UPDATE: Government panel blasts lack of 'safety culture' in nuclear accident

July 23, 2012

THE ASAHI SHIMBUN

The government panel looking into last year's accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant pointed to a lack of a "safety culture" at both Tokyo Electric Power Co. and the central government.

The Investigation Committee on the Accident at the Fukushima Nuclear Power Stations issued its final report July 23.

The report stated that adequate countermeasures were not implemented because TEPCO, the operator of the Fukushima No. 1 plant, and central government agencies believed a severe accident could never occur.

This lack of a safety culture also meant that there was an inability to assess the big picture when dealing with the accident that actually did arise.

However, the final report rejected the possibility that the magnitude-9.0 earthquake caused major damage to critical equipment at the Fukushima No. 1 plant. This conclusion diverged sharply from a report issued by the Diet's Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission, which asserted that there was a strong possibility that the quake may have caused significant damage to equipment even before the tsunami hit.

The final report also criticized TEPCO for blindly adhering to conventional wisdom that nuclear power plants were safe, and called for a drastic shift in thinking about disaster management to ensure plant safety in the future.

The report analyzed and examined the factors behind the accident by considering new facts that emerged after the interim report was released last December.

The final report concludes that both TEPCO and the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA) had lax crisis management structures because officials at both entities insisted that a severe accident would never occur.

The report criticized TEPCO's argument that the nuclear accident was due to a tsunami of an unimaginable, unpredictable scale. It stated, "The reason the accident was beyond assumptions was because no attempt was made to make assumptions due to a safety myth that had no basis in fact."

The report also said that the failure of the central and local governments to consider the possibility of a nuclear accident caused by multiple factors such as earthquakes and tsunami also caused a delay in responding to the accident. It said there was an insufficient crisis management structure for ensuring the safety of local communities.

The report also concluded that TEPCO failed to take adequate measures to deal with the accident after the quake and tsunami hit on March 11, 2011.

Comparing the response at the Fukushima No. 1 plant with that at Fukushima No. 2 nuclear power plant, the report stated there were inappropriate measures taken in checking on the water temperature and pressure at the Fukushima No. 1 plant reactors.

The report said the problems were caused by turf wars due to TEPCO's rigid vertical organizational structure and inadequate training of workers.

The report also criticized the utility for making an insufficient effort to determine the root cause of the accident in its own examination of the nuclear accident.

It pointed to factual errors used in conducting its analysis as well as ignoring contradictions that arose between the evidence collected and the statements of workers obtained during post-accident interviews.

The central government was also the target of criticism, especially for failing to quickly declare a state of emergency at the nuclear plant.

Regarding the interference of central government officials in dealing with the accident, the report said their action was inappropriate in relation to the issue of pumping in seawater to cool the reactors. The report stated that the central government should have left technical isssues up to TEPCO and should have only given instructions when it felt the response by TEPCO was insufficient.

Regarding the issue of whether TEPCO executives asked central government officials to allow the evacuation of all workers from the Fukushima No. 1 plant, the final report did not reach a conclusion, only saying there was a possibility that Masataka Shimizu, TEPCO president at the time of the accident, and other executives may have considered such an option.

The final report also included seven recommendations for preventing a recurrence of the Fukushima nuclear accident, such as safety measures and ways to prevent the spreading of damage.

It called on the central government to play a leading role in further investigations, including on-site studies, since there are many unresolved issues, such as the process by which radioactive materials leaked out of the Fukushima No. 1 plant.

The report also said it was the central government's responsibility to compile detailed records of the overall state of damage as well as what was being done to provide support to victims as a way of passing on the lessons from the accident to future generations.

THE ASAHI SHIMBUN
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Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, left, accompanied by Yotaro Hatamura, chief of the government investigation committee on the accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, speaks after receiving the final report of the committee on July 23. (Kazuhiro Nagashima)

Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, left, accompanied by Yotaro Hatamura, chief of the government investigation committee on the accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, speaks after receiving the final report of the committee on July 23. (Kazuhiro Nagashima)

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  • Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, left, accompanied by Yotaro Hatamura, chief of the government investigation committee on the accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, speaks after receiving the final report of the committee on July 23. (Kazuhiro Nagashima)
  • The Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant on March 24, 2011 (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

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