K(an) needs some coolant water
-Shimomura Ken, cabinet councilor, in notes taken during 11-12 March 2011 during the Fukushima nuclear accident.
He was not just the worst prime minister in history. As a human being he was no better than a common criminal.
- Ishii Taka’aki, technology and energy policy journalist
IN their coverage of the two Japanese commissions that investigated the Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster and the government’s response, the English-language media seems to have overlooked the findings of both panels on the response of the Kan Cabinet in general and then-Prime Minister Kan Naoto in particular. Indeed, many have avoided that subject altogether, and some have even tried to defend the Kan Kantei behavior. They seem to be uncomfortable with findings that make clear the conduct and crisis management of the Kan Kantei was just as much a disaster as the nuclear accident itself.
All of Kan Naoto’s evasions and fabrications have now been exposed. What has emerged is a disturbing portrait of a prime minister whose flawed character was manifested in ugly, erratic behavior that exacerbated the crisis. A few diehards, mostly foreigners, still insist that Mr. Kan “saved Japan” by demanding that Tokyo Electric Power official keep their workers on the site of Fukushima reactor #1 when the utility wanted to abandon it. The two panels have concluded that the story is a falsehood, and their verdict is now a part of the official record.
This has not been overlooked in Japan.
The first report was from an independent panel associated with the Diet and headed by Kurokawa Kiyoshi, professor at the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies. One of the members was Tanaka Koichi, who received the Nobel Prize in chemistry in 2002. The commission was given broad authority to ask for documents and question witnesses, and it interviewed more than 1,100 altogether. Among those answering questions were the three men responsible for the government’s response to the crisis: Minister of Economy, Trade, and Industry Kaieda Banri, Chief Cabinet Secretary Edano Yukio, and Prime Minister Kan Naoto. None of the three men have those jobs now.
Anyone who has seen a courtroom scene in a gangster movie already knows what happened when those men answered questions about their conduct during the first days of the Fukushima nuclear accident. It is not possible to plead the Fifth Amendment in Japan, but that, in essence, is just what Mr. Edano did. For example:
Mr. Edano was asked about the circumstances surrounding the establishment of the first evacuation zone at a three-kilometer radius from the plant and about the expansion of the zone to a 20-kilometer radius after the explosion at Reactor #1 on 12 March.
He said he didn’t know why it was set at three kilometers, he didn’t remember why it was expanded to 20 kilometers, and didn’t remember whose idea it was. He also said he didn’t know that the requirement for removing the evacuation zone designation was an improvement in the situation.
One issue of intense focus in Japan was whether or not Tokyo Electric officials asked for authorization to withdraw from the site. On one occasion, Kan Naoto said he was given that information by Kaieda Banri, and at another time said both Mr. Kaieda and Mr. Edano told him that.
During the questioning, however, Mr. Edano couldn’t recall exactly what was said, and tried to change the subject. (He is a lawyer, after all.) Mr. Kaieda’s story was that he didn’t recall then-Tokyo Electric President Shimizu Masataka saying the withdrawal would be partial. Both men soft-pedaled the incident when it came time to talk to an official inquirity. That’s not what they had told the media before.
Japan has a nationwide system of radiation detectors administered by the Nuclear Safety Technology Center (NSTC) known as the System for Prediction of Environmental Emergency Dose Information, or SPEEDI. It transmits information in real time during an emergency over dedicated circuits to the Nuclear Safety Commission (NSC), all the related agencies in the government, and all prefecture governments. It is used to determine which areas are to be evacuated in the event of an emergency.
Tokyo Electric informed the government of the power loss at Fukushima on 3:42 p.m. on 11 March, slightly more than one hour after the earthquake. The government immediately instructed the NSTC to operate in emergency mode, which it did at around 5:00 p.m. SPEEDI began sending data hourly, and the amount of data transmitted reached 6,500 pages by 20 April.
The NSC head has said that the system began functioning immediately, and all the local governments involved started receiving information. The Ministry of Education was originally responsible for SPEEDI, and the ministry’s bureau chief in charge said that a “senior Kantei official” ordered the information to be withheld from the public. The responsibility was transferred to the NSC the next day.
