|Fukushima No. 1 (Daiichi)|
According to the authors, Tohoku Electric had a stronger SC than TEPCO. Tohoku had a senior manager who strongly advocated safety, company personnel participated in seminars and panel discussions about earthquake and tsunami disaster prevention, and the company had strict disaster response protocols in which all workers were trained. Although their Onagawa plant was closer to the March 11, 2011 quake epicenter and experienced a higher tsunami, it managed to shut down safely.
SC-related initiatives like Tohoku’s were not part of TEPCO’s culture. Fukushima No. 1’s problems date back to its original siting and early construction. TEPCO removed 25 meters off the 35 meter natural seawall of the plant site and built its reactor buildings at a lower elevation of 10 meters (compared to 14.7m for Onagawa). Over the plant’s life, as research showed that tsunami levels had been underestimated, TEPCO “resorted to delaying tactics, such as presenting alternative scientific studies and lobbying”** rather than implementing countermeasures.
Background and Our Perspective
The op-ed is a condensed version of the authors’ longer paper***, which was adapted from a research paper for an engineering class, presumably written by Ms. Ryu. The op-ed is basically a student paper based on public materials. You should read the longer paper, review the references and judge for yourself if the authors have offered conclusions that go beyond the data they present.
I suggest you pay particular attention to the figure that supposedly compares Tohoku and TEPCO using INPO’s ten healthy nuclear SC traits. Not surprisingly, TEPCO doesn’t fare very well but note the ratings were based on “the author’s personal interpretations and assumptions” (p. 26)
Also note that the authors do not mention Fukushima No. 2 (Daini), a four-unit TEPCO plant about 15 km south of Fukushima No. 1. Fukushima No. 2 also experienced damage and significant challenges after being hit by a 9m tsunami but managed to reach shutdown by March 18, 2011. What could be inferred from that experience? Same corporate culture but better luck?
Bottom line, by now it’s generally agreed that TEPCO SC was unacceptably weak so the authors plow no new ground in that area. However, their description of Tohoku Electric’s behavior is illuminating and useful.
* A. Ryu and N. Meshkati, “Culture of safety can make or break nuclear power plants,” Japan Times (Mar. 14, 2014). Retrieved Mar. 19, 2014.
** Quoted in the op-ed but taken from “The official report of the Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission [NAIIC] Executive Summary” (The National Diet of Japan, 2012), p. 28. The NAIIC report has a longer Fukushima root cause explanation than the op-ed, viz, “the root causes were the organizational and regulatory systems that supported faulty rationales for decisions and actions, . . .” (p. 16) and “The underlying issue is the social structure that results in “regulatory capture,” and the organizational, institutional, and legal framework that allows individuals to justify their own actions, hide them when inconvenient, and leave no records in order to avoid responsibility.” (p. 21) IMHO, if this were boiled down, there wouldn’t be much SC left in the bottom of the pot.
*** A. Ryu and N. Meshkati, “Why You Haven’t Heard About Onagawa Nuclear Power Station after the Earthquake and Tsunami of March 11, 2011” (Rev. Feb. 26, 2014).