Chief cabinet secretary Yukio Edano told investigators: “I had this demonic scenario in my head” that nuclear reactors could break down one after another.
“If that happens, Tokyo will be finished.”
Plans were drawn up for the mass evacuation of the capital as Edano — the government’s response leader on the nuclear crisis — fretted that reactors all along the coast could go into meltdown and engulf the city of 13 million people.
The revelation came in a 400-page report published by a panel of experts given free rein to probe the events surrounding the world’s worst nuclear crisis in a generation.
The panel said as the situation on Japan’s tsunami- wrecked coast worsened, Fukushima operator Tokyo Electric Power, or Tepco, had wanted to abandon the plant and evacuate its workers.
But the utility, which refused to co-operate with the study, was ordered to keep men on site by then prime minister Naoto Kan.
Experts concluded that if the premier had not stuck to his guns, Fukushima would have spiralled further out of control, with catastrophic consequences.
“When the prime minister’s office was aware of the risk, the country may not survive [the crisis] ... Tepco’s president [Masataka] Shimizu ... frantically called” to tell the premier he wanted his staff to leave the crippled nuclear reactor, panel head Koichi Kitazawa told a news conference.
Kitazawa said that Kan threatened to break up the powerful utility if the company insisted on pulling its men out.
He said that Kan’s refusal to accede to Tepco’s demands had averted a worse crisis.
Kan told Shimizu: “It’s impossible. If you withdraw staff, Tepco will be demolished,” according to Kitazawa.
“Consequently, it’s Mr Kan’s biggest contribution that the Fukushima 50 remained at the site,” added Kitazawa, referring to dozens of operatives who worked to contain the accident and were afterwards feted as heroes.
Respected academics, engineers and journalists were drafted in by the Rebuild Japan Initiative Foundation after calls for an independent probe into the meltdowns at Fukushima.
The six-member panel interviewed more than 300 people central to the disaster and was given access to data and documents used in the days and weeks after Mar 11.
The panel said that Kan had instructed experts to draft a plan to evacuate a huge swathe of the country, based on the worst-case scenario.
Planners worked under the assumption that if the nuclear crisis were to worsen “it is possible that a compulsory evacuation zone will spread to 170km ... and a voluntary evacuation zone will spread to 250km and beyond”.
Tokyo lies around 220km from the stricken plant.