Japan conducts nuclear emergency drills every year, and the chairman of the government group overseeing those drills is the prime minister. Data from SPEEDI is used in all of those drills. The last drill conducted before Fukushima was in October 2010 and postulated a problem at the Hamaoka nuclear plant. The data was distributed to every member of the Cabinet.
The Kantei didn’t use any of the SPEEDI information because Kan Naoto said he didn’t know of the existence of the system until a few days after the accident, even though we was provided with information from the system five months before. The Ministry of Education said it didn’t provide information directly to the Kantei because they weren’t asked for it.
Mr. Edano was also asked about SPEEDI. He claimed he didn’t know about it until 15 or 16 March. He also said Ministry of Education officials told him a SPEEDI simulation wasn’t possible because there was no data on the actual amount of radioactive material being released. As we’ve seen, the system started creating simulations almost immediately (using a different calculation method).
Kawauchi Hiroshi of the DPJ (the same party these three men are members of) said the details of the Kantei’s explanation were either contradictory or a lie. Mr. Edano said he wasn’t in the Cabinet in October 2011, and didn’t know about the simulation. The weekly Shukan Shincho wondered whether he started work at the second most important job in the Cabinet without looking at the crisis manual.
Edano Yukio has also been widely criticized for repeating in the first days of the disaster that the Fukushima accident would have “no immediate effect on health”. One of the panel members was a Fukushima resident forced to evacuate because of the accident. She asked him about that statement, and got snapped at in return: “You should review the transcripts of my press conferences.”
Understanding that he put his foot in it, Mr. Edano later said it was regrettable that people thought his statements meant something other than what he intended, though he did add that the government should have provided more information.
That information might have started with the fact that everyone was aware on the night of the disaster that a core meltdown had probably occurred. Speaking of core meltdowns, that brings us to Kan Naoto.
The Savior of Japan
NISA officials told Kan Naoto at 10:44 p.m. on 11 March that they expected a meltdown at Fukushima. That was confirmed early the next morning by readings of iodine levels at the plant. Nakamura Koichiro, METI’s deputy director for nuclear safety, held a televised news conference at 2:00 p.m. and said:
“It’s a core meltdown. We believe the fuel has started to melt [in the No. 1 reactor].”
He was authorized to make the statement by Terasaka Nobuaki, NISA director general. “We have no choice,” Mr. Terasaka said.
Mr. Nakamura was dismissed from his position that night, reportedly at the instructions of Kan Naoto and Edano Yukio. And Mr. Kan kept insisting until mid-June that a meltdown had not occurred. In fact:
“An hour after the press conference, staffers at the Prime Minister’s Office were taken aback by Nakamura’s remarks when they watched live coverage of the press conference on TV.
“”What’s this media coverage [of the press conference]?” shouted Keisuke Sadamori, then secretary to the prime minister and a former METI bureaucrat.
“He telephoned the agency and demanded that it inform the Prime Minister’s Office in advance whenever it had important information.
“”It’s wrong for the prime minister to get such information via TV,” Sadamori said over the phone.
“Thereafter, the Prime Minister’s Office established a rule that it would hold a news conference on important findings and other information ahead of the agency.
“”As we couldn’t get the necessary information, our distrust in the agency knew no bounds. I had to phone the agency,” Sadamori said as he recalled the tense atmosphere at the Prime Minister’s Office that day.
““At 3:36 p.m. on March 12, a hydrogen explosion destroyed the upper part of the building housing the No. 1 reactor at the Fukushima plant. TV stations broadcast white smoke rising from the damaged building.
““While the government struggled to gather information on the explosion, the agency clammed up and refused media’s requests to explain what is happening.
“”We’re unable to get approval [for a press conference] from the Prime Minister’s Office,” an agency official told the media.”
Note that the prime minister’s office complained to NISA that it wasn’t being given information that it had already received. Edano Yukio admitted on 13 March that a meltdown might have occurred. When asked about that by the Kurokawa commission, he denied knowing about the Nakamura statement the previous day.
Hosono Goshi, the minister in charge of nuclear power policy, said a month later, on 15 April:
“We weren’t of a mood to proactively announce it. It would have created a negative mood.”
One month after that, in May, he said that SPEEDI information was not made public because of concerns of a public panic.
