Fukushima Fallout: Commission Finds Nuclear Plant Disaster A “Made In Japan” Human Failure
A recent report produced by the National Diet of Japan Fukushima Nuclear Accident Investigation Commission has found that although the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami triggered the disastrous plant failure, the subsequent events leading to power outages and the release of radioactive materials were entirely preventable. Chairman Kiyoshi Kurokawa, who presided over the study, candidly attributed much of the blame directly to collusion between the plant’s owner-operator, the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), government regulators, and a dysfunctional governance and management bureaucracy. He states, “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 reflective obedience; our reluctance to question authority, our devotion to ‘sticking with the program’; our groupism; and our insularity.”
The report traces key problems back to a period following oil shocks of the 1970s when Japan accelerated development of nuclear power in order to achieve national energy security. Regulation of this industry was entrusted to government bureaucracy at a time when “Japan’s self confidence was soaring, [and] a highly knit elite with enormous financial resources had diminishing regard for anything ‘not invented here’.” It goes on to observe: “Carried to an extreme, this conceit led bureaucrats to put organizational interests ahead of paramount duty to protect public safety.” Accordingly, “Japan’s nuclear industry failed to absorb critical lessons learned from Three Mile Island and Chernobyl…it became accepted practice to resist regulatory pressure and cover up small-scale accidents…this led to disaster.”
At the time just preceding that disaster, the Fukushima Daiichi plant’s Units 1 through three of six total reactors were operating within normal specifications, and Units 4-6 were undergoing periodic inspections. Then, when the magnitude 9.0 earthquake struck, (the most powerful ever recorded in Japan), the seismic activity immediately caused Units 1-3 to automatically shut down. Those tremors damaged electricity transmission facilities between the plant and TEPCO’s Shinfukushima transfer substations. Although there was a backup network, transmission failed due to a mismatched hardware circuit.
Conditions rapidly deteriorated from bad to worse…much worse. The tsunami, a 133-foot tall wall of water caused by the earthquake that crashed onto the coast, flooded and totally destroyed the emergency generators, seawater cooling pumps, electrical wiring system and DC power supply for Units 1, 2 and 4, resulting in loss of all power except for an external supply to Unit 6 for an air-cooled emergency diesel generator. Unit 3 lost all AC power, and later, DC power as well. Unit 5 lost all AC power. The tsunami also destroyed or washed away vehicles, heavy machinery, and even wrecked buildings. Flooding scattered debris throughout the site, creating obstructions that hindered emergency response operations, including water injection using fire trucks and the repair of power supply systems.