The fate of Japan hung on a “paper-thin margin” due to the government’s inadequate performance and the unprofessionalism..

The fate of Japan hung on a “paper-thin margin” due to the government’s inadequate performance and the unprofessionalism of TEPCO’s executives after the Fukushima nuclear meltdown in 2011, which almost caused the evacuation of 50 million people.


Total chaos in operations and decision making reigned at the highest level in Tokyo, when the 2011 earthquake and tsunami forced the meltdown of three nuclear reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station, Naoto Kan, a former Japanese prime minister told The Daily Telegraph ahead of the fifth anniversary of the tragedy.Making any decisions when TEPCO, the power station’s operator, offered “no clear information” to the scope of the disaster was nearly impossible.

“There was so little precise information coming in. It was very difficult to make clear judgments. I don’t consider myself a nuclear expert, but I did study physics at university,” Kan told the Telegraph.

General aerial view of Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO)'s tsunami-crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Fukushima prefecture. © Kyodo 

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With each hour the situation at Fukushima was getting worse. The massive 13 meter tall tsunami wave, triggered by a 9.0 magnitude quake, overwhelmed the plant’s seawall, which was 10 meters high, cutting off power to the main control room which controlled the coolant systems of six separate boiling water reactors.

Kan admitted that when he received the news that the coolant at Fukushima had stopped working, it sent a “shiver” down his spine.

“I knew that even based on what little we were hearing, there was a real possibility this could be bigger than Chernobyl. That was a terrible disaster, but there was only one reactor there. There were six here.”

As workers struggled to supply power to the reactors’ coolant systems and restore power to their control rooms, a number of hydrogen-air chemical explosions occurred, allowing radiation to escape. The first explosion happened in Unit 1, on March 12, followed by a blast at Reactor 3 on March 14. The last explosion in Unit 4 happened on March 15.The former PM said that from March 11-15 radioactive contamination was expanding geographically and if the meltdown trend was to continue and affect all six reactors, that would definitely have affected Tokyo.

At one point the situation reached a boiling point where the cabinet headed by Kan considered evacuating the capital Tokyo and surrounding areas in addition to declaring a martial law.

“The future existence of Japan as a whole was at stake,” he said. “Something on that scale, an evacuation of 50 million, it would have been like a losing a huge war.”

READ MORE: TEPCO admits announcing Fukushima nuclear plant meltdowns far too late

A total disaster that would have caused the meltdown of Fukushima’s all six reactors was averted when seawater was pumped into the units.

Kan who lost his post for the handling of the crisis was accused by parliamentary investigation of distracting emergency workers, withholding information, and his decision in ordering the “Fukushima 50” to stay at the plant. The Fukushima 50 are a group of employees that remained on-site after 750 other workers were evacuated.

“I went to the TEPCO offices and demanded they not evacuate. To this day I am criticized for that, but I believed then and I still believe now that I did the right thing and that that was a decisive moment in the crisis,” he told the Telegraph.

“We were only able to avert a 250-kilometre (160-mile) evacuation zone [around the plant] by a wafer-thin margin, thanks to the efforts of people who risked their lives,” Kan said. “Next time, we might not be so lucky.”He admitted that the 2011 disaster has turned him into an opponent of nuclear power. “I have changed my views 180 degrees. You have to look at the balance between the risks and the benefits,” he said. “One reactor meltdown could destroy the whole plant and, however unlikely, that is too great a risk.”

At the same time, Kan voiced “regret” at not having made the readings from System for Prediction of Environmental Emergency Dose Information public. The accurately measured forecast of the radioactivity around the plant and could have saved thousands of local residents from exposure, he said.

While the Fukushima disaster caused no immediate casualties from radiation, the meltdown forced the evacuation of almost 400,000 people. An area within 12.5 miles of the plant remains an exclusion zone. 

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