Japan panel: Fukushima nuclear disaster 'man-made'

 

The BBC's Mariko Oi in Tokyo: ''It was a disaster... made in Japan''

The crisis at the Fukushima nuclear plant was "a profoundly man-made disaster", a Japanese parliamentary panel has said in a report.

The disaster "could and should have been foreseen and prevented" and its effects "mitigated by a more effective human response", it said.

The report catalogued serious deficiencies in both the government and plant operator Tepco's response.

It also blamed cultural conventions and a reluctance to question authority.

Analysis

While the report is highly critical of all the key parties, it digs even deeper. The panel called the disaster "Made in Japan", because the mindset that allowed the accident to happen can be found across the country.

It flagged up the bureaucracy's role in both promoting and regulating the nuclear industry, and also cultural factors such as a traditional reluctance to question authority.

The report was expected to use strong language, but not many thought it would be this harsh.

The panel also found that there was a possibility that the plant was damaged by the earthquake, contradicting the official position that only the tsunami contributed to the disaster.

It could put further pressure on the government, which recently authorised the restart of two nuclear reactors in western Japan. They were declared safe in April but the plant also sits on top of a fault line.

The six-reactor Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant was badly damaged after the 11 March 2011 earthquake and tsunami knocked out cooling systems to reactors, leading to meltdowns and the release of radioactivity.

Tens of thousands of residents were evacuated from an exclusion zone around the plant as workers battled to bring reactors under control. Tepco declared the reactors stable in December 2011.

Members of the Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission were appointed to examine the handling of the crisis and make recommendations.

The investigation included 900 hours of hearings and interviews with more than 1,000 people.

'Insular attitude'

In the panel's final report, its chairman said a multitude of errors and wilful negligence had left the plant unprepared for the earthquake and tsunami.

"Although triggered by these cataclysmic events, the subsequent accident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant cannot be regarded as a natural disaster," it said.

KEY FINDINGS

  • Collusion and lack of governance by government, regulators and Tepco
  • Insufficient knowledge and training within Tepco
  • Lack of preparation on part of government, regulators, Tepco, and prime minister's office to allow adequate response to accident of this scope, including mounting effective evacuation
  • Laws and regulations based on stopgap measures in response to previous accidents - need comprehensive review

"It was a profoundly man-made disaster - that could and should have been foreseen and prevented."

After six months of investigation, the panel concluded that the disaster "was the result of collusion between the government, the regulators and Tepco" founded in the failure of regulatory systems.

It said that the situation at the plant worsened in the aftermath of the earthquake because government agencies "did not function correctly", with key roles left ambiguous.

It also highlighted communication failures between Tepco and the office of then Prime Minister Naoto Kan, whose visit to the site in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake "diverted" staff.

The report said regulators should "go through an essential transformation process" to ensure nuclear safety in Japan.

"Japan's regulators need to shed the insular attitude of ignoring international safety standards and transform themselves into a globally trusted entity," it said.

Fukushima disaster

  • Reactor cooling systems damaged after 11 March earthquake and tsunami
  • Explosions occurred on 12-15 March at four reactors after gas build-up
  • Tepco engineers injected seawater into reactors for cooling
  • Contaminated waste-water leaked on several occasions
  • Meltdowns later confirmed at three reactors
  • Tepco declared 'cold shutdown' - meaning reactors were stable - in December 2011

The report made several recommendations including:

  • Permanent parliamentary monitoring of the nuclear regulatory body
  • Reforming the crisis management system, with more government responsibility for public welfare
  • Reforming nuclear energy laws to meet global safety standards
  • Monitoring nuclear operators and developing a system for independent investigative bodies

All of Japan's nuclear plants were shut down in the wake of the disaster. But on Sunday the first reactor was restarted in the town of Ohi in Fukui prefecture.

The restart sparked large protests in Tokyo but Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda urged support for the move, saying a return to nuclear power was essential for the economy.

The government is continuing to assess whether other nuclear plants are safe to be restarted.

 

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  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 248.

    A series of lessons that need to be taken on board by all the Nuclear Industry and it will take time and cost money.

    Please please can an we invest all this money in modern clean renewable energy and stop f..in about with this old redundant technology. Let it go. It doesn't work any more and never has done without a massive input of public funds that we can no longer afford.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 247.

    The most dangerous invention on the planet is the bed!

    More people die in bed than anywhere else!

    Ban beds now!

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 246.

    Thorium reactors seem to have huge potential, with less downsides than the ones we at present use.

    Gravity feed for cooling water would only work if the reactor was in a de pressurised state these things run at 75 atm at least.So wouldnt be suitable for all scenarios, same for connecting up external pumps.

