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TEPCO tries again to "duck responsibility"

June 22, 2012

Editorial: TEPCO internal report on Fukushima nuclear disaster nothing but self-justification




The final report issued by Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO)'s in-house investigative panel on the Fukushima nuclear crisis looks like it was written up to counter the growing swarm of lawsuits that have been and could yet be filed against the utility and its board members.

The report attributes the meltdowns at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant in March 2011 to "higher tsunami than predicted."

The panel reportedly interviewed a total of 600 people involved for the report, whose main body alone is 352 pages long. However, it failed to "clarify the cause of the nuclear crisis and propose measures needed to contribute to the safety of nuclear power stations," as it was required to. The panel was supposed to dig up the facts behind the disaster, get to the bottom of what happened and clarify where responsibility lies. This it fails to do. Rather, it makes excuses for what critics have called TEPCO's inappropriate response to the crisis. It's questionable whether such a company can continue to be allowed to operate nuclear plants.

For example, the government's investigative panel pointed out in its interim report in December last year that workers' skills were not up to operating cooling systems in the plant's No. 1 and 3 reactors. In response, the TEPCO final report argues that workers' lack of skill did not adversely affect the subsequent response to the accident. However, it fails to discuss how the situation would have developed if the workers had responded to the accident in a different way.

Moreover, the TEPCO report shifts the responsibility for predicting the tsunami risk to the nuclear plant to others, stating that "it is desirable for a specialized research organization, which is a government body, to show a coordinated view on the matter."

The report also concludes that then Prime Minister Naoto Kan and his staff's intervention in TEPCO's response to the crisis "promoted useless confusion." If a third-party body said so, it would have some power to persuade, but such an argument by the entity responsible for the disaster sounds like an attempt to duck responsibility.

Numerous questions remain regarding the crisis. The report concludes that the primary source of radioactive substances that spread to Iitate, Fukushima Prefecture and other areas northwest of the plant was its No. 2 reactor. However, no hydrogen explosion occurred in that particular unit, and which part of the reactor was damaged and the route of radioactive substances leaking into the air remain unclear. The report also states that primary devices in the reactor were not damaged by the earthquake, based on such data as the pressure and temperature in the reactor. TEPCO, however, has not yet confirmed the actual condition of the No. 2 reactor assembly, as persistently high radiation inside the reactor building have ruled out on-the-spot inspections.

The way that TEPCO discloses information has also been called into question. TEPCO headquarters and the Fukushima No. 1 plant are connected by a direct communications line, and video conferences between workers at these two locations have been filmed. The footage is crucial material for the effort to get to the bottom of TEPCO's response to the crisis, but the utility has refused to disclose it, citing concern for the privacy of those involved in the conferences. It would be a serious problem if the company were reluctant to disclose information because shareholders have filed damages suits personally against former and current board members. Accident victims have also sued the company.

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safety regulations stipulate that utilities are primarily responsible for the safety of nuclear plants they operate. Therefore, TEPCO has absolutely no way to evade its responsibility for the Fukushima nuclear crisis, and it is TEPCO's minimum responsibility to fully disclose information on the crisis.

The Fukushima nuclear disaster investigative panels of the executive and legislative branches of the government -- set to compile their own final reports shortly -- should release the results of their investigations in a way that can convince the public.

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