TEPCO President Shimizu arrived at the prime minister's office at 4:17 a.m. on March 15.
He was met by Terada, special adviser to the prime minister, outside Kan's office on the fifth floor. Terada had thought of warning Shimizu in advance that Kan would not hear of TEPCO evacuating the Fukushima No. 1 plant, but decided to keep quiet.
Shimizu was accompanied by two TEPCO executives, but he alone was ushered into the parlor adjoining Kan's office.
After thanking and apologizing to Shimizu for his trouble, Kan came straight to the point. "There is to be no withdrawal. Not ever."
In the room were Chief Cabinet Secretary Edano, industry minister Kaieda, three deputy chief Cabinet secretaries--Fukuyama, Takino and Fujii--and Hosono, special adviser to the prime minister. They held their breath as they awaited Shimizu's response.
Hands on his lap, Shimizu nodded his head and said simply, "Yes, I understand."
Kaieda later recalled, "My immediate reaction was, 'Huh?' I mean, he'd been so adamant before about pulling out of the plant."
Kan went on, "I want Hosono to be permanently stationed at TEPCO. Please make a room and a desk available for him. I intend to set up an integrated emergency response headquarters at TEPCO so we can share information."
Shimizu looked surprised, but replied again, "Yes, I understand."
The headquarters was to be a supra-legal entity enabling the government to exercise direct control over a private enterprise.
Kan then asked Shimizu when he should meet him at TEPCO head office. "In about two hours," Shimizu replied. "That's too late," Kan shot back. "Make it one hour. Please have the room ready by then." Shimizu consented.
"Well then, this meeting is over," Kan said. "Please start your preparations."
The meeting had lasted only 18 minutes.
With Kan's visit to TEPCO set, an aide shouted, "Someone call the press club of the prime minister's office and let its reporters know the prime minister is going to TEPCO."
Kazuhiro Hasegawa, 48, manager of TEPCO's Corporate Communications Department, heard the aide's shouted words. He then saw the TEPCO official in charge of Diet affairs, who was accompanying Shimizu, pull out his cellphone and plead with a Democratic Party of Japan legislator affiliated with Denryoku Soren (the Federation of Electric Power Related Industry Worker's Unions of Japan), "Could you do something about this?"
But there was nothing the lawmaker could do.
Kan returned to his office alone and sat at his desk. Opening his notebook, which he always kept within reach, he started writing the names of members of the new integrated emergency response headquarters he was going to head. He chose Kaieda and Shimizu as his deputies, and picked Hosono as secretary-general.
At 5:28 a.m., Kan set off for TEPCO's head office. Kaieda, Fukuyama, Hosono and Terada followed.
KAN'S PEP TALK
At 5:35 a.m. on March 15, the black limousine carrying Prime Minister Kan arrived at TEPCO's head office in Tokyo's Uchisaiwaicho district.
Kan entered TEPCO's disaster response office on the second floor, which would later become the government-TEPCO integrated disaster response office.
The walls were hung with multiple monitors for teleconferences with personnel at the Fukushima No. 1 plant. Kan sat facing Tsunehisa Katsumata, 71, TEPCO chairman, and President Shimizu.
Below is a paraphrase of Kan's "pep talk" according to notes taken by his aides:
"I believe you yourselves understand better than anyone the gravity of what has befallen us all. It is vital that the government and TEPCO work together on real-time responses to this disaster. I am heading this office, with industry minister Kaieda and TEPCO President Shimizu as my deputies.
"The No. 2 reactor is not our only problem. If we abandon the No. 2 unit, heaven knows what may happen to the reactors Nos. 1, 3 and 4 through 6, and eventually even the Fukushima No. 2 plant.
"Should we abandon them all, every reactor and every nuclear waste would disintegrate after some months and start leaking radiation. And we are talking 10 to 20 units of double or triple the magnitude of the Chernobyl disaster.
"Our country will not survive unless we put our lives on the line to bring this situation under control. We simply cannot withdraw and do nothing. Should we do that, other countries may well insist on stepping in and taking control.
"You are the parties directly involved in this crisis. I ask you to fight it with your lives. There is no running away. Information is not being communicated fast enough. In fact, information is inaccurate and some is wrong. Please, do not remain defensive. I beg of you to share your information with us. We need to address immediate issues, but we also must think five hours, 10 hours, one day or one week ahead and act accordingly.
"Money is not an object anymore. TEPCO must do everything it can. Withdrawal is not an option when our country's survival is at stake. I ask the chairman and president to prepare for the worst. If you are concerned for the safety of your workers, send those who are 60 and older to the accident site. I myself am prepared to go.
"I repeat, withdrawal is not an option. If TEPCO withdraws, the company will go under for certain. ..."
Shortly after Kan concluded his pep talk, a loud explosion was heard at 6 a.m. near the suppression chamber of the No. 2 reactor.
Three hours later, a radiation level reading of 11,930 microsieverts per hour was confirmed near the front gates of the Fukushima No. 1 plant. It was an abnormally high level, to say the least.
The wind, which was initially blowing toward the sea, gradually began to blow inland and eventually set the direction to northwest. And in that direction lay the town of Namie, the village of Iitate, and the city of Fukushima.
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