That was around the time Kan Naoto got around to admitting that there had been a meltdown. Watanabe Yoshimi, the head of Your Party, said:
““The day after the earthquake, I asked the prime minister, ‘Hasn’t a meltdown occurred?’ He answered, ‘It’s not a meltdown. It’s not a situation in which there has been radiation leakage. The cooling water level has been restored, the situation is under control, and everything’s OK.’ The hydrogen explosion at Reactor #1 occurred right after that. The series of false announcements that belittled the common sense of experts continued.””
Kan Naoto blamed everyone but himself. In May 2011, in the Diet:
“What I told the people was fundamentally in error. I am deeply sorry in the sense that the government was unable to respond because of the mistaken assumptions of Tokyo Electric.”
What about the meltdown?
“Until the announcement (of the meltdown earlier this month), I hadn’t heard anything about it. It wasn’t that I knew about it and didn’t say anything.”
Kakiwaza Mito of Your Party reminded Mr. Kan that on 12 May, just three days before the government announcement, he told a meeting of party leaders in the Diet that there was no meltdown. “Didn’t you lie?” he asked. Said Mr. Kan:
“I merely expressed the official government view.”
On his approach to information disclosure about the meltdown, he told the Kurokawa panel:
“Both Mr. Edano and I shared the idea of clearly disclosing facts to the public…But this was not a confirmed fact, it was the result of an analysis. It is not necessarily appropriate to explain forecasts.”
And shifted the blame again:
“I asked the Chief Cabinet Secretary to take responsibility for informing the public.”
Blame shifting is a Kan hallmark. In his opening remarks to the Kurokawa panel, he said it was all the fault of the state (nation) and he apologized as the person responsible for the nation.
“From the time I assumed office as prime minister until the accident, I heard no detailed explanation of what authority the prime minister had or the head of disaster response headquarters had in regard to a nuclear power accident…I wish I had received a proper explanation.”
What is there to be said about a man who would seek the job of prime minister without proactively familiarizing himself with the authority that entailed in a disaster, and denied knowing anything about it, even after it became public knowledge that he was the nominal head of a group conducting a nuclear disaster drill?
“Almost none of the information that should have risen through channels to me did so. Forecasts and possibilities from the Nuclear Industrial Safety Agency, none of that information got to me. I felt frightened that there was nothing I could do to resolve the situation.”
None of the information in the first two sentences is true, and was contradicted in testimony to the two panels. Further, he not only failed to proactively seek information, his behavior actively prevented information from reaching him. An example is his reaction when the emergency diesel power generator broke down at the Fukushima plant. The normal response from someone coordinating actions would be: What do we do now? Mr. Kan’s response was to ask why it broke (a problem of no concern to him at the moment). When no answers were immediately forthcoming, he dismissed Tokyo Electric officials by telling them to “discuss it with the professors I know at the Tokyo Institute of Technology and come back”. When he received reports from NISA on changing conditions at the site, he informed them: “You haven’t seen the site. I’ve been there and seen it (from a helicopter).”
Only one person denies that Kan Naoto continually screamed at all the upper level bureaucrats and Tokyo Electric officials who came to report to him — Kan Naoto. Mr. Kaieda tried to get around it, but even he admitted it:
“It’s natural that people who heard Kan speak would feel a sense of incongruity and easily misunderstand.”
Abiru Rui of the Sankei Shimbun provides more specific information. He says that Diet members and bureaucrats tell him that having a serious conversation with Mr. Kan requires a shouting match. When he attacks you have to attack back. Only after that can you have a normal conversation with him. He always says politics is a fight between stray dogs, so in human relations, he has to bark long and loud to get someone’s measure.
Rather than rely on the pre-existing disaster response system, which he claims not to have known much about, Mr. Kan brought 20 people he knew to crisis headquarters, which threw the government response system into confusion.
Tokyo Electric officials have consistently stated that his claim he received no information is not factual. One asked, “Why is he lying like that?” Part of his screaming at Tokyo Electric headquarters involved going up to people and saying: “Are you a technician? You’re going to explain it!” A NISA official retorted, “We worked like crazy to gather information. Saying that is reprehensible.”
Writing on his blog:
“The atomic power industry interests (Tokyo Electric, Federation of Electric Power Companies, bureaucrats) continue to seize more authority for nuclear power administration without serious reflection on this accident. These interests resemble the military before the war. Clarifying their organizational structure and their psychosocial structure, and then breaking it up is the first step toward drastic reform of nuclear power administration.”
