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Fukushima utility: We could have prevented nuclear meltdowns

Posting in Design

We failed. TEPCO president Naomi Hirose led the internal task force that wrote the report damning the company's readiness.

The utility that owns the Fukushima nuclear plant has admitted that it failed to take proper safety measures that could have prevented the meltdowns triggered by the tragic earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan in March 2011.

The tsunami knocked out emergency generators that powered the cooling system at the Fukushima-Daiichi reactors, causing three of them to melt down.

In a damning internal report available on its website, Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) bluntly confesses that "the problem was that preparations were not made in advance."

TEPCO president Naomi Hirose led the report.

LET SLEEPING DOGS LIE

Word after word indicts the company's own readiness for a catastrophic earthquake and tsunami of the sort known to occur in the region. TEPCO reveals that it was worried preventative measures would have drawn unwanted attention from the anti-nuclear movement and from litigators.

One bullet point notes that TEPCO "feared that if tsunami risk studies were disclosed that it would lead to immediate plant shutdown." Another notes that "if new severe accident measures were implemented, it could spread concern...that there is a problem with safety of current plants."

Likewise, it notes that "there was a concern of litigation risks if giving admission that severe accident measures were necessary," and that taking those measures would  "add momentum to anti-nuclear movements."

The report also condemns TEPCO's accident response effort, noting it suffered from "confusion" and "a lack of engineers."

ROTTEN REVERENCE

TEPCO vows to overhaul its management culture in order to avoid future accidents. "Pride and overconfidence in the traditional safety culture and measure has been discarded and we are resolved to reform of management culture," the report states. "We are changing our previous to thinking about safety starting at its basic foundation as we seek out the opinions of experts both inside and outside of Japan." (Note - quotes are verbatim from the report).

That recognition of a culture that's overly referential to tradition echoes Japan's Parliamentary criticism earlier this year that an ingrained unwillingness to question authority led to the nuclear disaster at Fukushima.

The report provides a long list of future safety measures to better guard against tsunamis (higher walls, for example) and earthquakes, and to improve cooling systems.

I'll add another: Shift to safer, meltdown-proof forms of nuclear power by using alternative nuclear designs such as molten salt or pebble bed reactors running on thorium fuel instead of on uranium. For links to SmartPlanet stories on some of these alternatives, click here. (Note that I now also blog about alternative nuclear for the Weinberg Foundation, a London-based non-profit group dedicated to safe nuclear power.)

Photo: cloneofsnake via Flickr.

More Japanese power, on SmartPlanet;


— By on October 14, 2012, 8:27 PM PST

Mark Halper

Contributing Editor

Mark Halper has written for TIME, Fortune, Financial Times, the UK's Independent on Sunday, Forbes, New York Times, Wired, Variety and The Guardian. He is based in Bristol, U.K. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure