--The Asahi Shimbun, Dec. 27
EDITORIAL: Fukushima report highlights crisis management flaws

A report on an investigation into the Fukushima nuclear disaster has made us wonder if the operator of the crippled plant put blind faith in the facility because of the "safety myth" created by propaganda to promote nuclear power generation.
The interim report was published on Dec. 26 by a government panel looking into the disastrous accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant triggered by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.

At the No. 1 reactor, members of the task force at the plant and the head office of Tokyo Electric Power Co., which operates the plant, initially failed to recognize that an isolation condenser, which is intended to cool the reactor during a blackout, was not working, according to the report.

The report bitterly criticized TEPCO for lacking sufficient understanding of how the condenser works. "As a nuclear power plant operator, it was highly inappropriate," said the report. The fact indicates how little importance TEPCO engineers placed on such a system to deal with an emergency.

The interim report also addressed problems concerning facilities outside the plant, such as the off-site center located 5 kilometers away. The center failed to perform its functions as the front-line base to respond to a nuclear accident. That's because the center was not designed to function under circumstances of heightened levels of radiation even though it is a facility to be used when an accident has broken out at the nuclear power plant.

The document, naturally, also raised the issue of the fact that data of the government's System for Prediction of Environmental Emergency Dose Information (SPEEDI), a system to predict the spread of radioactive materials during a nuclear emergency, was not used for the evacuation of residents in areas around the disaster-stricken plant. The government "didn't have the thought of publicizing SPEEDI information," according to the report. Why did the government decide to spend taxpayers' money to build the system in the first place if it didn't think about communicating information it generates to local residents?

The inquiry panel also pointed an accusing finger at the prime minister's office. The report said there was not enough mutual communication between the underground crisis management center, where top officials of ministries and agencies concerned gathered, and the room on the fifth floor where the prime minister and his close aides worked to deal with the situation.

The report painted a distressing picture of how top officials at TEPCO and the government got flustered in the face of the nuclear crisis as they lacked knowledge about what to do in such a severe event. We applaud the investigation panel for shedding light on this disturbing truth. But the report has still left some stones unturned.

The report pointed to the possibility that the core meltdown at the No. 1 reactor could have been at least delayed through an earlier injection of water if the plant operator had had an accurate grasp of the situation. But it failed to make clear how missteps and errors in judgment actually worsened the damage.

We have some advice for the panel as it continues to prepare a final report to be published next summer.

First of all, we urge the panel to be more willing to seek the help of outside experts. That the panel has no expert in nuclear reactors among its members is good from the viewpoint of insulating its work from the influence of the "nuclear village"--a close-knit community of policymakers, industry executives and scientists bent on promoting nuclear power generation. But its lack of necessary expertise could make it difficult for the panel to understand what happened in the reactors.

We also want the panel to interview as many politicians involved as possible. This is also crucial for uncovering the truth about the SPEEDI fiasco.

Yotaro Hatamura, an engineer who heads the panel, advocates the "science of failure." The principal purpose of research in this field is to prevent big failures by examining small ones. It is important to scrutinize the many small failures that must have occurred during the nuclear disaster to learn necessary lessons. We hope the panel will step up its efforts to accomplish its mission during the remaining half year.

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