Expert panel report says Fukushima disaster profoundly man-made

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After months of investigating what happened before, during, and after the March 11th earthquake and tsunami, members of an expert panel appointed by the Diet last December, submitted a 641-page report to both chambers of the Diet on Thursday.  The 10-member panel, appointed by parliament in December, interviewed 1,167 people in hearings exceeding 900 hours.

Their findings have been the most critical to date, concluding that the accident was caused by an industry and government agencies who put self-interest before the interest of the public, and that the disaster is not as fully understood as the public has been led to believe.

The commission’s chairman, Kiyoshi Kurokawa, a professor emeritus at Tokyo University, said in a scathing introduction, “It was a profoundly manmade disaster,” and that cultural traits had caused the disaster.  The Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power station, however, was “incapable of withstanding” the huge disaster, it added.

 “What must be admitted – very painfully – is that this was a disaster ‘Made in Japan.’ Its fundamental causes are to be found in the ingrained conventions of Japanese culture: our reflexive obedience; our reluctance to question authority; our devotion to ‘sticking with the programme’; our groupism; and our insularity.

   “We conclude that the accident was clearly ‘manmade.’ We believe that the root causes were the organizational and regulatory systems that supported faulty rationales for decisions and actions,” the report said.     “The direct causes of the accident were all foreseeable prior to March 11, 2011.”

It highlights the collusion, willful negligence and self-serving inaction by both government regulators and plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Company left the Fukushima plant unprepared for the earthquake and tsunami, “all failed to correctly develop the most basic safety requirements,” and stated that for years both the government and TEPCO failed to develop adequate safety requirements, and pointed out a number of other missed opportunities to take steps to prevent the disaster.

“Had other Japanese been in the shoes of those who bear responsibility for this accident, the result may well have been the same.”  Also remembering that “Fukushima’s nuclear crisis is not over…The world is watching how Japan deals with it and changes.” 

Report finds earthquake may have caused damage

The report points out that the tsunami was not the only cause of the disaster, judging that “it cannot be ruled out that damage to key safety systems came from the jolt,” and specifically pointing out that damage at Reactor 1, primarily affecting pipes and the loss of the cooling system may have been caused by the impact of the earthquake on the facility should also be taken into account,

This stands on contrast with the utility’s report said the accident was primarily caused by a higher-than-anticipated tsunami. It ruled out a possibility that the earthquake itself affected any of the plant’s key safety equipment.   But the Diet panel criticized the operator’s report, saying that analysis performed by outside experts, and an examination of operational records, do not necessarily lead to such a conclusion.

A Tokyo Electric Power Company spokesman Junichi Matsumoto told reporters on Thursday that the utility does not agree with the panel’s conclusions regarding possible earthquake damage, but he added that the company will carefully study the report before deciding what to do.

Collusion between the industry and the government agencies

The report chastised the Nuclear Industrial Safety Agency (NISA), and TEPCO for not giving its employees enough training regarding proper disaster response, and strongly condemned the utility using its “dominant position” to weaken nuclear safety regulations.

“We found evidence the regulatory agencies would explicitly ask about the operators’ intentions whenever a new regulation was to be implemented,” the commission wrote. “From TEPCO’s perspective, new regulations would have interfered with plant operations and weakened their stance in potential lawsuits.”

“The Nuclear Industrial Safety Agency knew TEPCO was postponing taking measures but did not give clear instructions,” it said, essentially looking the other way as the utility intentionally postponed putting safety measures in place.

After the onset of the disaster, the panel found that NISA “was unprepared for a disaster whose scale exceeded past accidents.”

Response condemned as betrayal of nation’s rights

The report said the government failed to properly advise residents near the Fukushima Daiichi plant of the severity of the accident or how they should evacuate, which led some residents to flee to areas where radiation levels were higher.  It blamed the government’s slow decision-making for a delay in designating high-radiation areas distant from the plant as evacuation zones, and said the government abandoned its responsibility to protect the people’s lives and safety by leaving the decision to residents.

It said that the response “betrayed the nation’s right to be safe from nuclear accidents” and that collusion between the government, regulators and the utility itself had allowed lax preparation and precautions.  “We believe that the root causes were the organizational and regulatory systems that supported faulty rationales for decisions and actions, rather than issues relating to the competency of any specific individual.”

The panel says the government misled residents by not explaining the limitations of the SPEEDI system, uses weather information to predict the direction radioactive materials will spread from a damaged plant.

“Across the board, the commission found ignorance and arrogance unforgivable for anyone or any organization that deals with nuclear power. We found a disregard for global trends and a disregard for public safety.”

Looking forward, the report recommends the creation of a permanent Diet committee to oversee the work of nuclear regulatory authorities, and calls for a review of the government’s crisis management, including the chain of command.

Source: NHK

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