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The report's "valuable conclusions" must not be ignored

July 6, 2012


Editorial: Gov't, legislators must take Diet panel's nuclear crisis report seriously



The executive and legislative branches of the government should take seriously a Diet investigative panel's report on the crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, which concluded that it was a "man-made" disaster.

The Diet's nuclear crisis investigative panel on July 5 released the report on the cause of the disaster and recommendations for measures to prevent a recurrence.

It states that the government and Fukushima No. 1 plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) failed to take preventive measures before the disaster, though they had many opportunities to do so. The report furthermore attributes the accident to the close cooperation between the electric power industry and the government to promote atomic power during the rapid economic growth in the 1960s and 1970s. It also found both sides' sense of responsibility for protecting people's lives and society from nuclear accidents severely lacking.

We appreciate the report, which highlights collusive relations between the government and TEPCO and underlines the historical background behind Japan's longstanding promotion of atomic power. In the report, the Diet panel also makes seven-point recommendations. Among them, the establishment of a third-party panel in the Diet to clarify unresolved issues in the nuclear crisis and how to decommission nuclear reactors, and systematic Diet supervision of the government's nuclear power regulatory bodies and power suppliers.

The report says TEPCO had strongly opposed stiffening nuclear plant safety regulations for fear that this would hinder power station operations and weaken the utility's position in lawsuits against its nuclear plants, adding that the government supported the firm's opposition. Furthermore, TEPCO continued to postpone implementing safety measures to protect its nuclear plants from serious natural disasters, despite being fully aware of the need to better plants' quake resistance and that all external power could be lost to a tsunami. Moreover, its regulator, the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA), gave tacit approval to TEPCO's failure to implement countermeasures.

As TEPCO has far better atomic power expertise than its regulators, their positions were effectively reversed and the regulatory bodies became power suppliers' "slaves," according to the report. This is a good point.

Moreover, the report highlights the Prime Minister's Office and TEPCO's lack of ability to handle a serious nuclear crisis.

The Prime Minister's Office failed to quickly obtain information on the developing disaster and intervened in TEPCO's response to the crisis, causing confusion in the utility's command, control and decision-making process.

While denying that TEPCO had decided to withdraw all workers from the Fukushima No. 1 plant as alleged by the Prime Minister's Office, the report blames TEPCO for triggering excessive government intervention, pointing out that then TEPCO President Masataka Shimizu provided only vague explanations, causing misunderstanding between the two sides.

The report points to the need for the government to create a crisis-management system that does not have to rely on an individual prime minister's abilities or judgment. It is quite right.

How the crisis developed has not been fully clarified. This can't be helped to some extent as high radiation levels have prevented workers from inspecting the shattered reactors and surrounding equipment first-hand.

TEPCO's in-house investigative panel on the accident concluded that the crisis was triggered mainly by the tsunami, while important equipment at the Fukushima No. 1 plant was not damaged by the temblor. However, the Diet panel did not rule out the possibility that the plant was damaged directly by the earthquake, or that the quake caused a cooling water leak. It is necessary to examine all nuclear plants across the country to see if they are sufficiently quake-resistant. The panel's recommendation that a third-party organization to examine nuclear plants' quake-resistance be set up within the Diet is worth considering.

As the report points out, the Fukushima nuclear crisis is ongoing, and continuing to cause damage to local communities and beyond. The Diet's investigative panel stopped short of discussing the pros and cons of reactivating individual nuclear plants, but the government must not allow power suppliers to resume operations at their idled nuclear plants without closely studying the report's valuable conclusions.

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