Kan waited four days into the nuclear emergency at Fukushima Daiichi before creating a joint headquarters for the government and Tepco, bringing the utility company under de facto national control. By then several reactors had already sustained their worst damage, prompting fiery exchanges between Kan and Tepco officials, particularly when Tepco debated a 100 percent withdrawal of all employees from the plant, according to several reports in the Japanese media.
“There was a challenge for sharing information,” a Kan administration official said, requesting anonymity so he could share his views freely. “Tepco was focused on its own situation and not so much on government relations. . . .
And when you are struggling to explain something, it is going to look like you are hiding something.”
As Kan was trying to wangle answers from the power company, top officials in the Obama administration expressed frustration about the lack of information. Hours before issuing its own safety advisory about Fukushima — the United States called for an evacuation radius of 50 miles, four times bigger than Japan’s — the State Department consulted with outside Japan experts and formed a plan to raise pressure on Kan, one source involved in the deliberations said.
“It was all going through the prime minister’s office, and they were not responding to urgent requests,” the source said.
Political analysts note that even the most functional government would have struggled to deal with the series of tragedies and emergencies that began March 11 and left tens of thousands dead, missing or homeless, and prompted thousands more to flee from potential radiation exposure.
Given the challenges, Kan was unlikely to win broad popular support. But his failure so far to galvanize the nation means that Japan, dealing with its most serious crisis since World War II, must simultaneously confront questions about its revolving-door leadership, which has hampered foreign relations and hindered important domestic decisions about tax increases and trade liberalization.
Last week, Japan’s emergency paused the inter-party bickering of domestic politics; it even suspended the opinion polls conducted by Tokyo’s major media organizations. Still, media reports from the areas hit hardest by the 9.0-magnitude earthquake and the subsequent tsunami suggest widespread dissatisfaction with the government’s ability to provide humanitarian aid and specifics about the radiation risks. Exasperation could rise further as thousands settle into prefab housing or tire of energy shortages previously unseen in Asia’s richest country.