The criticism in Japan of national leadership during the war and their inability to stand up to the military is commonplace. Mr. Kan complains that the nuclear power complex was just like the military before the war. So who was the national leader during the accident?
By the way, if you have any idea what “psychosocial structure” is supposed to mean, drop me a line. That’s a direct translation.
He also blamed the capitalists in a speech in Shizuoka:
“For the power companies, if they can’t operate the nuclear plants they spent money to build, the company could go bankrupt if things go wrong. That’s behind their request to let them start operating again.”
He blamed NISA:
“Under the Act for Special Measures for Nuclear Emergency Preparedness as it exists today, I do not think the prime minister’s authority was weak. Rather, the Nuclear Industrial Safety Agency…is not an organization capable of an accurate assessment of the situation, or presenting sound countermeasures to the prime minister based on that law, and they were inadequate.“
And Tokyo Electric and everyone who was there before he was:
“Most of the causes of the accident existed before 11 March 11 2011, the day of the accident. That’s my conclusion.”
In the Real World
But everyone else, including the two official investigations, blames him specifically and says exactly the opposite of what he’s been saying. One of the problems they found was his dithering in the declaration of a state of emergency. From the Kurokawa panel report:
“Rather than the deal with the necessity for prompt measures at disaster headquarters and issuing a declaration of emergency, Prime Minister Kan kept asking technical questions about why the situation had reached that point, and the various related laws and ordinances. He continued to ask, “”Why did this happen”, and declare, “This is terrible.” Kaieda Banri and officials of the Nuclear Industrial Safety Agency repeatedly urged him to declare a state of emergency, saying “You must do this based on the law.” Even though they pressed him on the declaration, he made no effort to understand what they were telling him…Prime Minister Kan repeatedly asked questions about the cause of the accident, which were difficult to answer right away. He gave precedence to attending a conference of party leaders, and left until later the declaration that should have been the start of the government’s initial response.”
But that’s not the Kan story. When asked about the two-hour delay in declaring a state of emergency, he said:
“I have no feeling of the kind, such as it was delayed for some reason, or that someone stopped it.”
Said the Kurokawa Panel:
“When Prime Minister Kan visited the (Fukushima) site in person on the morning of the 12th, rather than lift the morale of the people on site, it applied additional pressure.”
When Mr. Kan was asked about the significance of his helicopter visit at the hearing, he said:
“I could match the faces and the names of the people responsible.”
During questioning in the upper house of the Diet, Nuclear Safety Commission Chairman Madarame Haruki gave his explanation for the Kan visit:
“Prime Minister Kan accompanied me because he said he wanted to learn a little about nuclear power.”
Kaieda Banri blames himself for not stopping Mr. Kan from going to the site. He realizes that everyone knows it was an unnecessary trip.
The Kurokawa Commission found that one problem with the Kan Kantei was that it kept getting in the way at Fukushima. They said:
“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.”
Mr. Kan said he called the plant manager at the site twice. People on-site at the time said that was an outright lie, and that the number of calls was in the double digits. All the calls were made directly to the plant manager while he was working to deal with the crisis.
When the prime minister was asked about those personal calls directly to the plant manager, he said:
“It was like making a telephone call to the cockpit of a crashed airplane.”
It All Falls Apart
The incident that has become the symbol of Kan Naoto’s post-disaster behavior is his visit to Tokyo Electric headquarters on the morning of 15 March. Before the two panels released their reports, even some Kan critics were inclined to give him credit for making the utility keep workers at the site in Fukushima when senior TEPCO officials were said to have asked they be allowed to leave.
Now that both reports have been released, however, we know the story was nothing but bologna. And the self-serving butchers doing the slicing were Messrs. Kan, Edano, and Kaieda.
Here’s what really happened:
On the night of the 14th, Tokyo Electric was concerned that the situation with Reactor #1 might spin out of control. To protect some of their workers, they considered having some non-critical personnel on site take temporary shelter in a location less exposed to radiation (a different reactor on the site) while keeping the critical personnel working on site at Reactor #1. The utility considered this to be the worst-case scenario, which never came to pass.
