The Prometheus Trap – Part Fifteen
US maintained sense of urgency over nuclear accident
by Hiroyoshi Itabashi / Staff Writer
The Asahi Shimbun (March 01 2013)
Editor’s note: This is the final part of a series that has run in the past under the overall title of The Prometheus Trap. This series deals with the different responses between Japan and the United States in dealing with the Fukushima nuclear accident of 2011 following the Great East Japan Earthquake.
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Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, summoned Ichiro Fujisaki, the Japanese ambassador, to the Pentagon at 4:30 pm on March 29 2011. It was 5:30 am the next day in Tokyo.
On March 14 2011, three days after the Great East Japan Earthquake, Mullen pressed Fujisaki to have the Self-Defense Forces dump water on the crippled Fukushima Number One nuclear power plant.
Even though more than two weeks had since passed, Mullen still had concerns about whether the reactors at the Fukushima plant were being properly cooled.
By that time, piping was being used to pump in water to the fuel storage pools in the reactors to cool them. In the immediate aftermath of the nuclear accident, fire trucks had been spraying water into those pools.
Although cooling had been switched to the use of piping, Mullen still asked Fujisaki for further steps to strengthen the cooling process.
He told Fujisaki that the nuclear plant was not yet stabilized and there was no telling when another accident could occur.
On March 28, at Tokyo Electric Power Company headquarters, a US brigadier general asked Sakae Muto, an executive vice president, to allow participation at meetings of the joint task force to deal with the nuclear accident set up by the Japanese government and TEPCO.
The brigadier general stressed the importance of having real-time information.
The US military is dispatched to handle critical disasters in order to secure the safety of US citizens. That policy remains the same whether the disaster occurs in the United States or abroad.
The brigadier general said there was a need for complete understanding of the situation in order to protect Americans living in Japan. TEPCO officials agreed to allow the brigadier general to attend the task force meetings.
Rust Deming, who was director of Japan affairs at the State Department at the time of the nuclear accident, was asked about the differences in the response between Japan and the United States. Deming sat in on the meeting between Fujisaki and Kurt Campbell, the assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, that was held on March 16 2011, at the State Department.
Deming said the United States was most concerned about whether the Japanese government actually had a response in mind to deal with the Fukushima crisis. He added that because information was not provided quickly or accurately, there was a sense of distrust toward Japan.
Under the Japanese special measures law to deal with nuclear disasters, primary responsibility for dealing with nuclear accidents rests with the utilities that operates the plant.
As a result, water was dumped from helicopters six days after the nuclear accident occurred, and it was eleven days after the accident before a joint body was created with the United States to deal with the situation.
In 1979, a meltdown occurred at the Three Mile Island nuclear plant in the United States.
Deming explained that because the initial response was left up to the plant operator, confusion continued for about a week. He added that US officials used the lessons from that accident to review their crisis management setup. He expressed expectations that Japan would implement similar revisions.
He was asked what the United States would have done if Japan failed to bring the nuclear accident under control.
Deming said he would not respond to hypothetical questions and ended the interview.
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The previous installments of this series are available at: