Japan’s Kan Gets Mixed Assessment on Fukushima Disaster

Japan’s former Prime Minister Naoto Kan received a mixed assessment of his handling of last year’s Fukushima nuclear disaster from an independent panel.

Officials at the prime minister’s office managed the crisis in a “haphazard” manner, the commission, set up by a private foundation, said in a 403-page report released today. At the same time, it praised Kan for preventing a total pullout of workers from the Fukushima nuclear-power plant.

A government report in December highlighted failures of regulators and Tokyo Electric Power Co. following the March 11 earthquake and tsunami that caused meltdowns and radiation releases at the Fukushima Dai-Ichi power station, 220 kilometers (137 miles) north of Tokyo. Today’s report, commissioned by the Rebuild Japan Initiative Foundation, was based on more than 300 interviews that included government officials and regulators.

Top government officials “without expert knowledge and experience continued haphazard countermeasures,” and orders from the prime minister’s office “may have raised the risk of creating unnecessary confusion and worsening the accident further,” the report said.

Still, a turning point during the crisis was when Kan rejected a request from the plant’s operator, known as Tepco, to withdraw completely from the power station, the report said.

“Even though Tepco pulled out about 600 workers, the so-called Fukushima 50, who risked their lives, stayed and continued their activities,” Koichi Kitazawa, the head of the commission, told reporters in Tokyo today. “Kan’s biggest achievement may be the fact the Fukushima 50 stayed.”

‘Worst-Case Scenario’

The six-member commission is the first to complete its probe into the Fukushima disaster. Three other investigations have yet to reach their final conclusions.

Today’s report also said top government officials discussed a “worst-case scenario” that would have required evacuating Tokyo. Yukio Edano, chief cabinet secretary during the crisis, feared a “chain reaction” in which a loss of control at the Fukushima Dai-Ichi plant would have led to breakdowns at the nearby Fukushima Dai-Ni and Tokai nuclear stations, he was quoted as saying.

Under that scenario, reported to government officials on March 25, residents within a radius of more than 250 kilometers of the crippled plant might have needed to evacuate, according to today’s report. The government didn’t publicly discuss the possibility at the time.

‘It Wasn’t Wrong’

“If we made it public, some people could have overreacted, even though it was an unrealistic scenario,” Goshi Hosono, the minister in charge of the crisis, who was a special adviser to Kan in early days after the disaster, said in a Feb. 23 group interview. “The approach for crisis management is preparing measures to deal with situations that may never happen. That’s what we did. It wasn’t wrong.”

The March 11 crisis was also the topic of a report today by the Greenpeace International environmental group, which blamed government officials, regulators and the nuclear industry for causing the disaster by failing to address known hazards.

“This was, to us, clearly a man-made disaster,” Jan Vande Putte, Greenpeace’s international radioactivity safety adviser, said at a press conference in Tokyo. “The authorities failed to support the people from the beginning, denied them information.”

The Greenpeace report cited several occasions on which officials acknowledged the risks a tsunami posed to the Fukushima reactors and failed to make sure those risks were addressed.

Subpoena Powers

A panel conducting a parliamentary inquiry with subpoena powers is also expected to hold hearings with Kan and other government officials and regulators. A government panel led by Yotaro Hatamura, professor emeritus at the University of Tokyo, didn’t include input from top government officials in an interim report released Dec. 26, because of time constraints.

A panel set up by Tepco released its preliminary report on Dec. 2, reiterating its analysis that major buildings and equipment at the Fukushima plant weren’t directly damaged by the earthquake that preceded the tsunami.

Tepco declined to cooperate with hearings held by Kitazawa’s commission, according to today’s report.

About 30 experts including researchers, lawyers and journalists working with the six commissioners carried out interviews, surveys and data analysis, the commission said on its website.

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