TEPCO has released tense footage from their video live-link between the Tokyo headquarters and Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.
When an earthquake and tsunami hit northeastern Japan last March, panicked managers at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant called their bosses at the Tokyo Electric Power Company over the company's emergency videoconferencing system. They kept the link up for days, in constant -- and often tense -- contact as the nuclear crisis escalated into disaster.
TEPCO, under intense public pressure over its lack of transparency regarding the crisis and its close ties to the Japanese government, has now released 150 hours of footage. Or, rather, they've released 90 minute "digest" of their video (to watch it, go here, click on the right-most tab, then the top video), and have allowed some journalists (not me) to watch and take notes on 150 edited hours of footage. A 4 minute and 42 second digest of the digest is above. The five frames show TEPCO's Tokyo boardroom, the Fukushima Daiichi plant, the off-site Fukushima disaster management office, and TEPCO's two other nuclear plants, in Fukushima Daini and Kashiwazaki Kariwa.
It's a small step forward for the nuclear energy behemoth, and for Japan's famously closed corporate cultures, but it's not quite full transparency, either. The company still tightly restricted even the reporters who were shown the fuller videos. "Give them what they think they want, and they just might not ask for more. Controlled transparency is the new opacity," laments a skeptical New Statesman article. The first three hours of the Fukushima crisis were never recorded, TEPCO says, and the first 30 have no sound. There's also no sound, apparently, in the scene where Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan bursts into the company's Tokyo boardroom. TEPCO says it's mostly cut the audio to protect mid- and low-level employees.
The video above may not especially illuminate the March 2011 nuclear crisis or TEPCO's big-picture handling of it, but it does show the remarkable tension permeating both Tokyo and Fukushima, which is plainly visible despite the poor video quality and audible even if, like me, you don't speak a word of Japanese.
Masao Yoshida, the manager of the Fukushima Daiichi plant, is a big presence in the videos. "I'd like to report that employees are in a state of shock after not being able to prevent the two explosions. We are feeling down, all of us. We do what we can, but morale is hurt pretty badly," he tells Tokyo, according to a Wall Street Journaltranslation. "We appreciate that people are working in such difficult circumstances. Hang in there for the moment," an executive answered."
Later, when the Fukushima workers report a heavy vibration that they anxiously describe as feeling more like an explosion than another earthquake, the executives in Tokyo begin to panic. "Evacuate the workers from the site," TEPCO's managing director order. The company's since-resigned president, Masataka Shimizu, shouts, "Report it to the relevant authorities immediately!" The managing director agree, urging, "Report it to the prime minister's office and the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency!" The Fukushima frame, meanwhile, is in chaos, workers shouting over another and scrambling to contain a nuclear crisis that would last the better part of a week.
The video is a reminder that TEPCO and the Fukushima crews averted the worst-case scenarios of full nuclear meltdown, as its release is likely intended to do, but it's also another scary sign of how close Japan came to utter disaster.
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Max Fisher is a former writer and editor at The Atlantic.