Japanese officials hushed up a government report last year warning that tens of millions of people might need to evacuate if the Fukushima nuclear crisis took a turn for the worse, the Associated Press reported.
The revelation has fed criticism that the Japanese government withheld too much information about the accident at the nuclear plant in the wake of last year's earthquake and tsunami.
Government officials insist that releasing the information would have caused a panic. The government said it wouldn't release the report, even after the Associated Press got it from an anonymous source.
At the same time the government stayed quiet about the warnings, then-Prime Minister Naoto Kan insisted that he was being utterly transparent.
After a reporter asked how he would respond to international accusations that the Japanese government gave out too little information about its nuclear crisis, Kan said he had never hidden any information. The news conference took place more than two weeks after the report was submitted in March. Here's the transcript:
REPORTER:I am Matsuyama of Fuji TV. When you met with President Sarkozy of France the other day, you exchanged opinions about whether you will discuss the issue of nuclear power during the G8 Summit in May. As you are aware, the international community views the latest nuclear incident quite critically. For example, there have been criticisms about insufficient information disclosure. Concerning the latest decision to raise the level, some are pointing that the government underestimated the seriousness of the incident from the beginning. I think that it is natural to wonder whether the government sufficiently considered the possibility of nuclear power plant incident or power loss due to a tsunami. How are you going to explain the series of actions taken by the government - failures and points of improvements - at international fora?
PRIME MINISTER KAN: I think we are not yet at a stage where we can discuss how we should explain the nuclear incident during the G8 Summit in detail.
Concerning what you just said, at least with regard to what I know of about the nuclear incident -- although it is not the case that I know everything, since the government is large -- there have been absolutely no instances where I told to conceal the facts.
There have been various opinions about this for some time, and these opinions continue to be expressed. I am fully aware of the view that announcements could have been made earlier. Nevertheless, at least I, in my responsibility as the head of the government, have never hidden any information, for fear of giving a bad impression.
I discussed with President Sarkozy about the establishment of international standards for nuclear power plants as no clear standards have been established to date. President Sarkozy said he want to seriously tackle this issue. Although the latest nuclear incident in Japan has been a major concern to the world, this is all the more a reason why we should consider what should be done to never allow such an incident to occur again. Within this process, I think it is essential that I thoroughly explain Japan's experience and play a role in examining the incident and establishing safety standards.
Kan resigned in August amid criticism of his handling of the disaster. In December, an investigative panel chosen by the government blamed both Japan and the utility that operates the nuclear plant for poor communication and delays in releasing data on dangerous radiation leaks.
-- Emily Alpert
Photo: Then-Prime Minister Naoto Kan at a news conference on his resignation in Tokyo on Aug. 26. Kan came under fire for his response to the massive March tsunami and the radiation crisis it triggered. Credit: Toru Hanai/Reuters