Former Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan has apologized for last year's nuclear disaster and said the government bore responsibility for the human and environmental consequences.
Testifying before a special parliamentary committee investigating the circumstances of the Fukushima nuclear crisis, former Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan said on Monday that the "nuclear accident was caused by a nuclear plant which operated as national policy."
Kan, who, since the March 12, 2011 earthquake and tsunami accident, has become a strong opponent of nuclear energy, told the panel he believed "the biggest portion of blame lies with the state."
"As a person who was in charge of the country at the time of the accident, I sincerely apologize for my failure to stop it," he said. Kan stepped down as premier six months after the accident.
"I was thinking it was a battle against an invisible enemy. I thought, if the situation called for it, we might have to risk lives to contain it," he added.
The former prime minister led the disaster management team at the height of the crisis and was praised by an earlier private inquiry investigating the accident for his aggressive involvement in relief efforts, which that panel said had averted a worse crisis.
The private inquiry said that as the situation on Japan's tsunami-wracked 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 cooperate with the investigation, to keep men on site.
During his testimony on Monday, Kan sharply criticized TEPCO for its failure to keep the government informed of the rapidly changing developments.
Experts have testified that if the premier had not stuck to his guns, Fukushima would have spiraled out of control, with even more disastrous consequences.
Minister denies misleading public
Japan's Trade and Industry Minister Yukio Edano, who testified on Sunday, told the parliamentary committee that the government had not fully understood the extent of the damage at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant.
Edano, who was the chief government spokesman at the time of the accident, has been accused of failing to fully disclose the nature of the crisis and of downplaying the health hazard.
He denied that there had been any cover-up and said he repeatedly used the phrases "no immediate risk" and "just to be safe" in his press briefings because that was what officials believed at the time.
After some time, the government acknowledged that there were meltdowns at three reactors in the worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl.
The parliamentary panel is the only public inquiry into the accident and has so far questioned top nuclear regulators and officials from Fukushima operator, TEPCO.
Local rice crop contaminated
Tens of thousands of people were evacuated from the area around the plant after it began spewing radiation. The residents have not been allowed to return to their homes and it is believed that some areas will remain uninhabitable for decades to come.
To make matters worse, last year's rice crop from the region sits in silos unsafe to eat because it is contaminated with radiation.
Several thousand farmers have had their livelihoods wiped out. Only a few have been allowed to return and have been testing methods to reduce radiation contamination as part of a special government program. They have been asked to sprinkle zeolite, a pebble-like substance that traps radioactive cesium, and spread fertilizer with potassium to help block radiation absorption. Just how effective these measures will be remains to be seen.
So far this year, Tokyo has allocated the equivalent of $1.3 billion (1.1 billion euros) for decontamination efforts.
Author: Gregg Benzow (AP, AFP)
Editor: Anne Thomas