Fukushima Disaster “Made in Japan”: A Way Forward
Fukushima Disaster “Made in Japan:” A Way Forward
Vojin Joksimovich, PhD
Modern Tokyo Times
The “Made in Japan” headlines prevailed in the nuclear and other trade press characterizing conclusions from the report by the Japanese Diet’s commissioned Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission (NAIIC). The NAIIC chairman Kiyoshi Kurokawa, a medical doctor and a former president of Japan’s Science Council, wrote: “What must be admitted—very painfully—is that this was a disaster ‘Made in Japan.’ Its fundamental causes are to be found in the ingrained conventions of Japanese culture: our reflexive obedience; our reluctance to question authority; our devotion to ‘sticking with the program,’ our groupism; and our insularity.” The mindset of government and industry led the country to avoid learning the lessons of the previous major nuclear accidents at Three Mile Island (TMI) and Chernobyl. “The consequences of negligence at Fukushima stand out as catastrophic, but the mindset that supported it can be found across Japan. In recognizing that fact, each of us (every Japanese citizen) should reflect on our responsibility as individuals in a democratic society.”
The Diet, the NAIIC and it chairman should be congratulated for their courage to call a spade a spade. Other investigations, such as by the Investigation Committee on Accidents at the Fukushima Nuclear Power Stations established by a Cabinet decision, stopped short of blaming Japanese culture. Interestingly enough the NAIIC’s harshest criticism of the Japanese culture was only published in the English version of the report. The Japanese version was more measured blaming the response to the accident on the mindset created by such aspects as seniority systems and lifetime employment. Kurokawa believes that outside pressure can help push change in Japan.
To some observers outside of Japan, mindset (term preferred to culture) as a root cause of the Fukushima accident became obvious as early as April 2011, a month after the accident. It was much less painful for outsiders, which have experienced the Japanese nuclear culture, to arrive at the same conclusion. This writer has delivered a number of presentations titled “Fukushima: Tsunami Induced but man-made disaster.” Analyses of the TMI and Chernobyl led to the same conclusion that the mindset was the root cause reflecting complacency prevailing in the US nuclear industry as well as the Soviet one respectively. To a different degree the same conclusions would apply to non-nuclear catastrophic accidents such as Bhopal, Challenger, and AMOCO Cadiz. Piper Alpha, Exxon Valdez, 2010 BP Gulf of Mexico oil spill, even the cruise ship Costa Concordia which killed 32 people.
Kurokawa’s Report Criticism
Two articles published by the Financial Times are illustrative of Kurosawa’s report criticism in the west: Culture blame games are no way to prevent future crises by Mure Dickie, and Stop blaming Fukushima on Japan’s culture by Columbia University professor Gerald Curtis. Dickie wrote: “Focusing too heavily on culture could merely shift responsibility from institutions and individuals that took the decisions that led to disaster.” Prof. Curtis makes the same point: “To pin the blame on culture is the ultimate cop-out. If culture explains behaviour, then no one has to take responsibility. This is indeed what the report concludes when it says that the results would have been the same even with others in charge.” From my analyses of the Daiichi accident it was less than abundantly clear who actually was in charge. Hence, it is more appropriate to blame the mindset rather than individuals. I do not recall that any particular individual was blamed in the US for the TMI.
Japanese culture is top-down, which is not amenable to managing a fast propagating nuclear accident. Prof. Curtis mentioned the example of Masao Yoshida, the plant superintendent/manager, who “disobeyed orders not to use seawater to cool the reactors. Incredibly Tepco’s management initially clung to the hope that the reactors would one day be brought back to operation, something that would be impossible once seawater was injected into them.” This is a textbook example why the Japanese top-down culture is flawed. The TEPCO executives in Tokyo, who were not even in their offices when the accident took place, were simply not qualified to judge whether and when the seawater should be injected into reactors. By profession they could be lawyers or accountants with no adequate grasp for nuclear safety while the plant manager is the only person who could make an informed and timely decision. Incidentally, the new TEPCO chairman is a lawyer. Hence, in the Japanese nuclear industry cultural reform, the responsibility must be operationally delegated to the plant manager with no interference from his Tokyo office bosses in cases of a nuclear emergency.
It is conceivable that the Daiichi plant manager’s decision to inject seawater was delayed due to the Tokyo office interferences. There was no injection into the Unit 1 reactor for14 hrs and 9 mins. Difficulties in bringing in fire engines plus aftershocks were probably responsible for the injection delay. In case of the Unit 2, there was no injection for 6 hrs and 29 mins approximately 70 hrs into the accident. In that case it appears that there was hesitation to inject the seawater. The same may be true with regarding the Unit 3 with no injection for 6 hrs and 43 mins approximately 36 hrs into the accident. It would be an excellent first step in the cultural reform program to explicitly delegate the authority to the plant manager. The second step could be to appoint a chief nuclear safety officer with substantial background in nuclear safety and risk assessment.
