A complete change in thinking about disaster prevention is needed among electric power companies, regulatory authorities and other experts to prevent a recurrence of the Fukushima nuclear accident, a government panel said.
In its final report released on July 23, the Investigation Committee on the Accident at the Fukushima Nuclear Power Stations said countermeasures must be taken in advance even if the probabilities for nuclear and other serious accidents are low.
The report criticized Tokyo Electric Power Co. and the government for their handling of the accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, but it did not pinpoint the actual cause of the disaster that followed the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami on March 11 last year.
The panel called on the government to conduct a thorough on-site investigation once radiation levels fall.
“We did what we could, but we cannot approach the plant due to high levels of radiation,” Yotaro Hatamura, the panel’s chairman, told a news conference. “We can only say what we believe is most reasonable.”
The panel gave up its plans for an experiment to reproduce the accident in place of an on-site investigation, citing time and manpower constraints.
In recommendations to prevent a recurrence of the Fukushima accident, the panel said large-scale, complex disasters, such as one involving an earthquake, tsunami and nuclear accident simultaneously, must be taken into account.
It said Japan should establish a new thinking about disaster prevention, keeping in mind that it is prone to natural disasters.
The panel said the Central Disaster Management Council, which has discussed measures to deal with natural disasters, must consider nuclear accidents and review equipment and evacuation plans from the standpoint of victims.
It called on the government to conduct safety evaluations to identify weaknesses of individual nuclear power plants and prepare countermeasures for severe accidents.
Specifically, the panel said offsite centers should be strengthened so that they can function even in a major accident and that contingency plans need to be prepared if representatives from relevant organizations cannot be assembled.
For evacuation plans, the panel said transportation means and remote shelters should be provided for between 100,000 and 200,000 people who might be displaced.
It also said evacuation plans need to be drawn up for medical institutions and elderly facilities, which were seriously affected by the Fukushima nuclear disaster.
The panel pointed out “many problems” with TEPCO, saying it must improve its crisis response capabilities, end sectionalism and promote training to deal with severe accidents.
The panel said utilities that operate nuclear plants lack a “culture” of giving priority to safety. The report said the central government was also lacking in this regard.
It said the utilities and the government falsely believed in the safety myth that severe accidents, such as reactor meltdowns, would never occur.
The panel demanded that all officials involved in nuclear power, including those at utilities, regulatory authorities and government councils, “re-establish the safety culture,” saying it has a direct bearing on people’s lives.
It said the central government and TEPCO should continue their investigations to provide the entire picture of the accident and leave records and lessons to future generations.
The government panel spent more than a year on its investigations, conducting hearings with about 770 individuals in closed sessions.
Members visited the Fukushima No. 1 plant but were barred from entering the reactor buildings due to high levels of radiation. They were unable to identify damaged reactor sections or clarify how radioactive materials were released.
The members also inspected nuclear and thermal power plants around the country and analyzed video footage of TEPCO’s in-house teleconferencing system.
The government panel was the last to compile its final report on the Fukushima nuclear disaster. Three other panels, each set by the Diet, TEPCO and a private-sector organization, earlier released their reports.
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Gist of government panel’s final report
- TEPCO knew that a tsunami beyond assumptions was possible but failed to take countermeasures. TEPCO and government never thought about a complex disaster.
- Fukushima No. 1 plant had problems in cooling reactors, compared with Fukushima No. 2 plant, such as failure to take alternative steps.
- It is unlikely that important equipment was damaged by the earthquake, leading to loss of cooling functions.
- Evacuees’ exposure to radiation could have been minimized if SPEEDI data had been released.
- It cannot be concluded that TEPCO planned total withdrawal.
- Prime Minister Naoto Kan and other ministers did not utilize underground crisis management center, had problems in sharing information.
- Kan’s intervention caused confusion at plant.
- TEPCO failed to conduct thorough investigations into causes of accident and is not willing to use lessons to prevent recurrence.
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