On July 23rd, the “Investigation Committee on the Accident at the Fukushima Nuclear Power Stations of the Tokyo Electric Power Company” (commonly called the Government Investigation Committee) submitted its “final report” :What and why? How do the investigation reports answer fundamental questions?”

fukushimadaiichi

What and why? How do the investigation reports answer fundamental questions?”

2013.2.21

Haruo Kurasawa
Science journalist

On July 23rd, the “Investigation Committee on the Accident at the Fukushima Nuclear Power Stations of the Tokyo Electric Power Company” (commonly called the Government Investigation Committee) submitted its “final report” to Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda. Thus, all the reports prepared by a number of investigation committees that had been established after the nuclear accident are now on the table.

I have read through all the “accident investigation reports,” but, just like you, I still don’t feel satisfied. That’s because nowhere in the “accident investigation reports,” which is as long as 300 pages when combined, could I find a satisfying answer to questions such as “What is the true substance of the nuclear clear accident?” “Why did the accident take place?” or “Why did people have excessive exposure to radiation?”

There are several reasons that made the reports ambiguous.

First, an “on-the spot inspection” has not been conducted yet. On the premises, there are some spots, even though they are outside the buildings, where more than 10 mSv of radiation per an hour can be detected. Moreover, the radiation dosage in the reactor containment vessel goes beyond 70 mSv, which is a dosage rate where a person will die in a few minutes. We’ll have to wait a few years more until the cover of the reactor containment vessel can be opened and an “on-the spot inspection” can be conducted there.

The Tokyo Electric Power Company’s holding all the data is thought to have made the accident investigation difficult. Not only the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency or the Nuclear Safety Commission, but also a number of investigation committees established after the accident were not allowed to have free access to the data and information that TEPCO had. Public hearings were conducted entirely on a voluntary basis.

The “National Diet Investigation Commission,” the only commission that could exercise the right to conduct a government investigation, never used its “trump card.”

The last one is “Madonna in Autumn,” which is held on Noda Campus (Chiba Prefecture) during the university festival in late November. There are two events in the morning. One is “lectures” delivered by active scientists and professionals in the science field, and the other is a “Q&A style talk session” where female graduate students, young teachers and lecturers answer questions from students. In the afternoon, they can freely choose two experiments, one from two types of biological experiments and the other form two types of engineering experiments, according to their interest.

Additionally, matters that had not much to do with the true substance of the accident, such as the “withdrawal issue” or “Prime Minister Kan’s personality,” became the target of the media’s and nation’s attention, which also left an unpleasant aftertaste. The attitude that the media took in association with this accident should be called into a question.

In the first place, why did so many accident investigation committees come into being?

The “Fukushima Nuclear Accidents Investigation Committee” of the Tokyo Electric Power Company (hereinafter referred to as the “TEPCO Investigation Committee”) was established in order to “ascertain the causes of the accident so as not to repeat a similar situation, taking into consideration the gravity of the accident, and reflecting the lessons learned in projects for the future.” The business operator is, first of all, responsible for explaining the cause of the accident. Has the objective been accomplished? The answer is “No.” Because, the TEPCO Investigation Committee did not mention a word about the “responsibility.” The “TEPCO Accident Investigation Report” placed all the “responsibility” on the “unanticipated tsunami,” where TEPCO was consistently maintained the attitude of avoiding the responsibility as a business operator.

The “Independent Investigation Commission on the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Accident” (the “Private Investigation Commission”) was formed by private researchers, lawyers, businesspeople and journalists, who were “not able to sit still,” even though having “no authority.” TEPCO did not respond to their public hearing because of their having “no authority.”

The objective of the establishment is stated as follows: “The Private Investigation Commission was established only for examining whether the Tokyo Electric Power Company and the government had carried out their responsibilities to ‘protect the citizens’ and to what extent they had done so. Especially, it was established with the aim of determining the responsibility of the government that has been proceeding with nuclear power generation as a national policy.” The report harshly criticized the “intervention” by the Prime Minister’s Office.

