TEPCO president refuses to comment
Shortly after 11 a.m. on March 13, Toshiba President Sasaki met with Prime Minister Kan in his office. Hibino, Kan's old school friend, sat in the meeting.
"There is a chance of both the No. 2 and No. 3 reactors exploding," Sasaki told Kan.
"Couldn't we drill holes in the ceiling of the reactor buildings to let hydrogen escape?" Kan asked.
Sasaki replied, "Sparks from the drill could set off an explosion. We should use a water jet cutter instead."
Preparations for water-jet cutting were completed on March 14, but not soon enough to prevent the explosion at the No. 3 reactor building that day.
Hibino recalled his impression of what went on in the prime minister's office during the time he was there: "The organizations that were supposed to be advising the prime minister did not function as they should, because the individuals in charge lacked a sense of responsibility as parties directly involved. As a result, the organizations put their own interests above all. Also, they didn't have people who were knowledgeable enough in positions of responsibility."
The Asahi Shimbun tried to reach TEPCO President Shimizu for comment. But a request for an interview, placed through Hasegawa, manager of TEPCO’s Corporate Communications Department, was turned down.
What the reporter wanted to ask Shimizu was this: What, exactly, was the nature of the request TEPCO made to the prime minister's office? Was it for a "full withdrawal" from the Fukushima No. 1 plant, or a "temporary evacuation of non-essential staff?"
Shimizu has reportedly told those close to him, "I will never again speak to anyone of the past."
As chronicled earlier in this series, Shimizu was desperate at one time to talk to industry minister Kaieda about TEPCO's withdrawal from the crippled plant. But Ito, deputy chief Cabinet secretary for crisis management, told Kan in his office around 3 a.m. on March 15, "We must ask TEPCO to hold down the fort, even if they have to put together a suicide squad." Kan agreed, stressing he would never allow TEPCO to abandon the plant.
When Shimizu was summoned to the prime minister's office later, he immediately agreed not to withdraw. This made Ito suspicious, given how insistent TEPCO had been with its request for withdrawal. In fact, before 3 a.m. that day, a senior TEPCO official had made it quite clear to Ito in the parlor adjoining Kan's office that the utility intended to abandon the plant.
Ito remembers the exchange vividly to this day.
Ito: "If you withdraw from the Fukushima No. 1 plant, what's going to become of the reactors Nos. 1 through 4?"
Official: "We have no choice but to abandon them."
Ito: "What about the No. 5 and No. 6 reactors?"
Official: "They'll have to be abandoned, too. They will eventually become uncontrollable."
Ito: "What about the Fukushima No. 2 plant?"
Official: "We'll eventually have to abandon that, too."
However, an interim report by the government's investigation committee on the Fukushima nuclear accident concluded that the people at the prime minister's office had "misinterpreted" TEPCO's intentions concerning its considered withdrawal from the Fukushima No. 1 plant.