According to Greek mythology, it was Prometheus who gave fire to humans.
The acquisition of fire allowed humankind to develop civilization. Fire derived from fossil fuels further spurred production capacity. In time, humans attained atomic fire, a feat that was also described as "superior energy." Playing with fire, however, has presented humans with a dilemma.
Humans, who achieved a civilized world through Prometheus, are now troubled by atomic fire. The series of articles contemplate the country, its citizens and electric power in light of the accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.
The fourth series, “5 Days in the Prime Minister's Office,” depicts what was going on in the prime minister's office during five days immediately after the Great East Japan Earthquake took place on March 11, 2011. Titles of the people in this story are those they held at that time.
The first, second and third series are available at:
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U.S. Forces Japan received SPEEDI data before Kan
On the morning of March 14, 2011, Daisuke Roberto Kido, a 33-year-old official of the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty Division of the Foreign Ministry's North American Affairs Bureau, received a phone call from the Headquarters of U.S. Forces Japan (USFJ).
It was the fourth day since the Great East Japan Earthquake of March 11 severely crippled the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.
The call was a request for the Japanese government to share any radiation-related information in its possession with U.S. forces, as the latter would be needing it for their post-disaster relief work in Japan.
The Foreign Ministry was running two 12-hour shifts at the time. Kido had just started his shift at 9 a.m. that morning when the call came. With his superior's permission, he began phoning the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry and other relevant ministries and agencies. After being shunted around, he was finally connected to the Office of Emergency Planning and Environmental Radioactivity of the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology.
Yu Sumikawa, 33, deputy office manager, told Kido that the ministry would provide information so long as it was used only for disaster relief purposes. But when Kido asked that the ministry send the information directly to the USFJ, he was told that the office of emergency planning was in too much of a state of confusion to comply, so Kido took it upon himself to relay the information to U.S. forces himself.
At 10:40 a.m., Kido received an e-mail from the Nuclear Safety Technology Center, an entity commissioned by the science and technology ministry to predict the dispersion of radiation. The name of the file attached to the e-mail included the word "SPEEDI."
Kido had never seen the word before and had no idea what it was. But he forwarded the e-mail and the file attachment anyway to USFJ.
SPEEDI, which stands for "system for prediction of environmental emergency dose information," is designed to predict the flow of radioactive substances. Actually, its predictions were fairly accurate, as it turned out later.
But as already reported in the second series, "The Researcher's Resignation," SPEEDI data were never used in mapping out the evacuation routes for Fukushima Prefecture residents, many of whom were still being evacuated from their homes when Kido received the file from the Nuclear Technology Center on March 14. A good number of those evacuees had no idea how to tell safe areas from high-risk areas, and simply assumed that the farther away they moved from the crippled plant, the safer they should be.
SPEEDI data remained unused simply because this system's very existence was virtually unknown even among the nation's top political leadership, including Prime Minister Naoto Kan, 65, and Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano, 47. They remained in the dark because the bureaucrats who should have kept them apprised of this system had neglected to do so.
As a result, the USFJ began receiving SPEEDI data when the prime minister of Japan was not even aware of the system's existence.
When Kan was informed of this fact in December, his voice rose. "I had absolutely no idea," he thundered. "I should have been the first to be told about the data. Why on earth did this happen?"
SPEEDI streams data every hour, and Kido kept receiving hourly updates on his computer. But since the updates were in graphic form with maps, they were large files, and Kido soon had trouble sending and receiving e-mails on his computer. To fix the problem, he re-programmed his computer to automatically forward the data to the USFJ and then delete. This went on until July.
About 20 minutes after Kido received the first set of SPEEDI data, Kan was in his office on the fifth floor of the prime minister's office, conferring with Natsuo Yamaguchi, 59, leader of the opposition New Komeito.
Ten minutes or so into the meeting, there was sharp, urgent knocking on the door, with someone shouting, "Turn the TV on! Channel 4! There's an explosion!"
When the TV came on, the screen showed the No. 3 reactor of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant. Footage of an explosion, with orange flashes of light emanating from the nuclear reactor building, was being shown over and over. Smoke billowed out and rose to the sky, while fragments of concrete from the damaged building littered the ground.
The images had been caught by monitor cameras set up by Fukushima Central Television in the mountains about 17 kilometers south-southwest of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant.
A frowning Kan murmured, "The smoke. It's black."