Yesterday, Banri Kaieda and Kazuo Matsunaga became the first political officials from the Kan regime to be grilled by the parliamentary Fukushima investigative panel. The testimony is important and has received major coverage by the Japanese Press. Here’s a couple summaries…

  • Kaieda admits that he incorrectly doubted Tepco during the nuclear crisis at F. Daiichi. He said he thought the utility was trying to make the crisis appear ”less serious” than it actually was when the venting of #1 containment was delayed. He added, ”I felt Tokyo Electric was somewhat hesitant, although actually that was not true.” (Kyodo News)
  • Kaieda believes communication problems were the cause of many poor Tokyo decisions during the early days of the accident. One of the communication-based mistakes was Kan being slow to declare a nuclear emergency because Kan’s staff had to clarify the legal basis of his duties, and then they had to convince the Prime Minister. This un-necessarily slowed the government’s nuclear accident declaration. Kaieda added that there was little or no communication between officials, which he compared to a game of “Chinese Whispers” occurring in the Prime Minister’s office. He admitted no-one was aware of the potential danger of hydrogen build-ups, and all were surprised when F. Daiichi unit #1’s reactor building experienced a catastrophic explosion. “The words ‘hydrogen explosion’ were not in my ears.” (JAIF)
  • Kaieda attacked the actions of Prime Minister Naoto Kan for being meddlesome and heavy-handed during the crisis. He displayed “nothing but displeasure” when speaking of Kan. When asked why the government took more than three hours to declare the nuclear emergency, Kaieda immediately said, “It took time to gain the understanding of the prime minister.” Concerning Kan’s questionable ordering Tepco to not abandon the plant, Kaieda reminded the panel that  TEPCO employees told the Diet investigation panel they had a “feeling of strangeness” when they were rebuked by the prime minister. Kaieda chided the Prime Minister’s language, “Slightly different expressions could have been used.” He added that he did not understand why Kan did it, and he remains dumbfounded. When asked what he remembers Tepco saying about evacuationg the site, Kaieda replied, “I do not remember whether the words ‘all (employees)’ were used.” Kaieda also told the panel he was surprised by Kan frequently giving direct instructions to Masao Yoshida, then-manager of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, implying Kan was literally out of control, “Broad authority must be exercised in a restrained manner.” (Asahi Shimbun)
  • Panel chairman Kiyoshi Kurukawa says the Industry Ministry “lacked a sense of crisis” during the accident. He added that during testimony being given by former industry minister Kazuo Matsunaga, the official often declined to explain his responsibility for taking public protective measures and emergency response actions during and after the early days of the crisis. When asked what his responsibilities were, Matsunaga said they had always left that sort of thing to the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency officials.  Kurukawa finally said it seems clear that the ministries responsible for nuclear emergency response were not competent enough to handle the situation. A full report on the panel’s findings is due for release in June. (NHK World)
  • Ex-PM Kan will be questioned by the panel on March 28. (Kyodo News)

Now, for some other updates…

  • The Tokyo government says they will not issue a power-saving order to Kansai Electric Company’s customers. They say it is possible that excess power production will be available from other Companies in Japan sufficient to prevent blackouts in the Kansai Region, even if no nukes are restarted. To reduce the possibility of shortages, Tokyo says they will ask Kansai customers to reduce consumption voluntarily. With all nukes shuttered, 30% of Japan’s power supplies will not be available. (Kyodo News) Comment – It is improbable that any major nation can hastily supplant 30% of its energy supply with old, unreliable fossil plants and requests for voluntary reductions in consumption. Tokyo is clearly caving-in to critics of their summer power shortage forecasts, which is a move that threatens to paralyze Japanese business and industry during the country’s worst economic downturn since World War II.
  • The Oi town mayor praises PM Noda for his saying the government will soon decide on the Oi restarts issue. Noda said, ”In order to avoid any negative effects, the government has to make a grave decision,” and that ”I think the timing of the decision is near.” Mayor Shinobu Tokioka told reporters ”The government has shown its leadership for the first time.” (Kyodo News)
  • More than 5 years before the F. Daichi accidents, The Nuclear Safety Commission tried to have quake/tsunami regulations upgraded. However, the Industry Ministry’s lap-dog, NISA, refused to cooperate because it would result in expensive upgrades and potentially give rise to public criticism of older nukes. NISA feared the public might think nuclear power plants built under the old guideline were dangerous, resulting in opposition to and lawsuits against the nuke operations.  The NSC formally instructed back checks be conducted based on the revised guidelines to ensure each plants’ quake-resistance capabilities. NISA retorted that 3 serious complications would ensue if the rules were stiffened, which were, (1) concerned groups would be increasingly critical which might result in the stopping of nuke operations, (2) NSC and NISA experts might be summoned to court if legal action was taken against the plants’ operations, and, (3) losing such court battles would be unavoidable unless back checks or other activities examining nuclear plants were carried out. This ended all hope of the NSC desire for stiffer quake/tsunami standards occurring. Takao Tsuruzono of NISA’s legal office said, “We regret that there was insufficient consideration for this matter.” (Yomiuri Shimbun)