Industry minister Yukio Edano took Tokyo Electric Power Co. to task for its refusal to hand over videos of teleconferences by senior utility officials during the early days of the nuclear disaster in Fukushima Prefecture, saying, "They must be out of their minds if they won't disclose the records."
Edano made the comment during an exclusive interview with The Asahi Shimbun on June 29.
Earlier that day, a group of TEPCO shareholders filed a request with the Tokyo District Court to oblige the utility to preserve the footage and not erase content.
"From the outset, I have always called (on TEPCO) to disclose (the videos)," Edano said. "I don't understand why they won't do so."
Edano urged the new management of TEPCO, elected only two days earlier at a general shareholders' meeting, to submit the videos in the hope of clearing up lingering suspicions surrounding the initial response to the crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.
"I believe that in the natural course of events they will disclose (the records)," Edano said.
TEPCO will come under effective state control in late July when the government acquires a majority of its shares in terms of voting rights.
As industry minister, Edano will become a virtual "owner" of the embattled utility.
"(The teleconferencing videos) are tantamount to official documents, in view of the social responsibility of electric power operators under the current system," Edano said.
Edano dismissed TEPCO's argument that privacy issues lay at the heart of the matter.
"All they have to do is to blur (the faces of) everyone other than senior officials with mosaics," he said. "It's very simple."
He continued: "It would be understandable if the records were placed under confidentiality obligations but, when it comes to this matter, I just don't quite understand why they won't disclose them."
Edano was chief Cabinet secretary under Prime Minister Naoto Kan when the disaster happened.
At the Diet's Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission, Edano was at loggerheads with TEPCO over whether the utility sought to evacuate all workers from the stricken plant on the night of March 14-15, 2011, following hydrogen explosions there.
Forty-two TEPCO shareholders filed the request June 29 calling for the video footage to be preserved.
According to the request, the footage records exchanges between senior officials at the TEPCO head office and Masao Yoshida, general manager of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant at the time of the disaster.
It says this constitutes "superlative evidence" that would help prove the responsibility of TEPCO's management at the time, and thus is "the common asset of all the people."
Later that day, the plaintiffs and TEPCO officials assembled at the Tokyo District Court and met for 90 minutes with court officials in attendance to discuss preservation procedures.
In the evening, Junichi Matsumoto, acting general director of TEPCO's Nuclear Power and Plant Siting Division, reiterated the utility's position that it will not release the footage.
At a news conference at the TEPCO head office, Matsumoto said: "The videotaped images we store are nothing more than in-house material. We have, at present, no plan to disclose them."
In a previous news conference, Matsumoto defined "in-house material" as anything created in the company.
"I think the originals of all documents drawn up in our company fall in the category of in-house material," he said then.
Matsumoto indicated that TEPCO has the right to erase "in-house material" at its own discretion.
"I think erasure would require a 'disposal' procedure, but if we are to erase something, I think it's possible to destroy disks or do something similar," he said.
(This article was written by Hideaki Kimura and Tomomi Miyazaki.)
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