Despite talk of pullout, Hosono says he backed Yoshida's resolve not to abandon Fukushima plant

June 01, 2014

THE ASAHI SHIMBUN

The liaison between Prime Minister Naoto Kan and Masao Yoshida, manager of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant at the onset of the March 2011 accident, urged Kan to support Yoshida's belief that workers should not be withdrawn as the crisis worsened.

Goshi Hosono, who was serving as a special adviser to the prime minister at that time, told The Asahi Shimbun that he advised Kan to back Yoshida, though some executives in the head office of the plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co., had suggested that all workers should withdraw from there.

Months after the onset of the accident, the government’s Investigation Committee on the Accident at the Fukushima Nuclear Power Stations of Tokyo Electric Power Co. questioned Yoshida and compiled a report. By showing him its sections related to Hosono, The Asahi Shimbun interviewed him for nearly three hours.

Hosono, a Democrat Party of Japan lawmaker, said he felt the biggest disagreement between Yoshida and the TEPCO head office occurred on the night of March 14, 2011, three days after the nuclear accident broke out. It was soon after it became impossible to inject cooling water into the No. 2 reactor.

On that night, Hosono twice received telephone calls from Yoshida. In the first of the two calls, Yoshida said water could not be pumped into the reactor.

Hosono recalled, “I understood that Yoshida suggested the possibility that people at the Fukushima No. 1 plant will become unable to work there. The suggestion meant that all of the workers at the plant will have to withdraw from there.”

In the second call, Yoshida told Hosono that water had begun to enter the reactor. When Hosono asked Yoshida, “You can hold on to your tasks, can't you?” Yoshida replied, “All right. We can still make efforts here. Our morale has not weakened.”

Hosono said he thought, “Yoshida has regained his former self.” Unlike in the first call, Hosono felt Yoshida’s strong determination to never give up in resolving the nuclear crisis.

Around the same time, TEPCO President Masataka Shimizu repeatedly tried to contact industry minister Banri Kaieda. Hosono had heard from Kaieda and Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano that TEPCO wanted to withdraw all the workers from the Fukushima No. 1 plant.

“The idea of withdrawing the workers (from the plant) was expressed by officials at the company (headquarters), including President Shimizu. I felt that their stance differed from that of Yoshida,” Hosono recalled.

“(My impression was) Yoshida had decided in his mind to stay in the plant. The prime minister’s office also decided to support him completely. The problem was whether TEPCO (headquarters) had the resolve to support him and other workers in the plant,” Hosono said.

“TEPCO employees stationed in the prime minister’s office appeared to be operating in a mind-set that there were no more ways remaining to deal with the accident,” Hosono recalled.

By those remarks, Hosono revealed a big difference that existed in the stance between Yoshida and employees at TEPCO’s head office on whether the workers at the plant should be withdrawn.

After receiving the second call from Yoshida, Hosono advised Kan, “The situation at the Fukushima No. 1 plant is one in which workers can make progress there. We should respect Yoshida’s judgment.”

Before dawn on the next day, March 15, Kan summoned Shimizu to the prime minister’s office and told him, “A pullout cannot be allowed.”

Soon after 6 a.m. on the same day, some abnormalities occurred in the No. 2 reactor but the radiation level did not rise. At 6:42 a.m., Yoshida ordered workers at the Fukushima plant to wait in the compound so that they could return to their posts immediately if problems occurred.

However, 90 percent of the workers withdrew to the Fukushima No. 2 nuclear power plant, located about 10 kilometers from the No. 1 plant, ignoring Yoshida’s instructions, according to Yoshida's testimony to the government’s investigation committee.

Since the nuclear accident broke out, Hosono has seldom accepted interviews on how the government dealt with the accident.

As three years had passed, he thought, “My memory is approaching its limits. The time has about come for me to talk about the details.”

He recently saw Asahi Shimbun reports based on transcripts from the government’s investigation committee’s questioning of Yoshida. Hosono consented to an interview with The Asahi Shimbun.

(This article was written by Hideaki Kimura and Kyoko Horiuchi.)

THE ASAHI SHIMBUN
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Masao Yoshida, left, answers questions from reporters at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant on Nov. 12, 2011. At right is Goshi Hosono, a special adviser to Prime Minister Naoto Kan. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

Masao Yoshida, left, answers questions from reporters at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant on Nov. 12, 2011. At right is Goshi Hosono, a special adviser to Prime Minister Naoto Kan. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

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  • Masao Yoshida, left, answers questions from reporters at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant on Nov. 12, 2011. At right is Goshi Hosono, a special adviser to Prime Minister Naoto Kan. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)
  • Goshi Hosono speaks in an interview with The Asahi Shimbun in Tokyo on May 27. (Photo by Hideaki Kimura)

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