Japan cites insufficient measures at Fukushima plant
Steam rises from the No. 3 reactor building of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant on March 14 following a hydrogen explosion that took place in the facility earlier that day. The government's report to the IAEA says that its safety measures were insufficient. (Provided by DigitalGlobe)
Acknowledging multiple failures in handling the Fukushima nuclear disaster, Japan plans to separate its supervisory organization on nuclear power from the industry ministry, which had long touted the safety of the nation's reactors.
The government, in its report submitted to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on June 7, said sufficient measures were not in place at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant to withstand the tsunami or respond quickly to the subsequent crisis.
The report also cited the possibility that part of the melted fuel in the reactors burned through the pressure vessels and accumulated at the bottom of the surrounding containment vessels.
The provisional report, compiled by the government's headquarters to deal with the Fukushima plant accident, will be discussed in the IAEA's ministerial-level meetings in Vienna from June 20. Japan's final report to the IAEA will be compiled after a government investigative committee releases its results next year.
According to the report, the insufficient countermeasures against tsunami prevented the plant's operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co., from immediately recovering power sources needed to cool down the reactors after the Great East Japan Earthquake struck on March 11.
As a result, nuclear fuel within the reactors became exposed and melted.
Proper ventilation of gases did not go smoothly either, and those in charge wrongly assumed that such accidents as hydrogen explosions would not occur in the reactor buildings, according to the report.
Electric power companies started to work out countermeasures against serious accidents in 1992 on a voluntary basis. But the contents of such measures have never been reviewed.
The government plans to make it mandatory for utilities to review these steps, the report said.
One big problem in the early stages of the disaster was confusion over the roles, responsibilities and jurisdictions of the central government, the headquarters set up at the Fukushima plant, and TEPCO.
The government's supervisory and regulatory system on nuclear power plants did not specify which organization held what responsibility, thwarting a cohesive effort in dealing with the still-continuing crisis, the report said.
To prevent a recurrence, the government plans to make the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA) an independent agency that is no longer under the supervision of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry.
Japan will also review the entire regulatory system of the nuclear power industry, including the role of the Nuclear Safety Commission.
"We will divide the lessons from the (Fukushima) accidents into short-term ones and middle- and long-term ones, and implement measures based on them," said Goshi Hosono, a special adviser to Prime Minister Naoto Kan and central player in compiling the report.
"We will make clear the costs of nuclear power generation, including those for safety measures, and will hold nationwide discussions on the future of nuclear power generation," Hosono said.
In the report, Japan apologized for raising concerns in the international community about the discharge of radioactive materials from the crippled nuclear power plant.
The government also said it failed to predict the spread of radioactive substances after hydrogen explosions damaged the reactor buildings because it was unable to obtain accurate information at the time. That exacerbated the confusion among residents forced to evacuate their homes near the Fukushima plant.
The government also acknowledged that it should have released data from the System for Prediction of Environmental Emergency Dose Information (SPEEDI) immediately after the crisis started.
In addition, Japan was late in announcing that the Fukushima plant accident had reached level 7, the maximum severity level on the International Nuclear Event Scale, the report said.
Since the Fukushima crisis started, a number of local governments have shown apprehension toward resuming nuclear reactor operations in their neighborhoods.
Central government sources said one purpose of the report to the IAEA was to send a message to the local governments that Tokyo is making efforts to ensure a safe resumption of nuclear power plant operations.
(The article was compiled from reports by Hidenori Tsuboya and Tatsuyuki Kobori.)