“poor emergency responses by the plant operator and the government.” Mainichi Daily News, Japan

TOKYO (Kyodo) — A government panel investigating the nuclear crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant said Monday the accident shows the need to prepare for unexpected events if the consequences of them happening could be disastrous, referring to the poor emergency responses by the plant operator and the government.

Releasing an interim report following some six months of investigation, the panel said that many problems related to the crisis were linked to the absence of measures to deal with severe nuclear accidents caused by tsunamis as well as the failure to assume that a nuclear crisis could occur in combination with a natural disaster.

“It cannot be denied that people who have been involved in nuclear disaster response and those in charge of managing and operating nuclear power plants have lacked the big-picture viewpoint for seeing nuclear disaster preparedness,” the report said.

“In that point, there has been a major problem in nuclear disaster preparedness, which would not allow them to make the excuse that they were not able to handle the situation because…the plant was hit by tsunami waves beyond the scope of their assumptions,” it said.

The remarks are in contrast with the outcome of an in-house investigation conducted by plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co., which blamed the larger-than-expected tsunami for the failure to prevent the world’s worst nuclear accident since the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.

With key buildings flooded by tsunami waves more than 10 meters high, the plant located on the Pacific coast in northeastern Japan lost nearly all of its power sources and consequently the ability to cool the reactors and spent fuel pools.

The report by the investigation committee led by Yotaro Hatamura, a professor emeritus at the University of Tokyo, said TEPCO misunderstood and mishandled the situation at the Nos. 1 and 3 reactors, which eventually suffered meltdowns along with the No. 2 reactor.

As for the No. 1 unit, injecting water into the reactor by using fire trucks was delayed mainly because officials at the plant’s emergency headquarters mistakenly thought that a cooling system called an isolation condenser was functioning when it was not.
In this March 20, 2011 aerial file photo taken by a small unmanned drone and released by Air Photo Service, the crippled Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant is seen in Okumamachi, Fukushima prefecture. From top to bottom: Unit 1, Unit 2, Unit 3 and Unit 4. (AP Photo/Air Photo Service)
In this March 20, 2011 aerial file photo taken by a small unmanned drone and released by Air Photo Service, the crippled Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant is seen in Okumamachi, Fukushima prefecture. From top to bottom: Unit 1, Unit 2, Unit 3 and Unit 4. (AP Photo/Air Photo Service)

There was “a good chance” the actual situation could have been noticed, the report said, but reactor operators and headquarters staff apparently did not have sufficient knowledge about the equipment itself or how to handle it, which was an “extremely inappropriate” situation for a plant operator.

TEPCO “had not expected a situation in which all power sources would be lost at multiple reactors simultaneously due to an extremely severe natural disaster, and it had not provided enough training and education to respond to this situation,” the report said.

In the case of the No. 3 reactor, meanwhile, some workers stopped an emergency cooling system without reporting to senior officials of the plant’s headquarters.

If workers had been able to release the pressure in the Nos. 1 and 3 reactors and start injecting water earlier, the reactor cores might not have been damaged as much as currently believed and a smaller amount of radioactive substances might have been emitted, the report said.

The government’s response in the early stage of the crisis was also problematic, with communications among officials at the prime minister’s office insufficient and the emergency response center in the industry ministry not functioning well in performing its role of gathering information as stipulated in the nuclear disaster response manual.

Members of the industry ministry and the nuclear safety agency were “strongly frustrated by the lack of speed in information provision” by TEPCO, but even so they did not take such actions as sending agency staff to the company’s head office, the report said.

The committee also said that the government’s evacuation order issued to residents around the plant was not clear enough in that it sounded almost the same as telling them to “just run,” and in some cases residents were found to have been evacuated to areas where radioactive substances had spread.

Summarizing its findings, the report said that TEPCO did not take steps to deal with severe accidents caused by tsunami and that nuclear regulators acted similarly. The possibility of such an incident was seen as very low and treated as an “unexpected” issue.

“But even if it is a phenomenon with a very low probability of occurring, it does not mean that you can ignore it. If an irreversible situation is going to happen…measures should be taken to prevent the situation,” the report said.
In this March 11, 2011 photo released Monday, April 11, 2011 by Tokyo Electric Power Co.,(TEPCO), the access road at the compound of the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant is flooded as tsunami hit the facility following a massive earthquake in Okuma town, Fukushima Prefecture, northeastern Japan. (AP Photo/Tokyo Electric Power Co.,)
In this March 11, 2011 photo released Monday, April 11, 2011 by Tokyo Electric Power Co.,(TEPCO), the access road at the compound of the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant is flooded as tsunami hit the facility following a massive earthquake in Okuma town, Fukushima Prefecture, northeastern Japan. (AP Photo/Tokyo Electric Power Co.,)

Since launching its investigation in June, the investigation committee had conducting hearings from a total of 456 people as of Dec. 16. It is expected to release its final report next summer.

Gist of investigation report on Fukushima nuclear accident

The following is the gist of the interim report issued Monday by a government panel investigating the nuclear accident at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima Daiichi power plant.

The government:

— failed to communicate well within the prime minister’s office.
In this March 15, 2011 photo released by Tokyo Electric Power Co., smoke rises from the badly damaged Unit 3 reactor, left, next to the Unit 4 reactor covered by an outer wall at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear complex in Okuma, northeastern Japan. (AP Photo/Tokyo Electric Power Co.)
In this March 15, 2011 photo released by Tokyo Electric Power Co., smoke rises from the badly damaged Unit 3 reactor, left, next to the Unit 4 reactor covered by an outer wall at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear complex in Okuma, northeastern Japan. (AP Photo/Tokyo Electric Power Co.)

— had problems gathering information through channels stipulated in the nuclear disaster response manual.

— did not use in issuing evacuation orders data from a computer system to predict the dispersal of released radioactive materials.

— failed to fully use a facility planned to serve as the local headquarters as it was unprepared for a rise in radiation levels.

TEPCO:

— misunderstood the functioning status of the No. 1 reactor’s cooling system called the isolation condenser.

— had not trained reactor operators sufficiently to handle the isolation condenser.

— mishandled the No. 3 reactor’s emergency cooling system.

— might have been able to lessen the damage of fuel inside the Nos. 1 and 3 reactors if it acted more appropriately.

The investigation committee:
In this photo released by Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), a small fire breaks out from facilities sampling seawater located a few dozen meters from Unit 4 inside the tsunami-crippled Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant in Okumamachi, Fukushima Prefecture, northeastern Japan, Tuesday morning, April 12, 2011. The fire was put out soon and the ongoing cooling operations at the main units were not affected according to TEPCO. (AP Photo/Tokyo Electric Power Co.)
In this photo released by Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), a small fire breaks out from facilities sampling seawater located a few dozen meters from Unit 4 inside the tsunami-crippled Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant in Okumamachi, Fukushima Prefecture, northeastern Japan, Tuesday morning, April 12, 2011. The fire was put out soon and the ongoing cooling operations at the main units were not affected according to TEPCO. (AP Photo/Tokyo Electric Power Co.)

— calls for the need to be prepared for low-probability events if the possible consequences could cause extremely huge damage.

— calls for the need to consider the possibility that a nuclear accident can occur in combination with natural disasters.

— believes that people involved in considering the country’s nuclear disaster measures lacked a broader perspective on the issue.

— has so far not confirmed that reactor vessels were damaged by the March 11 earthquake, before being hit by ensuing tsunami waves.

(Mainichi Japan) December 26, 2011

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