Tepco Ignored Warnings About Tsunami Risk, Ex-Lawmaker Says
Makiko Kitamura & Maki Shiraki
Tokyo Electric Power Co., which operates the plant at the center of the worst nuclear calamity since Chernobyl, ignored warnings about the tsunami risks that caused the crisis, a former parliamentarian said.
The Fukushima Dai-Ichi plant was designed to withstand a 5.7-meter tsunami, according to Tepco. It wasn’t built to resist 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, Tatsuya Ito, who represented Fukushima prefecture in the national Diet from 1991 to 2003, said in a March 16 telephone interview.
The dangers posed by a tsunami the size of the one created by the 9.5-magnitude Valdiva temblor off Chile are described in a 2002 report by the Japan Society of Civil Engineers, Ito said. A 1990 report from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission also foretold the events that led to the current crisis, warnings Tepco ignored, Jun Tateno, a former researcher at the Japan Atomic Energy Agency, said this week.
“Tokyo Electric brought this upon itself,” said Ito, who heads the National Center for the Citizens’ Movement Against the Nuclear Threat, based in Tokyo. “This accident unfolded as expected.”
Ito 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, he said.
“We are prioritizing the safety of the plant and are not at a point where we can reflect upon and properly assess the root causes,” said Naoki Tsunoda, a Tepco spokesman in Tokyo. He said he couldn’t immediately confirm the exchanges made between Ito and the company.
The 40-year-old Fukushima plant, built when Japan’s first wave of nuclear construction began, stood up to the country’s worst earthquake on record March 11 only to have its power and back-up generators knocked out by the tsunami that followed.
The report by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, an independent agency responsible for safety at U.S. plants, identified earthquake-induced backup diesel generator failure and power outage leading to failure of cooling systems as one of the “most likely causes” of nuclear accidents from an external event.
The report was cited in a 2004 statement by Japan’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, a government-run regulatory body.
Japanese soldiers and firefighters from Tokyo, using 30 fire engines, today began dousing sea water on reactor No. 3, site of an explosion earlier this week. Tepco said it may finish reconnecting a power line today to the cooling system of the No. 2 reactor. The power link would be used to restart pumps needed to pour cooling water on overheating fuel rods.
The U.S. military, which is flying unmanned surveillance drones over the station about 220 kilometers north of Tokyo at Japan’s request, said it is “cautiously optimistic” that the damage to the reactors can be contained.