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Japan govt knew N-meltdown was probable

Summaries show concerns arose just hours after the nuclear crisis began on March 11. -Yomiuri Shimbun/ANN

Sat, Mar 10, 2012
The Yomiuri Shimbun/Asia News Network

The government's Nuclear Emergency Response Headquarters was aware that the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant would likely suffer a meltdown just hours after the nuclear crisis began, according to internal meeting summaries released Friday.

It is the first time that the summaries of the meetings, chaired by then Prime Minister Naoto Kan and attended by other ministers concerned as members, have been made available.

The summaries suggest how confused the government became due to a lack of information--for example, some members objected to the government's gradual expansion of the evacuation area.

Now that the records have been released, how top government officials reacted to the meltdown may be brought into question, observers said.

The 76 pages of summaries were compiled based on notes left by the Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry's Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency and other involved parties. They cover the headquarter's 23 meetings held from the night of the disaster to Dec. 26.

At the first meeting, which started after 7 p.m. on March 11, members of the headquarters were briefed that the plant had activated emergency cooling systems--which run mainly on batteries--after losing all of its power, the summaries said.

"After [the batteries run out in] eight hours, temperatures at the reactor cores will increase and the reactors will likely suffer a meltdown," an unknown speaker was quoted as saying in the summaries.

At the headquarters' third meeting starting on the afternoon of March 12, Koichiro Gemba, who served as state minister in charge of national policy at that time, once again referred to the possibility of a meltdown.

"Is it enough to designate a 10-kilometre radius [around the crippled nuclear plant] as the evacuation area? Shouldn't we reconsider?" Gemba was quoted as saying.

At that time, the government had not officially referred to the possibility of a meltdown at the nuclear power plant. The evacuation area was expanded to 10 kilometres that morning from an initial three kilometres.

The area was further widened to 20 kilometres after the plant's No. 1 reactor was hit by a hydrogen explosion that occurred three hours after the third meeting.

At a meeting held after 10 p.m. the same day, Kan referred to the 1986 Chernobyl disaster and the 1979 Three Mile Island crisis in the United States.

"Could a Chernobyl-type [meltdown] occur? Or a meltdown similar to the one at Three Mile Island?" the summaries quote him as saying.

However, no responses were recorded in the summaries.

At a meeting on March 14, Kan described a 20-kilometre radius as being "sufficient" for the evacuation zone, but Gemba questioned this, saying, "Some experts have different opinions," according to the summaries.

The records also show heated discussions were held over releasing steam containing radioactive substances from the plant's reactors into the atmosphere.

They also show there was extreme confusion when the plant's Nos. 3 and 4 reactors were hit by hydrogen explosions.

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