Former Japanese premier sues current PM Abe for defamation

Former Japanese prime minister Naoto Kan (centre) at a nuclear conference in San Diego, on Tuesday, June 4, 2013. -- PHOTO: AP
Former Japanese prime minister Naoto Kan (centre) at a nuclear conference in San Diego, on Tuesday, June 4, 2013. -- PHOTO: AP

TOKYO (AFP) - Japan's premier at the time of the Fukushima crisis said on Tuesday he was suing the current Prime Minister for defamation over online comments about the way the emergency was handled.

With less than a week to go before Upper House elections, the now-opposition figure Naoto Kan said on his official website he would be taking legal action against Mr Shinzo Abe.

Mr Kan's office has said in the days immediately after a massive tsunami swamped Fukushima in March 2011, his government pressed plant operator Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco) to use seawater to cool overheating reactors and prevent a catastrophe.

Tepco subsequently said Mr Kan had wavered on allowing seawater to be used.

Mr Kan's statement, posted on Tuesday, says Mr Abe has repeated this claim.

"Mr Shinzo Abe in his e-mail magazine ran a story titled 'Mr Kan's instructions on using seawater (to cool reactors) are made up,' and despite my request for a correction and apology... the story remains," Mr Kan said on his official website.

Mr Abe "is responsible for carrying out a fair election campaign... I strongly demand he immediately admit his misconduct, delete the stories and apologise for this", Mr Kan said.

Management of the crisis at Fukushima - the world's worst atomic disaster in a generation - has been picked over in the more than two years since the tsunami rolled ashore.

Last year, an independent panel on the Fukushima disaster said Mr Kan played a key role in preventing the crisis worsening further.

The panel said that as the situation on Japan's tsunami-wrecked coast deteriorated, Tepco had wanted to abandon the plant and evacuate its workers, but that Mr Kan had ordered them to keep their men on site.

Experts concluded that if the premier had not stuck to his guns, Fukushima would have spiralled further out of control, with catastrophic consequences.

The utility did not cooperate with the study.

Mr Kan's brief tenure as prime minister ended in September 2011. He has since become an anti-nuclear campaigner.

Japan goes to the polls on Sunday in an election for half the seats in the Upper Chamber.

Mr Abe's Liberal Democratic Party is expected to win comfortably after a campaign where nuclear power as an issue has been largely absent, displaced by talk of a rejuvenated economy.