On June 21, Tokyo Electric Power Co. President Naomi Hirose offered a public apology for the delayed disclosure of the meltdown of three nuclear reactors in March 2011. Although Hirose was not in charge of Tokyo Electric Power Company at the time of the earthquake that severely damaged the power plant at Fukushima, he offered a sincere apology on behalf of TEPCO, reports the Salt Lake Tribune.
The public apology came on the heels of an investigative report that was issued by three lawyers last week. According to the Salt Lake Tribune, the report revealed that former TEPCO president Masataka Shimizu bowed to “pressure from the Prime Minister’s Office” when he told the public that the damage was less severe than it was, despite knowing that the reactors were in the process of melting down.
“I would say it (Fukushima) was a cover-up,” Hirose told reporters at a news conference. “It’s extremely regrettable. People are justified in thinking it as a cover-up.”
Although former officials at the Japanese Prime Minister’s Office deny the allegation, and investigators found no proof of such pressure, Hirose is sticking with his story that it was indeed pressure from the PM’s office that caused the utility company to soften its language regarding the disaster and to avoid using the term “meltdown” at all.
Earlier this year, a similar investigation revealed that TEPCO reversed its stance about having “no internal criteria” regarding the announcement of a reactor meltdown, when in fact that information was contained in a company manual. According to the Salt Lake Times, one edition of the TEPCO manual clearly states the threshold for an incident to be considered a meltdown is five percent. A computer simulation of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan indicated core damage to the reactors involved “25 to 55 percent of the fuel,” yet three days after the quake, TEPCO was telling the public that there was no danger of a meltdown. The utility company stated again and again that there was “core damage” but did not publicly admit to a core meltdown until May 2011, nearly two months after the magnitude 9.0 Tōhoku undersea megathrust quake. By that time, melted fuel had amassed at the bottom of the primary containment chamber of at least one of the reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant.
As far back as October 2013, almost two years after the earthquake and tsunami that wrecked Fukushima, the New York Times reported that TEPCO failed in its responsibility to the public, having predicted “a far larger tsunami was possible in Fukushima –a fact that the company and regulators both chose to ignore or not make public.” The Times explained that, in a bid to inspire public confidence in nuclear technology, the company “refused to recognize and fix problems because it did not want to jeopardize the so-called safety myth that Japan’s nuclear technology was infallible.”
In August 2011, less than half a year after the quake, the Herald-Tribune reported that residents in proximity to the Fukushima Daiichi power plant were given no clear guidance regarding evacuation from Tokyo officials, despite explosions that spewed radioactive emissions into the air. The Herald Tribune explained that government officials “played down” the effects of the earthquake and tsunami because the culture of Japan seeks to avoid criticism at all cost. Tamotsu Baba, mayor of the town of Namie which sits about five miles from Fukushima, said that withholding such information in an effort to avoid public questioning is “akin to murder.”
On June 21, 2016, TEPCO offered a press release that stated the following.
“We deeply regret that our previous leadership failed to live up to the standards of transparency and thoroughness that we strive to meet today. We sincerely apologize for it.”
Japan Times reports that Hirose will take a 10 percent pay cut for one month following the apology.
[Photo by Koji Sasahara/AP Images]