The investigative committees on the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant disaster, set up both at the executive and legislative branches of the government, interviewed a large number of people over the cause of the unprecedented disaster.
To be precise, the government's Investigation Committee on the Accident at the Fukushima Nuclear Power Stations of Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) interviewed 772 individuals spanning a total of 1,479 hours, and the National Diet of Japan Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission (NAIIC) interviewed 1,167 persons, which runs a total of over 900 hours.
These investigation records are extremely priceless resources, which can serve to verify how people responded to the disaster and to prevent a recurrence of any similar accident. These documents must not be monopolized by a limited number of people but should widely be shared by the public -- even by the international community.
Nevertheless, most of the vast volumes of the documents remain closed to the public, though some of them have been quoted in reports and released. While the interviews are said to have been conducted on an off-the-record basis on the grounds that no one should be held personally responsible for the enormous disaster, recent reports on the testimony of Masao Yoshida, the late former plant chief at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, have catalyzed the move to disclose the government investigation committee records to the public.
The government is now poised to declassify the testimonies of Yoshida as well as those of others who gave consent to their release. We should be able to learn a lot from those materials -- from the cause of the disaster to crisis management -- once experts from all walks of life scrutinize every word in the testimonies of the concerned parties. It is hoped that the move will spark the disclosure of all the other information on the disaster, including the NAIIC records.
The Asahi Shimbun has sparked controversy after it reported in May that 90 percent of workers at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant withdrew to the Fukushima No. 2 nuclear plant in violation of Yoshida's orders on March 15, 2011 -- just a few days after the outbreak of the nuclear disaster. In his testimony, Yoshida concluded that the plant workers' evacuation to the No. 2 plant was in the end the correct decision though it was different from what he had originally intended. It is likely that the Asahi Shimbun reports highlighting only a portion of his testimony have led to widespread misunderstanding and hindered level-headed discussions over the matter.
That said, the essence of the issue is that orders given amid confusion sometimes fail to get across to workers on site. It is rather important to draw lessons from that incident about how the chain of command should be carried out. One such lesson we should learn is the significance of planning in advance who should evacuate whom to where and who should remain on site in the event of a severe accident.
Yoshida's testimony also underscores once again the lack of ability in the prime minister's office and TEPCO headquarters in Tokyo in providing support to the on-site workers in crisis. It is imperative for the government and power companies -- which are eager to reactivate idled nuclear reactors across Japan -- to thoroughly scrutinize whether these essential challenges have already been resolved.
In the meantime, it is also important to remember Yoshida's testimony is a mere fragment of the whole picture of the nuclear catastrophe. What counts is we should compare all the testimonies by numerous people concerned and documents to re-enact in minute detail what exactly happened.
Authorities should make efforts to gain approval of the interviewees in the investigative committee reports to disclose the entire documents to the public as soon as possible.