Science

Fukushima Disaster was ‘Manmade,’ Japanese Panel Declares

By Tim Frederick , Jul 08, 2012 04:20 PM EDT
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In a harsh indictment of the policies, principles, and safety standards in place at the time by the Japanese government and the Fukushima Daiichi plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. (Tepco), a report released by the Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission (FNAIIC) found that the Fukushima disaster was entirely preventable, and thus a 'manmade' disaster.

"Although triggered by these cataclysmic events, the subsequent accident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant cannot be regarded as a natural disaster," the report said.

Tepco received a healthy dose of blame for the disaster, with the panel finding that they put cost-cutting above safety measures. "While giving lip service to a policy of 'safety first', in actuality, safety suffered at the expense of other management priorities," the report said.

The report did not single out Tepco for blame though, and said the problem was one "Made in Japan"; that the same attitude that infected the operations at Fukushima Daiichi can be found across the country, and it starts at the very top, with lax government regulations and oversight; criticism that is not unexpected, given the resignation of then-Prime Minister Naoto Kan in the wake of his handling of the disaster, which was largely inefficient.

The six month investigation by the FNAIIC included 900 hours of interviews and hearings conducted with more than 1000 people connected to the accident. Its task was to examine how the crisis was handled and make recommendations for improvements.

Those recommendations included:

  • The creation of a permanent parliamentary panel to monitor the nuclear regulatory body
  • Reforming the crisis management system, with the government taking more responsibility for public welfare
  • Reforming the nuclear energy laws to meet global safety standards, which regulators had been reluctant to adopt, according to the report

The report and recommendations come just days after the no. 3 reactor at Ohi was restarted, the first of Japan's 50 nuclear reactors, all of which had been shut down following the earthquake and tsunami, to be restarted . This despite mass protests from the public, and warnings from experts that safety measures still weren't up to standards at the newly restarted reactor, which also sits perilously atop a fault line.

"This means that all of Japan's reactors are vulnerable and require retro-fitting, calling into question the hasty decision of the (Prime Minister Yoshihiko) Noda cabinet to restart reactors before getting the lessons of Fukushima," said Jeffrey Kingston, Asia studies director at Temple University in Tokyo.

The Japanese government, for its part, has plans to set up an independent nuclear watchdog in the coming months, that will develop and enforce new safety rules on nuclear operations.

Do you believe the disaster could've been averted with better management and standards? Or should we simply accept that sometimes things are out of our control, no matter how much preparation we make to try and maintain it?

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