. . . (sigh).
The Fukushima nuclear accident independent investigation commission set up by the Diet called Banri Kaieda as witness on May 17.
Kaieda was the Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry who oversaw the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency when the Fukushima nuclear accident happened in March 2011. After losing the leadership election of the Democratic Party of Japan to Yoshihiko Noda in August last year, thanks partly to NHK, he has kept a low profile unlike Naoto Kan (who went on a media blitz to spread his version of the accident), Yukio Edano (who quickly became the Minister of the Economy), or Goshi Hosono (who was promoted from a personal assistant to Kan to the minister in charge of the nuclear accident and then to the Minister of the Environment).
The hearing lasted two and a half hours, and the media reporting it picked different aspects of his testimony. So, from several newspapers and NHK, here's what Kaieda had to say about the early days of the worst nuclear accident in Japan. Nikkei Shinbun has the most extensive coverage. (Emphasis is mine.)
From Nikkei Shinbun (5/17/2012):
In accordance with the Act on Special Measures Concerning Nuclear Emergency Preparedness, TEPCO notified the Ministry of Economy at 4:45PM on March 11, 2011 after the loss of power to Reactor 1 and Reactor due to the tsunami. Kaieda, as Minister of Economy, requested then-Prime Minister Kan to declare a Nuclear Emergency Situation and set up the Nuclear Emergency Response Headquarters. But it took PM Kan until after 7PM to declare a Nuclear Emergency Situation.
Kaieda said "It took a long time to obtain Mr. Kan's agreement [to declare a Nuclear Emergency and set up the Nuclear Emergency Response Headquarters]" because Kan had to be satisfied with information such as the condition of the reactors and the legal basis for [declaring, etc.].
About injecting seawater into the reactors to cool, Kaieda said Mr. Kan expressed his concern that injecting seawater might cause re-criticality.
Kaieda felt that TEPCO didn't start the injection of seawater immediately because the company was hesitant to decommission the reactors. [If you pour in seawater into a reactor, the reactor cannot be restored.]
Kaieda received a telephone call on late night on March 14, 2011 from Masataka Shimizu, then-President of TEPCO, who told Kaieda that he would like to evacuate the workers from Fukushima I Nuke Plant to Fukushima II (Daini) Nuke Plant. Kaieda interpreted the call to mean it was a "complete withdrawal".
Kaieda emphasized that he thought "it was a grave mistake" for Kan to closet himself in his office on the 5th floor of the Prime Minister's Official Residence. The risk control center [for the nuclear accident] was located in the basement.
Kaida felt that it was like a telephone game among the PM's Official Residence, TEPCO Headquarters, and Fukushima I Nuke Plant.
From Yomiuri Shinbun (5/17/2012):
Kaieda requested Kan that he declare a Nuclear Emergency Situation and set up the Nuclear Emergency Response Headquarters, but Kan asked "what's the basis?" So then-Chief Cabinet Secretary Edano and PM's assistants [no doubt including Goshi Hosono] had to pour over the related laws and regulations. In the meantime, Kan did other things including attending a meeting with the opposition party leaders.
From NHK (5/17/2012):
About the delay in the vent to lower the pressure inside the Containment Vessel [of Reactor 1], Kaieda said he thought "TEPCO is hesitant, because the company wants to minimize the accident".
I didn't know the reason for the delay in declaring a Nuclear Emergency. I didn't know TEPCO's proposal to evacuate the workers was to Fukushima II Nuke Plant. As to injecting seawater (or for that matter, any kind of water) may have been hard with increasing pressure inside the RPV.
Two interesting points:
There was no one who was able to tell then-Prime Minister Kan, "Prime Minister, just do it", when Kan wasted everyone's time by wanting to know the legal basis for declaring a Nuclear Emergency. Instead, Kan insisted on knowing the legal basis, and Edano (and no doubt Hosono) went to look up the information for their Prime Minister when every second might have counted. Not really a picture of a resolute leader as Kan wants to portray himself.
TEPCO's "complete withdrawal" was what Kaieda thought, not necessarily what then-President Shimizu of TEPCO told him. He didn't tell Kaieda that he wanted complete withdrawal, but since he didn't tell Kaieda that it would be partial withdrawal either, in Kaieda's mind it was "complete withdrawal".
Yukio Edano's turn as the witness will come on May 27. Goshi Hosono will be interviewed by the commission on May 19, but it will be closed to public, according to Mainichi (5/18/2012). Hosono says he requested the open hearing, but the commission said no, because Hosono was not in a decision-making position when the accident started. (Huh?)
On May 28, Naoto Kan will be the witness.