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
    0

    Comment number 188.

    Using gravity for emergency cooling? Perhaps it was an option but there are obvious reasons why it has not been considered. Hmm, imagine a burst dam?

  • rate this
    +5

    Comment number 187.

    Fossil fuels represent several thousand years of stored solar energy. It's like savings in the bank. Our society is like a man who gets £1 a week (new power from the sun) but is spending £5 a week on necessities Up until now we've been able to go to the bank (fossil fuels) to make up the difference but some day the cashpoint will be empty. We need new income (nuclear) or to cut costs (economise)

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 186.

    167 - Yes lets move on as if to turn our heads away from the environmental consequences. Mankind has a great habit of not wanting to go over its mistakes. Let discuss the longer term aspects of the nuclear contamination, how this plant will be contained and 'cleaned up'. What effect this has had on marine life. Yes let move on, its much easier to forget the mess left behind.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 185.

    #61 . You are right - you couldn’t turn a nuclear power-station into a Hiroshima with a hand-grenade.
    You could turn it into a Fukishima though.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 184.

    An in-house study in 2008 pointed out that there was an immediate need to improve the protection of the power station from flooding by seawater. This study mentioned the possibility of tsunami-waves up to 10.2 meters. Officials of the department at the company's headquarters insisted that such a risk was unrealistic and did not take the prediction seriously.

    About as man-made as it gets...

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 183.

    Operations complacency, lack of proper procedures, poor engineering design, and the intimidation of questioning management must have all been factors. The location adjacent to a faultline is a given, and so is the fact that tsunamis are a norm in Japan. It's an extremely important source of energy, but safety cannot be compromised in lieu.

  • rate this
    +9

    Comment number 182.

    Nuclear's biggest problem is that it's being pushed underground. Fukushima was a 40-year-old plant, how many coal plants are still using 40-year-old technology?
    The protestors have it backwards, rather that unrealistically demanding shutting down all nuclear plants, how about demanding they are all updated to safer, more efficient reactors? It worked in cleaning up fossil fuels.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 181.

    All industry in East Asia should read this report and the report into Korean Airline Flight 801. The regional culture of authority and hierarchy results in avoidable deaths, injury and financial loss. It can happen in any industry and needs to change in order to ensure a safe living and working environment.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 180.

    The Fukushima engineers seemed to understand how nuclear reactors work, but not how to deal with problems. As an engineer I groaned each time they did stupid things.

    Mostly it seems under control, though the authorities in Japan have hopelessly under reacted to the contamination.

    As an incidental, I am one of those who detected extra radioactivity in London shortly after the main incidents.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 179.

    The title of this piece is superfluous; all accidents are "man made." The "Recommendations" are political not substantive. The design and siting of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant was incorrect. The location and protection of the Emergency/Stand-by power and Safe Shut-down systems was completely inadequate.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 178.

    I would like to understand why the words "crisis" and "disaster" are still being applied to this event. Surely the people who worked there avoided disaster with the evidence being that no one died?
    I remember at the time officials were trying to reassure the press that there was greater risk of death due to the fact that homes were left without power in cold weather.

  • Comment number 177.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 176.

    I find it totally amazing that reactors built near the sea, fault lines, tsunami risk, & they did not have water proof generators? & they call themselves engineers? & whats even more amazing is there is no mention of this in there report, they also imported some from america, i think the safety people behind these reactors should be facing murder charges & the engineers.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 175.

    We live in a world built on cheap energy that is rapidly coming to an end. Renewables simply cant supply the base load we will need to continue as we have. Either we make nuclear power work for us or we need to radically change our lifestyle (no private cars, no foreign hols, teleconference rather than business travel etc.)

  • rate this
    +7

    Comment number 174.

    #172 Solar from the Sahara? I knew you wouldn't want it anywhere near Somerset.

    Ignoring the huge cost of the cable, the loss in transmission, the cost of replacing the panels everytime there's a sandstorm etc how exactly would you stop the Algerians or Libyans tripling the price or turning the supply off every time they decide to 'do a Putin'?

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 173.

    @163 'Chris888'
    ~~
    It's in the public domain that the UK is too dependent on fuel imports - gas, electricity, coal and nuclear energy. I suppose the biggest environmental disappointment is highly polluting fracking in the UK via US Halliburton allowed by the ConDems to appease extremes against nuclear energy and wind power.

    I'd rather have clean water than fracking, which is totally discredited.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 172.

    QuantumCheese: There are other sources of electricity, other than solar (not very viable in this climate anyway) or onshore wind. There is also offshore wind, wave, and tidal, there is geothermal, there is solar from (say) the sahara via HVDC connection, and so on and so on. Nuclear is not necessary, not cheap and not safe. Can we move on now?

  • Comment number 171.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 170.

    #166 Thats IF there's a meltdown. By that stage things have already gone terribly wrong. Because you need to get rid of the warm used water the only way you could use gravity to cool is to build the plant half-way up a hill with a big "tarn" at the top (man made for obvious reasons) and a pipe to the sea below. Any other system would require gravity to move water uphill at one stage or other.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 169.

    @ 141.Zorro0009
    "Shouldn't the designs be modified such that gravity could be used for emergency cooling, by simply opening a valve?"

    I think you will find that the Areva designs proposed for UK new build are way ahead of you by few years in that they allow for gravity cooling even if the pumps fail.

    As for the report "man made"? Hardly a surprising conclusion is it.

 

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