Naoto Kan: Experiences as Prime Minister during the Fukushima Nuclear Accident


This is a powerful anti-nuclear statement by Naoto Kan who was Prime Minister of Japan during the 2011 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster at Fukushima.

In this video, which was made for a symposium on the accident, he speaks about how the meltdowns occurred, which was partly through natural forces, and partly a matter of human error.

At one point he was being advised that the workers at Fukushima needed to be withdrawn for their safety, but such a withdrawal would have meant an irreversible nuclear catastrophe, so he insisted they must stay, even if it cost their lives.

The Prime Minister also had experts draw up worse-case scenarios, which included the complete evacuation of Tokyo, which holds half the population of Japan.

Through seeing and living through the dangers involved in nuclear energy he has now become an anti-nuclear advocate, and is promoting renewable energy sources like wind and sun.

Underneath the video I include a complete transcript of the talk for further reference.


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Experiences as Prime Minister during the Fukushima Nuclear Accident

by Naoto Kan

Member of House of Representatives
Former Prime Minister of Japan

Good afternoon everyone. I am Naoto Kan.

I was Prime Minister of Japan when the Fukushima nuclear disaster occured in 2011. I was invited to the symposium put on by the Helen Caldicott Foundation, but I am not able to attend in person. Instead I send you this video message to tell you what happened during that time.

The Fukushima nuclear disaster on March 11th, 2011 resulted from two major causes.

Needless to say, the first cause was the total power outage at Fukushima Daiichi, due to the massive earthquake and tsunami, both of wich were unprecedented in the history of Japan. However, there was actually another major cause.

Such a total power outage and massive tsunami had never been anticipated. No preparations for such a situation had ever been made in terms of physical facilities and communication structure in the government. This was, in other words, a man-made cause.

They were the two causes who lead to the major nuclear disaster.

As of the evening of March 11th, approximately 8 hours after the earthquake, Unit 1 experienced a meltdown and melt through. The melted nuclear fuel accumulated at the bottom of the containment vessel. The next day a hydrogen explosion occured at this reactor No 1. Reactors No 1, 2 and 3 underwent a hydrogen explosion and then a meltdown, and reactor No 4 also had a hydrogen explosion.

At this Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, there were 6 nuclear reactors and 7 spent fuel pools containing spent fuel rods. Fukushima Daini (No 2) nuclear power plant is located 7.5 miles from the Daiichi (No 1). Daini (No 2) has 4 nuclear reactors and 4 spent fuel pools.

At one point after the earthquake, these reactors and spent fuel pools almost went out of control. Around 3 am on March 15th, TEPCO, through the Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry, requested withdrawal and evacuation of its workers.

If the TEPCO workers had been withdrawn, it would have been almost impossible to keep these nuclear reactors under control. I fully understood that it would be an operation accompanied by great danger. But I demanded TEPCO workers remain there to deal with the nuclear disaster, although their lives might be endangered. TEPCO agreed to do so.

On March 16th, the Self-Defense Force started preparing to drop water onto the spent fuel pools from the air. They did this for the first time on March 17th. This was my ongoing response to the nuclear disaster.

In the meantime, I personally reviewed, and I had experts review the worst case scenarios. As I have just mentioned, there are a total of 10 nuclear reactors and 11 spent fuel pools at Fukushima Daiichi and Daini nuclear power plants. If all of them went out of control, melted down, and released radioactive materials into the air and ocean, what quantity of radioactive materials would be released in the environment?

Up to that point, the Chernobyl had been the worst nuclear disaster, but Chernobyl resulted from an accident at only one nuclear reactor. In comparison, if 10 nuclear reactors and spent fuel pools were to have gone out of control, evacuation from an extremely large area would have been necessary. That was what I was most concerned at the time.

Mr. Kondo, who was the chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission of Japan, pointed out to me that in a worst case scenario, people within a radius of 155 miles might have to evacuate, and they might not be able to go home for 10, 20 , 30 years.

The Tokyo Metropolitan Area is within this 155 miles zone. 50 million, almost one half of the entire population of Japan live there. If 50 million people have to abandon their homes, leave their workplaces, or their school, or if hospitalized patients had to leave their hospitals, there would be many more victims during the evacuation. Japan would not be able to function fully as a nation for a long time.

Japan was close to this extremely grave scenario.

Eventually we were able to minimize the spread of radioactivity by dumping water into the reactors before the situation got that serious. I believe it was due not only to the fact that the operation was skillfully managed, but that we indeed had divine protection.

During this process we discovered that, in Japanese nuclear power policy up until then, there were no sufficient regulations to force utility companies to prepare for a tsunami, including installing a backup power source at a high elevation.

The Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, an organisation under Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, was the authority that should play the main role in handling a nuclear power accident. However, the senior members of this agency were not nuclear power experts. They were experts in legislation or economic policies. Neither they, or their staff, were prepared for a nuclear disaster of this magnitude.

My view is that this unpreparedness in terms of physical facilities, lack of adequate policies and government structure made the disaster even worse.

After having expérienced this nuclear disaster, I thought about how to handle nuclear power plants in the context of Japanese and global energy policies. My conclusion is that the safest nuclear power plant means not having nuclear power plants at all. Namely, I am convinced that not having nuclear power plants is the safest nuclear power policy or energy policy.

Needless to say, if we think about the extraordinary risk of losing half our land and having 50% of the population have to evacuate, this problem cannot be solved technologically.

Also, more essentially, I became to believe that mankind began to manipulate the atom creating atomic bombs and nuclear weapons, an then nuclear power plants – they created a technology that cannot easily exist with human life on Earth.

When I consider future energy policy, I am reminded that he human race and all other creatures on Earth have co-existed with the sun for about 4.5 billion years. And the sun has provided almost all energy on Earth until today.

I believe that future global and Japanese energy policy should focus on expanding the use of renewable energy, and should eventually obtain all necessary energy from them without using nuclear power or fossil fuels.

In Japan, a Feed-in Tariff system was introduced after the nuclear disaster, and renewable energy, such as solar and wind, started to gain popularity at an explosive pace.

On the other hand, the problems of nuclear power plants are not only a potential risk of accidents. They generate spent fuel, namely, nuclear waste. No good solution has been found for its safe disposal anywhere in the world.

In particular, Japan as more earthquakes than anywhere in the world. It is almost impossible to store nuclear waste safely here for a long period. Moreover, the conventional idea that nuclear power is the cheapest energy source has been fundamentaly overturned.

Of course, there are new energy sources including shale gas, and it has become obvious to everyone that nuclear power is never cheap energy in terms of costs for reprocess or waste disposal.

I think that nuclear power plants are not, and will never be, justifiable economically and will not exist in the future. Many experts and politicians in Japan still think that nuclear power is cheap But I believe it will become clearer that such thinking is mistaken.

In that sense, I believe that nuclear power has existed only as a transitional and temporary energy source, and that the technology wil not and should not exist in the next century.

I would like you to absolutely understand that while the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan indeed resulted from the earthquake and tsunami, human error in wich people neglected to make the proper preparation was also a factor; and I would be gratefull if you would take this into consideration in determining future energy policy.

Regrettably, I could not visit New York today, but I have offered you my experiences and thoughts with this video message.

Thank you all very much for listening.

Videotaped & Edited by Intertelemedia, Inc
Subtitled (in English) by East River Films Inc
in cooperation with Voices for Lively Spring

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