Some people working at Fukushima thought it might be necessary, but by 1:00 a.m. on the morning of the 15th, the crisis had passed and they knew it wouldn’t be required.
When Tokyo Electric President Shimizu outlined the possibility to emergency headquarters at the Kantei, he used the Japanese word 退避 (taihi). That literally means to leave a place to avoid danger, with the connotation that the departure would be temporary. The word was chosen specifically to convey that meaning, and that word was the only one Tokyo Electric officials used to explain the situation. The utility insisted they were going to keep the core members at the plant and leave Reactor #1 briefly if the situation deteriorated.
That word choice sailed over the heads of the people in the Kantei, however, and Mr. Kaieda in particular. When he passed along the information, the word became 撤退 (tettai). That has the connotation of a complete military withdrawal after a defeat.
Over the course of the evening, it became clear that the temporary withdrawal to a different part of the plant wouldn’t be necessary, but it took a while for the people at the Kantei, specifically Mr. Kaieda, to tell Mr. Kan. Therefore, the prime minister called Mr. Shimizu to his office on the night of the 14th and asked him directly what his intentions were. Mr. Shimizu told him they had no intention of abandoning the site. (This and other emphases are mine.)
In fact, one of the beat reporters covering the Democratic Party for a national newspaper told the weekly Shukan Shincho for their 7 June edition:
“About the withdrawal, during questioning in the Diet on 18 April 2011, Kan replied to an opposition member, testifying, ‘President Shimizu came to the Kantei and explained that he did not particularly mean a complete withdrawal.’”
“But then during this questioning, before we knew it, Kaieda and Edano put their heads together and changed the story to ‘complete withdrawal’.”
The story they all settled on was that they thought it would be an “all-out” withdrawal because Mr. Shimizu didn’t specify that the withdrawal would be either complete or partial. (Mr. Edano’s memory started failing him, however, when it came time to testify to the commissions.) Mr. Shimizu said he was surprised the government misunderstood the word he had carefully chosen to mean temporary shelter (taihi) as a full retreat (tettai) — especially because Mr. Kan asked him to stay on the night of the 14th, and Mr. Shimizu said, of course.
The Next Morning
That should have been that, because the immediate crisis was over. But that wasn’t that. Kan Naoto decided to go to Tokyo Electric headquarters the next morning and give them a piece of whatever remained of his mind. He stormed into the operations room where dozens of people were working, mistook it for a meeting room, screamed “What are these people doing here,” and launched into a 10-minute rant:
“Why is this happening? At this rate, Japan will be finished. If you leave, Tokyo Electric will be 100% crushed. You can’t run away even if you try. What’s the air pressure in the nuclear reactor now? Even if I ask, none of you know, right? All you executives who are 60 should be willing to go on site and die. I’ll go too. The President, the Chairman, resign yourselves to your fate and do it. (Looking around the operations room) Why are so many people here? Important things are solved by five or six people. This isn’t the time to be screwing around. Get a smaller room ready. Who around here really understands nuclear reactors? Who’s in charge? (Vice-President Takefuji: I am.) Why has this happened? Do you really understand this? (Looking at employees’ faces) What can you do? What is it that you can do?”
The scene was picked up on the monitor at the main office and transmitted to Fukushima’s Reactor #1, along with his voice. Said a worker at the site:
“We could see the back of the prime minister running down all the employees at the main office. There was never any intention to withdraw completely from the site, and you could feel a pall descend.”
Asked one Committee member:
“Did you take into consideration the people on the scene who were risking their lives when you said what you did?”
“I found out later it was also transmitted to the site.”
“Well, you know, I said a lot of different things, but finally I said shouldn’t the chairman, who is over 60, and the president, and me and a few others, take the lead in a sense. There was absolutely no emotion of something like dressing them down, and I would like everybody to understand just that.”
“I understand how you feel, but before, we had the people who were putting their lives on the line for their company and their country say they would most certainly not flee from the site. This was confirmed by telephone. The other day, Chief Cabinet Secretary Edano said that he got in contact with the people on the site and confirmed they had no intention of leaving. Then you came, and yelled at the people who had no intention to leave, why are you leaving? Do you think you should reflect on your mistaken attitude toward these people?
