Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Causes of Fukushima Crisis

Majia here: This is a strange article.

Release of final gov't report on Fukushima disaster sparks residents' criticism. Mainichi http://mainichi.jp/english/english/newsselect/news/20120724p2a00m0na013000c.html

[Excerpted] -- The release of the government's final investigative report on the nuclear crisis at the Fukushima nuclear power plant that highlights missteps by the Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), the central government and other authorities in handling the crisis, has triggered residents here to voice their criticism and demand apologies from both TEPCO and the government....

....Meanwhile, a key point stressed in the final report, which was released on July 23 by a government panel investigating the ongoing nuclear crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant, was that communication between the Fukushima Prefectural Government's disaster response department, the Self-Defense Forces (SDF) and police was "inefficient" at the time of the nuclear disaster.

The report also specifically pointed out that the lack of communication between authorities led to an "inappropriate" handling of patient evacuation from hospitals located within 20 kilometers of the damaged nuclear power plant....

Majia Here: I have not read the report because I've not yet found an English version of it available.

However, I do think it odd that the report would focus on the crisis management rather than the causes of the crisis. I hope that is not the case.

The crisis was caused by absolute, gross negligence on the parts of General Electric, Tepco, and the Japanese Government.


The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station was Tepco’s first nuclear plant.[i] The plant was built in the 1960s by Ebasco, an American general contractor that no longer exists. Reactors one through five at the site were based on General Electric’s Mark I design. Kiyoshi Kishi, a former Tepco executive heading Tepco’s nuclear plant engineering was interviewed by The Wall Street Journal about the lack of tsunami precautions at the plant. Kishi was quoted as stating that at the time the plant was built, a threat posed by a large tsunami at the site was considered “impossible.”[ii] Later some precautions were taken to protect the plant against a tsunami with a height of 18.8 feet. The tsunami that hit the plant on March 11 was over twice that height. Tepco engineers interviewed by The Wall Street Journal also reported that the venting systems in reactors one through five were very inefficient. Flooding of the generators and the poor ventilations systems are cited as the causes of the meltdowns and explosions at the Daiichi units 1 through 4. The four reactors at the Fukushima Daini complex and building 6 at the Daiich complex used General Electric’s Mark II system and were purportedly tailored more specifically to meet Japan’s earthquake and tsunami risks.[iii] These reactor buildings were reported in this article as having shut down safely, although contradictory evidence exists about their safe shutdown.[iv]
            Japan’s lax safety record is not the sole explanation for the Fukushima disaster. Two engineers at General Electric resigned in 1975 after concluding that the nuclear reactor designs for the Mark I reactors (built at Fukushima) were fundamentally flawed and dangerous.[v] Boiling water reactors operate with intense pressure and the engineers felt that the design specifications were insufficient for handling pressures that would result from a loss of cooling accident. One of the engineers, Dale G. Bridenbaugh, explained the GE engineers’ concerns in a recent interview with ABC: "The problems we identified in 1975 were that, in doing the design of the containment, they did not take into account the dynamic loads that could be experienced with a loss of coolant . . . The impact loads the containment would receive by this very rapid release of energy could tear the containment apart and create an uncontrolled release."
            That being said, it is notable that Tepco’s nuclear plants have been plagued with scandals. In 2002, Tepco’s president, vice president, and chairman stepped down after the utility acknowledged that it failed to report accurately cracks at its nuclear reactors in the 1980s and 1990s.[vi] Tepco was suspected of falsifying 29 cases of safety repair records. The Japanese Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency claimed that up to eight reactors could be operating with unfixed cracks, “though the cracks don't pose an immediate threat.” In 2006, Tepco was found to have falsified coolant water temperatures at the Fukushima Daiichi plant in 1985 1988.[vii] The falsified records were used during a 2005 inspection. In the wake of these scandals, Tepco revealed that an uncontrolled chain reaction had occurred in unit 3 at Fukushima Daiichi when fuel rods fell into the reactor.[viii] Tepco also acknowledged that it had falsified records of safety tests on unit 1’s containment vessel that occurred in 1991 -1992.[ix] In 2010, unit 2 reactor stopped automatically after problems with a generator resulted in a steep drop in the water level inside the reactor by about 1.8 meters.
Other nuclear plants in Japan have also had significant problems. Japan’s breeder reactors have been particularly prone to problems. In 1999 a uranium-reprocessing plant at Tokai-mura that was producing plutonium had an uncontrolled nuclear chain reaction that killed two employees and released radioactive emissions.[x] In 2007, Tepco's Kashiwazaki Kariwa nuclear power plant in Niigata prefecture was damaged in a magnitude 6.8 earthquake on 16 July 2007.[xi]
            Despite these problems, Japan hopes to join the international market building for constructing nuclear power plants. The Japanese nuclear safety agency, known as NISA, which is part of Japan's Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, announced plans to push overseas construction of nuclear power plants.[xii] In August of 2011 Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry visited Vietnam in order to promote sales of nuclear plants and it is anticipated that Japan will be contracted to build that nation’s second nuclear plant. In June of 2012, Hitachi announced that it plans to double its nuclear power sales and post-Fukushima disaster work.[xiii]

