Last week, TEPCO released about 150 hours of video documenting the proceedings at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant during the first few days after the disaster. The videos were only released after intense public and media pressure, are still incomplete, and two thirds of it lack sound (TEPCO claims technical issues). Hiroko Tabuchi wrote an analysis in The New York Times that’s very much worth reading, I just want to comment on a few things here.
The really shocking part is how the TEPCO management treated the workers at the plant and deliberately lied to the public. The footage doesn’t leave any doubt:
Soon after, an announcement over the loudspeakers states bluntly what the government and the company will refuse to confirm for weeks despite increasing alarm from outside experts: “The fuel has been exposed for some time now, so there is a possibility of a fuel meltdown,” it says. “Repeat, there is a possibility of a fuel meltdown.”
So, people at the NPP knew a meltdown was likely, although not sure. Yet it took a long time until TEPCO admitted just the possibility. They knew, they had to know, and they lied to us all the time. I don’t know how far the government was in on the game, but either way I have no (publishable) words to describe how despicable that is. Of course there were always strong suspicions that TEPCO was downplaying the accident, but there’s a difference between downplaying and a flat out lie on such a critical issue. The lies also increased the overall damage done, because it led people to doubt any positive news, including safe radiation readings far away from the NPP.
Masataka Shimizu, then Tepco’s president, also makes sporadic appearances, barking out orders via teleconference. “Gasoline before food!” he shouts at one point to workers organizing a supply run.
This is adding insult to injury, to say the least. Of course fuel was critical, but I’m sure the workers knew that, so instead of shouting nonsense, TEPCO management should have done their part to improve conditions instead of lying. The workers who were risking their lives to contain the disaster deserved the best available provisions, not contempt from their superiors.
With Japan currently in the process of establishing a new regulatory body for nuclear power, this once again shows the importance of transparency. Measures must be set up to make it impossible for plant operators to hide even the smallest incident. All relevant information must be published immediately. I also hope criminal charges will be brought against those who tried to hide what was really going on at Fukushima Daiichi.
I noticed that someone was quoting the last few sentences on Twitter in a misleading way. Just to be clear: This is not an anti-nuclear post. This is a post against handling dangerous things (no matter if radioactive, poisonous, explosive, or whatever) without proper care, and then trying to lie about the damage caused. TEPCO was warned years before the disaster that the tsunami protection was insufficient. If they had listened, the plant would probably have been fine, like Onagawa NPP which even provided shelter for people from the surrounding villages after the tsunami.