On the other hand, the “National Diet of Japan Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission” (the “National Diet Investigation Commission”) was established in accordance with the law, with the intention of “reinforcing the administrative authority of the legislative body and strengthening oversight activities on issues related to nuclear power as well as investigating the accident, examining how the public administration responded, and recommending necessary measures to prevent accidents. However, before the National Diet Investigation Commission released the report, the government had already determined to establish the Nuclear Regulation Authority and to go ahead with the restart of the Oi Nuclear Power Plant.

The establishment of the “Investigation Committee on the Accident at the Fukushima Nuclear Power Stations of the Tokyo Electric Power Company” (the “Government Investigation Committee”) was determined at a Cabinet meeting in May of last year. The aim of the committee was to “determine the cause of the accident” and to “recommend necessary” measures for preventing a recurrence; however, the committee did not write about the government being responsible for respecting and practicing the “recommendations.” Later, the Government Investigation Committee was disbanded, as it were, without doing anything about the seven recommendations.

As mentioned above, these four accident investigation committees have different objectives and characters. Naturally, each report reflects the character of its organization and the members of the committee.

With the aim of understanding the true substance of the accident from the enormous volume of the submitted reports, I would like to extract the features of four reports and then evaluate the “accident investigation reports” for myself from the view point of “determining the cause of the accident by taking an engineering approach.”

For reports on the accident investigation, the reports listed below and the final reports made by the four accident investigation committees have been released.

  • The Report of Japanese Government to the IAEA Ministerial Conference on Nuclear Safety (July in 2011, hereinafter referred to as the “Report of Japanese Government”)
  • The Additional Report of Japanese Government to the IAEA Ministerial Conference on Nuclear Safety (September in 2011, the “Additional Report of Japanese Government”)
  • The Fukushima Nuclear Accidents Analysis Report (December in 2011, the “TEPCO Interim Report”)
  • The Interim Report of The Investigation Committee on the Accident at the Fukushima Nuclear Power Stations of Tokyo Electric Power Company (December in 2011, the “Interim Report of the Government Investigation Committee”)
  • The Research Investigation Report of the Independent Investigation Commission on the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Accident, (February in 2012 the “Private Investigation Committee Report”)
  • The Fukushima Nuclear Accidents Analysis Report (June in 2012 the “TEPCO Final Report”)
  • The official report of The Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission (June in 2012, the “National Diet Investigation Commission Report”)
  • The final report of The Investigation Committee on the Accident at the Fukushima Nuclear Power Stations of Tokyo Electric Power Company (July in 2012, the “Final Report of the Government Investigation Committee”)

The “TEPCO Final Report” faithfully reflects its concept of avoiding the responsibility as a business operator and ascribing the cause of the accident to the earthquake and the tsunami. The report states: “This accident was attributable to the Tohoku-Chihou-Taiheiyo-Oki Earthquake and the tsunami that was generated by the earthquake” and “It was indeed a massive earthquake and massive tsunami that far surpassed our knowledge.” However, the National Diet Investigation Commission Report concluded that it was utterly unthinkable to call it “far surpassed our knowledge.”

In addition, some researchers point out that the motion caused by the earthquake could have had effects on the plant; however, the TEPCO Accident Investigation Report denies it using the plant data, visual examination and methods of evaluating seismic capacity.

TEPCO concludes “Major equipment with safety-critical functions was found to have virtually no damage resulting from the earthquake and even for equipment of lesser seismic class.” On this point, TEPCO’s opinion is different from that of the “National Diet Investigation Commission Report.”

Additionally, TEPCO states that the accident management, which involves accident countermeasures that are taken when an accident is beyond a design basis, did not function due to the tsunami, and explains as follows.

“Reflecting back on the Fukushima accident, almost all equipment and power sources, which were expected to be activated in the case of accidents, including equipment put in place as the accident management measures that were prepared together with the government, lost their function due to the impact of the tsunami. (partially omitted) Consequently, actions to combat the accident at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant caused by the tsunami could not be taken, and core damage could not be prevented.”

Everything is explained by “caused by the tsunami.”

On the other hand, regarding the “withdrawal issue,” a lot of pages are devoted to flatly denying it. “This situation may have arisen due to insufficient communication between the Headquarters and the official residence, but in any event, both the Headquarters and the power station were thinking that the necessary personnel would remain and tackle the tasks on hand. The actual situation in the field at Fukushima Daiichi was such that even though the nuclear power plant was in a critical condition, TEPCO employees were determined to stay on inside the power station to respond to the accident while fearing for their physical safety, and they actually continued to respond,” TEPCO insists.

In short, the TEPCO Final Report claims that the accident was caused by the “massive tsunami that far surpassed our knowledge,” the field staff and the Headquarters observed the regulations, and the field staff did their best in dealing with the accident against all odds and risks, therefore they are free from defect.

TEPCO used all the data and information available and tried to evade responsibility.

Also the term “meltdown” is not used in the report as “misleading.”

The Final Report of the Government Investigation Committee criticizes it severely saying “TEPCO has no zeal for ascertaining the causes of the accident.”

The “Private Investigation Commission Report” is studded with various key words. The commission could not conduct hearings with TEPCO related persons, but it comprehensively raises questions based on the information obtained through hearings with politicians and cabinet members. In terms of “determining the cause of the accident by taking an engineering approach,” the report is not satisfying; however, it refers to themes that are not found in other reports, such as the problems of media reports including the usage of the social media, risk communication, cooperation with the international community including nuclear security, information dissemination, etc.

What should be regarded as the greatest achievement is its issuing the material, “Sketches of Scenarios of Contingencies at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power plant,” which Shunsuke Kondo, the chairman of the Japan Atomic Energy Commission, submitted to the government, at the end of the Private Investigation Commission Report. The report first revealed that if there had been primary containment vessel damage at the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Unit and fuel damage in the spent fuel pools at the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th Unit, a compulsory evacuation zone would have spread to a distance of 170 kilometers from the plant and a voluntary evacuation zone would have spread to a distance of 250 kilometers and beyond, which is described as a” worst-case scenario” or a “demonic chain reaction.” Usually, there are multiple units in a nuclear power plant in Japan; therefore, we have to pay attention to what influence the chairman of the Japan Atomic Energy Commission’s simulating such a far-reaching damage will have on future safety regulations.

On the other hand, the accident response of the Prime Minister’s Office is severely criticized. Referring to Prime Minister Kan’s “strong character” and “top-down management style,” the report states: “Prime Minister Kan, the top leader, is so self-assertive that he had both the positive side that enabled him to make decisions in responding to a critical situation and carry them out and the negative side that had a psychologically restraining effect that intimidated the persons concerned.”

And also, the report goes so far as to say: “Concerning the risks associated with the top person of the government intervening in the on-site response to the nuclear disaster should be shared as a crucial lesson learned from the Fukushima nuclear plant accident,” however, it does not seem to completely criticize TEPCO’s response for its inviting “governmental intervention.”

Additionally, the report even refers to “Japan-style regulations” or a “miss the forest for the trees” kind of attitude for regulations, the attitude that the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency has taken, and the poor performance of the Secretariat of the Nuclear Safety Commission, but it does not go further into the responsibility of the Prime Minister’s Office, which gives the impression of being severe to politicians and indulgent to the Prime Minister’s Office. I think that the delay in publicizing the calculation results of the SPEEDI and the collusion between the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency and electric power companies are criminal.

Only the National Diet Investigation Commission heard opinions from persons concerned publicly. And also the commission conducted a wide-scale questionnaire survey to residents and the other questionnaire survey to workers, the results of which serve as a valuable record in terms of “nuclear emergency preparedness.”

What distinguishes the National Diet Investigation Commission Report features is, first of all, its pointing out that a regulatory agency, the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, has been “captured” by TEPCO and the Federation of Electric Power Companies. The report points out that the “regulating one” has been a captive of the “regulated one” and also has been sacrificing the safety of the people for its interests.

The report laid bare the reality where TEPCO and the Federation of Electric Power Companies (the FEPC), as being a lobby group, have involved the regulatory agency, the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, into pushing earthquake countermeasures and tsunami protection measures into the future in a murky way, taking specific examples such as the issue of the Regulatory Guide for Reviewing Seismic Design of Nuclear Power Reactor Facilities, the legalization of severe accident measures, the introduction of the defense-in-depth concept of the IAEA, etc.