[i]           Norihiko Shirouzu and Chester Dawson. Design Flaw Fueled Nuclear Disaster. The Wall Street Journal (2011, July 1), A1, A12.

[ii]           Norihiko Shirouzu and Chester Dawson. Design Flaw Fueled Nuclear Disaster. The Wall Street Journal (2011, July 1), A12.

[iii]          Norihiko Shirouzu and Chester Dawson. Design Flaw Fueled Nuclear Disaster. The Wall Street Journal (2011, July 1), A12.

[iv]          However, a status report issued by the IAEA on May 5, 2011, by Deputy Director General and Head of Department of Nuclear Safety and Security, Denis Flory reported that as of April 21st, the exclusion zone around Fukushima Daini plant was reduced from 10 kilometers to 8 kilometers. It is not clear why an exclusion zone around Daini was maintained if the reactors there all shutdown safely.

[v]           Fukushima: Mark 1 Nuclear Reactor Design Caused GE Scientist To Quit In Protest  http://abcnews.go.com/Blotter/fukushima-mark-nuclear-reactor-design-caused-ge-scientist/story?id=13141287

[vi]          Heavy fallout from Japan nuclear scandal. CNN. (2002, September 2, 2002), http://archives.cnn.com/2002/BUSINESS/asia/09/02/japan.tepco/index.html  

[vii]         Japan's nuclear power operator has checkered past. Reuters (2011, March 12), http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/03/12/us-japan-nuclear-operator-idUSTRE72B1B420110312

[viii]         Norihiko Shirouzu and Rebecca Smith . Plant's Design, Safety Record Are Under ScrutinyComplex was central to a falsified-records scandal a decade ago that led Tepco briefly to shut down all its plants. The Wall Street Journal (2011, March 16), http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704396504576204461929992144.html

[ix]          Norihiko Shirouzu and Alison Tudor. Crisis Revives Doubts on Regulation. The Wall Street Journal (2011, March 15 ), http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703363904576200533746195522.html

[x]           Norihiko Shirouzu and Alison Tudor. Crisis Revives Doubts on Regulation. The Wall Street Journal (2011, March 15 ), http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703363904576200533746195522.html

[xi]          New Japanese nuclear power reactors delayed. World Nuclear News (2008, March 26), http://www.world-nuclear-news.org/NN-New_Japanese_nuclear_power_reactors_delayed-260308.html

[xii]         Norihiko Shirouzu and Alison Tudor. Crisis Revives Doubts on Regulation. The Wall Street Journal (2011, March 15), http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703363904576200533746195522.html.

[xiii]         Hitachi says nuclear power sales to double. Japan today (2012, June 15), http://www.japantoday.com/category/business/view/hitachi-says-nuclear-power-sales-to-double.

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