You gotta love that last sentence: “If only the tsunami had waited a little longer, we might have been ready.”
Japan Disaster Caps Decades of Faked Reports, Accidents
March 18 (Bloomberg) -- The unfolding disaster at the Fukushima nuclear plant follows decades of falsified safety reports, fatal accidents and underestimated earthquake risk in Japan’s atomic power industry.Tsunami Wall of Water Risk Known to Engineers, Regulators
The destruction caused by last week’s 9.0 earthquake and tsunami comes less than four years after a 6.8 quake shut the world’s biggest atomic plant, also run by Tokyo Electric Power Co. In 2002 and 2007, revelations the utility had faked repair records forced the resignation of the company’s chairman and president, and a three-week shutdown of all 17 of its reactors.
Nuclear engineers and academics who have worked in Japan’s atomic power industry spoke in interviews of a history of accidents, faked reports and inaction by a succession of Liberal Democratic Party governments that ran Japan for nearly all of the postwar period.
Katsuhiko Ishibashi, a seismology professor at Kobe University, has said Japan’s history of nuclear accidents stems from an overconfidence in plant engineering. In 2006, he resigned from a government panel on reactor safety, saying the review process was rigged and “unscientific.”
The 40-year-old Fukushima plant, built in the 1970s when Japan’s first wave of nuclear construction began, stood up to the country’s worst earthquake on record March 11 only to have its power and back-up generators knocked out by the 7-meter tsunami that followed.
Lacking electricity to pump water needed to cool the atomic core, engineers vented radioactive steam into the atmosphere to release pressure, leading to a series of explosions that blew out concrete walls around the reactors.
The cascade of events at Fukushima had been foretold in a report published in the U.S. two decades ago. The 1990 report by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, an independent agency responsible for safety at the country’s power plants, identified earthquake-induced diesel generator failure and power outage leading to failure of cooling systems as one of the “most likely causes” of nuclear accidents from an external event.
While the report was cited in a 2004 statement by Japan’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, it seems adequate measures to address the risk were not taken by Tokyo Electric, said Jun Tateno, a former researcher at the Japan Atomic Energy Agency and professor at Chuo University.
“It’s questionable whether Tokyo Electric really studied the risks,” Tateno said in an interview. “That they weren’t prepared for a once in a thousand year occurrence will not go over as an acceptable excuse.”
Mitsuhiko Tanaka, 67, working as an engineer at Babcock Hitachi K.K., helped design and supervise the manufacture of a $250 million steel pressure vessel for Tokyo Electric in 1975. Today, that vessel holds the fuel rods in the core of the No. 4 reactor at Fukushima’s Dai-Ichi plant, hit by explosion and fire after the tsunami.
Tanaka says the vessel was damaged in the production process. He says he knows because he orchestrated the cover-up. When he brought his accusations to the government more than a decade later, he was ignored, he says.
The law required the flawed vessel be scrapped, a loss that Tanaka said might have bankrupted the company. Rather than sacrifice years of work and risk the company’s survival, Tanaka used computer modeling to devise a way to reshape the vessel so that no one would know it had been damaged. He did that with Hitachi’s blessings, he said.
“I saved the company billions of yen,” Tanaka said in an interview March 12, the day after the earthquake. Tanaka says he got a 3 million yen bonus ($38,000) from Hitachi and a plaque acknowledging his “extraordinary” effort in 1974. “At the time, I felt like a hero.”
That changed with Chernobyl. Two years after the world’s worst nuclear accident, Tanaka went to the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry to report the cover-up he’d engineered more than a decade earlier. Hitachi denied his accusation and the government refused to investigate.
In 1988, Hitachi met with Tanaka to discuss the work he had done to fix the dent in the vessel. They concluded that there was no safety problem, said Hitachi spokesman Yuichi Izumisawa. “We have not revised our view since then,” Izumisawa said.
In 1990, Tanaka wrote a book called “Why Nuclear Power Is Dangerous” that detailed his experiences.
Tokyo Electric in 2002 admitted it had falsified repair reports at nuclear plants for more than two decades. Chairman Hiroshi Araki and President Nobuyama Minami resigned to take responsibility for hundred of occasions on which the company had submitted false data to the regulator.
The dangers posed by a tsunami the size of the one generated by the 9.5-magnitude Valdiva temblor off Chile are described in a 2002 report by the Japan Society of Civil Engineers, Ito said.
“Tokyo Electric brought this upon itself,” said Ito, who now heads the National Center for the Citizens’ Movement Against the Nuclear Threat, based in Tokyo. “This accident unfolded as expected.”
