The unfolding disaster at the Fukushima nuclear plant follows decades of falsified safety reports, fatal accidents and underestimated earthquake risk in Japan’s atomic power industry.
The destruction caused by last week’s 9.0 earthquake and tsunami comes less than four years after a 6.8 quake shut the world’s biggest atomic plant, also run by Tokyo Electric Power Co. In 2002 and 2007, revelations the utility had faked repair records forced the resignation of the company’s chairman and president, and a three-week shutdown of all 17 of its reactors.
With almost no oil or gas reserves of its own, nuclear power has been a national priority for Japan since the end of World War II, a conflict the country fought partly to secure oil supplies. Japan has 54 operating nuclear reactors — more than any other country except the U.S. and France — to power its industries, pitting economic demands against safety concerns in the world’s most earthquake-prone country. …
Back-up diesel generators that might have averted the disaster were positioned in a basement, where they were overwhelmed by waves.
“This in the country that invented the word Tsunami,” said Brockman, who also worked at the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. “ …
Mitsuhiko Tanaka, 67, working as an engineer at Babcock Hitachi K.K., helped design and supervise the manufacture of a $250 million steel pressure vessel for Tokyo Electric in 1975. Today, that vessel holds the fuel rods in the core of the No. 4 reactor at Fukushima’s Dai-Ichi plant, hit by explosion and fire after the tsunami.
Tanaka says the vessel was damaged in the production process. He says he knows because he orchestrated the cover-up. When he brought his accusations to the government more than a decade later, he was ignored, he says.
The accident occurred when Tanaka and his team were strengthening the steel in the pressure vessel, heating it in a furnace to more than 600 degrees Celsius (1,112 degrees Fahrenheit), a temperature that melts metal. Braces that should have been inside the vessel during the blasting were either forgotten or fell over. After it cooled, Tanaka found that its walls had warped.
‘Felt Like a Hero’
The law required the flawed vessel be scrapped, a loss that Tanaka said might have bankrupted the company. Rather than sacrifice years of work and risk the company’s survival, Tanaka used computer modeling to devise a way to reshape the vessel so that no one would know it had been damaged. He did that with Hitachi’s blessings, he said.
“I saved the company billions of yen,” Tanaka said in an interview March 12, the day after the earthquake. Tanaka says he got a 3 million yen bonus ($38,000) from Hitachi and a plaque acknowledging his “extraordinary” effort in 1974. “At the time, I felt like a hero.” …
Tokyo Electric in 2002 admitted it had falsified repair reports at nuclear plants for more than two decades. Chairman Hiroshi Araki and President Nobuyama Minami resigned to take responsibility for hundred of occasions on which the company had submitted false data to the regulator.
Then in 2007, the utility said it hadn’t come entirely clean five years earlier. It had concealed at least six emergency stoppages at its Fukushima Dai-Ichi power station and a “critical” reaction at the plant’s No. 3 unit that lasted for seven hours.
Tokyo Electric ignored warnings about the tsunami risks that caused the crisis at Fukushima, Tatsuya Ito, who represented Fukushima prefecture in the national parliament from 1991 to 2003, said in a March 16 telephone interview.
The Fukushima Dai-Ichi plant was only designed to withstand a 5.7-meter tsunami, not the 7-meter wall of water generated by last week’s earthquake or the 6.4-meter tsunami that struck neighboring Miyagi prefecture after the Valdiva earthquake in 1960, Ito said.
The dangers posed by a tsunami the size of the one generated by the 9.5-magnitude Valdiva temblor off Chile are described in a 2002 report by the Japan Society of Civil Engineers, Ito said.
“Tokyo Electric brought this upon itself,” said Ito, who now heads the National Center for the Citizens’ Movement Against the Nuclear Threat, based in Tokyo. “This accident unfolded as expected.”
Ito said he has met Tepco employees to discuss his concerns at least 20 times since 2003 and sent a formal letter to then- president Tsunehisa Katsumata in 2005. …
Kansai Electric Power Co., the utility that provides Osaka with electricity, said it also faked nuclear safety records. Chubu Electric Power Co., Tohoku Electric Power Co. and Hokuriku Electric Power Co. (9505) said the same. …
Regulators failed to ensure that safety alarms were installed at the plant run by Sumitomo Metal Mining Co. because they believed there was “no possibility” of a major accident at the facility….