Japan's PM 'had nuclear nightmare'
Japan's former prime minister has admitted he initially thought the tsunami-created nuclear disaster might destroy the country.
Naoto Kan said he imagined "deserted scenes of Tokyo without a single man" and the need to evacuate tens of millions of people.
"It was truly a spine-chilling thought," Mr Kan said in an interview with the Tokyo Shimbun newspaper.
Mr Kan said those images flashed in his mind during the first week of the crisis, when information coming from the radiation-leaking Fukushima Dai-ichi plant was sketchy and he was told that its operator, Tepco, was considering pulling out its staff. The company has since said that it never planned to withdraw.
Mr Kan, who resigned last week amid criticism over his handling of the disaster, said when he heard that cooling systems had failed at the nuclear plant soon after it was damaged by a March 11 tsunami, he understood the gravity of the situation.
"The power was totally lost and there was no cooling capacity. I knew what that meant. So I thought, 'This is going to be a disaster.'"
Mr Kan said crisis management at the plant failed because the emergency plans included no scenario for a total power failure.
After a series of hydrogen explosions, Mr Kan said he heard from then-Trade Minister Banri Kaieda that Tepco was considering pulling out staff from the nuclear plant.
"Withdrawing from the plant was out of the question. If that had happened, Tokyo would have been deserted by now. It was a critical moment for Japan's survival. It could have been a disaster leaking dozens of times more radiation than Chernobyl," he said.
"Japan was facing the possibility of a collapse" at that time, he said. "I was under an enormous sense of crisis."