Japan's ex-premier to appear at nuclear probe

Japan's former prime minister Naoto Kan will testify Monday to a parliamentary commission probing the Fukushima nuclear disaster, with the focus expected to be on early efforts to contain the crisis.

Members of the media and Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) employees, wearing protective suits and masks, look at the No. 4 reactor building (C) at the tsunami-crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Fukushima prefecture May 26, 2012. (AFP)

Kan was criticised for creating a distraction when he visited the nuclear plant on March 12, 2011 -- a day after it was swamped by a huge tsunami -- as emergency workers were grappling with what would become full-blown meltdowns.

But Kan has also been praised for his actions in the immediate aftermath of the disaster.

A private panel probing the accident said in February the former premier's aggressive involvement had averted a worse crisis.

That panel said as the situation on Japan's tsunami-wrecked coast deteriorated, Fukushima operator Tokyo Electric Power (TEPCO) had wanted to abandon the plant and evacuate its workers.

But Kan ordered the utility, which refused to co-operate with the study, to keep men on site.

Experts concluded that if the premier had not stuck to his guns, Fukushima would have spiralled further out of control, with catastrophic consequences.

Tens of thousands of people were evacuated from an area around the plant after it began spewing radiation. Many have still not been allowed home, with some areas expected to be uninhabitable for decades.

Kan's testimony to the parliamentary inquiry comes a day after his then top government spokesman Yukio Edano appeared before it.

Asked about Kan's visit to the Fukushima plant, Edano said the prime minister had gone to the site because the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency and TEPCO had seemingly "backtracked and wavered".

"We had this awareness that someone who is more important than a vice industry minister (who was already at the scene) should go and take hold of the situation," Edano said.

Edano, the industry minister, also said he refused a US offer to station nuclear experts in the prime minister's office citing sovereignty fears.

Japan later accepted separate US aid including the deployment of a Marine unit specialising in emergency nuclear response.

Source: AFP

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