When the Great East Japan Earthquake struck at 2:46 p.m. on March 11, Prime Minister Kan was attending an Audit Committee meeting in the Upper House.
Kan grasped the armrests of his chair and stared at the ceiling where a chandelier swung wildly.
Amid shouts as people dove for cover under tables, Yosuke Tsuruho, 44, chairman of the Audit Committee, declared the meeting adjourned.
Surrounded by security police, Kan was escorted to the crisis management center in the basement of the prime minister's office.
Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Fukuyama followed the prime minister's movements on a monitor in the prime minister's aides' office on the fifth floor. He immediately instructed an aide, "Contact Tetsuro Ito, deputy chief Cabinet secretary for crisis management, and tell him to put an emergency team together."
A former Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department chief, Ito, 63, was tasked with establishing an emergency response office at the prime minister's office, where he would gather information and coordinate initial response activities. He would effectively lead the emergency team made up of bureau chief-level officials of government ministries and agencies.
Fukuyama rushed into the crisis management center, followed shortly by Chief Cabinet Secretary Edano, and then Kan. The government ministry and agency officials were already gathered there.
Desks were arranged to form a large oval. Kan sat in the center, flanked by Edano and other key Cabinet members as well as Ito.
Each ministry or agency official had a dedicated phone sitting on his desk, enabling them to receive updates on quake damage from their ministries or agencies. Every time an update came in, the official who received it would repeat the message on a microphone for everyone in the room to hear.
"A fire has broken out, but the scale is unknown."
"We've got the latest information on road damage."
"They've just revised the quake's magnitude from what they'd announced earlier!"
Junior ministry and agency officials took notes, which were copied immediately and given to Kan and others.
"Emergency shutdown at the Fukushima No. 1 power plant."
"Also at the Fukushima No. 2 plant."
The nuclear power plants had shut themselves down automatically.
But at 3:27 p.m., the first wave of tsunami struck coastal towns of the Tohoku region. The second wave came eight minutes later.
About 10 giant TV monitors hung on the walls of the crisis management center. They would soon start showing images of the towns being swallowed up.
Around 3:40 p.m., the Fukushima plant developed an abnormality, followed shortly by the announcement, "The Fukushima No. 1 plant has lost all AC power!"
Kan knew that something extremely grave was beginning to unfold.
NUCLEAR PLANT GETTING OUT OF CONTROL
The tsunami knocked out all AC power sources at the Fukushima No. 1 plant within a matter of four minutes from 3:37 p.m.
No juice meant the cooling system for the nuclear reactors would not work, which in turn meant the reactors would become overheated and melt the fuel rods, which would burn holes in the reactors and start leaking out.
This total loss of AC power was the first real crisis ever to befall a nuclear power plant in Japan.
The Fukushima No. 1 plant was in utter pandemonium.
The personal handy-phone system (PHS), which was being used at the plant for in-house communications, went down. Workers switched to transceivers, but the noise made them useless. There was only one landline connecting the plant's central control room and the on-site response center in the earthquake-proof wing.
Yoshida, head of the plant, was in the on-site response center at the time. But he had next to no idea what was going on in the plant's reactor units.
Workers in the employ of TEPCO's affiliates had already evacuated upon hearing the tsunami alert.
Only a small number of workers remained at the plant, and the burden of post-disaster recovery work fell on the shoulders of TEPCO employees. But with almost all non-TEPCO workers gone, they could not even tell where necessary tools and materials were stored.
Immediately after the quake, Yoshida called TEPCO's head office and requested manpower reinforcements.
Industry minister Kaieda was at the ministry when he was informed of the total loss of AC power at 3:42 p.m. Then, about an hour later, he got worse news; the plant was no longer able to cool the reactor cores in the No. 1 and No. 2 reactors.
The same message was communicated to Prime Minister Kan.
At 4:54 p.m., Kan held a news conference, but he had little information to give. All he could say was, "Some nuclear power stations have shut themselves down automatically, but no radiation leakage has been confirmed so far."
Kaieda rushed to the prime minister's office, and went straight to Kan's office on the fifth floor. Kan had just returned from the news conference. NISA Director-General Terasaka was present.
While being briefed by Kaieda and Terasaka, Kan jotted down in his notebook, "Emergency diesel generator would not start."
He would later recall, "While writing that down, the thought occurred to me: The nuclear power plant is getting out of control." And the worst possible scnario--a nuclear meltdown--also crossed his mind.
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