127 more 'secret' interviews on Fukushima crisis disclosed

The central government on Dec. 25 released dozens more closed-door accounts by people closely connected to the Fukushima nuclear disaster in response to a public outcry about secrecy.

The latest batch involves accounts by 127 officials, workers at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant and other parties caught up in the crisis triggered by the March 11, 2011, Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami.

They include accounts by former Fukushima Governor Yuhei Sato, Toshitsuna Watanabe, the mayor of Fukushima Prefecture’s Okuma town, and Eiji Hiraoka, vice director-general of the now-dissolved Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency.

It brings to 202, the number of records released to date.

Bowing to calls for greater openness on the issue, the Abe administration in September made public its records of remarks by 19 people, including the late Masao Yoshida, who was the manager of the nuclear facility at the onset of the disaster, and Naoto Kan, the prime minister at the time.

It followed up with records of interviews with an additional 56 people in November.

A government investigation committee held closed-door questioning sessions with about 770 related officials and others in connection with the accident.

Records for Sato, governor of a prefecture with a population of 2 million, show that local officials had to make decisions under extreme pressure.

According to Sato’s remarks, although the central government declared a state of nuclear emergency after the earthquake, the prefecture was given few details about what was happening.

For this reason, Sato and his subordinates tried to glean details by watching television.

“Everyone had their eyes glued to the TV (to learn what was happening at the disaster site),” the governor said in his hearing.

At 8:50 p.m. on March 11, Sato issued an evacuation order for residents within a 2-kilometer radius of the Fukushima plant.

Although a separate report by the national investigation committee reveals data on the likely spread of radioactive substances was e-mailed to the prefectural government from March 12, Sato admitted that the information was not shared with a sufficient number of people.

He blamed that on the confusion that prevailed at the time.

As the situation deteriorated day by day, Fukushima residents were ordered by the central government to flee farther away from the power plant. Some residents apparently were advised by local municipalities to flee in the direction in which contaminated materials were predicted to spread.

During the interview with the investigation committee, Sato cited the case of a resident who tried nine times to flee to safety. He said it reflected “the very reality of nuclear disaster evacuation.”

Employees of Tokyo Electric Power Co., the operator of the Fukushima plant, were also among the 127 interviewees.

A group manager at the facility said an iron door connecting two buildings buckled in the disaster, cutting off access and making it difficult to restore the power supply.

According to the employee’s testimony, TEPCO officials were instructed to take shelter at the nearby Fukushima No. 2 plant on March 15 but later asked to return.

“Although team leaders and other veteran workers returned (to the No. 1 plant), the number of workers there halved (after the temporary evacuation),” the group manager said during the interview.

Another TEPCO employee involved in safety assessments testified that the official believed the upper portion of nuclear fuel had melted at the No. 1 reactor, resulting in some dropping to the bottom of the reactor.

This was the situation as of April 10, although TEPCO did not acknowledge then that a meltdown had occurred.

The Abe administration has been working since June to make public interview records on the Fukushima crisis, but only after gaining the consent of those interviewed.

The government originally planned to complete the disclosure process by the end of the year. But TEPCO executives and others have not agreed to have their statements made public. For this reason, the government has decided to continue working on the project next year.

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