NAIIC Fukushima Report: A Warning Regarding Politicized Crisis Management
The Japanese legislature, the Diet, has just received a report from their Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission (NAIIC) that is a scathing indictment of the man-caused Fukushima disaster. But unlike the typical governmental response calling primarily for more and tougher government regulation as the solution, this report is quite tough in its assessments of all parties involved. It is especially critical of the prime minister's role in the response to the Fukushima nuclear accident.
Currently, only the executive summary has been translated into English. The full report will be made available soon. Space limitations allow only a brief analysis of the key points.
What has made the most headlines in the news reports so far was the discussion of the Kantei (the Japanese analog to our White House)'s claim that the plant's operators, TEPCO, had announced that they were going to totally evacuate the plant. This claim has been refuted to the satisfaction of the commission. But it is a hallmark of the inclination of the executive branch to seek someone else to blame and thereby poison the relationship between the government and the operator. This is something we saw here in the BP Gulf oil spill. As previously reported on The American Thinker, a core group of TEPCO employees stayed behind to try to control the accident. They became known as the "Fukushima 50." One measure of the animus that was directed at the Fukushima 50 by the Kantei was detailed in my December 4, 2011 blog post "Leader of Fukushima 50 Put On "Medical Leave." Their reputation has now been restored.
That mutual mistrust makes some of the testimony and observations of the NAIIC particularly pertinent for America. We have an administration that is overly enthralled by the notion that more government regulation is the answer to all problems and that it does no wrong. Fukushima proves otherwise.
1) [Shimizu] "found out" that the Prime Minister had interpreted the proposal regarding withdrawal as "full withdrawal" only after the Prime Minister said so. It seems that Shimizu lacked an understanding of the gap between how the Kantei perceived the situation and how TEPCO perceived it. The Kantei and TEPCO misunderstood each other and there was mutual mistrust, resulting in discrepancy over the interpretation of the word "evacuation."
2) In addition to his testimony, the Commission's investigation has confirmed the fact that the staff was on the ground striving hard to resolve problems with the reactors, and had not thought about withdrawing from the site. No evidence has been found either that TEPCO had made a decision to "fully withdraw."
3) Based on what the Commission has found, nuclear reactors in serious states were ultimately kept under control because of the people on the ground, who had a good grasp of the reactor conditions, as well as a sense of responsibility to remain on-site throughout the crisis [emphasis added].
4) To this end, TEPCO should not have turned to the Kantei for instructions. Instead, people on the ground or someone qualified to make technical judgments about the situation should have made decisions, as exemplified by the decision to inject seawater [emphasis added].
5) This raises an important argument over the position of the operator and the legitimacy of the intervention by the Kantei, which lacked the nuclear expertise [emphasis added][.]
Regarding the matter of the operator accepting responsibility and control of the situation, the commission's report states the following:
5th Commission Meeting The National Diet of Japan Date: February 27, 2012 Witness: Richard A Meserve, former Chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), President, Carnegie Institution for Science 1. Proactive mindset: Those responsible must make a continuous effort to raise existing safety standards. The construction and operation companies should not presume the quality of the standards of the regulatory agencies, and should not have a passive mind-set toward security and safety issues. 2. Operator responsibilities and independency: The nuclear plant operators have the most clearly defined responsibility to prevent accidents and stop any escalation in consequential damages. In an emergency situation, the operator is required to make decisions, and should avoid asking the government [emphasis added]. For this reason, the operators must be competent to do so.
There is much, much more to be found in just the executive summary. Clearly there will be many good lessons to be learned from the full report. Among them are comments regarding the under-design of the plant for major seismic loads. They conclude that it is possible that the plant would have had serious problems with earthquake damage, let alone the added distress caused by the tsunami. They also note that no one was properly prepared to work with outside experts, such as the U.S. Navy, who eventually did provide timely assistance.
There are a lot of people who did not do very well in the moment of crisis, but some did quite well. The truth is that once help arrived, the pyrolysis of the spent fuel rods was soon brought under control. What could have been truly disastrous was largely contained.
Thanks should go to the Fukushima 50 and others, such as the Navy and the supervisor of salvage. For those who want assurance that we can still get things done, I highly recommend reading pages 14 to 17 of the March 2012 edition of Faceplate to learn about what did go right during Operation Tomodachi, the Navy's effort to help contain the radiation at Fukushima. There are also details on the harbor clearance efforts to enable relief supplies to be brought in to relieve the tsunami stricken area.
NAVY -- A GLOBAL FORCE FOR GOOD!