by Tsuyoshi Inajima, Jacob Adelman and Yuji Okada
July 5, 2012
Fukushima nuclear disaster was the result of “man-made” failures
before and after last year’s earthquake, according to a report from
an independent parliamentary investigation.
The No. 1, from left, No. 2, No. 3 and No. 4 reactor buildings stand
at Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s (Tepco)
nuclear power plant stands in Okuma Town, Fukushima Prefecture,
The breakdowns involved regulators
working with the plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. to avoid
implementing safety measures as well as a government lacking
commitment to protect the public, the Fukushima Nuclear Accident
Independent Investigation Commission said in the report.
The March 11 accident, which set off a wave of reactor safety
investigations around the world, “cannot be regarded as a natural
disaster,” the commission’s chairman, Tokyo University professor
emeritus Kiyoshi Kurokawa, wrote in the report released
yesterday in Tokyo.
It “could and should have been
foreseen and prevented. And its effects could have been
mitigated by a more effective human response.”
The report dealt the harshest critique
yet to Tokyo Electric (9501) and the government.
The findings couldn’t rule out the
possibility that the magnitude-9 earthquake damaged the Fukushima
Dai-Ichi No. 1 reactor and safety equipment. This is a departure
from other reports that concluded the reactors withstood the
earthquake, only to be disabled when the ensuing tsunami slammed
into the plant.
This finding may have implications for all Japan’s atomic plant
operators if it leads to tougher earthquake-resistance standards.
The operators reported combined losses
of 1.6 trillion yen ($20 billion) in the year ended March owing to
safety shutdowns of the country’s 50 reactors and higher fuel bills
when they started up gas and oil-fired plants.
If the Fukushima reactor had already been crippled by the quake when
the tsunami hit, it would force regulators to reconsider the seismic
criteria that all Japan’s plants need to follow, their so-called
design basis, said Najmedin Meshkati, a professor of civil
engineering at the University of Southern California who has
researched nuclear safety in Japan.
“This finding basically puts into
question some of the design basis assumptions that we have,”
Meshkati said in a phone interview.
“If this reactor got some damage
because of the earthquake, we really need to go back and revisit
some of our assumptions that we have for the design basis of
Two reactors run by Kansai Electric
Power Co. won approval to restart this month, despite protests
outside the prime minister’s office in Tokyo that drew as many as
20,000 people on June 29, Kyodo News reported, citing police
A Mainichi newspaper poll on June 4
showed as many as 71 percent of Japanese opposed the restarts.
The report said the commission found evidence of “collusion” between
Tokyo Electric and regulator, the Nuclear and Industrial Safety
Agency, to avoid implementing new safety regulations.
Tokyo Electric also exploited its cozy relationship with regulators
to take the teeth out of regulations.
“Across the board, the Commission
found ignorance and arrogance unforgivable for anyone or any
organization that deals with nuclear power,” the report said.
The six-month independent investigation,
the first of its kind with wide-ranging subpoena powers in Japan’s
constitutional history, held public hearings with former Prime
Minister Naoto Kan and Tokyo Electric’s ex-President
Masataka Shimizu, who gave conflicting accounts of the disaster
Kan said he agreed with the finding that the disaster was man-made,
though he differed with the reports findings on the government
response, according to a posting on his official blog last night.
Three other investigations led by the government, the utility and a
private foundation said in earlier reports that they found no
evidence of major damage to reactor buildings and equipment at the
Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear station from last year’s quake.
They concluded the plant was swamped by
a 13-meter (43 foot) tsunami that followed the quake, knocking out
backup power generation and causing the meltdown of three reactors.
Radiation fallout from the reactors forced the evacuation of about
160,000 people and left land in the area uninhabitable for decades.
The Commission has 10 members, including Kurokawa.
The group comprises a seismologist and a
former nuclear engineer who has warned of safety risks at atomic
plants and criticized the government’s nuclear energy policy.
Mutsuhito Tanaka, a former
nuclear equipment engineer at a unit of Hitachi Ltd. (6501)
and a member of the commission
Hiroaki Koide, an assistant professor at Kyoto University’s
Research Reactor Institute,
...are among those who have said the quake
may have caused more damage to the Fukushima plant than so far
The commission’s report said the Fukushima situation was worsened by
The utility known as Tepco can’t use the
government as a scapegoat as its own information disclosure through
the disaster was lacking, the report said.
Japan’s parliament in December appointed Kurokawa, a doctor of
medicine, to head the investigative panel.
Kurokawa clashed with the government when Prime Minister Yoshihiko
Noda and his cabinet approved a bill on Jan. 31 to create a new
nuclear regulatory agency.
“It is very hard to understand how
the cabinet decision has been made” before the panel finishes
its investigation, Kurokawa
said in the statement.
One of the panel’s missions is to make
recommendations including the reexamination of Japan’s nuclear
policy and administrative organizations to prevent a future atomic
accident, Kurokawa said.
After amending the bill on the new regulator to give it more
independence, the parliament passed the legislation on June 20.
The new watchdog to be established as
early as September, will replace the Nuclear Industrial Safety
Agency and the Nuclear Safety Commission, two regulatory bodies
criticized for their poor handling of the Fukushima disaster.
The Kurokawa report says the collusion between nuclear regulators
and atomic plant operators led to what it called “regulatory
capture,” a state in which oversight of the nuclear industry
“Outside Japan, some people will try
to misuse this report to say it can’t happen here. The fact is
that it can,” Arnie Gundersen, a U.S.-based former nuclear
engineer and licensed reactor operator, said in an e-mail
“Here in the U.S., the industry basically forced out Gregory
Jaczko as chair of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission,” Gundersen
said, referring to the commission chairman who resigned amid
criticism from the industry for pushing a faster agenda to
toughen safety regulations after Fukushima.
“And of course, The International Atomic Energy Agency was in
Japan for decades and never found these problems,” Gundersen
“It’s a world-wide problem: the nuclear industry has taken
control of the regulators.”