Originally published in The Asahi Shimbun on December 27, 2017 Written by Kohei Kano
NIIGATA--An investigation committee is leveling the blame for the failure to use the word "meltdown" following the Fukushima nuclear accident in March 2011 at Tokyo Electric Power Co. President Masataka Shimizu.
Shimizu instructed TEPCO employees not to use the term on his own and was not following orders from the prime minister's office, the committee's report said on Dec. 26.
TEPCO did not publicly confirm that a meltdown had occurred until May 2011.
“There were no instructions (to TEPCO) from the prime minister’s office on whether to use the word 'meltdown' or not,” the panel said as to why the announcement was delayed for two months.
The committee was jointly set up by the Niigata prefectural government and TEPCO to investigate the cause of the accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant due to the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami of March 11, 2011.
The investigation is a prerequisite for the prefectural government starting discussions on whether to agree to the restart of the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant, also operated by TEPCO, in the prefecture.
The description of the investigation committee’s report contrasted sharply with a report released in June 2016 by a third-party investigation committee set up by TEPCO.
According to the third-party committee’s report, Shimizu instructed then Vice President Sakae Muto through a TEPCO employee “not to use the word 'meltdown' at the direction of the prime minister’s office” when Muto held a news conference on March 14, 2011, three days after the nuclear accident ensued.
As Shimizu’s memory had faded, the third-party committee was unable to confirm details of the “instruction” from the prime minister’s office, but assumed that there was a directive from the prime minister’s office.
Whether an order had been issued by the prime minister’s office became a focus of the investigation of the Niigata prefectural government and TEPCO committee.
According to the joint panel's report, Shimizu met with then Prime Minister Naoto Kan and then Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano of the Democratic Party of Japan-led government at the prime minister’s office on March 13, 2011, a day before Muto’s news conference.
In that meeting, Shimizu received instructions from Kan and Edano on sharing information.
Shimizu thought that since the definition of a "meltdown" is vague, an announcement that one had occurred could cause a panic unless the release of such news was made after reaching a consensus with the prime minister's office.
Based on this reasoning, Shimizu instructed TEPCO’s employees “not to use the word 'meltdown,'” on his own, he was quoted by the report as telling members of the investigation committee.