For the first time since the Fukushima nuclear disaster last year, the former president of TEPCO (Tokyo Electric Power Company) was publicly interrogated by the country’s most powerful independent investigation committee, appointed by the parliament and chaired by Kiyoshi Kurokawa on Friday, June 8th, 2012.
Leaving the TEPCO chairman alone to deal with the crisis management, Masataka Shimizu, 67, is known for having been ill the months which followed the world’s most damaging nuclear disaster after Chernobyl. He repeatedly testified in front of the whole nation that he “did not recall” most of the telephone conversations with METI, the PM’s office or NISA, which occurred during the crisis management period, despite written documents presented to him and to the public by the committee during the two and half hour long interrogation. Government sources have stated that Shimizu had a breakdown after the accident due to severe depression and remains heavily sedated.
After apologizing once again about the great discomfort the accident imposed on the victims, he added that the scale of the disaster was “unpredictable,” despite a flood of leaked and publicly released company documents which have shown that TEPCO was well aware of the risks. During the session, documents were displayed to the reporters on a large screen monitor, showing minute by minute records of interactions between the Japanese government and the TEPCO officials. They gave frightening insight into the state of affairs at the Fukushima site as the criss worsened.
Before publicly appearing before the committee, Shimizu had already said that TEPCO, “never considered a complete withdrawal” of the accident site. When he appeared in public for the first time yesterday, he denied the statements made by former Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan. Earlier this month, Kan stated that he had to order TEPCO to remain on site, otherwise the crisis would have been worse than it actually was.
Shimizu said that he cannot remember the exact words he used, but at the time he indeed consider a “temporary evacuation” of the TEPCO workers, but “a portion should remain on site.” After being severely interrogated on this issue, he answered that in the manuals there is indeed a section which uses the word “evacuation”, but when he communicated with the Prime Minister’s office, ” I did not use the word in the same sense as in the manual,” insisting that he only meant a temporary evacuation of some workers.
Shimuzu said that he felt “awkward” when Naoto Kan screamed at the TEPCO employees, who were already “risking their lives” in trying to control the disastrous situation. He also asserted that Kan ordered “all the workers over 60 years old shall stay and work.” He added that if TEPCO had withdrawn from the crippled facility completely, “it would have been the 100% collapse of TEPCO.” He said at the time, he thought the workers might be “devastated” by these “harsh words” used by the PM.
Tomohiko Suzuki, an under-cover investigative reporter who was hired to work inside the facility after the accident, reported at a press conference last year, that when he spoke with the TEPCO employees about the period of the meltdown crisis, they heard the following order: “Assemble all the people who no one will care if they die” （死んでもいい人を集めろ）. Suzuki said the order came from TEPCO executives to their labor subcontractors hours after the earthquake .
The issue of whether TEPCO planned to abandon ship or not stirred heated debate and in a rare moment, Chairman Kurokawa appeared to lose his temper, and interrupted Shimizu as he was speaking, demanding answers. When pressed for a definitive answer, however, Shimizu – whose frequent comments that he could not recall certain conversations, apparently angered the usually Buddha-like Chairman Kurokawa, said he had never clearly stated to government officials that some staff would remain. Shimizu apologized for creating some possible confusion.
While evidence keeps coming forward that Japan’s nuclear industry has endemic problems with corruption, cover-ups, safety issues, and even connections to organized crime , Japan’s current Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda is pushing to restart the Oi nuclear power plant in Fukui prefecture. On the same day Masataka Shimizu was interrogated at the National Diet building, a few feet away, an anti-nuclear protest was raging against the restart of any nuclear power facilities in the country.