Fukushima disaster was "profoundly manmade"
Commission says accident demonstrates need for fundamental reform
The Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission, made up of members of the National Diet of Japan, has released its final report on the Fukushima nuclear disaster. The report – the product of six months of investigation – has said in stark terms that the incident was a ‘manmade disaster’, caused by organisational and regulatory systems that failed to promote ‘the most basic safety requirements’. Members of the Commission have called for fundamental reforms to the structure of the electric power industry, the operational processes of the nuclear industry, as well as the regulatory agencies involved in the sector.
The report states that the direct causes of the accident were all foreseeable ahead of the tsunami and earthquake that struck the Fukushima plant in 2011. Despite this, the plant was not capable of withstanding either event, even though the operator TEPCO and the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA) were aware of the need for structural reinforcements to meet new guidelines. The report’s authors state that the necessary enhancements to the site had not been undertaken at the time of the accident due to ‘tacit consent’ by NISA for a significant delay in reinforcing the site. In addition, NISA was aware that measures had not been undertaken to reduce or remove the risk of reactor core damage if a tsunami damaged the seawater pumps.
The Commission also found that ‘organisational problems’ within TEPCO led to many issues with the accident response initiated after the incident. Deficiencies in training and equipment inspection related to severe accidents led to less effective response – with the report even noting that sections of the ‘severe accident instruction manual’ were missing crucial diagrams related to such incidents. The government, regulators, TEPCO’s management and the Prime Minister’s office are also held to have been ill-prepared to effectively coordinate an emergency response to a disaster of such scale.
Evacuation arrangements are also criticised, with only 20% of the residents of Fukushima found to have been aware of the accident at the time when the evacuation was ordered from the 3km zone. The authors suggest that the negative attitudes of regulators towards revising emergency plans led to confusion over what was expected of residents – some residents were actually evacuated to areas of high-dosage radiation because radiation monitoring information wasn’t provided.
Chairman of the commission Kiyoshi Kurokawa, in his opening remarks on the report, says “Although triggered by cataclysmic events, the subsequent accident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant cannot be regarded as a natural disaster. It was a profoundly manmade disaster – that could and should have been foreseen and prevented.”