Japan leaders, utility slammed for ‘man-made’ nuclear disaster
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An independent parliamentary commission accused the Japanese government and the nation’s leading utility of ‘collusion’ in avoiding vital nuclear safety improvements that would have prevented the reactor meltdowns last year at the tsunami-damaged Fukushima complex.
In its report based on 900 hours of testimony, the Japanese Diet’s 10-member investigative panel accused government and industry leaders of having “betrayed the nation’s right to be safe from nuclear accidents.”
The report, seven months in the making and at odds with government and industry accounts of culpability, coincided with the first nuclear power plant going back on line since all 50 of Japan’s working reactors were shut down for inspection and safety upgrades. The first electrical energy from the No. 3 reactor at Ohi, in central Fukui prefecture, flowed into the national power grid Thursday, the Kansai Electric Power Co. reported Thursday.
Politicians called it ‘outrageous’ that the government decided to restart two reactors at Ohi before the commission’s report was issued and without completing all recommended safety improvements, including building a seawall around the reactor complex to protect it from the kind of tsunami that devastated the Fukushima plant.
The earthquake-triggered inundation of March 11, 2011, that led to meltdowns at three of Fukushima’s four reactors ‘cannot be regarded as a natural disaster,’ Tokyo University professor Kiyoshi Kurokawa wrote in the commission’s 600-page report. ‘It is an obviously man-made disaster ... that could and should have been foreseen and prevented.’
Japanese nuclear regulators with the Nuclear Industrial and Safety Agency colluded with Fukushima operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. in willfully ignoring necessary safety upgrades, the report stated.
“Across the board, the commission found ignorance and arrogance unforgivable for anyone or any organization that deals with nuclear power,” the report said.
The commission recommended that the Diet establish a permanent oversight panel to ensure that the government and utilities carry out the necessary measures to prevent any recurrence of the Fukushima disaster, the world’s worst nuclear crisis since the 1986 Chernobyl accident in Ukraine.
The Diet commission report was likely to fuel already strong anti-nuclear sentiments in Japan, where 20,000 besieged the offices of Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda last week to protest the planned resumption of nuclear power generation. All 50 operable nuclear reactors in the country had been shut down in a phased inspection program after the Fukushima disaster that saw the final plant go off-line in May, leaving Japan without nuclear energy-generating capacity for the first time in 42 years.
Recent opinion polls in Japan have shown at least 70% of the population want nuclear energy reduced or eliminated. Japan relied on nuclear power for about a third of its energy needs before last year’s disasters.
In announcing the first flow of nuclear energy on Thursday, Kansai Electric said it expected the power from the two Ohi plants to avert as much as a 15% power shortfall in the populous Osaka and Kyodo areas this summer.
--Carol J. Williams in Los Angeles