Japan’s nuclear accident was caused by negligence on the part of government, regulators and plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co., 9501.TO -1.29 percent a parliamentary panel investigating the accident concluded, in a condemnation of the country’s atomic-energy industry and the people who were supposed to oversee it.
The 10-member panel – which released its findings in a 640-page report Thursday – said regulators and Tepco “failed to correctly develop the most basic safety requirements,” leaving the Fukushima Daiichi plant vulnerable to the earthquake and tsunami that hit on March 11, 2011.
The report highlights the relationship between regulators and regulated in Japan’s nuclear industry, saying Japan’s powerful industry group had pressured its overseers to loosen regulations or postpone any toughening of them. “The regulator has been captured by the industry it regulates,” the report said.
The government, regulators and Tepco “effectively betrayed the nation’s right to be safe from nuclear accidents,” said the panel, which used harsh language throughout its report.
The panel called for a complete revamp of Japan’s nuclear industry and regulatory structure, issuing a series of recommendations, the creation of a permanent parliamentary committee to monitor a new nuclear regulator to be created later this year, and a rewriting of rules to “meet global standards of safety, public health and welfare.”
The investigation found “a multitude of errors and willful negligence that left the Fukushima plant unprepared for the events of March 11,” panel chair and former Science Council of Japan President Kiyoshi Kurokawa wrote in his forward to the report. “What must be admitted – very painfully – is that this was a disaster ‘Made in Japan.’ ”
Japan’s main nuclear regulator, the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, “is taking the report seriously” and “will give full consideration to those things that need to be improved,” said Yoshinori Moriyama, NISA’s deputy director general for nuclear-accident measures, at a news conference after the report was released.
A spokesman for Japan’s industry and trade ministry, which oversees the nuclear industry, said the ministry didn’t have a comment on the report. A spokesman for Tepco said it is still looking through the report.
The parliamentary-appointed panel, comprised largely of scientists, lawyers and academics, is one of three groups investigating the causes of last year’s Fukushima Daiichi accident, and the only one with the power to subpoena people and evidence. The panel interviewed 1,167 people and collected 900 hours of public testimony, with witnesses ranging from former Japanese prime minister Naoto Kan to former US Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chair Richard Meserve.
The government isn’t required to take into account or carry out the panel’s findings and recommendations, but it carries weight. It is considered more objective than the one being produced by the government, says Tatsuo Hatta, a former economics professor at University of Tokyo, who was asked to comment on a draft of the report.
Many legislators and local politicians have been calling on the government to take the results of the investigation into account when Japan reviews nuclear-safety standards and revamps its regulator later this year.
The report squarely rebuts some central views that the Japanese government, regulators and Tepco have put forward regarding the causes of the accident, in which last year’s earthquake and tsunami knocked out power at Fukushima Daiichi and sent three reactors spinning out of control. While the government and Tepco have said the scale of natural disaster was so great it couldn’t have been foreseen, the panel’s report called the plant accident “man-made” and preventable.
The panel also said it found evidence that the magnitude-9 earthquake may have played a part in the events leading to the accident by damaging key equipment. The government and Tepco have held that the Fukushima Daiichi plant withstood the earthquake and that the loss of control was caused by tsunami damage.
Experts say that if the earthquake is suspected to have played a role in the accident, that could lead to a re-evaluation of earthquake standards for all Japan’s reactors.
To address those issues, the panel suggested setting up an agency appointed by parliament – separate from the government nuclear regulator – that would monitor and inspect power-company operations, including risk management, governance and safety standards.
The report also recommends consolidating and rewriting existing nuclear laws and regulations to bolster safety and set criteria for things such as decommissioning nuclear reactors.
“The panel has a few good recommendations on regulatory reform,” said Tadashi Narabayashi, a professor of reactor engineering at Hokkaido University, and a member of the panel that reviews the safety of reactors before restarting them. “But it focuses too much on how to respond to severe accidents rather than how to prevent such accidents.” -By Mitsuru Obe and Phred Dvorak