Ever since he was forced to resign as Prime Minister, Naoto Kan has used creative rhetoric to try place blame for the Fukushima accident on the government and Japan’s nuclear community and absolve himself of guilt for his actions. His recent testimony before the Diet’s Fukushima investigative committee has given him the opportunity to further promote his self-aggrandizing grandiloquence. However, he seems to have stretched the truth more than a bit too far.
Kan says his errors were not his fault. Rather, he now blames Japanese law itself! Kan testified, “The Act on Special Measures Concerning Nuclear Emergency Preparedness was not responsive to a severe accident. The (government’s) assumption of (nuclear) accidents was insufficient.” He added had no choice but to interfere in things he knew essentially nothing about and micromanage all emergency efforts, “[The Act] presupposes that an earthquake and a nuclear accident would take place separately. Because of such an extremely insufficient assumption, I had no choice but to meddle in and do various things. I don’t think that’s the way a prime minister should act.” He’s right on one point. It was no way for a Prime Minister to act. But, he isn’t acting how a former Prime Minister should act, either. Here’s why…
There are actually two overlapping laws for emergency preparedness, one “Basic” and the other “Nuclear specific”. In the basic law, we find a clear framework for disaster response and what the duties of the Prime Minister entail. Article 11.2 calls for the establishment of a Central Disaster Prevention Council located in a cabinet office, in order to announce the emergency condition. Article 12.2 says the head of the council with wide, on-going powers to direct and control, is the Prime Minister. There at five specified powers endowed on the PM – (1) policies on disaster countermeasures, (2) overall coordination of countermeasures, (3) enactment of temporary emergency measures needed, (4) proclamation of the emergency situation/disaster, and (5) implementation of important matters relating to countermeasures deemed necessary by the Prime Minister. Does this fit Kan’s statement of a non-responsive severe accident law? Of course not! In addition, there is nothing in “The Act” where any type of specific nuclear accident or precursors are assumed. In fact, this law is as comprehensive as it gets with respect to nuclear emergency preparedness. Laws like this are written without technical specificity in order to keep implementation as flexible as possible.
In addition to “The Basic Act”, the Special Law of Emergency Preparedness for Nuclear Disaster, Article 16 says that immediately after issuing the nuclear emergency announcement, “…the Prime Minister shall establish Nuclear Disaster Countermeasures Headquarters in the Prime Minister’s office.” Kan, however, maintains that there was no legal mandate for creating an emergency committee of this type, so he did it ad-hoc. It’s been a long time since Kan resigned and precious few in Japan know the law with respect to nuclear emergencies. Does he think nobody will notice that he’s being disingenuous?
We might bear in mind that former minister Banri Kaieda testified that Kan initially denied his duties as head of the emergency organization, asking “On what grounds”. He assigned Cabinet Secretary Edano the task of examining the law, clarifying the legal basis of his duties and getting back to him. Kan then shirked his emergency responsibilities and left his office to attend a routine meeting with Diet members of the DPJ. It took Edano about an hour to find and read “The Act”, then explain everything to Kan. Kaieda says this is the reason it took too long for the government’s emergency declaration to be issued. Kaieda also pointed out that once Kan understood his legal responsibilities, he became “heavy-handed” and “meddlesome”. Kan admitted to the panel that some of his behaviors were based mostly on rumor, but he was frightened. Plus, he wasn’t getting the volume and quality of information he desired, “Unfortunately, there were no fundamental briefings on the situation, either from TEPCO or the government’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA).” What he fails to mention is that no-one in Tokyo had a good feel for what was happening 250 kilometers to the north because the tsunami/quake had decimated the Tohoku electrical and communications infrastructure. That infrastructure would not be available until March 17. Kan over-reacted, assuming Tepco and NISA were not doing their job. His personal arrogance, combined with a serious level of ignorance, resulted in him becoming effectively dictatorial. After his unwarranted attack on the Tepco home office and irresponsible invasion of the Fukushima Daiichi accident site on March 12, it’s no wonder little was done without the Prime Minister’s express permission, thereafter.
Kan is for all intents and purposes perpetrating a con-job on the Diet and the Japanese people. The Diet panel has the power of Parliament behind them and can insist on sworn testimony. It seems clear that unless Naoto Kan is legally sworn in, he will continue to obfuscate the truth in an effort to absolve himself of culpability with respect to the Fukushima accident.