Catastrophic accidents are not random but multi-causal events. They are not acts of God but acts of people; consist of actions, decisions or omissions—like the line of dominoes (when the last domino is inserted the accident is triggered). In case of Fukushima the last domino was the tsunami but beyond it was the man-made disaster. Because these accidents are acts of people they are highly preventable. Virtually every major accident had a precursor which should have alerted the responsible parties not only with regard to the potential of recurrence but also that the consequences might become much more serious, e.g. the 1978 Davis-Besse incident served as a precursor for the TMI.
In case of Fukushima one can argue that a precursor was the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, or South Asian tsunami. The earthquake magnitude of 9.1-9.3 triggered a series of devastating tsunamis, killing over 230,000 people in fourteen countries, and inundating coastal communities with waves of up to 30 meters. TEPCO failed to make use of an in-house study that estimated the extent of damage by huge tsunamis on nuclear power plants. The study was first conducted in 2006 by a group of TEPCO employees to determine what would happen to the Unit 5 if it was hit by waves higher than the design basis value of 5.7 meters. The group estimated that if the waves exceeded 13.5 meters the station blackout would take place and it would be impossible to inject the water into the reactor or to prevent loss of the ultimate heat sink. In addition, the group estimated that it would cost about $25 million to implement measures to prevent plant inundation by flooding. In 2008, TEPCO made another estimate to determine the effects of a 10m high tsunami. However, in both cases the company failed to implement the study results. According to the NAIIC, the regulator NISA gave no instruction to the company to prepare for flooding and even told the nuclear utilities it wasn’t necessary to plan for the station blackout. This represents a text-book example of lack of safety culture on behalf of the regulator. The TEPCO decision was penny-wise pound-foolish. They had jeopardized not only the public but the investment into Daiichi and Daini plants.
Anatomy of Catastrophic Accidents
Years ago this writer had identified catastrophic accident underlying causes as the 4Ms:
- Machine–design of plants system with its basic flaws;
- Millieux—natural phenomena, operational conditions, political environment, commercial pressures;
- Man—operational crew response, maintenance errors;
- Management—basic flaws in organizational safety culture.
Progress in evolution of the Probabilistic Risk or Safety Assessment (PRA or PSA) methodology has addressed each M sequentially, i.e. machine, milliex, man, management. While the first three Ms played a part in the catastrophic accidents to a lesser degree, the 4th M played the dominant part. The term management implies the institutional safety culture, a composite of safety cultures of the key players in the Japanese nuclear industry, e.g. nine nuclear utilities, NISA, government agencies, academia, independent experts, etc. The Fukushima accident was not any different from other industrial catastrophic accidents mentioned above.
The International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) International Safety Advisory Group (INSAG) offered the following definition of the safety culture: “Safety culture is that assembly of characteristics and attitudes in organizations and individuals which establishes that as an overriding priority, nuclear plant safety issues receive the attention warranted by their significance.” An elaboration of this definition and a possible application to the Japanese nuclear industry is outside the scope of this article.
The Fukushima accident proves once more that the public risks from the operation of nuclear plants have been grossly overstated while the investment risks have been understated.
Overstatement of Public Risks
The Fukushima Daiichi accident, while being the worst accident in the 55-year of commercial nuclear power history, has resulted in no acute fatalities, no acute injuries, no extended hospitalizations due to radiation, and unlikely cancer fatalities in 50 years (testimony of Prof. Wade Allison in the British House of Commons). Modern radiology provides answers for why no heath effects including the 86,611 Hiroshima/Nagasaki survivor data in the time frame of 1950-2000 (only 0.6% died from radiation-induced cancers); the UN Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR) Chernobyl 2008 report: large number received doses less than 100mSv (cancer threshold) and no excess cancers other than the thyroid ones; French National Academies of Science and Medicine Study: UK study of radiation workers; century-old radiotherapy practices, MIT low-dose study, etc. The WHO preliminary report corroborates low dose rates measured. The researchers at Hirosaki University in northern Japan evaluated the radiation exposure and arrived at the following maximum exposures: 33mSv for adults and 23mSv for those under the age of 20. They point out that these exposures are lower than an internationally accepted limit of 50mSv. Remember that the cancer threshold is 100mSv. For some reason, the accident evaluation reports did not address this important aspect of the Fukushima accident. The American Nuclear Society (ANS) says that it was premature. But it was not.
