashed by Mr. Kan, who insisted that all the workers on hand continue working. The Fukushima nuclear facility was rocked by the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami, which brought down the plants power and cooling systems, which in turn caused meltdowns at three reactors. Of the 700 workers TEPCO and its associated companies employed at the time, it took 70 to finally contain the crisis.