At hearings into the events at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant and the reaction of Tepco executives held earlier this year, former PM Kan stated that his office had received notice from Tepco that it was planning to pull its staff out of the power plant, thereby allowing all of the reactors to potentially meltdown and release catastrophic levels of radiation into the atmosphere. During the same hearings, Tepco denied ever having issued such a directive, a position that the inquiry report into the disaster subsequently supported (J). If former PM Kan was trying to compensate for a lack of leadership during the crisis by making such a claim (which emerged in the weeks following the disaster), the footage from Tepco would have at least shed some light on what Kan had said to the executives and their response. Yet by removing the audio, Tepco has essentially declared that its own testimony is correct, that Kan made unsubstantiated claims, and that the general public does not have a right to know what was said by whom in the midst of the crisis.
This level of corporate obfuscation, which has fuelled the hostility of the general public towards Tepco, only serves to increase the degree of suspicion surrounding the nuclear industry in Japan and government complicity in keeping the details of dialogue between the Kan Cabinet and Tepco hidden from open scrutiny. Industry Minister Edano and Tepco stockholders (those that are still left) had been urging Tepco to release the video and audio files in their entirety and give the public some indication of what occured during the crisis (J), thereby either exhonerating or further condemning the response of the DPJ at the time.
Mind you, the DPJ haven't done themselves any favours with the public by putting forward a membership list for a nuclear accident response project team that doesn't include a single member opposed to nuclear energy (J). Even within the DPJ there was a backlash to this wilful disregard for public opinion, prompting Party Secretary General Koshiishi to issue a blunt warning instructing all DPJ members to tow the party line. Despite the DPJ's executive agreeing to explore the possibility of reducing Japan's dependency on nuclear power to O% by 2030 (J), the Noda government has essentially indicated that it cannot countenance adopting any alternative energy sources at present and that it has no choice but to continue to rely on nuclear power. That might explain the reluctance of Industry Minister Edano and other senior DPJ members to meet with representatives of their own party from Fukushima and the leaders of the civil action groups camped outside the front of the PM's residence demanding an end to the nuclear industry in Japan (J, apparently 70% of the general public are now opposed to nuclear energy, according to this Asahi newspaper poll J).
What this means is that for a party struggling to keep itself together following mass defections and continued insurrection from within, not to mention the threat of a vote of no-confidence being laid against it once (or should that be if) the consumption tax increase bill passes the House of Councilors, any acquiecence to popular opinion (particularly rural protests) or reneging on pre-determined energy policies (which is keeping the manufacturing sector running) risks the political fortunes of the party, as it reinforces an image of the DPJ as a party than cannot make hard decisions. Better to at least make it look as though something is being done to address concerns about nuclear energy than actually resolve to remove it as an energy option. At least the DPJ can then claim it is acting in the public interest while simultaneously avoiding making a decision that might have unforseen consequences. The irony of this situation is probably not lost on Japanese political commentators either.
*The ever entertaining Uesugi Takashi has written a piece for Diamond magazine exploring the media's reaction to Tepco's release of its video footage, and the lack of questioning as to why the entire footage was not made available and the absence of an audio track for footage of former PM Kan's visit to Tepco headquarters. It can be found here - J