"We have found that the seawater injection actually continued."
With these words, Tokyo Electric Power Co. completely reversed its earlier claim that it temporarily stopped pumping seawater into the No. 1 reactor at its Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant on March 12, a day after the plant was damaged by a huge earthquake and tsunami.
Speaking at a press conference Thursday at TEPCO's Tokyo headquarters, Executive Vice President Sakae Muto delivered the utility's new account of the events of the March 12 seawater injection, begun as a last-ditch effort to keep nuclear fuel inside from overheating.
According to his explanation, at 7:25 p.m., 21 minutes after the seawater injection started, a TEPCO executive notified its head office that officials at the Prime Minister's Office felt the injection should not have been started without Prime Minister Naoto Kan's approval.
Muto said cooling the reactor with seawater was urgently necessary, something TEPCO wanted to do "as soon as possible."
But TEPCO did not argue with the Prime Minister's Office. TEPCO officials, including President Masataka Shimizu, who was at the head office, and Masao Yoshida, head of the No. 1 plant, agreed to suspend the seawater injection.
However, Yoshida decided on his own that the seawater injection should continue, Muto said. He added that even though Yoshida had defied the head office, "It was the correct decision."
This latest flip-flop by TEPCO has also cast doubt on information released by the government.
At a press conference on May 16, TEPCO said the seawater injection was stopped at 7:25 p.m. and resumed at 8:20 p.m. Goshi Hosono, a special adviser to Kan, gave the same story at a press conference on May 21, where he said confidently this timeline was "based on facts obtained from thorough hearings."
After Yoshida's revelation that the injection had not stopped--finding made by TEPCO in hearings on Tuesday and Wednesday--contradicted Hosono's statement, Kan's adviser told at a press conference Thursday, "I'm sorry for failing to convey the correct information."
Heated debates have raged over the seawater injection into the No. 1 reactor in meetings of a House of Representatives committee on reconstruction from the Great East Japan Earthquake. A main point of contention was whether Kan instructed the injection to be stopped, and whether the prime minister was advised to do so by Haruki Madarame, chairman of the Nuclear Safety Commission.
"If there was no suspension, what was all the fuss about me about?" Madarame said at a press conference Thursday. "Everyone's been so focused on who ordered the suspension, so now it's just a big question mark in my head. I'm completely confused."
(May. 28, 2011)