Masao Yoshida, plant chief at Fukushima Daiichi during the March 2011 nuclear accident, gave the testimony to a government commission investigating the accidents. He died in 2013, meaning the document soon to be released stands as the most comprehensive account by the man in charge at the scene of the world’s worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl.
The left-leaning Asahi, which has generally been critical of nuclear power, first published parts of the Yoshida testimony in May and treated it as more evidence against restarting Japan’s nuclear reactors. According to the Asahi’s interpretation of events, 90% of senior employees violated Mr. Yoshida’s orders and left on the morning of March 15 for the Fukushima Daini plant, 10 kilometers to the south. At that point, the Fukushima Daiichi plant’s reactor buildings had suffered multiple explosions and radiation was rising.
The newspaper has cited the episode to cast doubt on Fukushima Daiichi operator Tokyo Electric Power Co.9501.TO -0.52% and more broadly on the nation’s power companies, which are seeking to restart idled nuclear reactors.
In one editorial, the Asahi wrote, “Yoshida’s testimony revealed clearly that the plant management temporarily left their posts. Is it really proper to entrust disaster response to power companies?”
The right-leaning Sankei counterattacked in an article published Aug. 18 that cited some of the same passages of the Yoshida testimony as the Asahi. In the Sankei’s view, the employees didn’t abandon their posts or violate orders.
In one central passage, quoted by both the Asahi and the Sankei as well as public broadcaster NHK, Mr. Yoshida said the following:
According to the Sankei’s interpretation, the passage shows that confusion, not any intent to violate Mr. Yoshida’s command, led the employees to take shelter at the other nuclear plant.“Actually, I never told them to go to 2F [Fukushima Daini]. This is the typical stuff with relayed messages. We were discussing, ‘Should we head for 2F if we are ever going?’ I said, ‘Take shelter, get automobiles.’ And somebody who relayed my message told the drivers to go to the Fukushima Daini plant. I thought I was saying, ‘Take temporary shelter somewhere near the Fukushima No. 1 plant, where radiation levels are low despite its location on the plant site, and wait for the next instruction,’ but I was told, ‘They have left for 2F,’ so I thought, ‘Heck!’ I said, ‘Tell them to let us know once they have arrived at 2F, and tell “Group Manager” level workers [senior employees] to return in the first place.’ That’s how the GM-level staff had to return in the first place.”
The Sankei published other selections from the testimony in which Mr. Yoshida complained about what he saw as the ineffective response of the government led by then-Prime Minister Naoto Kan, a liberal who shares the Asahi’s current antinuclear views. Mr. Yoshida also said, in the excerpts published by the Sankei, that he felt media criticism of Tokyo Electric Power was unfair.
One headline in the Sankei suggested the Asahi “twisted the facts.” Calling this an “injury to the newspaper’s honor” the Asahi issued a complaint to Sankei officials. A representative of Sankei declined to comment on the exchange, and Asahi officials didn’t respond to faxed questions about the dispute.
Government spokesman Yoshihide Suga said one reason for the release of the Yoshida transcript, which the government had previously intended to keep secret, was to prevent selective quoting by news outlets. Even after the complete document is released to the public, however, the debate about Japan’s nuclear future is sure to continue.
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