Successive Cabinets have refused to release details of firsthand accounts of the Fukushima nuclear disaster, despite an understanding by a government investigation committee that the information from 772 interviewees could be made public.
The media and other third parties have been denied access to the testimonies about Japan’s worst-ever nuclear accident. The government is still showing reluctance even after The Asahi Shimbun started reporting excerpts from interviews involving Masao Yoshida, who was the manager of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant when it was hit by the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.
When pressed on the issue, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said May 23 the government could only release the records if it receives permission from the interviewees.
“There will be no problem if (they) make requests (to disclose their testimonies),” the government’s top spokesman said at a news conference.
But The Asahi Shimbun learned that the government’s Investigation Committee on the Accident at the Fukushima Nuclear Power Stations had agreed on July 8, 2011, before it started the investigation, that those interviewed could disclose the content of their interviews, such videotaped testimonies to the media.
The panel agreed that the interviews would be closed sessions.
It also said it would disclose testimonies “to the extent necessary” and withhold contents that might reveal identities and information that the interviewees do not want released.
Questions remain over the exact cause of the triple meltdown at the Fukushima nuclear plant, and conflicting reports have been released on what occurred in the early stages of the disaster.
A copy of Yoshida’s testimony to the committee obtained by The Asahi Shimbun revealed that 90 percent of the approximately 720 workers defied Yoshida’s orders and fled the plant at a critical juncture.
The records of the investigation have been transferred to the Cabinet Secretariat’s office for the preparation of nuclear safety regulatory organization reform.
The office says the records should not be made public in principle, and it has not confirmed the interviewees’ intentions on whether to disclose their hearings.
One interviewee related to the Democratic Party of Japan said he told the government committee that he did not care if the records were made public. He added that the committee has never approached him to confirm his intention on the matter.
On May 23, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s project team on nuclear regulation and its panel on environmental issues agreed to continue applying pressure on the government to release Yoshida’s testimonies.
“Such records must be made public to the maximum possible extent in order to prevent such a tragic accident from occurring again,” said Yasuhisa Shiozaki, depute chair of the LDP’s Policy Research Council.
The government on May 23 released a written request by Yoshida that stated he did not want his interviews to be publicly disclosed.
“I do not intend for any of my interviews to be made public. There may be contents in which I misunderstood the facts based on memory distortions and other factors,” Yoshida, who died last year of cancer, said in the note.
His request was submitted when the government committee handed his testimonies to a Diet investigation panel.
But the copy of Yoshida’s testimony obtained by The Asahi Shimbun shows that he immediately agreed when told by interviewers that the records could be made public in the future.