TOKYO (AP) — Japan's former prime minister criticized the tsunami-hit nuclear plant's operator Wednesday for heavily editing the limited video coverage it released of the disaster, including a portion in which his emotional speech to utility executives and workers was silenced.
Naoto Kan called for Tokyo Electric Power Co. to release all of its video coverage, beyond the first five days. Two-thirds of the 150 hours of videos it released Monday are without sound, including one segment showing Kan's visit to the utility's headquarters on March 15 last year, four days after a tsunami critically damaged three reactors at the Fukushima Dai-ichi power plant.
Many people's faces, except for the plant chief and top executives in Tokyo, are obscured in the videos and frequent beeps mask voices and other sound. From that coverage, TEPCO made a 90-minute video of selected clips and made it available for download.
The release only covers the first five days of the crisis, starting hours after the magnitude-9 earthquake hit on March 11 until midnight on March 15, when the plant was getting out of control, and confusion and fear of catastrophe reigned.
TEPCO spokesman Takashi Kurita said the released footage, which mainly involved videoconferences, was the only footage available due to confidentiality and privacy concerns. The recordings were not intended for public viewing and the release was an exception to address public interest.
TEPCO, now under state control, initially refused to release the videos at all but was ordered to do so. It denied any cover-up, saying the Tokyo head office failed to record at times and that backups provided only images. TEPCO said they blurred workers' faces to hide their identity for privacy reasons and fear of harassment.
It's not known how many hours of coverage might exist beyond the first five days it released.
In the footage of Kan at the utility headquarters, he is shown from behind, gesturing and giving what appeared to be emotional and chastising speech for about 20 minutes. He said Wednesday he only tried to boost morale in the dangerous mission.
"It's so unnatural. TEPCO says there is no sound, but they have said all kinds of things about my visit there, which makes it even more suspicious," he said. "There must be the sound somewhere."
The content of TEPCO's videoconference is crucial evidence, "equivalent to communication between a pilot and a control tower in an airplane accident," Kan said.
The video also revealed that plant officials freaked out about the pools that contained spent nuclear fuel, beyond the one known to be a concern. They feared the pools could dry out without a cooling system or water supply, which would heat and melt the nuclear material. Massive radiation leaks directly into the air could have resulted because the pools are not protected by containment chambers. TEPCO officials even discussed dropping chunks of ice or spray water through a broken ceiling from a helicopter to cool them urgently.
Previously, government and TEPCO officials had only spoken of a pool at the Unit 4 reactor as being a concern because it was damaged by a hydrogen gas explosion in the reactor building.
Then-Plant chief Masao Yoshida and other top executives thought at least five of the seven pools at the plant were in trouble, although they later said none of the rods was exposed.
"We have a problem," Yoshida told TEPCO's Tokyo office. "The pool at No. 1 unit is now exposed, with part of its building blown off in an explosion, and steam is reportedly coming out. We can't leave it like that, but we have no water source and I'm out of ideas." The temperature of that pool was also rising, and he and other officials agreed that other pools were probably in similar conditions.
Days later, a defense helicopters splashed water from a bucket as it flew over one of the reactors and firefighters were mobilized to spray water from fire hose.
Kan has later acknowledged he considered a worst-case scenario involving damage to all six reactors at the plant and another four at nearby Da-ni plant and their fuel storage pools. A scenario made by a nuclear expert at Kan's request suggested the need for an evacuation of 30 million people in and around Tokyo.
TEPCO officials have said that Kan yelled at the executives and workers with harsh words. TEPCO officials alleged Kan was upset because he misunderstood company executives were trying to abandon the plant.
"I said you're not withdrawing," Kan said Wednesday. "We were on a cliff-edge situation" that could have led to a catastrophe threatening the entire nation. He said he was struggling amid the absence of information from the plant, communication and reliable experts he could turn to, particularly the first few days.
His visit at TEPCO marked the beginning of a joint command center in the TEPCO headquarters, largely improving communication and other problems. Kan said he still thinks it was the right move.
The videos did show TEPCO executives discussed a possible withdrawal, but it was unclear whether they were considering a partial pullout. Kan and his ministers agreed that ex-TEPCO president Masataka Shimizu indicated full withdrawal, but it remains a mystery and findings by the government, parliament and private investigations had different conclusions.