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Fukushima plant firm apologises for 'cover up'

Published 21/06/2016

Tokyo Electric Power Company president Naomi Hirose has apologised on behalf of the firm (AP)
Tokyo Electric Power Company president Naomi Hirose has apologised on behalf of the firm (AP)

The firm that ran the Fukushima nuclear plant has apologised for its "cover up" when it delayed disclosure of meltdowns at three reactors.

Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) president Naomi Hirose's apology followed the revelation last week that an investigation had found his predecessor instructed officials during the 2011 disaster to avoid using the word "meltdown".

"I would say it was a cover up," Mr Hirose told a news conference. "It's extremely regrettable."

TEPCO instead described the reactors' condition as less serious "core damage" for two months after the earthquake and tsunami on March 11 2011 wrecked the plant, even though utility officials knew and computer simulations suggested meltdowns had occurred.

An investigative report released last week by three company-appointed lawyers said TEPCO's then-president Masataka Shimizu instructed officials to use the milder description under alleged pressure from the Prime Minister's Office, though the investigators found no proof.

Former officials at the Prime Minister's Office have denied the allegation.

TEPCO has been accused of softening its language to cover up the seriousness of the disaster, though the investigation found TEPCO's delayed acknowledgement did not break any law.

Mr Hirose said he will take a 10% pay cut, and another executive will take a 30% cut, for one month each to take responsibility.

The report found that Mr Shimizu's instruction to avoid using the term "meltdown" delayed full disclosure of the plant's status to the public, even as people who lived near the plant were forced to leave their homes, some of them permanently unable to return, due to the radiation that leaked from the plant.

TEPCO finally in May 2011 used "meltdown" in its public statements after another computer simulation showed fuel in one reactor had almost entirely melted and fallen to the bottom of the primary containment chamber, and that the two other reactor cores had melted significantly.

The issue surfaced earlier this year in a separate investigation in which TEPCO acknowledged that a company manual had been overlooked during the crisis. The acknowledgement reversed its earlier position that it had no internal criteria to guide how it characterised a meltdown to the public.

The report said TEPCO officials, who had suggested possible meltdowns, stopped using the description after March 14 2011, when Mr Shimizu's instruction was delivered to vice president at the time, Sakae Muto in a memo at a televised news conference. Mr Shimizu had a company official show Mr Muto his memo and tell him the Prime Minister's Office has banned the specific words.

Government officials also softened their language on the reactor conditions around the same time, the report said.

Then-top government spokesman Yukio Edano, now secretary general of the main opposition Democratic Party, criticised the report as "inadequate and unilateral", raising suspicion over the report by the lawyers seen close to the ruling party ahead of an upcoming Upper House election.

TEPCO has been accused of a series of cover-ups in the disaster, though the report found TEPCO's delayed meltdown acknowledgement was not illegal.

TEPCO reported to authorities three days after the tsunami that the damage, based on a computer simulation, involved 25 to 55% of the fuel but did not say it constituted a "meltdown", even though the figures exceeded the 5% benchmark for one under the company manual.

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