ANALYSIS: TEPCO inquiry admits 'misinformation,' but critics demand more

March 14, 2013

By HIDEAKI KIMURA/ Staff Writer

An inquiry by Tokyo Electric Power Co. into allegations the utility misled Diet investigators and thereby thwarted an inspection of a particular building at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant has agreed that there was misinformation, but insisted it was unintentional.

But the findings were dismissed by one official who believes TEPCO willfully prevented the pursuit of truth, Mitsuhiko Tanaka, who sat on the National Diet's Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission.

"I am not interested in a token investigation that only cited arguments in TEPCO's favor," he said. "I hope the Diet will take up the matter at an early date."

On Feb. 7, The Asahi Shimbun reported on a conversation that Toshimitsu Tamai, general manager of TEPCO's Corporate Planning Department, had with Mitsuhiko Tanaka and other commission members on Feb. 28, 2012.

During that conversation, Tamai dissuaded the committee from visiting and examining the plant's No. 1 reactor building by falsely insisting that it was pitch black inside.

A recording of the conversation, obtained by The Asahi Shimbun, makes clear that Tamai put pressure on Tanaka to abandon the proposed inspection.

"Would it not be better to drop it?" Tamai is heard saying.

Tamai also tells the Diet officials that conducting an on-site survey would set an awkward precedent which might trigger an onslaught of similar requests.

"People such as war photographers might start pestering us, saying: 'I'll risk it. I don't care about my life. I'm going in at all costs,'" Tamai is heard telling Tanaka. "If you'll allow me to say this, that would place a burden on our company."

And Tamai tries the hard-sell: "I'd like you to make a decision today," he says.

The committee did, indeed, drop its plans to visit, even though some observers believe an on-site examination could answer an important unresolved question: Did the plant fail because of the tsunami, as TEPCO insists; or because of damage sustained in the earlier earthquake? It should have been built to withstand the size of the temblor that struck on March 11, 2011.

Under pressure to confirm or dispel suspicions that it misled the committee, TEPCO commissioned a third-party panel to examine what happened.

In a report submitted to TEPCO on March 13, the investigative panel declared that Tamai had misled the Diet committee, but that he had not done so on purpose. In other words, the report said, he did not misinform investigators such as Tanaka with the aim of dissuading them from carrying out an on-site inspection.

The panel argued that Tamai would have had no motive to tell a lie that would have been rapidly exposed had the inspectors gone ahead with their visit. It would be hard to assume that he had lied on purpose, it said, because by doing so, he would have dug a hole from which it would have been hard to climb out.

But that logic is flawed because the lie would not have been exposed if TEPCO had successfully blocked the visit.

One major problem with the TEPCO-commissioned panel is that all 26 people it interviewed are TEPCO insiders.

The panel initially asked members of the now-disbanded Diet investigation commission if they would cooperate. The former Diet investigators said they would cooperate if the Diet gave them permission to do so. But the panel then never requested such permission and, therefore, conducted no interviews with the former Diet investigators.

The panel also said its investigations included a review of media reports. However, here, there are indications to the contrary.

There was no mention in the panel's report of Tamai's remarks that could have indicated his intention, such as his pressure to "make a decision today." It contained no investigation of the reported voice recording.

On Feb. 7, Tanaka asked the heads of the two chambers of the Diet--the Lower House speaker and the Upper House president--to investigate the allegations and to press ahead with an on-site survey.

But the Diet has since left it to TEPCO to investigate the case of alleged misinformation--and has left it to the Nuclear Regulation Authority to decide whether to inspect the site.

The Lower House secretariat said March 13 that Tanaka's request is "not under discussion." The Upper House secretariat said: "There is no particular move at this stage."

By HIDEAKI KIMURA/ Staff Writer
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A still from a video filmed inside the No. 1 reactor building on Oct. 18, 2011, shows a sign on the wall clearly legible as the Japanese character for "west." It is on the building's fourth floor, and light is streaming in from above. The video was shot by Tokyo Electric Power Co. In February 2012, a TEPCO official dissuaded members of a Diet investigation commission from conducting an on-site survey by insisting that it was pitch-dark inside the building. (Provided by Tokyo Electric Power Co.)

A still from a video filmed inside the No. 1 reactor building on Oct. 18, 2011, shows a sign on the wall clearly legible as the Japanese character for "west." It is on the building's fourth floor, and light is streaming in from above. The video was shot by Tokyo Electric Power Co. In February 2012, a TEPCO official dissuaded members of a Diet investigation commission from conducting an on-site survey by insisting that it was pitch-dark inside the building. (Provided by Tokyo Electric Power Co.)

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  • A still from a video filmed inside the No. 1 reactor building on Oct. 18, 2011, shows a sign on the wall clearly legible as the Japanese character for "west." It is on the building's fourth floor, and light is streaming in from above. The video was shot by Tokyo Electric Power Co. In February 2012, a TEPCO official dissuaded members of a Diet investigation commission from conducting an on-site survey by insisting that it was pitch-dark inside the building. (Provided by Tokyo Electric Power Co.)

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