The independent investigation commission of the Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant accident set up by the National Diet called TEPCO's ex-president Masataka Shimizu as witness on June 8 in an open hearing, and on June 9 held a commission meeting (also open to public) to summarize the main findings so far.
Unlike the private independent investigation commission whose report was released in March this year, the Diet's commission concluded that TEPCO did NOT intend to "withdraw completely" from Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant when President Shimizu was trying frantically to reach the top officials from late March 14 till early hours of March 15 last year.
From Jiji Tsushin (6/9/2012):
National Diet's Independent Investigation Commission of Fukushima Nuclear Accident acknowledges that TEPCO didn't intend to "withdraw completely", criticizes the excessive intervention by the Prime Minister's Office
The National Diet's Independent Investigation Commission of Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant accident (Chairman Kiyoshi Kurokawa) held a public commission meeting on June 9 to organize the issues to be presented in the final report due at the end of June. In the meeting, regarding the proposal from then-President of TEPCO Masataka Shimizu to "withdraw", the Commission acknowledged that "it doesn't consider that TEPCO decided a complete withdrawal [from the plant] and that it is not a fact that the Prime Minister's Office interrupted the TEPCO's withdrawal".
Over the proposal to withdraw from March 14 night till early morning of March 15 last year, the officials at the Prime Minister's Official Residence including then-Prime Minister Naoto Kan have been at odds with TEPCO's management. The former understood the proposal as "complete withdrawal", while the latter insisted "they were going to keep the core members at the plant".
Based on the testimonies from Mr. Kan, Mr. Shimizu and others, the Commission determined that "there was no intention to withdraw completely". As to the response afterwards, the Commission pointed out that "the key was the sense of mission held by the people at the plant who understood the condition of the reactors best". It criticized the Prime Minister's Official Residence by saying "it intervened in a way that was never intended such as communicating directly with the plant [management], and [the plant management] had to answer the frequent calls."
What is not mentioned in the above Jiji article is exactly what word Mr. Shimizu used when he tried to reach Mr. Kaieda (Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry overseeing the nuclear safety agency).
In his testimony on June 8, Mr. Shimizu said he consistently used the word "退避 (tai-hi)" when speaking with the government officials and never the word "撤退 (tettai)" as apparently understood by the officials in the Kan administration and by PM Kan himself. OK, what's the difference? Some would ask "What difference does that make?"
Having followed TEPCO's announcements and press conferences since March last year, I've come to notice that the company sometimes use peculiar language that differs significantly from the common-sense understanding of the general public. One such example is the "water puddle" TEPCO said existed in the basements of reactor buildings and turbine buildings early on in the accident. At TEPCO, standing water more than 30 centimeter deep flooding the entire basement is called "water puddle" (水たまり）. Then I noticed the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency officials used the same word to describe the flooded basement. More recently, independent journalist Ryuichi Kino noticed TEPCO's new president used exactly the same language as the top bureaucrats at the top ministries.
Maybe it does matter, at least to TEPCO and the government officials, what exact language to use in a certain occasion, in order to be precisely understood by the other party.
Since I like the saying "The Devil is in the details", I looked up the words in the Japanese language dictionary.
Mr. Shimizu's word of choice was "退避 (tai-hi)". According to one of the most authoritative Japanese language dictionaries (三省堂 大辞林), it means:
To leave the place and avoid danger.
What PM Kan and Mr. Kaieda said they understood as Shimizu meant was "撤退 (tettai)", which means:
To remove a position/base as in the military and withdraw
The former does have a connotation that the move is temporary, whereas the latter, by removing a position/base, is a permanent withdrawal, in defeat.
Both Mr. Kan and Mr. Kaieda also said they thought it was an "all-out" withdrawal, because Mr. Shimizu didn't use the word "partial". Shimizu said he was surprised that the administration understood his carefully chosen word "temporary shelter" - "taihi" as "all-out withdrawal" - "tettai".
The Diet commission's conclusion was that it was a case of miscommunication. TEPCO's Shimizu thought he was telling these officials that he wanted his workers to temporarily take shelter in a less irradiated location while keeping the core people at the plant. Messrs Kan and Kaieda thought "taihi" and "tettai" were the same thing and decided Shimizu was announcing an all-out withdrawal from the plant. It seems Mr. Shimizu's mistake was he thought he was talking to high-ranking bureaucrats with whom he had dealt before the accident. Unlike many politicians neither Mr. Kan nor Mr. Kaieda had been trained in law (Kan was an applied physics major, Kaieda political science) or through elite bureaucracy. (Mr. Edano would have understood Mr. Shimizu perfectly, but Mr. Edano says he never spoke with Mr. Shimizu.)
TEPCO workers and workers from affiliate companies (Hitachi, Toshiba, Kandenko, etc. and their subcontractors) remained at the plant as the radiation levels were several hundred millisieverts/hour and at one point exceeding 1 sievert/hour (see the AP article from 3/16/2011 at the link), with only 2 meals per day and sleeping on the floor as the government refused to provide workers with better food and other provisions. And the world hailed them as heroes as "Fukushima 50".