Kansai Electric Power Co., the utility that provides Osaka with electricity, said it also faked nuclear safety records. Chubu Electric Power Co., Tohoku Electric Power Co. and Hokuriku Electric Power Co. said the same.
Only months after that second round of revelations, an earthquake struck a cluster of seven reactors run by Tokyo Electric on Japan’s north coast. The Kashiwazaki Kariwa nuclear plant, the world’s biggest, was hit by a 6.8 magnitude temblor that buckled walls and caused a fire at a transformer. About 1.5 liters (half gallon) of radioactive water sloshed out of a container and ran into the sea through drains because sealing plugs hadn’t been installed.
While Japan had never suffered a failure comparable to Chernobyl, the Fukushima disaster caps a decade of fatal accidents.
Two workers at a fuel processing plant were killed by radiation exposure in 1999, when they used buckets, instead of the prescribed containers, to eye-ball a uranium mixture, triggering a chain-reaction that went unchecked for 20 hours.
In 2004, an eruption of super-heated steam from a burst pipe at a reactor run by Kansai Electric killed five workers and scalded six others. A government investigation showed the burst pipe section had been omitted from safety checklists and had not been inspected for the 28 years the plant had been in operation.
March 26 (Bloomberg) -- Japan’s nuclear regulators and the operator of the crippled Fukushima reactors were warned that a tsunami could overwhelm the plant’s defenses and failed to recognize the threat.Previous posts much related posts:
The Trade Ministry dismissed evidence two years ago from geologists that the power station’s stretch of coast was overdue for a giant wave, minutes from a government committee show. Tokyo Electric Power Co. engineers also didn’t heed lessons from the 2004 tsunami off Indonesia that swamped a reactor 2,000 kilometers (1,200 miles) away in India, even as they advised the nuclear industry on coping with the dangers.
“The Japanese system underestimated the natural threat from the earthquake and tsunami,” said Pierre Zaleski of University Paris Dauphine and a former French Atomic Energy Commission member. “They really haven’t taken these threats seriously enough, and they haven’t moved fast enough.”
Tokyo Electric’s sea-wall defenses for the Dai-Ichi plant were built under the assumption that the coastline on which it sat wasn’t prone to tsunamis higher than 5.5 meters, said Yoshimi Hitosugi, a Tokyo-based company spokesman.
An 8-meter tsunami that hit Japan’s northeast in 869 swept as far as 4 kilometers inland at Sendai Bay, stretching south toward the Dai-Ichi plant, according to at least half a dozen scientific studies spanning more than a decade.
A repeat could occur soon because sediment samples showed the tsunami had a pattern of recurring every 800 to 1,000 years, according to a 2001 report by a research team funded by the government’s Science Ministry.
Minutes of a committee meeting held by the Trade Ministry to assess reactor safety on June 24, 2009, show that Yukinobu Okamura, who heads the government-funded Active Fault and Earthquake Research Center, asked Tokyo Electric why it hadn’t taken on board evidence of the tsunami risk.
At the August 2005 forum, Tokyo Electric senior nuclear engineer Toshiaki Sakai delivered a report called “Tsunami Evaluation Method for Nuclear Power Stations in Japan,” according to the IAEA’s website. The company declined to make him available for an interview and Hitosugi said it cannot find the report.
Japan’s delegation gave guidance on coping with tsunami threats and developed a system to evaluate risks and protect reactors, the IAEA said in a report from the conference on its website.
Tohoku Electric Power Co.’s Onagawa nuclear power plant was about 75 kilometers closer to the epicenter of the quake, and suffered no critical damage because it was built 15 meters above sea level, spokesman Yoshitake Kanda said.
In both instances, reactors were safely shut down and cooling systems continued to operate.
Japan has suffered 195 tsunamis since 400, according to Japan’s Central Research Institute of Electric Power Industry, which produced a report on tsunami threats to nuclear plants on the opposite coast to Dai-Ichi in July 2008. Three in the past three decades had waves of more than 10 meters.
A 7.6-magnitude quake in 1896 off the east coast of Japan created waves as high as 38 meters, while an 8.6- magnitude temblor in 1933 led to a surge as high as 29 meters, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.
Geologist Masanobu Shishikura, a researcher under Okamura who has focused on the 869 tsunami, said he wasn’t surprised historical evidence wasn’t heeded to. When he presented to government officials from two towns on the coast north of Dai-Ichi, the urgency wasn’t clear even to him.
Today, those towns of Higashi Matshushima and Ishinomaki lie in ruins.
“At the time, we thought it was unfortunate they didn’t take us seriously, but we figured it was just a matter of making a better presentation,” Shishikura said. “If only the tsunami had waited a little longer, we might have been ready.”
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