In contrast to Fukushima over 19,000 people died from the tsunami. Had it not been for the media hype, the Daiichi accident would have been a side show. It is apparent to this writer that the Japanese government needs to pay more attention on how to protect the residents from another huge earthquake induced tsunami in addition to protecting the nuclear plants from tsunamis.
No Rational Need for Resident Evacuations
This writer asserts that evacuation of 110,000 residents cannot be justified on the basis of massive human and economic costs. The benefits to the residents cannot be quantified as illustrated with the Hirosaki University maximum exposures. However, costs of life disruptions, 13 suicides, painful relocations, school closures, restrictions in several areas not lifted yet, are quantifiable and have been in the tens of billions. The dose of 20mSv/yr used as the evacuation guideline was 10,000 times lower than the monthly dose to Japanese radiotherapy patients. An order for indoor sheltering and distribution of potassium-iodide pills would have been sufficient to protect the Fukushima Prefecture residents.
In case of Chernobyl most serious effects were caused not by radiation buy by the fear of it. After 36 hrs, 116,000 residents were forcibly evacuated. Exclusion zone to limit doses to 1mSv/yr led to evacuation of hundreds of thousands. Severe social and economic stresses included suicides, depressions, alcoholism, family dislocations, broken livelihoods, etc.
Prior to the 1979 TMI accident potential financial losses associated with an accident resulting in the reactor core damage received little to zero attention. There was a huge complacency factor that a core-melt accident cannot happen despite the fact that the results of the Reactor Safety Study (RSS) were available in 1975. The TMI cleanup/decommissioning costs amounted to $1bn over 14 yrs after 45% core-melt. Post TMI, the nuclear utility industry was overwhelmed with the regulatory impact estimated at some $35bn. The mandated package resulted in substantial reduction of investment risk. However more was needed to be done to fully address the investment risks. The Chernobyl decommissioning is not over yet and the accident took place in 1986.
In case of investment risks concerns in Japan, it appears that pre-TMI climate prevailed despite the fact that the TMI happened in 1979 and Chernobyl in 1986. Some 1300 earthquakes were observed in 2010 and 2000 in a prior year. Mega-thrust quakes potential was there due to existence of subduction faults with potential for huge tsunamis. Credible PRA analyses would have identified investment risks with common cause initiators such as earthquakes or floods suggesting common-sense design changes plus severe accident preparedness badly lacking during the Daiichi accident. In addition there was a 2007 Chuetsu offshore quake close to TEPCO’s seven-unit Kashiwazaki Kariwa plants. Instead of making a prudent decision, the TEPCO shareholders were compelled to accept the $12.5bn government bailout in order to help rebuild finances in exchange for up to 75% ownership of the stock by the government.
The media projects that the Japanese public opinion has shifted from complacency to humility while atomic alarmism is prevailing in many local governments. The radiation fear factor has massively been instilled by the media which now matches the performance of its US counterparts, which report that any radioactive release as nuclear Armageddon. The politicians then exercise their opportunistic political instincts. In addition to the media and politicians there are others to be blamed for this lack of understanding of radiation induced biological effects, including the International Commission on Radiation Protection (ICRP), which propagates radiation standards. These standards are not risk based; instead the ICRP pursues the quest of absolute safety leading to as low as practicable approach.
The media-induced atomic alarmism has been prevailing in the US for decades. For that reason this writer includes 101 perspectives on radiation in his lectures. A brief summary follows. Everybody on the globe is exposed to background chronic radiation. The worldwide average is 2.4mSv/yr. At Ramsar in Iran it amounts to 10-260mSv/yr, but residents have not experienced any health effects. Diagnostic medical exams are acceptable (0.1-3mSv). In radiotherapy cancer patients receive 1,000-2,000mSv/day. The radiation is harmful at high doses, but so is aspirin. Biological effects depend on single dose and rate of absorption (mSv and mSv/month or yr). Single acute radiation syndrome (ARS) at 4,000-8,000mSv; nausea at 1,000mSv. The cancer threshold is 100mSv or 100mSv/month, below this level it is risk free.
Restart of Nuclear Plants
Japan forms the focus of an in-depth study in support of the World Economic Forum (WEF) report, New Energy Architecture: Enabling an Effective Transition, as a country that needs to ‘rationalize” and re-organize mature energy systems. Such reorganization has become more prominent after the Daiichi accident, which has led to an “unprecedented level of debate and stakeholder engagement.” Prior to the accident, Japan had been planning to meet 60% of its electricity with nuclear power in line with environmental sustainability targets to reduce CO2 emissions by 54% (from 2003 levels) by 2050. The report doesn’t question Japan’s continued need for nuclear power and notes that “a hasty withdrawal from nuclear energy could be disastrous for Japan.” The report recognizes that decommissioning of nuclear plants is expensive but that any rapid change would jeopardize Japan’s energy security and increase its dependence on fossil fuel imports.
