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Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Government, Tepco again hit for nuke crisis

State panel: Entities unprepared to prevent, handle Fukushima nuclear disaster

Staff writer

The meltdowns that took place at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant after the March 11, 2011, megaquake and tsunami were caused by a government and a utility that were ill-prepared for an emergency because they were devoted to the myth of nuclear safety, an independent panel concluded Monday.

The report submitted by the panel, commissioned by the government, seemed to echo the July 5 conclusion reached by a Diet-commissioned panel that blamed the crisis on government complicity with regulators and suggested that the quake, and not just the tsunami, crippled the plant, leading to three core meltdowns.

The Diet panel thus concluded the disaster was "man-made."

The government panel said it found no physical evidence linking the quake to the loss of the cooling systems at the 40-year-old plant. Tokyo Electric Power Co. claims the tsunami caused the damage, not the temblor.

"Because the government and the power utilities, including Tepco, were biased by the safety myth, thinking they would never ever face such a serious accident, they were unable to realize that such a crisis could occur in reality. This appears to be the fundamental problem," the panel said in its final report.

Tepco thus failed to prepare adequate tsunami defenses or crisis management procedures to deal with a station blackout, the panel's report said.

It further faulted an inadequate legal system for nuclear crisis management, a crisis-command disarray caused by the government and Tepco, and possible excess meddling on the part of the prime minister's office in the early stage of the crisis.

The panel, headed by Yotaro Hatamura, professor emeritus at the University of Tokyo, submitted the report to Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda on Monday afternoon.

In the final report, which adds more findings and analyses to its interim report released last December, the panel said that while workers at the Fukushima No. 2 plant managed to avoid a meltdown at that facility, the way engineers at No. 1 worked to cool the reactors was inappropriate.

Workers at reactor 3 tried to cool its nuclear fuel via a high-pressure core injection system and failed to prepare an alternative cooling method. They could not cool the reactor for six hours while the high-pressure core injection system was down, while workers at Fukushima No. 2 confirmed there was an alternative way to cool the reactors, which safely shut down, the report said.

It noted that the situation at Fukushima No. 2 was better than No. 1 because it did not suffer a station blackout, but faulted the handling at the stricken plant and its lack of emergency training.

The panel also faulted Tepco for not preparing sufficient tsunami defenses and said it lobbied the government to not impose stricter safety guidelines, and said nuclear regulators were also to blame for not requiring the utility to better gird for natural disasters.

The worst nuclear disaster since the 1986 Chernobyl accident in Ukraine overwhelmed the crisis management system, which assumed that, in the event of an emergency, an off-site center about 5 km from the plant could act as the local crisis headquarters. At Fukushima, that facility proved inoperable, after it lost its power and was subjected to high radiation levels.

"The prime minister's office had to make important decisions without having any contact with the off-site center that was supposed to collect crucial information," the report said.

The panel also said the government failed to handle the disaster professionally, again noting that then Prime Minister Naoto Kan may have added to the chaos by questioning the injection of seawater, confusing workers at the plant desperate for any way to cool the reactors.

As for whether Tepco wanted to withdraw all its workers from the No. 1 plant, the panel said it could not find evidence the utility seriously considered that option.

The report also said the government failed to give a detailed announcement about what was happening and how it might affect people living nearby.

The Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency was reluctant to inform the media that reactor 1's fuel rods possibly melted, although it knew that was quite likely.

Then Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano repeatedly said radiation would not have "immediate" harmful effects on people's health, but that vagueness only raised public concerns, the report said.

The panel also said because of poor communication among Fukushima officials, the police and Self-Defense Forces personnel, the evacuation of Futaba hospital and its nearby health care facility for the elderly, located just 5 km from the damaged plant, was delayed.

As the government panel has now finished what it set out to do, investigation efforts into the accident have reached a milestone, but more efforts are needed.

Both the government panel and the Diet-appointed panel said there are still many unresolved questions, especially what really happened inside the reactors and reactor buildings, so the investigation should continue.

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The Japan Times

Article 1 of 13 in National news


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