The following story originally appeared in NEI’s Nuclear Energy Overview.
An independent commission appointed by Japan’s parliament to study the causes of last year’s nuclear accident at Fukushima Daiichi had harsh criticism for the government, the operator of the plant and even the country’s national culture.
“Our report catalogues a multitude of errors and willful negligence that left the Fukushima plant unprepared for the events of March 11,” commission chairman Kiyoshi Kurokawa wrote in the introduction to the panel’s report. “What must be admitted—very painfully—is that this was a disaster ‘Made in Japan.’ Its fundamental causes are to be found in the ingrained conventions of Japanese culture: our reflexive obedience; our reluctance to question authority; our devotion to ‘sticking with the program’; our groupism; and our insularity.”
Kurokawa criticized the “mindset” of the government’s regulatory bureaucracy—“where the first duty of any individual bureaucrat is to defend the interests of his organization”—and the industry for resisting regulation and covering up “small-scale accidents.”
Before writing its report, the independent commission—which it said is “the first in the history of Japan’s constitutional government”—collected information through 900 hours of public hearings and interviews with more than 1,100 people over a six-month period. Commission members also visited several nuclear power plants, including Fukushima Daiichi.
Kurokawa is a physician, an academic fellow of the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies and the former president of the Science Council of Japan. Other commission members include scientists, federal and local government officials, academics, a lawyer, and a journalist.
Its report calls the accident “a manmade disaster.”
“The … accident was the result of collusion between the government, the regulators and [Tokyo Electric Power Co.],” the operator of the plant, the report says in its first conclusion. It stops short of attributing errors to “any specific individual”: “We believe that the root causes were the organizational and regulatory systems that supported faulty rationales for decisions and actions.”
The report goes on to blame TEPCO, the regulatory agencies and the government body charged with promoting nuclear energy for failing “to correctly develop the most basic safety requirements.” The “causes of the accident were all foreseeable prior to March 11, 2011,” the report says.
The report also chides the Japanese regulator for its “negative attitude toward the importation of new advances in knowledge and technology from overseas.” It notes that after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission ordered American nuclear energy facilities to develop means to cope with loss of electric power for cooling and loss of large areas of the plant. “If [Japan’s nuclear regulator] passed on to TEPCO measures that were included in the … U.S. security order that followed the 9/11 terrorist action, and if TEPCO had put the measures in place, the accident may have been preventable,” the report concludes.
The report also criticizes “organizational problems within TEPCO,” ambiguous boundaries for responsibilities in mitigating the accident, government “negligence” in planning for an emergency, and an ongoing lack of government commitment “to protecting public health and safety.”
The government nuclear regulatory system “needs to be transformed, not as a formality, but in a substantial way. Japan’s regulators need to shed the insular attitude of ignoring international safety standards and transform themselves into a globally trusted entity,” the report concludes.
The commission also calls for “fundamental corporate changes” at TEPCO, “including strengthening its governance, working towards building an organizational culture which prioritizes safety, changing its stance on information disclosure, and establishing a system which prioritizes the site” of its power plants.