The Prometheus Trap / 5 days in the Prime Minister's Office

March 09, 2012

By HIDEAKI KIMURA / Staff Writer

Kan loses it, and so does Kaieda

At 7:12 a.m. on March 12, the SDF helicopter carrying Prime Minister Kan and his entourage of 12 arrived at the Fukushima No. 1 plant.

Kan, clad in disaster-response duds and sneakers, was greeted by TEPCO Executive Vice President Sakae Muto, 61, and Motohisa Ikeda, 71, senior vice minister of the ministry of trade and industry who headed the off-site emergency response center. They all boarded a minibus.

Kan sat in a window seat behind the driver. When Muto sat next to him, Kan lashed out at him, "Why haven't you started venting (the No. 1 reactor)? Get going with it! Just do it!"

Kan's voice was so loud and angry that Terada, special adviser to the prime minister, could not help flinching from four rows behind.

Muto said something, but Terada could not catch it. "It was just an incoherent mumble," he recalled. Kan, too, would describe it as such.

Tadashi Tsumura, a Kyodo News reporter representing the Kantei Kisha Club (press club of the prime minister's office), was sitting in the back of the minibus. Terada turned to him with a concerned look and said, "I hope you won't write about the prime minister losing it, will you?"

Kan made no attempt to control his anger.

He recalled, "The fate of our nation hinged on the venting, but TEPCO was being hopelessly wishy-washy. How could I not scream and shout in frustration?"

That was one of the rare episodes of Kan's outbursts since March 11, but it stuck and amplified his image as "the ranting and raving prime minister."

But Kan was not the only one who was losing it. Industry minister Kaieda, who remained in the mezzanine room of the prime minister's office, was also ranting and raving.

He screamed in fury at TEPCO fellow Takekuro, "Why can't you vent the reactor? I'm ordering you to do it! It's an order, do you hear?!"

At 6:50 a.m., while Kan was still in the air, Kaieda invoked the nuclear reactor regulation law and issued an order to vent the No. 1 and No. 2 reactors. Nobody at the prime minister's office was getting any satisfactory explanation of why the venting had not started as scheduled. The fear of an explosion was growing increasingly real.

When the minibus carrying Kan and his party arrived at the plant's earthquake-proof wing where the on-site response headquarters was located, they were made to join a line of workers measuring radiation.

The line hardly moved, and Kan sensed something was not right. "We don't have any time for this!" he yelled, and left the line. He headed straight for the conference room on the second floor.

The moment he stepped into the building, he gasped.

By HIDEAKI KIMURA / Staff Writer
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The Asahi Shimbun

The Asahi Shimbun

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  • The Asahi Shimbun
  • The prime minister’s office in Tokyo’s Nagata-cho district (Hideaki Kimura)
  • The Headquarters of U.S. Forces Japan had received radiation prediction data via the Foreign Ministry. (Hideaki Kimura)
  • The explosion-damaged No. 3 reactor building at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant is photographed in November 2011. The No. 2 unit is to the left. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)
  • Masataka Shimizu, president of Tokyo Electric Power Co., on March 13, 2011 (Asahi Shimbun file photo)
  • Masao Yoshida, then chief of the Fukushima No. 1 plant (Asahi Shimbun file photo)
  • Yukio Edano, left, in consultation with Tetsuro Fukuyama during a news conference on March 15, 2011 (Asahi Shimbun file photo)
  • Prime Minister Naoto Kan's notebook shows his personnel plan for the integrated emergency response headquarters. (Hideaki Kimura)
  • Haruki Madarame, chairperson of the Nuclear Safety Commission (Asahi Shimbun file photo)
  • Tsunami strikes the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant on March 11, 2011. (Provided by Tokyo Electric Power Co.)
  • Prime Minister Naoto Kan issues a statement on March 11, 2011. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)
  • Nobuaki Terasaka, director-general of the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, at a news conference (Asahi Shimbun file photo)
  • Prime Minister Naoto Kan's mobile phone (Hideaki Kimura)
  • Banri Kaieda, minister of economy, trade and industry, at the prime minister's office (Asahi Shimbun file photo)
  • A vehicle-mounted power generator is used in a drill at the Ikata nuclear power plant in Ehime Prefecture in April 2011. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)
  • The doors of the earthquake-proof wing of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant (Provided by Tokyo Electric Power Co.)
  • The central control room of the No. 1 reactor of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant (Provided by Tokyo Electric Power Co.)
  • Manabu Terada, then special advisor to the prime minister, is currently a Lower House lawmaker. (Hideaki Kimura)
  • Koichiro Nakamura, NISA deputy director-general for nuclear safety (Asahi Shimbun file photo)
  • Yasushi Hibino, vice president of Japan Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (Hideaki Kimura)

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