TOKYO (Kyodo) -- The chief of the disaster-struck Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant said in testimony before his death that he had feared catastrophic damage to eastern Japan while he was struggling to contain the crisis in March 2011, according to government documents obtained Saturday.
"Our image was a catastrophe for eastern Japan," Masao Yoshida told a government panel that was examining the nuclear meltdowns at the plant about 220 kilometers northeast of Tokyo, triggered by a powerful earthquake and tsunami on March 11, according to his testimony. "I thought we were really dead."
On the government's interpretation that plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. was seeking a "complete withdrawal" from the plant on March 15, Yoshida denied such a view, expressing anger at the office of then Prime Minister Naoto Kan and TEPCO headquarters, which he thought had failed to understand the dire situation his workers were facing on the ground.
"We did not escape," Yoshida said, according to his roughly 400-page testimony, which is scheduled to be released by the government next month.
The testimony was reflected in the panel's final report compiled in July 2012 along with testimonies from more than 770 others. Yoshida died of esophageal cancer the following July at age 58.
The Asahi Shimbun daily reported in May that 90 percent of plant workers had left the complex despite Yoshida's order to stay put, citing his testimony to the government panel. But Yoshida did not say there had been a violation of his order.
At the height of the crisis on March 14, 2011, when the No. 2 reactor's containment vessel faced the risk of releasing a massive amount of highly radioactive materials due to the loss of cooling functions, Yoshida said he thought he was really dead.
"I really don't want to recall this part," Yoshida said, because he had been imagining the worst -- nuclear fuel melting down and breaking through the reactor pressure vessel and the outer vessel containing it.
"All the radioactive materials would go out and be scattered", he said.
Workers continued efforts to inject water into the No. 2 reactor to cool the molten-hot nuclear fuel in the reactor core and managed to avert the crisis following a drop in air pressure inside the containment vessel that had kept fire engines from injecting water into the reactor.
Yoshida did not want his testimony to be made public on the grounds he could have misidentified some facts due to the fading of and confusion in his memory and that he feared that all he had said in the testimony would be taken as fact.
When the Asahi newspaper first reported the contents of the testimony, the government said it would keep the testimony from the public according to his wishes.
But more recently, the government has decided to disclose the testimony on the grounds his concerns have already become evident as other media began reporting on it, and that continuing to keep the testimony from the public would actually go against his will.