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
    +2

    Comment number 108.

    It's not just in Japan that there is a culture of not questioning authority. However, if one is to pose questions to authority, it's important that one has spent the time to research the issue and have something productive to say. The biggest problem in UK is laziness - we all know this, but we don't like to admit it. We can't be bothered to participate and we complain when things go wrong. Me too

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 107.

    94. eMikey

    Surely any government that does not spec the contract for the job including the safety features that, I would have thought a nursery school group could have done better with, need to have some serious questions asked of them. This really does stink of some cut corners, possibly for cost and also Japans shortage of power was a hindrance to rebuilding its economy. Compromises were made.

  • rate this
    -7

    Comment number 106.

    All these comments about nuclear power being safe and clean - what about the spent rods? Where do you put them? In who's back yard? Governments even have a hard time deciding how to label them dangerous for future peoples, because who knows what language the inhabitants of this earth will be speaking in 100,000.+ years. Because you and I won't be alive to worry about it - disregard that aspect?

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 105.

    This report was what I expected to be the truth. Not too harsh at all, but exactly right. Japan will continue to need nuclear power, & they just have to be far more careful this time. In the longer term, use Strontium nuclear technology as the world standard.

  • rate this
    -2

    Comment number 104.

    Scotland at 35% renewables now, and 100% by 2020
    Big increase in Scottish renewables
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-18625801

    So the price of oil and gas will become increasingly irrelevant, and nuclear reactors will become Victorian technology

    Westminster needs a kick up the backside, it panders to far too many vested oil interests

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 103.

    Try and remember that this Nuclear plant was hit by a TSUNAMI that wiped out over a HUNDRED THOUSAND people and was the only thing left standing for MILES.

    It survived a cataclysmic natural disaster long enough to eventually be safely shut down.

    Building it by the see gave it the unlimited supply of cooling water it needed in an emergency.

    I would put this one in the "WIN" column.

  • rate this
    +7

    Comment number 102.

    Not anywhere near Japan now but I have been in that area in the past and was very sad to see all the destruction.
    It is good to hear that they can stop it happening again because they surely need nuclear power in Japan.
    Regardless of what the report says happened before the earthquake those workers did a heroic job in the aftermath.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 101.

    @88. Ppuj
    The design included provision for both earthquake & tsunami, & they initially worked, shutting down the reactors & initiating emergency cooling. But the emergency generators were located near the reactors and were damaged by the tsunami, as inadequate tsunami protection was provided. Worse, switchgear for the emergency cooling pumps was located where it was damaged by the tsunami.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 100.

    When the first motor cars were invented, cars were only the play things of the rich. By law you had your 'man' run in front waving a red flag. They were slow, expensive, unreliable, uncomfortable and unpracticle.
    Now we have cars accessible to almost everybody in the developed world, cars developed for every task.
    Think what green energy will be like in 100 years with thought and investment now.

  • rate this
    +6

    Comment number 99.

    "David Landy
    At EdF's latest estimates, any electricity generated would even cost more than offshore wind, and would add approx £87 pa to everyone's bill."

    And how much do you think will get added to everyones' bills when the price of fossil fuels escalate as demand continues to rise faster than economic supply? When oil reaches $200/bl how much will electricity be? How about $500/bl?

  • rate this
    -9

    Comment number 98.

    Even though it was a 1st Generation Nuclear Plant, the reason it blew was a lack of electricity to run the pumps to keep water in the reactors. IF the USA had LEFT the ship moor'd there, that was powering the pumps - it would not have blown. I guess an OLD navy ship is more important than a nuclear melt down! 3rd time USA nuked Japan!

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 97.

    Increasingly it makes the decision to continue “Fracking” at Hesketh Bank in Lancashire a bad idea! The site is close to Heysham B nuclear power station. And, also close to the West Coast mainline railway, which carries numerous trains with nuclear flasks to and from Sellafield every day of the week.
    Earthquakes and Nuclear power stations are not a good mix.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 96.

    88.Ppuj

    I thought you approach to business was to pay the lowest possible cost (for labour and quality) and move on before anyone found you out. When you pay peanuts you tend to get monkeys. As for government paying for these things, then where do you suppose their tradeoff should be: cost o

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 95.

    For the future, the following should be considered.
    1) Adequacy of Boiling Water Reactors (BWR).
    2) For seismically active areas like Japan, restriction of sites on the coast.
    3) Improvement of backup diesel generator (and associated fuel system) design.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 94.

    @88.Ppuj

    Simple. Lets say we have to start a new project today, not a nuclear plant, something else, completely different.

    Now whoever is going to pay for it, ... say you are. Are you prepared to place considerable safeguards in place for an event that has never happened before and that will add considerable cost to the project? And for an event that will most likely never happen?

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 93.

    A nuclear reactor took a hit from a tsunami and didn't go in to melt down. And this is a reason NOT to build more in the UK?! madness

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 92.

    Considering that man designed, built and ran the reactor it could hardly be anything else. Still, that the problem was exacerbated by Japanese culture is not at all surprising, but please don't make out that the same kind of stuff doesn't happen in this country.

    @90 I hope so too but considering the kickbacks I seriously doubt this cash cow will be killed off.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 91.

    #90 Lets hope if everyone in Somerset shares your attitude that Somerset is disconnected from the national grid. I live in the Trent valley and get to breath all the emissions of half a dozen coal fired stations. If we cut off the electricity supply to all those NIMBYS who refuse any form of generation within sight of their homes we could burn less coal here.

  • rate this
    -6

    Comment number 90.

    Let's hope this honest appraisal will lead to the cancellation of the expensive, unproven and potentially dangerous reactor that EdF want to build in Somerset.

    At EdF's latest estimates, any electricity generated would even cost more than offshore wind, and would add approx £87 pa to everyone's bill.

    And there's still no permanent storage solution for the waste...

    Crazy.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 89.

    Portable, engine-driven pumps that could have addressed the core emergency cooling needs (the reactors were shut down properly by the backup systems) are common - rural fire departments have 'pumper' equipment that can take water from an open source (lake, pond or the sea) and pump it. The Fukushima reactors might have been ruined by sea water, but the nuclear release could have been avoided.

 

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