Asia

Utility head blamed for late mention of Fukushima 'meltdown'

  • Yasuhisa Tanaka, center, chairman of an outside investigation team appointed by the operator of Japan’s damaged Fukushima nuclear plant, speaks during a press conference in Tokyo Thursday, June 16, 2016. The team has concluded that an instruction from then-company president to avoid mentioning “meltdown” delayed disclosure of the status of three reactors. Tokyo Electric Power Co. described the Fukushima reactors’ condition as less serious “core damage” for two months after the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami wrecked the plant. Two other lawyers of the team are: Zenzo Sasaki, left, and Toshiki Nagasaki. (AP Photo/Mari Yamaguchi)

    Yasuhisa Tanaka, center, chairman of an outside investigation team appointed by the operator of Japan’s damaged Fukushima nuclear plant, speaks during a press conference in Tokyo Thursday, June 16, 2016. The team has concluded that an instruction from then-company president to avoid mentioning “meltdown” delayed disclosure of the status of three reactors. Tokyo Electric Power Co. described the Fukushima reactors’ condition as less serious “core damage” for two months after the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami wrecked the plant. Two other lawyers of the team are: Zenzo Sasaki, left, and Toshiki Nagasaki. (AP Photo/Mari Yamaguchi)  (The Associated Press)

  • Yasuhisa Tanaka, center, chairman of an outside investigation team appointed by the operator of Japan’s damaged Fukushima nuclear plant, speaks during a press conference in Tokyo Thursday, June 16, 2016. The team has concluded that an instruction from then-company president to avoid mentioning “meltdown” delayed disclosure of the status of three reactors. Tokyo Electric Power Co. described the Fukushima reactors’ condition as less serious “core damage” for two months after the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami wrecked the plant. Two other lawyers of the team are: Zenzo Sasaki, left, and Toshiki Nagasaki. (AP Photo/Mari Yamaguchi)

    Yasuhisa Tanaka, center, chairman of an outside investigation team appointed by the operator of Japan’s damaged Fukushima nuclear plant, speaks during a press conference in Tokyo Thursday, June 16, 2016. The team has concluded that an instruction from then-company president to avoid mentioning “meltdown” delayed disclosure of the status of three reactors. Tokyo Electric Power Co. described the Fukushima reactors’ condition as less serious “core damage” for two months after the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami wrecked the plant. Two other lawyers of the team are: Zenzo Sasaki, left, and Toshiki Nagasaki. (AP Photo/Mari Yamaguchi)  (The Associated Press)

  • FILE - In this May 20, 2011, file photo, then-President of Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) Masataka Shimizu speaks during a news conference at the company's head office in Tokyo. Yukio Edano, secretary-general of the Democratic Party who was the chief cabinet secretary during the 2011 Fukushima nuclear plant accident, denied on Friday, June 17, 2016, the prime minister’s office pressured then-President Shimizu to not use the term “meltdown.” The report, which was released Thursday, June 16 and filed by the panel of three TEPCO-commissioned lawyers, said an instruction from Shimizu to avoid using the term delayed the full disclosure of the status of three reactors. (AP Photo/Itsuo Inouye, File)

    FILE - In this May 20, 2011, file photo, then-President of Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) Masataka Shimizu speaks during a news conference at the company's head office in Tokyo. Yukio Edano, secretary-general of the Democratic Party who was the chief cabinet secretary during the 2011 Fukushima nuclear plant accident, denied on Friday, June 17, 2016, the prime minister’s office pressured then-President Shimizu to not use the term “meltdown.” The report, which was released Thursday, June 16 and filed by the panel of three TEPCO-commissioned lawyers, said an instruction from Shimizu to avoid using the term delayed the full disclosure of the status of three reactors. (AP Photo/Itsuo Inouye, File)  (The Associated Press)

An outside investigation team appointed by the operator of Japan's damaged Fukushima nuclear plant said Thursday that an instruction from then-company president to avoid mentioning "meltdown" delayed disclosure of the status of three reactors.

Tokyo Electric Power Co. described the Fukushima reactors' condition as less serious "core damage" for two months after the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami wrecked the plant.

The panel of three TEPCO-commissioned lawyers said TEPCO used the milder expression despite knowing the damage far exceeded its meaning, following an instruction by then-president Masataka Shimizu. The investigation, however, found that TEPCO's delayed acknowledgement broke any law.

In the 70-page report, the lawyers said Shimizu instructed his deputy not to use the word "meltdown" during news conferences immediately after the crisis when officials were peppered with questions about the reactor conditions. At the very beginning, TEPCO's vice president at the time, Sakae Muto, had mentioned a "possibility of a meltdown" until March 14, 2011.

Video footage of a news conference that day shows a company official rushing over to Muto when he was about to respond to a question about conditions of the reactors, showing him a memo and hissing into his ear: "The Prime Minister's Office says never to use this word, never."

Yasuhisa Tanaka, lawyer who headed the investigation, said interviews of 70 former and current TEPCO officials, including Muto, showed that Muto had planned to use the word "meltdown" until he saw the memo. The memo containing Shimizu's instruction was never found, however, Tanaka said.

Government and parliamentary investigations have suggested officials, seeking to play down the severity of the crisis, showed reluctance in using the term. Tanaka said his investigation, which did not interview government officials, could not establish if or what exactly Shimizu was told by the Prime Minister's Office.

TEPCO said the damage involved 25 to 55 percent of the fuel but avoided saying "meltdown" despite knowledge and computer simulation of that occurrence.

TEPCO earlier this year acknowledged an existing internal manual was overlooked.