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Former Japan PM ‘prevented nuclear plant pullout’
Former premier Naoto Kan prevented the operator of a stricken Japanese nuclear plant from abandoning it after the March tsunami and forced its older employees onto the frontline, a newspaper reported yesterday.
People who were then in senior government positions have said executives at Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) sought to withdraw from the Fukushima Daiichi plant on March 15 after it had been hit by a series of explosions.
The Tokyo Shimbun said yesterday that Kan stormed into the company’s head office in response, saying: “You cannot pull out and look on quietly. Then foreign countries could say ‘We’ll do it’,” citing a transcript it obtained.
“There is no retreat when Japan’s existence is on the line,” Kan reportedly said, adding: “People aged 60 or older may as well go to the site.”
The report said he told the then president and chairman: “Prepare to meet your fate.”
Cooling systems and backup generators failed at the plant in the wake of the 14-metre tsunami spawned by a 9.0-magnitude earthquake on March 11.
The accident triggered reactor meltdowns at the plant 220 kilometres northeast of Tokyo and spewed radiation into the environment.
Yukio Edano, who was the top spokesman in the Kan government, told the Yomiuri Shimbun this week that then-president of the firm Masataka Shimizu sought to pull workers out, but the head of the plant, Masao Yoshida, said his team could hold out.
“There are various evaluations on the Kan government but at that moment I thought, ‘It’s good that this man is prime minister,’” Edano told the Yomiuri, recalling Kan speaking to TEPCO employees.
More than 16,000 people have worked at the Fukushima Daiichi plant since it began leaking radiation, an official at the health, labour and welfare ministry said.
There have been about 40 cases of heat stroke and the ministry is monitoring for any symptoms of radiation-related illness, the official said.
Kan officially stepped down last week amid criticism over his handling of the aftermath of the March 11 triple disaster - the earthquake, tsunami and the nuclear accident.
Earlier this week Kan told the Tokyo Shimbun that he at one point feared Tokyo would be rendered uninhabitable by the Fukushima nuclear crisis.
He added it would have been “impossible” to evacuate all of the 30 million residents in the event of a mass exclusion zone encompassing Tokyo and the Kanto region, and said that this risk made nuclear power too dangerous an option for the country.
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