“The relationship between the electrical power suppliers and the regulatory agency in the Japanese nuclear industry has formed nothing but a structure of ‘regulatory capture’ that does not allow needed independence and transparency to be secured, which has proved to be incompatible with safety culture.”

Simply saying, it says that the regulatory agency is an agent of the electrical power suppliers.

In the nuclear industry, the blame for halting an existing nuclear reactor has been taken more seriously than the blame for causing an accident out of failure and has been avoided by unspoken agreement. Thus, both the suppliers and the regulating one have not stressed that ‘a nuclear plant must be safe’ as their absolute must in order to continue operating existing reactors, rather they have been insisting that a ‘nuclear plant is safe by its nature’ to head off negative effect on existing nuclear reactors. In this way, they have buried indications relating to the risk of an accident and new knowledge. So, it is reasonable to say that it was such a frame of mind that invited this accident.”

The regulatory agency that is captured by the electrical power suppliers has taken the initiative in burying regulations, new indications and knowledge that might have an influence on “existing nuclear reactors,” in other words, affect the operation of nuclear power plants, or have an adverse effect on a legal case against a nuclear power plant. How could this be described without using the term “criminal”?

We should never forget that the Nuclear Regulatory Agency, which is going to be set up this autumn, will keep on being tied to the structure of “regulatory capture.”

The National Diet Investigation Commission Report tries to “determine the cause of the accident by taking an engineering approach” and sets the question, “Was the accident preventable?”, thus pointing out the possibility that the pipe arrangement or something else could have been affected by the earthquake before the generation of the tsunami. Both TEPCO and the government states in their reports that the plant was not affected by the earthquake, but the National Diet Investigation Commission examines this possibility as far as possible.

Furthermore, the report is characterized in that it focuses on preparations that could have been made before the accident, asking questions such as why preparations against earthquakes and tidal waves had been “neglected in spite of having recognized the need” and why “countermeasures against a sever accident ignoring international standards” had been unmentioned.

As recommendations, seven items are listed in the report: “Monitoring of the nuclear regulatory body by the National Diet,” “Reform the crisis management system,” “Government responsibility for public health and welfare,” “Monitoring the operators,” “Criteria for the new regulatory body,” “Reforming laws related to nuclear energy” and “Develop a system of independent investigation commissions,” however, the government only renovated the face of the regulations but preserved their contents, and went ahead with the restart of the Oi Nuclear Power Plant, thus ignoring these recommendations as a result.

The Government Accident Investigation Committee has from the very beginning expressed its intention that “it would not pursue the liability.” The committee lists up seven items as “recommendations on measures to prevent the further spread of damage caused by the accident and a recurrence of similar accidents in the future” just like the National Diet Investigation Commission.

The involved seven items are as follows: “Recommendations for a basic stance for safety measures and disaster preparedness,” “Recommendations for safety measures regarding nuclear power generation,” “Recommendations for nuclear disaster response systems,” “Recommendations for damage prevention and mitigation,” “Recommendations for harmonization with international practices,” “Recommendations for relevant organizations” and “Recommendations for continued investigation of accident causes and damage.”

Each of them sounds like poetry and can hardly be an “accident investigation report.” Chairperson Yotaro Hatamura’s remarks sound similar.

  • What is possible can occur. What seems impossible can also occur.
  • What you do not want to see cannot be seen. What you want to see can be seen.
  • Make assumptions to the extent possible and be fully prepared.
  • Just changing the appearance is different from its functioning. Making a system is easy, but sharing a purpose is difficult.
  • Everything can change and the change should be dealt with flexibility.
  • Acknowledge the existence of danger, and create a culture where people can discuss danger face to face.
  • It is important to recognize the importance of making judgments and taking actions after seeing and thinking for yourself and to cultivate such an ability.

It is important to cultivate such an ability.

They sound quite strange for a chairperson’s remarks.

In the Interim Report of the Government Accident Investigation Committee, a lot of pages were devoted to the description of the operating status of Unit 1’s isolation condenser (IC), which suggests that if the IC had been operating, a chain of accidents could have been avoided.”