“It’s the same as I said before, but the feeling of dressing them down, particularly the feeling toward the people on the site, was really not like that at all….Myself, I wanted all the senior executives there to rethink their position if they were thinking of withdrawing, and do their best, even if they had to risk their lives. That’s the emotion with which I spoke, and I most sincerely want people to understand that…I wanted to communicate my feelings directly, and I had no intention to criticize anyone. People often say I was shouting, but I intended to speak more softly than I do during an argument with my wife. “
That last was a Kan attempt at a joke, but no one in the room laughed. Both Mr. Kan and his wife are commonly assumed to be heavy drinkers, and everyone has an idea how loud arguments can get between married lushes several sheets to the wind.
After two hours and 50 minutes of questioning, Mr. Kan decided he’d had enough and left.
Based on all the testimony, the Kurokawa panel determined, “There was no intention (by Tokyo Electric) to withdraw completely”. As to the post-accident response, the panel said “the key was the sense of mission by the people at the plant who understood the condition of the reactors best.”
The government committee investigating the accident issued their report at the end of July. It was chaired by Hatamura Yotaro, a professor emeritus at the University of Tokyo, who is an expert in the mechanism of failures. Their final report also said that Tokyo Electric did not intend to leave and that Kan Naoto misunderstood. (They’re being charitable; as we’ve seen, he confirmed their intention on the night of the 14th.)
The Kurokawa Commission determined that none of Kan Naoto’s explanations were true. Among their other conclusions:
* The government lacked awareness of crisis management
* It had a broken chain of command
* It had insufficient expertise in organization and operations
* The Kantei responded in a way that made it more difficult for the government to concentrate all its powers.
* They lacked the proper frame of mind required for the heavy responsibility.
* The initial Kantei reaction increased the risk of making the situation worse by creating a situation of needless confusion and stress. It was “haphazard, stopgap crisis management”.
* They added that the excessive interference by the Kan Kantei was “the primary reason the progress of events in the accident could not be stopped, and the damage could not be minimized.”
On 13 June, the ruling DPJ and the opposition Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito reached an agreement on the extent of a prime minister’s authority over a new regulatory agency in the future in the event of a nuclear disaster. It specifies what the prime minister can do if technical questions again arise, such as filling a reactor with seawater.
The prime minister will now be limited to asking for a decision from new body of specialists formed to deal with a problem. He can only urge them to work more quickly. He will not be able to overturn their decision.
The Japanese media described this as a measure to avoid “Kan Risk”.
When Kan Naoto resigned as prime minister last August, he said:
“I did what I was supposed to do. Unfortunately the people do not fully understand that.”
The Democratic Party of Japan appointed him their supreme advisor on new energy policy.
After the Kurokawa report was released, Mr. Kan wrote on his blog:
“In regard to their evaluation of the Kantei’s response to the accident, the problem about the Kantei, and the withdrawal of Tokyo Electric, my understanding is different on several points.”
There is enough information here to draw your own conclusions on the behavior of Kan Naoto and his government. The English-language news media thought having to report any of this information was a botheration.
You can draw your own conclusions about that, too.
* Psychoanalyst Kishida Shu, writing in another context:
“There is no tradition in Japan of removing an incompetent leader because of an evaluation of their performance…Not one Japanese military leader was clearly denounced for the paucity of their strategic leadership, or discredited in any way.”
* Hosaka Masayasu, non-fiction author:
“I don’t know a lot about citizen activism, but if this (Kan Naoto) is the only kind of person those movements create, it gives me a real sense of the sort of warped world citizen activism is.”
* From a Kyodo report this week:
The United Nations picked former Prime Minister Naoto Kan, British Prime Minister David Cameron and others Tuesday as members of a high-level panel that will advise on devising new development goals.
The current Millennium Development Goals, which the international community aims to achieve by the end of 2015, include the eradication of extreme poverty and hunger, improvement in maternal health and ensuring environmental sustainability.
Kan is among the 26 social, private-sector and government leaders appointed by U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon to advise on a new development agenda beyond 2015. The panel will have Cameron and two other co-chairs. It will hold its first meeting at the end of next month.
“I have asked my high-level panel to prepare a bold yet practical development vision to present to member states next year,” Ban said.
You can draw your own conclusions about the United Nations, too.
Kan Naoto did everything but blame it on the boogie.