Tokyo Electric Power Co. and nuclear regulatory authorities “intentionally” delayed taking measures against earthquakes and tsunami, causing a "man-made disaster" at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, Diet-commissioned investigators said.
“Given that countermeasures could have been formulated on many occasions before it took place, the accident (on March 11, 2011) was clearly a man-made disaster,” the Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission said in its final report released July 5.
The commission proposed setting up a new independent panel of private-sector and other experts at the Diet to continue investigations into the accident.
The 641-page report was submitted to the heads of the Diet’s two chambers. It is based on more than 900 hours of interviews with 1,167 individuals and 2,000 documents and other records.
But the 10-member commission, chaired by Kiyoshi Kurokawa, did not go so far as to call on the Diet to exercise its right to investigate state affairs by having the government and TEPCO submit records for public disclosure.
The panel also did not say whether criminal complaints should be filed against government officials or TEPCO executives.
According to the commission, TEPCO, operator of the Fukushima No. 1 plant, called on the government to postpone introducing enhanced safety measures, saying the measures would “lower a capacity utilization rate.” Regulatory authorities accepted the utility’s arguments, the report said.
Specifically, the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency asked TEPCO to evaluate earthquake safety based on guidelines revised in 2006. But only limited reinforcement work was taken, the report said.
The commission said TEPCO put off taking safety measures on grounds that suspending nuclear power plants would pose a risk to management. The commission questioned whether the company is qualified to operate nuclear power plants.
The report said Japan entered March 11, 2011, “in a vulnerable condition, without any guarantee that (nuclear power plants) would be able to withstand earthquakes or tsunami.”
The commission said collusion between TEPCO and NISA led to delays in implementation of safety measures.
“The roles of regulators and those to be regulated were reversed, and regulatory authorities became a ‘slave’ of electric utilities,” the report said. “As a result, the monitoring and supervisory functions with regard to nuclear safety had collapsed (before the accident).”
TEPCO has argued that the earthquake did not damage important equipment in terms of safety at the Fukushima No. 1 plant, blaming only the ensuing tsunami, which it says was much larger than previously expected.
But the commission said piping for an isolation condenser, a type of cooling equipment, at the No. 1 reactor may have been slightly ruptured by the temblor.
“The possibility of damage caused by the earthquake cannot be ruled out,” the report said.
The commission criticized Masataka Shimizu, TEPCO president at the time of the accident, for causing the prime minister’s office to “misunderstand” that the utility was planning to withdraw all workers from the Fukushima No. 1 plant.
“It goes without saying that the way Shimizu communicated (with government officials) lay (behind the confusion),” the report said.
TEPCO has argued that it had planned to leave a small number of workers at the plant, but former Prime Minister Naoto Kan and other politicians said the utility was abandoning the plant.
The report said Shimizu was ambiguous throughout the process of liaising with the government. It attributed his stance to “TEPCO’s management culture of behind-the-scenes maneuvering with a tendency to shift responsibility to others in collusion with the government.”
The commission was equally critical of Kan and the prime minister’s office.
Kan rushed to TEPCO’s head office early on March 15 after he and other government leaders concluded overnight that Shimizu was abandoning the Fukushima No. 1 plant.
“It cannot be said that Kan prevented TEPCO from evacuating all workers,” the report said. “If one says Japan would have been exposed to a serious danger without the prime minister, it cannot be supported."
The report also said, “It is difficult to understand why the prime minister’s office continued to intervene with TEPCO, even setting up an integrated headquarters at the company.”
The commission criticized the overall responses of the prime minister’s office. “The crisis management system did not function,” the report said.
But the commission did not have TEPCO submit video footage from an in-house teleconferencing system, which is expected to show how the utility's executives dealt with the crisis during the early days of the accident.
Only some commission members viewed part of the footage at a TEPCO facility.
“The commission said the accident is man-made, which I agree with,” Kan said July 5. “On the other hand, I have a different interpretation of the responses made by the prime minister’s office, TEPCO’s evacuation and other issues.”
At a news conference on July 5, Junichi Matsumoto, acting general manager of TEPCO’s Nuclear Power and Plant Siting Division, indicated that the utility disagrees with some points in the report.
Matsumoto also said the company may review its own investigative report on the accident, released on June 20, after analyzing the Diet commission’s report, as well as a government panel’s yet-to-be published report.
The report's executive summary is available in English at (http://naiic.go.jp/en/).
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