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It was a cover-up, says Fukushima chief

THE utility that ran the Fukushima nuclear plant yesterday acknowledged that delayed disclosure of meltdowns at three reactors was tantamount to a cover-up.

Tokyo Electric Power Co President Naomi Hirose issued an apology following last week’s revelation that his predecessor had instructed officials during the 2011 disaster to avoid using the word “meltdown.”

“I would say it was a cover-up,” Hirose told a news conference. “It’s extremely regrettable.”

TEPCO instead described the reactors’ condition as less serious “core damage” for two months after an earthquake and tsunami wrecked the plant on March 11, even though utility officials knew, and computer simulations suggested, meltdowns had occurred.

An investigative report released last Thursday by three company-appointed lawyers said TEPCO’s then-President Masataka Shimizu instructed officials not to use the specific description under alleged pressure from the Prime Minister’s Office, though investigators found no proof of such pressure.

The report said that TEPCO officials who had suggested possible meltdowns, stopped using the description after March 14, when Shimizu’s instruction was delivered to the vice president at the time, Sakae Muto, in a memo at a televised news conference. Shimizu had a company official show Muto his memo and tell him the Prime Minister’s Office had banned the specific words.

Government officials also softened their language on the reactor conditions around the same time, the report said.

Former officials at the Prime Minister’s Office have denied the allegation. Then-top government spokesman Yukio Edano, now secretary general of the main opposition Democratic Party, criticized the report as “inadequate and unilateral,” raising suspicions over the report by the lawyers seen close to the ruling party ahead of an upcoming Upper House election.

TEPCO has been accused of a series of cover-ups in the disaster, though the report found TEPCO’s delayed meltdown acknowledgement wasn’t illegal.

Hirose said he will take a 10 percent pay cut, and another executive will take a 30 percent cut, for one month each to take responsibility. He vowed to take further steps to improve TEPCO’s safety culture, but ruled out the possibility of further investigating what led to Shimizu’s instructions.

The report said Shimizu’s instruction delayed full disclosure of the plant’s status to the public, even as people who lived near the plant were forced to leave their homes, some of them possibly unable to ever return due to radiation leaks.


 

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