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Scathing judgment

July 6, 2012


Diet nuclear accident report brands Fukushima crisis a 'man-made disaster'




A Diet committee investigating the disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant released a scathing report July 5 stating that the crisis was "clearly a man-made disaster," citing a failure in the nuclear safety process.

In the 641-page report submitted to the heads of both houses of the Diet, the committee criticized government regulatory authorities and the plant's operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), for failing to implement earthquake and tsunami countermeasures before last year's magnitude-9.0 temblor despite having numerous opportunities to do so in the past.

Singling out the fundamental cause of the crisis, the report said that TEPCO had formed a cozy relationship with the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry and strongly pressured successive generations of regulatory authorities to put off or relax regulations.

"Regulators and the regulated underwent a 'reversal of roles', with regulatory authorities becoming 'captives' of electricity providers," the report stated. As a result of this, the functions of the ministry's Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA) as a watchdog of nuclear safety "collapsed," the report said. It added that TEPCO operated like a "behind-the-scenes fixer," shifting responsibility onto the shoulders of government administrators while hiding from the line of fire itself.

The report also incorporated the opinion that the massive earthquake -- not just the tsunami as earlier reports suggested -- may have wiped out backup power at the plant.

An interim report released in December last year by the government's nuclear investigation and verification committee chaired by Yotaro Hatamura, and a report based on an internal TEPCO probe released in June this year concluded that a loss of backup power due to the tsunami was responsible for the crisis. However, the Diet committee's report stated that based on factors including the tsunami's arrival time, it was possible that the loss of backup power for at least the Fukushima plant's No. 1 reactor was not caused by the tsunami. It added that if the vent to decrease pressure inside the reactor's pressure vessel had not been activated, "a small-scale accident involving a loss of the reactor's cooling functions could have occurred due to shaking from the earthquake."

Responding to reports that TEPCO considered pulling its entire staff out from the plant soon after the outbreak of the nuclear disaster, the committee's report stated, "There is no evidence that TEPCO decided internally on a full withdrawal and this is a 'misconception' (by the Prime Minister's Office)." However, it said the misconception could be traced to former TEPCO president Masataka Shimizu's vague communication on the state of the plant, and stated that he lacked autonomy and a sense of responsibility despite being the chief of a private company.

"TEPCO is in no position to criticize misconceptions or excessive intervention by the Prime Minister's Office, as it is chiefly responsible for bringing about this situation," the report said.

The report said that after the outbreak of the accident, the Prime Minister's Office became suspicious of explanations by NISA and TEPCO, and intervened, resulting in confusion because it lacked information. The accident account said this was "the biggest factor in the failure to halt the progress of the disaster and minimize the extent of the damage." It continued, "Politicians in the Prime Minister's Office lacked a true sense of crisis management, and were mistaken over the roles the Prime Minister's Office should play in the crisis."

"The Prime Minister's Office, regulatory authorities and TEPCO management made no provisions and were mentally unprepared, and were unable to stop the damage's spread," it added.

Commenting on then Prime Minister Naoto Kan's visit to the nuclear plant on March 12, 2011, the day after the quake and tsunami, it said, "Rather than boosting morale at the crisis scene, it's possible that he added pressure by venting his irritation."

Based on these conclusions, the report made seven suggestions including Diet monitoring of regulatory authorities, a review of the government's crisis management system, and prerequisites for a new regulatory body.

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