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Fukushima Study Blames Accident on Complacency, Poor Preparation

The following news article originally appeared in NEI’s Nuclear Energy Overview.

A new Japanese government investigation of the Fukushima accident says that national and local organizations were ill-prepared for a large-scale and complex natural disaster such as last year’s earthquake and tsunami, leading to more severe accident consequences than would otherwise have been the case.

The study was commissioned in May 2011 by the cabinet and is the latest of several investigations into the accident that have been conducted in Japan by, among others, Fukushima operator Tokyo Electric Power Co., the country’s parliament and its nuclear regulator.

Excerpts from the study’s final report, released in English this week, include indictments of Fukushima operator TEPCO, the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, and local and prefectural government agencies. It says both TEPCO and NISA were “not sufficiently prepared” for the possibility of a beyond-design-basis natural disaster leading to “large-scale core damage.”

The committee faults the utility’s on-site crisis management, saying the company’s overly hierarchical structure did not allow for worker initiative and that there had been inadequate worker training for severe accidents, and asks TEPCO to address the deficiencies.

The report also points out inadequacies in the emergency preparedness of local and prefectural governments, including poor provision of evacuation instructions, radiation data and other support to populations in the affected areas and beyond.

The report recommends broad changes in safety awareness, risk perception and disaster preparedness among both governmental and private organizations.

It strongly recommends establishment of a strong safety culture throughout the country’s nuclear industry, encompassing “practically every stakeholder in nuclear power generation—nuclear operators, regulators, relevant institutions and government advisory bodies.”

The committee also said Japan’s nuclear stakeholders should take an active role in continuing to study the causes and consequences of the Fukushima accident. Goshi Hosono, minister in charge of managing the nuclear crisis, proposed setting up an accident investigation committee under the new nuclear regulatory agency slated to replace NISA this September.

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