March 1, 2014
This past week, a court panel in Tokyo rejected a criminal suit against former PM Naoto Kan concerning his actions during the first week of the Fukushima accident. Kan and five other officials allegedly caused the premature deaths of numerous people due to the chaotic Fukushima Daiichi evacuation. The panel said they could find no proof of the claim. I was waiting to see how the case would turn out before writing what follows. If criminal charges would have been filed, my opinion would be little more than adding insult to injury. I no longer feel this constraint.
There are numerous detailed reports concerning what happened at Fukushima, including my E-book Fukushima: The First Five Days. All of these sources show that soon after midnight of March 12, 2011, Naoto Kan made an executive decision. In my opinion, the events caused by Kan’s decision warrant criminal charges being brought against him, but not for the evacuation. His decision may have been the main reason for the severity of meltdowns with units #1, 2 & 3, and the sole cause of the hydrogen explosions at units #1, 3 & 4.
At ~12:20 am, site manager Yoshida wanted to begin the work of manually depressurizing unit #1 and asked the company’s home office for permission. Tepco-Tokyo dutifully forwarded the request to Kan, who’s approval should have been a perfunctory “yes”. However, Kan told them to not depressurize until (1) the entire 3km radius’ evacuation was confirmed, and (2) a 3pm Press conference in Tokyo was held to announce the impending depressurization. The Press conference was held at 3:06am, but the 3km radius could not be confirmed as evacuated until ~9am. I firmly believe these politically-mandated delays are the prime reason for the full core-relocating meltdown of unit #1 and the hydrogen explosion which decimated the upper story of the Reactor Building at 3:36pm. If these delays had not been ordered by Kan, the full meltdown could well have been mitigated and the building explosion completely avoided.
The records kept by the staff and management team at F. Daiichi show that at 10pm on March 11, control room indication for reactor water level had been energized and there was more than 20 inches of water above the top of the fuel core inside unit #1. The meltdown could not have yet begun with that much water in the core. However, reactor building radiation levels were increasing. By 11pm, radiation levels at the Turbine Building access were increasing, as well. It may have been at this point that the fuel inside the reactor was beginning to be uncovered. But, as long as there was any water and steam inside the RPV, it is unlikely than a full meltdown would happen. When the actual melting of the core began is speculative, at best, but it does not seem to have begun before midnight. Soon after midnight, site manager Yoshida ordered the staff to prepare to depressurize the Primary Containment structure surrounding the reactor itself. The lower pressure would allow low pressure fire pumps to inject cooling water into the core and stop the progression of core damage. Local authorities said the 3km radius was fully evacuated at 12:30am, so Yoshida wanted depressurization to begin in earnest. They needed Tokyo’s approval. At 1:30am they were told of Kan’s two criteria for depressurization by Tepco-Tokyo.
It is quite likely that if the depressurization of unit #1 would have happened at 1:30pm, the amount of fuel melting in the core would have been severe, but a full core relocation unlikely. Some hydrogen may have begun seeping out of the PCV and into the outer reactor building. However, it is unlikely that the hydrogen level in the outer building would have been sufficient for the later-in-the-day explosion. When the actual depressurization occurred at ~ 10am, the fuel core was fully melted and had relocated to the bottom head of the pressure vessel. Also, large volumes of hydrogen gas had entered the outer reactor building in sufficient quantity to cause the subsequent explosion. The depressurization was way, way too late. The person most responsible for this situation was Naoto Kan.
The explosion with unit #1 came just six minutes after a high-voltage mobile diesel had begun sending electricity into unit #1. The staff was on the verge of starting the high-pressure Standby Liquid Control (SLC) system which would have been able to inject water inside the RPV. Flying concrete shards from the hydrogen explosion shorted out the heavy-duty cable that has been spliced between the diesel and a switchboard inside the reactor building. Flying debris also smashed into the diesel and knocked it out of commission. If it were not for the unit #1 hydrogen explosion, it is safe to say unit #1 would have been in a safe condition rather quickly, and unit #2 re-energized through tandem-unit interconnections soon there-after. If the depressurization would have been allowed at ~1:30am on March 12, 2011, it is probable that unit #1’s fuel damage would have been stanched at the partial/severe meltdown stage and the unit #1 hydrogen explosion would never have happened! Further, it is likely that unit #2 would have completely avoided meltdown since the fuel core did not begin to uncover until around 4:30pm on March 14th! In fact, unit #2 did not lose its steam-powered emergency cooling pumps (RCIC and HPCI) until a few hours before the core began to uncover. If there had been no unit #1 explosion, there would have been no fuel melting and relatively minor fuel bundle damage.
It is possible that unit #3 could have been saved, as well. A second high-voltage mobile diesel was on its way to unit #3 from units #5&6, when the unit #1 explosion occurred. The road was damaged by the earthquake and tsunami debris had to be removed as the diesel made its way down from the two undamaged unit on the bluff above units #1 through #4. It was a slow go. When unit #1 exploded, there was even more debris to clear than before, making the trip even slower. About half of the spool of heavy-duty cable used to splice the first diesel into unit #1 remained. The balance of the cable could have been used to connect the second diesel with unit #3 and reenergized the emergency cooling systems. The flow of water into unit #3’s core was not terminated until 2:42am on March 13th. The meltdown probably didn’t begin until after that time. Thus, unit #3 might have been saved if not for the hydrogen explosion with unit #1 at 3:36pm on March 12.
Kan would argue, I’m sure, that he ordered the delays to insure that no member of the public would be exposed to the radioactive gasses released by depressurizing unit #1. However, the wind was blowing out to sea on March 11th and was projected to stay that way for at least two days, which was not unknown to Kan and his emergency team in Tokyo. Real-time meteorological data from a computerized system, acronym SPEEDI, was available to Kan the entire time, but he negligently chose to ignore it because he felt meteorological forecasting was inherently inaccurate.
Clearly, Kan panicked and gave orders that exacerbated the severity of the accident. He more than “meddled” – he criminally interfered! While we cannot say that Naoto Kan’s negligence caused the Fukushima accident, it seems that we can point a guilty finger at the former PM and say that he was the primary reason for the severity of the accident and the one person most responsible for all three hydrogen explosions. In my honest opinion, he should be criminally indicted for executive malfeasance, meddling in the emergency actions at F. Daiichi, placing the station’s entire staff in an un-necessary state of danger, and causing completely avoidable anguish to be inflicted on the people of Japan.