Plaintiffs seek preservation of TEPCO teleconference videos

June 28, 2012

THE ASAHI SHIMBUN

Plaintiffs will seek a court order to prevent Tokyo Electric Power Co. from erasing videos of teleconferences that could clear up lingering questions surrounding the response to the nuclear disaster in Fukushima Prefecture.

TEPCO officials have refused to submit the videos to separate investigative committees set up by the central government and the Diet, arguing that the privacy of people who appear in the footage would be compromised.

The teleconferences were held between TEPCO headquarters and the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant to deal with the accident after the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami crippled the plant on March 11 last year.

Naomi Hirose, the new TEPCO president, said on June 28 that he will examine the videos to check the level of privacy involved.

A request will soon be filed with the Tokyo District Court.

The plaintiffs are 42 TEPCO shareholders who have sued individuals who were executives at the utility when the Fukushima nuclear accident started. The lawsuit is demanding the 27 former executives pay a total of 5.5 trillion yen ($69.1 billion) back to TEPCO for damages caused because of their inadequate handling of the accident.

The plaintiffs argue that the videos, specifically footage taken between March 11 and March 30 last year, would help to clarify the actions and decisions taken by Tsunehisa Katsumata, the TEPCO chairman at the time, then TEPCO President Masataka Shimizu and other executives, while providing vital evidence to determine who should be held responsible.

They said the footage is "the common asset of all the people" and that "there is the major danger of it being erased" by TEPCO.

Central government officials and TEPCO executives have blamed each other for the confused response in the immediate aftermath of the nuclear accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant.

Allegations have surfaced that TEPCO delayed the pumping in of seawater to cool the nuclear fuel because executives knew that the salt would force the company to decommission the reactors.

In addition, it remains unclear why the venting procedures to relieve pressure within the reactor cores were delayed.

Moreover, the video is described as the best evidence to resolve the discrepancy in statements by TEPCO and the prime minister's office on whether TEPCO executives planned to evacuate all workers from the Fukushima No. 1 plant.

The plaintiffs also said it was strange that only a video recording—with no sound—was available for a speech given by then Prime Minister Naoto Kan to TEPCO executives on March 15, 2011, at the company’s headquarters.

They said the lack of audio indicates that TEPCO is trying to hide something, which underscores the need to ensure that all the videos are preserved.

Officials at TEPCO and the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency said the utility's teleconferencing system connected five to eight locations, including not only TEPCO headquarters and the Fukushima No. 1 plant, but also the Fukushima No. 2 nuclear power plant.

The Fukushima Nuclear Accidents Investigation Committee set up by TEPCO released a report that said teleconferences were held between TEPCO executives at the company’s headquarters and Masao Yoshida, who was in charge of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant at the time of the accident.

But only TEPCO officials have knowledge about the exchanges between the headquarters and Yoshida before the morning of March 15, 2011, when a joint response headquarters was set up between the central government and the utility.

TEPCO has refused to release videos of those early exchanges. Even the Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission set up by the Diet was unable to obtain a copy of the videos.

Some committee members went to TEPCO's data room to view the videos, but the commission released only some of the transcripts of the portion of the videos that members viewed.

The commission ended up criticizing Kan's handling of the nuclear accident. For his part, Kan has asked that the videos be released by TEPCO.

However, an official with the secretariat of the Diet commission said: "The videos belong to TEPCO so we are not in a position to decide if they should be publicized. We were allowed to view the videos as part of our investigation."

Although the commission is expected to release its final report soon, without the videos there is no way of confirming that the report accurately reflects what actually happened when the crisis unfolded.

The TEPCO committee report said that employees recorded the teleconferences at both TEPCO headquarters and the Fukushima No. 2 plant. But 27.5 hours of teleconferences after midnight March 14 are missing because the hard disk at TEPCO headquarters had become full, the company said.

For that reason, Kan's speech at TEPCO headquarters on March 15 was not recorded. Although the Fukushima No. 2 plant videotaped Kan's speech, worker error led to a failure to capture the sound, according to the utility.

However, the teleconferencing system also connects the Fukushima No. 1 plant, the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant as well as TEPCO's Fukushima office. Therefore, data could exist that may supplement the parts TEPCO claims have been lost.

Investigative reports have come up with differing conclusions on the huge issue of whether TEPCO was seeking to withdraw all of its workers from the Fukushima No. 1 plant.

In transcripts released by the Diet investigative commission, at around 8 p.m. on March 14, a TEPCO executive says, "What time will it be when everyone is evacuated from the site?"

Twenty-one minutes later, an individual says that everyone at the Fukushima No. 1 plant would be moved to the Fukushima No. 2 plant.

At that time, there were about 700 workers at the Fukushima No. 1 plant.

TEPCO, however, says that only non-essential workers would be evacuated, and Yoshida has indicated that in the worst-case scenario, 10 workers would be left at the Fukushima No. 1 plant.

(This article was compiled from reports by Hideaki Kimura, Takaaki Yorimitsu and Tomomi Miyazaki.)

THE ASAHI SHIMBUN
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Naoto Kan, left, who was prime minister when the Fukushima nuclear accident started, and Masataka Shimizu, TEPCO president at the time (Asahi Shimbun file photos)

Naoto Kan, left, who was prime minister when the Fukushima nuclear accident started, and Masataka Shimizu, TEPCO president at the time (Asahi Shimbun file photos)

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  • Naoto Kan, left, who was prime minister when the Fukushima nuclear accident started, and Masataka Shimizu, TEPCO president at the time (Asahi Shimbun file photos)

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