The executive summary of the government panel’s investigative report on the Fukushima accident released Monday, is a severe disappointment. It does draw a few conclusions that are unquestionably correct. Pointing a guilty finger at the nation’s overly complicated regulatory system (with no legal power to enforce safety
improvements) as culpable in making the accident possible, makes all the sense in the world. The report states, “The government’s nuclear regulatory body did not require Tepco to take specific measures, such as additional construction, after they received simulation results from Tepco in 2008 and early in 2011 regarding the impact of tsunamis on their facilities.” We also agree with the findings that a lack of extreme accident procedures relative to manual operation of valves and pumps, and inadequate operator training with respect to a complete station blackout, are clearly the fault of TEPCO.

But many other judgments are clearly the result of politically motivated agendas which conform to misinformed public opinion and irresponsible speculations published in the Press. It seems the panel was never intended to produce conclusions predicated on sound operational practices or nuclear engineering expertise. No-one with any of these most-important credentials sits within the group. The group is headed by a university professor specializing in engineering failures, which is the closest to appropriate expertise we can find. The rest of the panel is made up of seismologists, former diplomats, and judges. Is this the kind of panel we can trust to make technological and operational judgments that we can hang our hats on? Of course not! Thus, we can, and should, ignore allegations of operator error causing the meltdowns and hydrogen explosions of units #1 and #3. These conclusions are actually quite preposterous when one looks at the previously available evidence. Appearance holds greater weight than reality with the panel members, largely because they probably can’t tell the difference! Further, the panel supports the politically desirable position that operator error caused the developments which transpired after March 11. They are clearly trying to downplay irrational government decisions and focus the burden of blame on TEPCO for the accident. It seems the report is intended to lessen the distrust the Japanese now hold for the Tokyo government.

We also find the lack of pre-tsunami earthquake information relative to physical impacts on the accident wholly misleading and, again, politically directed. This is clear intent to keep alive the notion of the earthquake being the cause of the nuclear emergency, not the tsunami. It is unthinkable that an objective panel of investigators would have interviewed more than 450 individuals intimately involved with what happened at the crippled power station, as well as the operating staff on-shift when the earthquake hit, and not have been provided with enough information to hypothesize the possible effect of temblor damage. It seems the lack of earthquake damage evidence did not fit the panel’s political agenda, so they decided to say nothing at all. The seismic experts on the panel should have been able to deduce something. Not that they could have drawn firm conclusions, but saying nothing at all about possible quake contributions is a perverse mockery.

We must not forget that the panel was created by Kan back in May when his political and public standing was at an all-time low. He never wanted to include operational and technical expertise in the group. Politicians always try to populate investigative panels with individuals they can trust to draw the conclusions least damaging to the boss, especially when the leader is under heavy fire. In this case, Kan hit the jackpot. We are concerned that the final report will do its best to absolve the former Prime Minister of all possible malfeasance during the first two weeks of the emergency at Fukushima Daiichi.

Now for some related updates…

  • TEPCO has gone on record as being “dissatisfied” with the investigative panel’s report. They mainly focus on the panel’s conclusion that the utility should have made precautionary safety upgrades before the natural disaster hit, “It is not exactly right to say that we should have done so before March 11, although in hindsight the steps we had taken were not sufficient,” a TEPCO official told a press conference. TEPCO contends the 2008 study of a possible massive tsunami was based on hypothetical calculations that could not be supported by a scientific consensus, at that point in time. The utility also says plant operations experts were in-fact working on steps to be taken during potentially serious accident to facilitate containment depressurization. TEPCO maintains the report fails to consider either of these bodies of evidence. (Mainichi Shimbun) We should be aware the 2008 tsunami estimate was for a 10 meter wave. The actual tsunami that hit Fukushima was 14 meters high. It is thus unlikely that upgrades in 2008 would have averted the accident.
  • Another one of the problems found by the panel was a lack of cooperative information flow between the Prime Minister’s team on the fifth floor of the government office building, and the crisis management team in the basement. Both groups were at fault for not keeping each other informed on their findings. It seems that SPEEDI, the computer program for predicting contamination deposition, was up and running as soon as power to the building was restored on March 12th. However, the crisis management team did not make SPEEDI data known to the Prime Minister’s group on the fifth floor until March 16th. The higher contamination levels outside the 20km radius, to the northwest, were predicted by SPEEDI and could have made evacuations more expedient if it were used. (Japan Times)
  • The report further claims that the lead nuclear regulatory agency, NISA, was a virtual non-entity during the accident. They made no effort to effect control of the situation, even though they had four inspectors located at Fuikushima. In fact, the inspectors fled the site on March 14, after the final hydrogen explosion, and did not return. In addition, NISA had little informational interaction with the TEPCO offices in Tokyo, which the report says forced the Prime Minister to make direct contact with the utility himself. (Yomiuri Shimbun)
  • The report does take Prime Minister Kan partially to task for his naive orders concerning seawater causing recriticality. This was blamed on poor communication between the crisis team in the building basement and the Prime Minister’s team on the fifth floor. (Yomiuri Shimbun)
  • Prime Minister Kan and Chief Cabinet Minister Edano told the Press that TEPCO wanted to abandon Fukushima on March 15. Kan said he ordered them to stop the abandonment. However, the report states the abandonment story was totally false. TEPCO CEO Shimizu told the group that all non-essential personnel were being evacuated to avoid radiation exposure. He didn’t say anything about the operating staff abandoning the site. Kan told the Press that Shimizu was “not clear” on what he meant, so the Prime Minister assumed the worst. In his interview, Shimizu said he “clearly denied” ever making an abandonment statement to Kan. Since the former Prime Minister was not interviewed by the panel, the team assumed that Shimizu’s statement included too many “matter of course assumptions”. That is, Shimizu assumed the P.M. would understand that only non-essential personnel would be temporarily evacuated, but he never actually said it. (Japan Times)

Updates not related to the panel findings include…

  • TEPCO announced they will soon be using endoscopic technology to examine inside unit #2’s containment. The 10 meter long, 8 millimeter in diameter probe will be slipped inside the containment structure through a hole made by an industrial drill. The drilling will commence at some point in January. The high radiation-resistant probe will measure temperatures and radiation levels found at various levels inside the thick concrete and steel structure. This will provide the first direct information relative to conditions inside the containment structure. (NHK World)
  • surveyed their readers and found that 78% did not agree with the government’s decision to declare cold shutdown at Fukushima. The declaration was based on the technical status of the four damaged units at Fukushima Daiichi, but readers felt it should have been based on the “aftermath” of the accident. “We can’t agree with the prime minister’s assertion that matters have been settled at Daiichi. The crops in Fukushima are still contaminated. No progress has been made in reducing the uncertainty felt by the residents,” said Michio Furukawa, the mayor of Fukushima’s Kawamata town, in a statement that summed up the dissenter’s position. In addition, Nikkei readers say that the possible impact of the earthquake on the accident has not been established, but should have been before declaring cold shutdown. (Reuters) Extending the definition of cold shutdown to surrounding areas of contamination and/or resident’s feelings of uncertainty makes no sense. Think about it…crops in cold shutdown? Resident’s feelings in cold shutdown?