The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster was "Made in Japan," the result of "collusion" between regulators, government and the plants owners, concluded an expert panel after a six-month investigation. The tsunami that hit the plant also left 18,812 dead and missing as of July 4, 2012.
Daiichi Power Plant March 16, 2011
On March 11, 2011, a powerful earthquake hit northeastern Japan, causing unbelievable devastation. Buildings collapsed, people died and the Tokyo Electric Power Company's (TEPCO's) Daiichi nuclear power plant in Fukushima suffered significant damage. Thirty minutes after the quake, a tsunami, a wave that measured as much as 25 meters high in some locations, washed over the plant, flooding it. The flood filled plant basements with sea water, drowning its sub-surface diesel-powered secondary power system.
In the event of disaster, the secondary system was to maintain cooling water circulation around the nuclear cores of three generating units and the nuclear rod storage well of a fourth unit undergoing a periodic maintenance and refueling outage. TEPCO had built a seawall it 'could afford,' capable of withstanding a tsunami less than half the height of the one that showed up. This remarkable approach to disaster planning guaranteed that if the company was wrong, the secondary system would be rendered useless by full immersion... and they were. The worst part of the decision was that high ground was available for the diesels.
The expert panel, the Diet's Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission, also suggested that the initiating event might have been the earthquake itself, rather than the tsunami. Said Katsuhiko Ishibashi, a seismologist and panel member in the report, "We have proved that it cannot be said that there would have been no crisis without the tsunami." This, coupled with an earlier report from other experts that "...an active fault may lie under Kansai Electric Power Co's Ohi plant in western Japan, whose No. 3 unit began supplying electricity to the grid early on Thursday," suggests that, impending power shortage or no, restarting nuclear plants at this time is more than premature.
This report, from one of three expert panels investigating the disaster, is a scathing indictment of the "nuclear village" mentality of regulators and regulated. TEPCO and its regulators allowed the compromise of safety so they could recoup profits lost in the worsening economics of nuclear generation. Kiyoshi Kurokawa, chairman of the Commission, said the crisis was the result of "a multitude of errors and willful negligence" by TEPCO, regulators and the government. He said this disaster was "Made in Japan."
Previous articles in this series have documented the near-incestuous relationship between Japan's nuclear regulatory agency and the industry it regulates. Ranking officers from each side retire to sinecures within the other, and regulators and power industry representatives lobby together to avoid being required to upgrade facilities to international standards. Such practices almost guaranteed that any major assault on the integrity of this, and likely other, nuclear power plant would result in nuclear meltdown and disaster. In Fukushima Daiichi's case, the guarantee was fulfilled.
The National Police Agency of Japan has maintained a report of the dead and missing that resulted from the same earthquake and tsunami that destroyed the Daiichi Power Plant. The most recent of these articles reported 15,854 dead and 3,276 named missing, for a total of 19,130. The number of dead has hardly changed in the intervening four months, having risen only twelve to 15,866. However, the number of named missing has declined by 330 from 3,276 to 2,946. As before, it is reasonable to suggest that most missing persons so long unaccounted for may reasonably be presumed dead. Thus, the known death toll for the earthquake and tsunami rests near the total of the two numbersÂ—18,812. The real toll, of course, may never be known. More of the missing may yet be found, dead or alive, but most likely dead in rubble and sea-bottom soil left by the great wave.
City and village officials have argued since the event that hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of persons are missing and likely dead, but have not been reported because they have no one to report them. There has as yet been no attempt to merge those estimates into the total death toll.
Japan's great Tohoku Tsunami is not yet finally defined. The nation's government changed early in the crisis, Daiichi's released radiation has reportedly been identified in the USA, a great segment of a floating dock recently reached American shores, millions of tons of floating debris are slowly (though more rapidly than originally estimated) following it across the Pacific, and the number of dead remains a fluid data point in a morass of confusion. The Commission found that the disaster was the result of collusion between the government, the regulators and TEPCO, and that all three exhibited ignorance and arrogance and a disregard for global trends and public safety. There is much talk of improving those things, but little evidence of implementation more than a quarter into the second year after the disaster.
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