The Final Report criticizes the response measures of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant by comparing them with those of the Fukushima Daini Nuclear Power Plant.

Referring to the fact that there was only one line of external power source available at the Fukushima Daini Nuclear Power Plant, the report severely criticizes the response measures of the Fukushima Daiichi saying: “The Fukushima Daiichi did not go as far as to appropriately foresee later developments and take the needed actions beforehand, and it cannot be recognized to have taken the needed countermeasures in order to conduct water injections into the nuclear reactors constantly.”

This comment is taken as a direct criticism of Site Superintendent Masao Yoshida.

The highlight of the Government Accident Investigation Committee Report is the “Attachments.” The “Attachments” describes the process where the “station blackout” led to the “primary containment vessel damage” in detail.

Particularly, the report raises a question about TEPCO “analyzing the state of the nuclear reactor core” using an analysis code, and severely criticizes the analysis for presenting the simulation in a way that it looks to have been the reality.

Concerning the response measures, it was the most satisfying among the four reports.

What I have felt throughout the whole thing is that there are still so many things left unsolved. No matter how well you can use a computer, you cannot recreate the state of a nuclear reactor core. I am deeply concerned that the investigation into the cause of the accident might remain unsettled after all the accident investigation committees are disbanded.

What I have felt throughout the whole thing is that there are still so many things left unsolved. No matter how well you can use a computer, you cannot recreate the state of a nuclear reactor core. I am deeply concerned that the investigation into the cause of the accident might remain unsettled after all the accident investigation committees are disbanded.

And also, none of the reports has brought the names of operators, workers, etc. who were directly involved in response measures into the open, which will not hold up under historical investigation. And this makes it extremely difficult to interpret the reports.

It is not really sure whether all the people, including high government officials, were telling the truth at the hearings. It is the business of the accident investigation committees and also the business of us, journalist, to point out contradictions if any. I am apprehensive that such an excessive “anonymity policy” might prevent the clarification of the truth.

On the other hand, the National Diet Investigation Commission and The Government Accident Investigation Committee were expected to conduct a “reproductive experiment,” but they did not carry it out, sparing time and cost. How did hydrogen explosions occur? Was age-related deterioration involved? What is the tolerance level of a “primary containment vessel? A reproductive experiment will undoubtedly provide useful information. After the Three Mile Island accident, the accident investigation committee made the mock-up of the central control room and put the operators there, and conducted hearings. Investigations have to be conducted thoroughly to that extent.

Lastly, I have to point out that none of the reports fully discuss from the perspective of “nuclear emergency preparedness.” Why were residents living near the accident site heavily exposed to radiation? What should have originally been done instead? Why did not worthy measures such as the “Disaster Countermeasure Basic Act,” the “Act on Special Measures Concerning Nuclear Emergency Preparedness,” the “Basic Disaster Management Plan,” and “guidelines for disaster prevention” help? These questions have not been fully examined yet. I would like to deal with this issue in another setting.

The core of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident lies in the “station blackout (SBO).” The earthquake and the tsunami were no more than the factors that led to the SBO. In boiling water reactors, it has been the common knowledge that the SBO is the most serious matter that can lead to a severe accident. Why the SBO measures hadn’t been taken? Who the person in charge was when this happened has to be identified. In this regard, the National Diet Investigation Commission Report points out this matter sharply.

The process where the SBO led to the “loss of cooling function” and then to the “primary containment vessel damage” was quite clearly explained in the “Attachments.” Still, there remain unsolved questions such as where and how the “primary containment vessel” was damaged, where and in what state melted fuel is existing now, etc. There are a lot of things that are still unclear. Every time new knowledge or data is obtained, a revision has to be made.

In the first place, what is a “primary containment vessel”? Why isn’t it multiplexed? Is it a correct idea to isolate a “primary containment vessel”? What risk does excessively depending on a “primary containment vessel” create? There are a lot of questions that have to be answered.

The four accident investigation reports are only the beginning of the quest for the truth. Who will take over the responsibility and proceed with “the investigation of the cause of the accident”? There is no doubt that the world is focusing its attention on that.

 

http://sciencelinks.jp/content/view/1299/33/

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