Fukushima fallout exacerbated by poor risk assessment and accident response - WEC Japan report

1st August 2012

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Failure to estimate the level of potential risk and to take in expert advice had exacerbated the severity of and the immediate response to the Fukushima nuclear accident, finds an independent panel of experts.

The findings, by the Independent Investigation Commission on the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Accident, were published in July this year by the WEC Japanese Member Committee.

The report finds that the small group of decision-makers at the Japanese Prime Minister’s office who commanded the accident response had mishandled the situation.  Amongst the problems noted, they had underestimated the risk of the radioactive fallout and did not take into account the expertise and advice of TEPCO, the Fukushima plant operator, and Japan’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA).

But the severity of the accident could have been dampened had NISA taken heed of pre-existing nuclear security guidelines issued by the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

The Commission issued the guidelines following the September 11th attacks to help nuclear plant operators prepare for potential terrorist attacks.  The measures include those that proved to be critical in the Fukushima accident, including the cooling of the reactor cores, and the maintenance the containment vessels’ function and the spent fuel pools’ cooling function.

Although NISA had been notified about these recommendations, it did not implement them.

The WEC Japan report also finds that the Fukushima plant was structurally unprepared for severe accidents.  The plant was developed and constructed under the belief that a severe accident would never occur.  Notably, when engineers designed the plant they had factored in the risk of earthquakes but not that of an ensuing tsunami, which crippled the plant.

The investigation was the result of extensive interviews with senior government officials and other persons involved in the Fukushima plant and the accident.

- by Monique Tsang

■ For more information about the investigation, please contact Mr Hideaki Tanaka, Secretary of the WEC Japanese Member Committee.
■ The World Energy Council published a report in March 2012 on the global status of nuclear energy one year post-Fukushima.  Read the report here: "World Energy Perspective: Nuclear Energy One Year After Fukushima".

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