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Japan’s ex-PM feared worst in crisis

Associated Press / September 8, 2011

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TOKYO - Japan’s former prime minister says he feared early in the March nuclear crisis that it might become many times worse than the Chernobyl disaster and threaten the nation’s survival.

Naoto Kan said he imagined “deserted scenes of Tokyo without a single man’’ and the need to evacuate tens of millions of people. “It was truly a spine-chilling thought,’’ Kan said in an interview with the Tokyo Shimbun daily published Tuesday.

Kan said those images flashed in his mind during the first week of the crisis, when information coming from the radiation-leaking Fukushima Daiichi plant was sketchy and he was told that its operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co., was considering pulling out its staff. Tokyo Electric has since said that it never planned to withdraw from the plant.

Kan, who resigned last week amid criticism about his administration’s handling of the disaster, said when he heard that cooling systems had failed at the nuclear plant soon after it was damaged by a March 11 tsunami, he understood the gravity of the situation.

“The power was totally lost, and there was no cooling capacity,’’ Kan said. “I knew what that meant. So I thought, ‘This is going to be a disaster.’ ’’

Kan said crisis management at the plant failed because the emergency plans had no scenario for a total power failure.

Authorities have since said that the cores of three of the six reactors melted down, spewing about one-sixth the radiation emitted by at Chernobyl.

After a series of hydrogen explosions, Kan said, he heard from the trade minister at the time, Banri Kaieda, that Tokyo Electric was considering pulling out staff from the nuclear plant.

“Japan was facing the possibility of a collapse’’ at that time, he told the Mainichi newspaper yesterday. “I was under an enormous sense of crisis.’’