Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Japan Commission finds Fukushima a "profoundly man-made disaster"

The Japanese government's Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission concluded in a report released last week that the nuclear incident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant was a "profoundly man-made disaster," rather than a result of a natural disaster.

The earthquake of March 2011 which hit at a magnitude of 9.0, was the most powerful earthquake ever recorded in Japan, as well as one of the most powerful earthquakes ever measured. It sent a 133 foot tsunami crashing onto the coast that killed over 15,000 people and triggered the chain of events leading to the nuclear disaster.

The commission found that the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO)  had many opportunities for taking preventative measures prior to when the earthquake and tsunami hit.   The commission criticized TEPCO as being too quick to dismiss earthquake damage as a cause of the fuel meltdowns at three of  of the plant's six reactors, which overheated when the site lost power. TEPCO has contended that the plant withstood the earthquake, and instead placed the blame on the tsunami  that followed. TEPCO executives that the earthquake followed by the huge tsunami was beyond the scope of contingency planning.

According to the commission, the Fukushima nuclear incident shows the danger of "regulatory capture" in which a government agency acts on behalf of the industry it tries to oversee instead of representing  the public interest. The Japanese Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, part of the economy industry that promotes nuclear energy, allowed TEPCO to delay upgrades and ignore problems, the report found. The report  faults the Japanese nuclear industry and regulators for not learning lessons from Three Mile Island or the Chernobyl disaster  in the Ukraine, and also cites lack of communication between scientists and the government in sharing information that could help improve the safety of Japanese nuclear plants.

The commission ended its report by calling for the creation of an independent and professional nuclear regulatory body to help build a stronger safety culture in the Japanese nuclear industry.

Read more:

Tabuchi, Hiroko. "Inquiry Declares Fukushima Crisis a Man-Made Disaster." New York Times. July 5. 2012
"Official Fukushima Report  Blames Japanese Culture, Not Nuclear Power". The Atlantic. July 11, 2012
Normile, Dennis. "Commission Spreads Blame for 'Manmade' Disaster." Science Magazine. July 13, 2012.

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