March 17, 2011 in News
Bungling, cover-ups define Japanese nuclear power (AP):
Behind Japan’s escalating nuclear crisis sits a scandal-ridden energy industry in a comfy relationship with government regulators often willing to overlook safety lapses.
Leaks of radioactive steam and workers contaminated with radiation are just part of the disturbing catalog of accidents that have occurred over the years and been belatedly reported to the public, if at all.
In one case, workers hand-mixed uranium in stainless steel buckets, instead of processing by machine, so the fuel could be reused, exposing hundreds of workers to radiation. Two later died.
“Everything is a secret,” said Kei Sugaoka, a former nuclear power plant engineer in Japan who now lives in California. “There’s not enough transparency in the industry.”
Sugaoka worked at the same utility that runs the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear plant where workers are racing against time to prevent a full meltdown following Friday’s 9.0 magnitude quake and tsunami.
In 1989 Sugaoka received an order that horrified him: edit out footage showing cracks in plant steam pipes in video being submitted to regulators. Sugaoka alerted his superiors in the Tokyo Electric Power Co., but nothing happened. He decided to go public in 2000. Three Tepco executives lost their jobs.
The legacy of scandals and cover-ups over Japan’s half-century reliance on nuclear power has strained its credibility with the public. That mistrust has been renewed this past week with the crisis at the Fukushima Dai-Ichi plant. No evidence has emerged of officials hiding information in this catastrophe. But the vagueness and scarcity of details offered by the government and Tepco — and news that seems to grow worse each day — are fueling public anger and frustration.
Japan is haunted by memories of past nuclear accidents.
—In 1999, fuel-reprocessing workers were reported to be using stainless steel buckets to hand-mix uranium in flagrant violation of safety standards at the Tokaimura plant. Two workers later died in what was the deadliest accident in the Japanese industry’s history.
— At least 37 workers were exposed to low doses of radiation at a 1997 fire and explosion at a nuclear reprocessing plant operated in Tokaimura, northeast of Tokyo. The operator, Donen, later acknowledged it had initially suppressed information about the fire.
— Hundreds of people were exposed to radiation and thousands evacuated in the more serious 1999 Tokaimura accident involving JCO Co. The government assigned the accident a level 4 rating on the International Nuclear Event Scale ranging from 1 to 7, with 7 being most serious.
— In 2007, a powerful earthquake ripped into Japan’s northwest coast, killing at least eight people and causing malfunctions at the Kashiwazaki Kariwa nuclear power plant, including radioactive water spills, burst pipes and fires. Radiation did not leak from the facility.
Tepco has safety violations that stretch back decades. In 1978, control rods at one Fukushima reactor dislodged but the accident was not reported because utilities were not required to notify the government of such accidents. In 2006, Tepco reported a negligible amount of radioactive steam seeped from the Fukushima plant — and blew beyond the compound.
Patience wears thin at Tepco’s bungling (Financial Times):
When the leader of a country asks the company fighting to prevent a nuclear catastrophe “what the hell is going on?”, you know he has departed from the script.
Naoto Kan on Tuesday lost his temper with Tokyo Electric Power Company, the operator of the explosion-prone Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station.
Tepco’s attempt to impart information has left the public mostly confused and incredulous. At press conferences, anxious-looking junior executives hang their heads like naughty schoolboys, and apologise for “causing inconvenience”, a stock Japanese phrase. In matters of substance, they appear to know little.
In 1995, there was a cover-up of the extent of an accident at the Monju fast-breeder reactor. Four years later, three workers at the Tokaimura reactor suffered high doses of radiation when safety measures were circumvented. Then in 2002, Tepco was caught falsifying safety data. After a 2007 6.6-magnitude earthquake, Tepco admitted that another plant had not been designed to withstand such tremors. The industry, said Mr Cucek, has had “an attitude problem about safety”.
Tokyo Electric Power Company (Wikipedia):
On August 29, 2002, the government of Japan revealed that TEPCO was guilty of false reporting in routine governmental inspection of its nuclear plants and systematic concealment of plant safety incidents. All seventeen of its boiling-water reactors were shut down for inspection as a result. TEPCO’s chairman Hiroshi Araki, President Nobuya Minami, Vice-President Toshiaki Enomoto, as well as the advisers Shō Nasu and Gaishi Hiraiwa stepped-down by September 30, 2002. The utility “eventually admitted to two hundred occasions over more than two decades between 1977 and 2002, involving the submission of false technical data to authorities”. Upon taking over leadership responsibilities, TEPCO’s new president issued a public commitment that the company would take all the countermeasures necessary to prevent fraud and restore the nation’s confidence. By the end of 2005, generation at suspended plants had been restarted, with government approval.
In 2007, however, the company announced to the public that an internal investigation had revealed a large number of unreported incidents. These included an unexpected unit criticality in 1978 and additional systematic false reporting, which had not been uncovered during the 2002 inquiry. Along with scandals at other Japanese electric companies, this failure to ensure corporate compliance resulted in strong public criticism of Japan’s electric power industry and the nation’s nuclear energy policy. Again, the company made no effort to identify those responsible.
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