We need your help now

Support from readers like you keeps The Journal open.

You are visiting us because we have something you value. Independent, unbiased news that tells the truth. Advertising revenue goes some way to support our mission, but this year it has not been enough.

If you've seen value in our reporting, please contribute what you can, so we can continue to produce accurate and meaningful journalism. For everyone who needs it.

Police officers in Fukushima last April wearing suits to protect them from radiation AP Photo/Hiro Komae

Ex-PM: Japan was unprepared for nuclear crisis

The former Prime Minister acknowledged there were flaws in how authorities handled the Fukushima crisis last year.

JAPAN WAS WOEFULLY  unprepared for last year’s nuclear disaster, the country’s former prime minister said today.

Naoto Kan also suggested that the crippled Fukushima plant should not have been built so close to the ocean on a tsunami-prone coast.

In an exclusive interview with The Associated Press, Naoto Kan acknowledged flaws in authorities’ handling of the crisis, triggered by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, including poor communication and coordination between nuclear regulators, utility officials and the government Kan headed at the time.

But he said the disaster — the worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl in 1986 — laid bare a host of an even bigger man-made vulnerabilities in Japan’s nuclear industry, from inadequate safety guidelines to crisis management, all of which he said need to be overhauled.

“Before 3/11, we were totally unprepared,” he said. “Not only the hardware, but our system and the organization were not prepared. That’s the biggest problem.”

Kan said the disaster made clear to him that Japan needs to dramatically reduce its dependence on nuclear power, which supplied 30 percent of its electricity before the crisis, and has turned him into a believer in renewable energy.

He also acknowedged that information disclosure was sometimes slow and at times wrong, particularly in the days immediately after the crisis erupted. He blamed a lack of reliable data at the time and said the government never hid any information from the public.


Kan said the very location of the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant was problematic.

It was built close to the shore and about 33 feet (10 meters) above a coastline that has experienced numerous tsunamis over the centuries, including three within the last 120 years, all of them smaller than the one on March 11. That height was a level regulators and the utility operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co., thought was safe.

But the tsunami that hit on March 11 was about 46 feet (14 meters) tall, and it knocked out the plant’s power as well as emergency generators, located in the basement of the reactor buildings, sending three active reactors into meltdowns.

“If they had thought about it, they wouldn’t have intentionally built it at a place so low,” said Kan. “The plant was built by people who never imagined the risk of a major tsunami, and that’s the very beginning of the problem.”

“We should have taken more adequate safety steps, and we failed to do so,” he added. “It was a big mistake and I must admit that (the accident) was due to human error.”

Since the crisis, Japan has decided to lower its reliance on nuclear power, reversing its plans to boost it to 50 percent by 2030. Most of its 54 reactors are currently off-line, undergoing special tests or shut down indefinitely.

The accident displaced about 100,000 people who lived near the plant and has raised fears of contamination in everything from fruit and vegetables to fish and water. In December, the government declared the plant was stable, although it estimates that it will take about 40 years to completely decommission the plant.

In pictures: Google’s before and after images of Japan’s earthquake and tsunami >

Readers like you are keeping these stories free for everyone...
A mix of advertising and supporting contributions helps keep paywalls away from valuable information like this article. Over 5,000 readers like you have already stepped up and support us with a monthly payment or a once-off donation.

Associated Foreign Press
Your Voice
Readers Comments
    Submit a report
    Please help us understand how this comment violates our community guidelines.
    Thank you for the feedback
    Your feedback has been sent to our team for review.