To this writer he finds it paradoxical that 15 nuclear plants generated electricity throughout the Tohoku earthquake, while all 50 plants (four Daiichi units have been written off) were all shutdown in May/June 2012 due to opposition to restarts by local authorities after extended periodic inspections (36 units with capacity of 31.8 GWe). These plants on the Japanese west coast were not damaged by the earthquake/ tsunami. The plants on the east coast were either damaged by tsunami or were shutdown due to the government request, e.g. Hamaoka units. This nuclear shutdown created a new era for the fossil fuels with associated increase in pollution. In 2012 the fossil fuel plants generated 90% of electricity compared to 64% in 2011. The fossil fuel imports are costing about $40bn or $333 per person, per year while its carbon emissions have risen some 14% above the 1990 levels. How many people will die from elevated pollution?
The atomic alarmism has led the local authorities to oppose restarts. These plants have been subjected to the IAEA endorsed stress tests, a post-Daiichi invention which was initiated by the EU for all of its 143 plants based on a set of common criteria. . The Japanese tests are computer simulations that analyze whether a reactor can withstand disasters like earthquakes and tsunamis. The utilities have promised higher sea walls to protect against tsunamis as well as ways to prevent station blackouts. The affected utilities submitted their stress-test reports between October 2011 and May 2012. Only three of those have been thus far reviewed by NISA and forwarded to the Nuclear Safety Commission (NSC), which has approved Ohi-3 (Oi-3) and Ohi-4 reports. Following that the reports have to be approved by the cabinet ministers, local authorities and the central government. This process appears to be too cumbersome and should be streamlined. KEPCO restarted Ohi-3 this week with unit 4 to follow on July 18.
Some shareholders from the Japanese nine nuclear utilities have called for reduction or even elimination of use of nuclear power. The major of Osaka (city of Osaka owns 9.5% stake in KEPCO) urged the company management to abandon nuclear energy. However, all of these proposals were voted down at the annual shareholder meetings. At the TEPCO meeting, with attendance of some 4,500 shareholders, a proposal to shutdown Kashiwazaki Kariva units and replace those with gas-turbine generators were voted down. TEPCO is relying on the restart of those units to be fiscally viable.
TEPCO must fix design flaws and vulnerabilities with the remaining Daiichi units 5 & 6, four Daini units, and seven Kashiwazaki Kariva units in order to successfully fight the restart opposition. TEPCO plans to restart Kashiwazaki Kariva in the fiscal year starting April 1, 2013. The governor of Niigata Prefecture has expressed opposition to restarts in his prefecture. An excellent guideline for the upgrades TEPCO should consider is the package of 30 new regulatory requirements announced by Andre-Claude Lacoste, Authorite de Surete Nucleaire (ASN) chief in France in addition to those proposed by NISA issued on February the 17th. These include bunkered power supply systems, robust water-proof diesel generators, ‘rapid reaction force’ of experts and engineers that can be employed on short notice at any of 58 Electricite de France (EDF) power plants. They should be capable of ‘intervening’ during an emergency at multi-unit sites as well.
Kagoshima governor Yuichiro Ito, supporting the restart of the two-unit Sendai plant, defeated his opponent comfortably who wanted to scrap further use of nuclear power. This election, as pointed out by the Modern Tokyo Times writers, supports the reality that the nuclear issue isn’t the main concern of the Japanese people as the media hype is telling the world. The real issue for the majority of Japanese people like everywhere else is economics.
The Kurokawa’s commission has concluded that “safety of nuclear energy in Japan and the public cannot be assured unless the regulators go through an essential transformational process. The entire organization needs to be transformed, not as a formality but in a substantial way. Japan’s regulators need to shed the insular attitude of ignoring international safety standards and transform themselves into a globally trusted entity.” This finding is indisputable. This writer would add that similar needs to be said for the nuclear utilities. In particular risk-based information needs to be massively introduced into both the public safety as well as investment risk considerations. The French regulator upgrade requirements should be given due consideration in addition to those proposed by NISA issued on February the 17th. Massive dose of education is necessary to counter atomic alarmism. The facts about radiation and its biological effects must be disseminated to the public. Once all of these steps are on the way, given the public attitude and need for continued use of nuclear power, the nuclear option in Japan should be heading towards where it was prior to the Daiichi accident.
Vojin Joksimovich, PhD is a retired nuclear safety specialist with over 40 years of experience and author of 125 nuclear safety papers presented at various international conferences.