    148.Wilem
    Do you have a link for the accident study i cant seem to find one ?

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 245.

    Lots of references to Chernobyl, and "other plants", could somebody please explain how they are even remotely connected to what happened at Fukushima?

    Are Sizewell, Hinkley or Heysham likely to be subject to the same conditions? No!

    What about those in Arkansas, Illinois, Missouri.....?

    The earthquake/tsunami was a one-off, a 1 in a million event. It does not make nuclear intrinsically unsafe.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 244.

    242 Eddy from Waring
    "It doesn't matter how safe you make a jet plane.

    Sooner or later, given enough time, a PERSON will decide to fly one on LSD."

    Indeed, but that's not an argument against jet planes, is it?

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 243.

    It's time the nuclear industry switched over to the liquid fluoride thorium reactor; it's cleaner, hundreds of times more efficient, can be used to eat up the existing nuclear waste from the uranium industry and is inherently safer too. The fact that it doesn't produce weapons grade plutonium however meant the project was scrapped in the '60's under Cold War politics.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 242.

    182.Drunken Hobo

    "...rather that unrealistically demanding shutting down all nuclear plants, how about demanding they are all updated to safer, more efficient reactors?..."

    ===

    It doesn't matter how safe you make a jet plane.

    Sooner or later, given enough time, a PERSON will decide to fly one on LSD.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 241.

    This was going to be a harsh assessment no matter what they did. It's also very Japanese to beat yourself up while taking inventory of your mistakes.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 240.

    Marked down by some. Ouch!

    It must be comforting to be able to don one's 20:20 hindsight goggles when apportioning blame.

    Fukushima did not occur because of poor servicing or technological failure, it was the result of a natural disaster. Accept it.

    Japan is a dangerous place: maybe they should all live in single story bamboo and rice paper huts 40m above sea level... just in case!

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 239.

    53.AJS

    "...How many miners would have been killed if all the electricity ever generated by the Fukushima plant had come from coal?..."

    ===

    According to the studies by the French, into Chernobyl-induced disease in Corsica, far fewer, apparently, than will die early over the next 50 years, as a result of the release of isotopes into the environment.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 238.

    You can bet your bottom dollar the Japanese maintain and operate their nuclear facilities a lot better than some other countries.

    Imagine what would happen in Brazil if this happened in the coastal port of Rio de Janeiro where they have an ageing nuclear power station Germany dumped on them cheap after it passed their sell-by date and was replaced.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 237.

    Uranium isn't safe and has only been used due to governments wanting weapons. We should be looking at using Thorium now. Human's can't be trusted with Uranium.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 236.

    Saikado hantai

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 235.

    Could've asked me, I said the same thing a couple of months back, it was doomed from its conception due to man made errors. I wouldn't have charged either.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 234.

    -----A bit of innovative thinking might have brought a ship and its generators nearby; (in WWII, generator ships were commonly used to provide power to newly captured islands).
    -----In the same vein, instead of merely letting radioactive water out to seep into the water table, it could have been pumped into an old tanker and taken to sea, far away from the coastline. A lesser evil.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 233.

    ‎There is no such thing like 100% safe nuclear plants. So when you think about the fact that 1/10 of all earthquake in the world happen in Japan, despite it occupies only 1/400 of the earth's land, is it REALLY worth risking another Fukushima by reopening nuclear plants there? People in Japan deserve a referendum to deceide their future, and we all have to watch closely what is happening there.

  • rate this
    -2

    Comment number 232.

    The fifth most powerful earthquake of modern time caused a tsunami that wiped out whole towns and cities and swept over ten km inland. It cause the Earth to tilt on its axis, yet in one tiny little area it is described as a man-made disaster.

    This was an unprecedented tsunami following an unpredictably large earthquake, both in size and location, and it caught everyone out.

    Perspective, please

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 231.

    Regrettably many bloggers here are still demonstrating an overly alarmist reaction towards anything nuclear.
    Hospitals now use MRI, "magnetic resonance imaging" because the proper name for the technique, NMRI, "nuclear magnetic resonance imaging" made the patients nervous.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 230.

    It is totally insane to think you can build a nuclear reactor near or upon water, near of upon a fault line where tsunamis are common - or God forbid: ALL THREE. Therefore Fukushima was a man-made disaster waiting to happen. It was/is a remarkable example of how regulation of the industry had to have been weak & dominated by political self-interest.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 229.

    Japan has been destroyed - landmass & territorial waters are contaminated. High levels of radiation have been recorded in Tokyo metropolitan area (pop. of 39 million - more than Canada). Radioactive elements have been detected in the food chain in Japan; radioactive rain water has been recorded in California.

 

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