Japan's FM learnt of radioactive leak from US sub on TV

Other News Materials 3 August 2008 04:20 (UTC +04:00)

Japanese Foreign Minister Masahiko Komura berated his department Saturday for failing to notify him of a radioactive leak from a US nuclear submarine, saying he learnt of the incident on television.

The communication glitch came the same day that Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda installed a new cabinet to revive sagging public support for his government, the AFP reported.

"This (Saturday) morning I was watching CNN, and even if I don't understand English that well I saw that something strange was going on," Komura, who retained the post in the new cabinet, told a news conference.

"I therefore contacted (his subordinates) myself," he said, adding that foreign ministry officials "should have shared the information faster" to enable him to make an announcement quickly.

The Pentagon on Friday announced that trace amounts of radioactivity may have seeped out of US nuclear missile submarine USS Houston during a cruise that included stops in Japan and Guam.

The Japanese foreign ministry said it received the information from the US government on Friday afternoon.

Komura said officials did not notify him because the leak posed no risk for residents or the environment. "But that is not a reason for delay," he said.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Nobutaka Machimura, the government's number two who also retained his post, also criticised the Foreign Ministry for the delay.

"It is sincerely bad that some media reports preceded (the government's) announcement," he said.

"If the Foreign Ministry received communication from the US government, then it should either report to the Prime Minister's office or make a public announcement," he told reporters.

A US Navy investigation determined the amount of radioactivity that seeped from a valve was less than half a microcurie, or less than what would be found in a 50-pound ( 22.6 kilogram) bag of lawn fertilizer.

Local authorities and residents in Sasebo City in Japan's southern prefecture of Nagasaki -- where the USS Houston docked in March -- expressed anger and concern.

"I think it is extremely regrettable that (the information) was delayed," Sasebo City mayor Norio Tomonaga told reporters.

"Even if it was a very minor leak, we would like to have a firm grasp of the information. We want to explain to local citizens consistently," he added.

Japan's public opposition to nuclear use is widespread over safety concerns in the only nation to have been attacked with atomic bombs, including Nagasaki during World War Two.

"Even if (the leak) this time is not dangerous, I want that kind of accident to never happen," a female Sasebo resident told Fuji Television.

"Residents want to know that kind of information immediately so I really don't understand why (authorities) need to hide it," another male resident told the network.