Saturday 28 July 2012

Reports on the Accident

There's a new word being bandied about. Jikocho 事故調  and it refers to the enquiries and reports into the accident at Fukushima. There have been four: one by private foundation RJIF (27 February), Tepco's internal report (20 June), a parliamentary report (5 July) and now the government's report (interim report 26 December, final report 23 July). 

They all agree that insufficient measures were taken to prepare for a tsunami, that the PM should not have meddled in the aftermath, and that the SPEEDI data should have been utilised in the evacuation. Tepco's report puts the blame on everyone else: on the tsunami for being unforeseen (想定外 soteigai), on the regulators for not telling them about US anti-terrorist measures, and on the prime minister for interfering.

This final government report is the most detailed and states categorically that the accident was 'man made' (人災 jinsai) and caused by collusion between the government, the regulators and the industry - what is known here as 'the atomic village' (原子村 genshimura) who promoted the myth that nuclear is safe (安全神話 anzen shinwa).

Fukushima prefecture comes in for criticism too. Particularly over the scandal of Futaba Hospital, just 4 kms from the plant where 130 patients at an old people's home were ignored for 2 days, then rescued by the army and taken in buses on a 10 hour journey around the prefecture. Four of them were dead at the end of the day, 45 by the end of the month. To add insult to injury the prefecture falsely blamed the hospital staff for abandoning them. It's been a long running scandal here but the government report puts the blame squarely on the prefecture. The evacuation was handled by separate departments and these people fell through the net: the evacuation department not sharing information with the department in charge of vulnerable persons. The cause is tatewari 縦割り, a word you hear a lot here. It means 'divided vertically', i.e. departments not talking to each other. The report stressed the need for teams coordinating the work of different departments.

The prefecture was also criticised for trying to stop the town of Miharu issuing iodine tablets on the grounds that there were no instructions from central government. Local government should have more autonomy, was the conclusion.

What we want to know of course is: what caused the accident? It's still going to take years to find out as radiation is so high inside the reactors that no one can get near. But, as far as I can gather, measures taken at Fukushima Daini (No. 2 Plant) prevented the situation escalating whereas mistakes were made at Fukushima Daiichi which resulting in cooling being stopped for long periods. First mistake: it was wrongly believed that the Isolation Condenser in Unit I was working. At 10 pm on 11 March it was discovered that it was not. It was decided to open a vent but this didn't happen until 2:30 pm the next day. Too late: there was an explosion an hour later. Next day, in Unit 3, they mistakenly thought a vent had been opened but the batteries were flat and it hadn't opened. Cooling was stopped, fusion continued producing hydrogen which exploded, spreading to Unit 4. Next day, 14 March, vents were opened in Unit 2 but without checking the water levels and pressure in the suppression pools at the bottom of the reactor. Radioactive materials leaked out of the top of the reactor. (The wind then was blowing south and it was this plume that blew towards Tokyo.)

What shines through is a lack of concern for people on the ground. Not wanting to face up to the dangers of earthquakes and tsunami, putting form and protocol first. Even Minister of the Nuclear Accident, Hosono, said as much on TV the other day.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to get to bed. Hope to get up at 5 am to watch the opening ceremony of the Olympics in Stratford.

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