TEPCO admits Fukushima disaster could have been averted

For the first time, the company behind Japan’s worst ever nuclear crisis has acknowledged that it could have avoided the disaster that crippled its Fukushima power plant in March 2011. In a statement which contradicted previous reports from the company, the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) admitted that it had known before the earthquake and tsunami last year that safety improvements were needed. “When looking back on the accident, the problem was that preparations were not made in advance,” TEPCO’s internal reform taskforce, led by the firm’s president, Naomi Hirose, said today. “Could necessary measures have been taken with previous tsunami evaluations? It was possible to take action”.

Until now, the company had insisted that nothing could have been done to protect the Fukushima plant against the earthquake and tsunami that triggered three meltdowns at the nuclear plant. In its most recent statement however, TEPCO conceded that the potential political, economic and legal consequences of implementing safety measures had discouraged them from introducing improvements. It had not made any safety improvements since 2002. The fears were that efforts to better protect nuclear facilities from severe accidents such as tsunamis may encourage anti-nuclear sentiment, interfere with operations or increase litigation risks. “There was a worry that if the company were to implement a severe-accident response plan, it would spur anxiety throughout the country and in the communities near where nuclear plants are sited, and lend momentum to the anti-nuclear movement,” the report said.

In its statement, TEPCO said that the impact of the accident could have been mitigated by using multiple power sources and cooling systems. It admitted however that it had not taken this action as it would have required the plant’s temporary closure and added to its costs.

The four damaged reactors at the Fukushima plant are currently being decommissioned by workers, in what could be decades of labour.

Many have criticised the Japanese government for its role in the disaster, blaming collusion between the company and government regulators for lax supervision which allowed TEPCO to continue lagging behind in safety steps.

TEPCO now plans to reform its safety measures at its Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear plant in northern Japan. The company wants to restart the nuclear plant but has denied that its reforms are aimed at improving its public image in order to re-open the plant. “The reforms are intended to improve our safety culture, and we have no intention to link it to a possibility of resuming the (Kashiwazaki-Kariwa) plant,” said one TEPCO official “We don’t have any preconditions for our reforms.”

Sources included: Japan Today, The Guardian

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