EDITORIAL: Incompetent TEPCO should never be allowed to handle nuclear energy

July 31, 2013

Has Tokyo Electric Power Co. learned nothing over the past two years and four months since the nuclear disaster started at the Fukushima No. 1 power plant?

We cannot help but ask this question in light of the utility’s appallingly shoddy handling of radioactive water that is leaking from the crippled plant into the sea. We must also note that the Nuclear Regulation Authority and the Agency for Natural Resources and Energy of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, which are responsible for overseeing TEPCO’s operations, can hardly be said to be living up to their responsibilities.

Water is still being pumped into the plant’s crippled reactors to cool them. Some of the water that became polluted upon contact with radioactive materials has seeped into the ground and leaked into the sea. At the No. 3 reactor, highly radioactive “mystery steam” has been spotted.

The fact that radioactive substances are still being released into the ground, the sea and the air is irrefutable proof that the nuclear disaster of March 2011 is not over. The responsible parties must take this situation gravely and treat it no differently from an emergency.

When dealing with an accident or a disaster, the most important thing is to assess the situation accurately and disclose the findings as soon as possible. If the overall picture remains elusive, educated guesses must be made to anticipate the outcome and minimize potential damage.

How has TEPCO acted? After radioactive substances were detected in late May in well water on the coastal side of the reactor buildings, it took the company quite some time to finally admit the possibility that contaminated water was leaking into the sea. And although there was information that the level of the well water was linked to the ocean tide, this vital information was not shared among TEPCO staff.

TEPCO confirmed on July 18 that the leak into the sea had occurred, and President Naomi Hirose on July 19 ordered that directives be issued to the local fisheries community and others. Yet, no official announcement of the leak was made until a regular news conference on the evening of July 22.

The utility’s glaring ineptitude with crisis management was noted right from the start of the Fukushima disaster. How and why could TEPCO have kept repeating the same blunders over and over? Did the utility even bother to examine its missteps? Or did it simply fail to learn from them?

The news conference in question took place the day after the July 21 Upper House election. TEPCO insists this was mere coincidence, but it is only natural to suspect that the announcement was perhaps delayed intentionally to avoid influencing the voters.

TEPCO intends to restart the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant in Niigata Prefecture, but we have zero faith in the utility’s reliability as an operator of any nuclear power plant. In fact, allowing the company to handle nuclear energy is simply out of the question.

The entire company now needs to be focused on preventing radioactive substances from escaping into the environment.

Questions are also being raised about the competence of the nation’s nuclear watchdogs in handling nuclear mishaps.

The NRA, for instance, should now be directing every aspect of the Fukushima disaster cleanup work, even if it means putting on hold the screening of applications from other utilities to restart their nuclear power plants.

Are the new safety regulations adequate enough to prevent radioactive water from flowing into the sea in the event of a major nuclear accident? We call on the NRA take a good, hard look at this matter upon thorough examination of the Fukushima leakage case.

--The Asahi Shimbun, July 29

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Naomi Hirose, president of Tokyo Electric Power Co., meets reporters in Tokyo on July 26. (The Asahi Shimbun)

Naomi Hirose, president of Tokyo Electric Power Co., meets reporters in Tokyo on July 26. (The Asahi Shimbun)

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  • Naomi Hirose, president of Tokyo Electric Power Co., meets reporters in Tokyo on July 26. (The Asahi Shimbun)

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