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Japan – Miscommunications made things worse

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Laaska News  Feb. 28, 2012
By: NHK.

An independent panel investigating the accident at the Fukushima nuclear plant has issued a report showing in detail how miscommunications helped deepen mistrust among key players in the crisis management.

The nuclear accident started when the Fukushima Daiichi plant had a station blackout—a loss of all its power sources. The government saw that providing mobile sources of electricity was its top priority.

On the night of March 11th, government officials were scrambling to get as many power supply trucks as possible from around the country to the Fukushima plant.

Despite their efforts, the officials saw that Tokyo Electric Power was having a hard time restoring electricity to the plant. The report says they became frustrated.

Yukio Edano, who served as Chief Cabinet Secretary at the time, testifies that he thought power supply trucks had arrived at the site already and he could not understand why electricity had not yet been restored.

He said he asked Tokyo Electric Power a number of times, but the utility could not explain why. He says it was then that he started wondering if he could trust the TEPCO officials.

The report also describes how Prime Minister Kan and other officials started losing their faith in government-chosen nuclear experts in the first days of the crisis.

On the morning of March 12th, Kan took a helicopter to the Fukushima plant, accompanied by Nuclear Safety Commission Chairman Haruki Madarame.

Kan asked what could happen if the core of a nuclear reactor melted. Madarame said hydrogen would be generated in a chemical reaction, but that nitrogen inside the containment vessel would prevent a hydrogen explosion.

Eight hours later, a hydrogen explosion occurred at the Number One Reactor, and this led to Kan totally losing faith in Madarame. Kan started relying on outside experts for advice, by appointing a number of them as special cabinet advisors.

A staffer in the Prime Minister’s office told the investigation panel that he thought Kan’s appointment of outsiders was a serious problem. The staffer thought it was utterly inappropriate for academics without any official responsibilities and whose specialist knowledge is uncertain to be involved in major policy decisions.