July 6, 2013
Yesterday, the Associated Press posted an article about Tokyo Electric Company hiring Lady Barbara Judge to oversee establishment of a nuclear safety culture in the company. 1 The article says Judge talked to “The Associated Press on Friday, during a trip to Tokyo for meetings at TEPCO.” The posting was covered by several Japanese newspapers, including The Asahi Shimbun, Mainichi Shimbun, Japan Daily Press and Japan Today. The posts make it seem Lady Judge has just been hired by the company. However, Lady Judge was actually hired by Tepco much earlier this year, with several international reports on it early in February. 2,3 Friday’s AP report contained one new item, with Lady Judge saying Tepco has changed enough to warrant restarts of some of their reactors. However, everything else was copied from the February articles. Not that the AP is doing anything heinous. I guess it is possible that Judge gave them the identical quotes she was cited for 5 months ago. It’s unlikely, but possible.
One point emphasized by the AP was Lady Judge’s position on Tepco’s attitude toward safety prior to 3/11/11, which bears repeating here. “There was a culture of efficiency, not a culture of safety. There was no safety culture. There was an assumption of safety.” From this writer’s perspective, she was spot-on. Tepco could have waterproofed their F. Daiichi emergency diesel generator and battery rooms years before the tsunami hit. In doing so, the accident at F. Daiichi probably would not have occurred. Tepco chose to not waterproof their emergency facilities because they believed their off-shore 18-foot high anti-tsunami wall could hold back the worst that nature could throw at them. The company argued the benefit of waterproofing emergency power systems wasn’t worth the cost, and the Tokyo government agreed with them. Protection against the rare-but-not-impossible was believed to be un-necessary throughout Japan…and that included the nearly 200 Tohoku communities whose anti tsunami barriers failed on 3/11/11. They were very wrong, of course.
Also, back in February Lady Judge said the impact of her and the other international members of Tepco’s Safety Review Committee will make sure the company take the idea of a safety culture seriously, “It is a very big challenge because, before the accident, there was a very close relationship between the nuclear regulator and the plant operators. We need to change the culture so that people will be praised and rewarded for pointing out problems. They used to be afraid to say that anything was wrong.” Hopefully, doing so will begin to restore confidence in Tepco’s ability to manage nuclear power plants safely.
However, it should be noted that there are misleading statements about Lady Judge was posted as fact by the AP reporter. Lady Judge is alleged to be Honorary Chair of the UK Atomic Energy Authority, and that she was the acting Chair from 2004-2010. However, the February reports say she was the actual chair from 2004-2006, and there is nothing about her currently being “honorary chair” of the organization. She is “Chairman Emeritus”, which is a title generally afforded to the prior chair of any major organization. The term “emeritus” is a Latin word meaning “having served one’s time”. In other words, she has retired from the position, but is kept on the docket if she is ever needed in the future.
Beyond these mistakes, AP reporter also uses the moment to invoke the time-work practice of rehashing the Fukushima accident and the widely-disseminated problems that happened since. But, even while doing this, the reporter can’t get the facts straight. For example, with the rat-cause power outage at F. Daiichi earlier this year, the article posts, “A dead rat recently caused a massive blackout, temporarily shutting down the system to keep reactor-cores cool.” Actually, the rat shorted out the power supply to three of the spent fuel pools at F. Daiichi. Calling it “massive” is nothing more than a wild exaggeration. Further, none of the “reactor-cores” cooling systems were impacted! In another case, even though all of the inconsequential waste water leaks found this spring have been stopped, the AP says, “Tons of contaminated water continue to leak.” I guess the reporter feels misinformation is scarier that what actually happened, and perfectly allowable.
This is yet another example of how the Associated Press has become a bastion of antinuclear reporting. Their incessant assault on Tepco, Japan’s “nuclear village” and the nuclear community around the world began with the hydrogen explosion at F. Daiichi on March 12, 2013, and has continued unabated since. The use of fear, uncertainty and doubt has been central to AP’s antinuclear assault for more than two years, but this new direction of outright confabulation goes beyond the bounds of journalistic propriety. Further, if Friday’s article on Lady Judge is their idea of providing balance to their biased reporting, they have missed the mark by a very wide margin.