4 Mars 2017
March 4, 2017
Recent revelations concerning Tokyo Electric Power Co. raised fundamental doubts about whether the utility has done sufficient soul-searching over the accident at its Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant in 2011.
The revelations concern the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant in Niigata Prefecture, where the company is seeking to restart the No. 6 and No. 7 reactors as soon as possible. In one instance, a key facility has been found to be lacking an adequate level of earthquake resistance.
TEPCO's latest blunders emerged during the final stages of the Nuclear Regulation Authority’s screening of the two reactors, based on stricter safety standards introduced after the Fukushima nuclear disaster.
The NRA summoned TEPCO President Naomi Hirose. It should come as no surprise that the NRA's chairman, Shunichi Tanaka, instructed Hirose to re-submit documents in the application for the restarts after ensuring their accuracy as a matter of his responsibility.
The new standards are nothing but the NRA’s minimum requirements for safe reactor operations.
Utilities have the primary responsibility for keeping track of the latest scientific knowledge and improving the safety of nuclear power plants.
A company that fails to pay appropriate attention to developments it finds inconvenient or cannot make swift decisions when faced with such a situation is not qualified to operate a nuclear reactor.
The NRA summoned Hirose over the earthquake resistance of a key building that is designed to serve as an on-site emergency response headquarters at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant in the event of a severe accident.
TEPCO had said the building could withstand an earthquake with a maximum intensity of seven on the Japanese seismic scale. In the process of the NRA’s screening, however, the company acknowledged that it may not be able to withstand even half of the assumed strongest seismic shaking.
TEPCO said it learned about the inadequate level of earthquake resistance in 2014. The utility said the information was not shared within the company due to poor communications among different divisions. But that explanation should not be allowed to let it off the hook.
TEPCO also failed to disclose until recently other pieces of information about the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant, such as the possibility that an earthquake could cause liquefaction of the ground under a seawall built to protect the plant from tsunami.
NRA officials have criticized TEPCO for its reluctance to disclose problems in a straightforward manner.
Local governments around the plant are similarly aghast.
Niigata Governor Ryuichi Yoneyama, who has been cautious about endorsing TEPCO’s plan to restart the reactors, has stated that he does not trust the utility.
TEPCO also appears to be losing the trust of Kashiwazaki Mayor Masahiro Sakurai, who had shown some understanding to the idea of restarts. He said anxiety about TEPCO’s nature has "heightened” due to the latest revelations, combined with the disclosure last year that the company tried to cover up the core meltdowns at the Fukushima plant.
“There is now the possibility that I may not give my consent” to the restarts, he said.
The 2007 Chuetsu offshore earthquake destroyed an administrative building at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant.
Learning lessons from the disaster, TEPCO started constructing base-isolated buildings designed to serve as on-site emergency response headquarters at its nuclear power plants.
During the 2011 nuclear disaster, such a building at the Fukushima No. 1 plant was used as the on-site command post.
But the NRA’s screenings of reactors operated by other utilities had revealed that there are cases where buildings constructed with base isolation technology do not meet the new safety standards.
Critics say TEPCO is not eager to incorporate new findings.
It has been repeatedly pointed out that TEPCO first needs to thoroughly reform its organization and corporate culture, among other aspects.
We feel compelled to state again that the company must confront its problems.