Private panel blames TEPCO's 'systematic negligence'

February 28, 2012

By JIN NISHIKAWA / Staff Writer

Systematic negligence by Tokyo Electric Power Co. contributed to the Fukushima nuclear disaster, according to a non-government panel.

The Independent Investigation Commission on the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Accident drew on evidence from 300 or so individuals, including key figures such as former Prime Minister Naoto Kan, former industry minister Banri Kaieda and Haruki Madarame, chairman of the Nuclear Safety Commission of Japan (NSC). However, a request for interviews with TEPCO's top management was rejected by the company.

Its report, compiled on Feb. 27, argues that the Fukushima nuclear crisis was essentially a man-made disaster, rather than being the inevitable result of the magnitude-9.0 Great East Japan Earthquake on March 11.

The panel, headed by Koichi Kitazawa, former chairman of the Japan Science and Technology Agency, blames systematic failures by TEPCO, the operator of the stricken plant, and weaknesses in the government’s regulatory regime for the disaster triggered by the earthquake and massive tsunami it spawned.

The report says the accident worsened because TEPCO falsely believed on the night of March 11 that the isolation condensers at the No. 1 reactor were operational.

A delayed injection of water into the reactors, late venting of gas to reduce internal pressure, and problems with decision-making because of the absence of TEPCO's president, Masataka Shimizu, and chairman, Tsunehisa Katsumata, before 10 a.m. on March 12, all contributed to the loss of control at the plant, its says.

The panel describes TEPCO’s failings as amounting to "systematic negligence" and characterizes the culture of the company immediately before the disaster as irresponsible.

"TEPCO used to make light of the culture of nuclear safety," according to the report.

The panel also argues that the government's safety regime contributed to the disaster. In 2007, the International Atomic Energy Agency called for a clearer distinction of roles between the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency and the NSC. However, the NSC did not comply with the recommendation, arguing that Japan's safety regulations were "very excellent in the light of international standards and have been highly evaluated."

Measures to deal with very severe accidents were not obligatory, and international cooperation to deal with possible terrorist threats to plants proceeded slowly.

The report’s authors argue that Japan’s nuclear safety regulations were "Galapagosized," a concept in Japan referring to a perceived tendency for some Japanese industries to isolate themselves from international standards like the isolated wildlife on the Galapagos Islands.

Simulation results on the diffusion of radioactive substances, forecast by the government's System for Prediction of Environmental Emergency Dose Information (SPEEDI), were not released to the public immediately following the disaster. Also, the "off-site center," a facility located about 5 kilometers from the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant that was supposed to serve as a response base in case of emergencies, did not fulfill its functions during the crisis.

These "appeared to have been 'make-believe' arrangements to reassure local residents," the report says.

The panel calls for the creation of a body to deal with severe disasters and accidents and the fortification of functions to advise the prime minister on science and technology issues.

On the facts of the disaster, the panel largely backs the findings of the interim report of the government's Investigation Committee on the Accident at the Fukushima Nuclear Power Stations, although there are some points of divergence.

For example, while the government committee largely accepted TEPCO’s assertion that its president never asked for a total withdrawal of staff from the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, the private panel is more skeptical.

Shimizu, the TEPCO president at the time, told the government on the night of March 14-15 that he wanted to evacuate workers from the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant. The prime minister's office took his words to mean that he was indicating a total withdrawal, but TEPCO has since argued that was a misunderstanding.

The government investigation committee's report said that Shimizu did not expressly say that reactor control personnel would remain at the plant, because he took it for a matter of course. The private panel’s report distances itself from that interpretation of the March events, pointing out that TEPCO did not give any figure for the number of personnel that would be required to stay at the time.

The private panel's report also quotes a U.S. official as saying that Japan's NISA declined to take measures, recommended by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, to ensure the ability to cool down reactors in the case of terrorist attacks and other situations. That constituted a grave "failure to act," the report says.

The report also includes the whole text of the "worst-case scenario" drawn up in late March by Shunsuke Kondo, chairman of the Japan Atomic Energy Commission, at Kan's request.

Masao Yoshida, the general manager of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant at the time of the accident, continued pumping in seawater to the No. 1 reactor at his own discretion, although the TEPCO head office had told him to stop the injection. "The head office was going astray all the time," the report says.

Yoshida's action turned out to have been the right choice in retrospect, but the action was problematic from the viewpoint of crisis management, because it upset the chain of responsibility, the report says.

The Diet's Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission is expected to submit a report on the Fukushima disaster in June.

By JIN NISHIKAWA / Staff Writer
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Koichi Kitazawa, chairman of the Independent Investigation Commission on the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Accident (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

Koichi Kitazawa, chairman of the Independent Investigation Commission on the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Accident (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

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  • Koichi Kitazawa, chairman of the Independent Investigation Commission on the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Accident (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

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