Independent Report: Fukushima Disaster was Entirely Preventable

By Veronique Greenwood | July 6, 2012 11:32 am

Last year, after the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear meltdown, the Japanese parliament requested an independent report on the causes of the disaster.  The 10 members of the report committee were not connected with the nuclear industry or the government bureaucracy and included distinguished scientists, doctors, lawyers, and even a science journalist.

The resulting report, released this week, is damning. It was already more or less known that the disaster was at least in part caused by negligence on the part of the utility company TEPCO and the failure of government agents to enforce safety regulation, but the committee has had access to all of the documents and resources involved, and they write that even given the unusual force of the tsunami that struck the plant, had regulations been enforced, the nuclear meltdown would not have happened:

The TEPCO Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant accident was the result of collusion between the government, the regulators, and TEPCO, and the lack of governance by said parties. They effectively betrayed the nation’s right to be safe from nuclear accidents. Therefore, we conclude that the accident was clearly “manmade.”

The report, which you can read here, is heartbreaking. It includes an eloquent foreword from the chairman, Dr. Kiyoshi Kurokawa, in which he writes:

For all the extensive detail it provides, what this report cannot fully convey—especially to a global audience—is the mindset that supported the negligence behind this disaster.

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.

Insightful, but we think that whatever cultural factors the disaster may have had, the Japanese, and everyone else, should not think Japan has a monopoly on lethal ineptitude. Collusion between government and industry is a real threat in many nations around the world, and it is dangerous to assume that what happened at Fukushima could not happen anywhere else.

  • James Aach

    I note the message from the chairman at the front of the report also notes “[Fukushima’s] 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.”

    Every culture has traits that work well in some cases but not in others – in nuclear, a little bit of a “questioning attitude” is a good thing.

    FYI: If you would like an easy-to-read look at daily life in a US nuclear plant, and what a bad day might be like, my novel “Rad Decision” tells the story in a way that allows a lay person to follow along and understand what the real problems were. The book is free online (no advertisements or sponsors) – just Google the title or go to my homepage. I’ve been working away at atomic plants for some years now and can provide a rare insider’s viewpoint. As a bonus, the plant design and bad day resemble Fukushima (though it was written beforehand.) Rad Decision has garnered a lot of positive reviews from readers but little attention from the media – they’re busy, I guess.

  • Brian Too

    Yes, I tend to believe that although there may be Japanese specific details to this story, much of it simply speaks to human nature.

    For instance, nuclear reactors are expensive. Therefore only big & rich organizations can afford to build them. The big & rich organizations like to speak to decision makers & regulators, winning favors, special exemptions, preferential loan conditions, regulatory easements, and all the rest. In short powerful people like to do deals with other powerful people.

    One can easily imagine a prototypical conversation. “Hey, c’mon, we know the regulation says the physical plant has to withstand a 10 metre wave. But we already built to a 7 m standard and upgrading will cost us a fortune! And really, we all know the 10 m wave isn’t gonna happen. Besides, the next major plant reno, we promise to upgrade to that 10 m standard.”

    Not saying it happened like that. But it sounds like something that could happen, somewhere, sometime.

  • Jim Barron

    Every single nuclear disaster has had the same root cause:

    a corporation is in a position to make significant profits by putting the public’s lives and property at risk while knowing that should an accident happen it will not bear anything remotely resembling the real costs. Given such a situation, accidents are absolutely inevitable.

    In every case the root cause of the accident was a company taking excess risk in order to increase profits. If done safely nuclear power is inherently far too expensive to use. Only by cutting corners (by running the cables for all 5 SUPPOSEDLY “redundant” control systems thru the SAME small space so one small fire could knock them ALL out in Brown’s Ferry; in Fukushima, by putting the spent fuel storage in the MOST UNSAFE LOCATION POSSIBLE: DIRECTLY ABOVE THE REACTOR (because it saves a bit of time in refueling; always the story is the same: cutting corners in a manner that is blatantly fragrantly unsafe in order to save costs.

    In the words of Walk Kelly “We have met the enemy and he is us!”

    No corporation would build a power plant without a government subsidizing or “excusing” it from costs of accidents. Government insulation against liability costs ensures that corporations can make excess profits by taking unreasonable risks which they would never incur if they knew they would be responsible for costs.

    So the hard reality is that nuclear power is totally uneconomic and only reason its done is because governments support it by insulating companies from responsibility for damages.

    When it IS done, because of subsidies it is INHERENTLY and INESCAPABLY unsafe. Clearly the ONLY reason corporations are interested is because they know that they can profit from taking unreasonable risks. (The PROOF of that is that they will not do it without subsidies.)

    Why would a subsidy make any difference if they REALLY believed it was safe?

    Governments want nuclear power plants because its far cheaper to extract bomb grade material (chemically) from spent fuel from nuclear power plants than to get it directly from ore, thru the fiendishly expensive ulta-centrafuge process.

    So the very real risks and very high costs of nuclear power are just citizens being tricked into paying a lot more money for grossly excessive bomb capacity than they would be willing to pay if they knew how much money was really going to that end.

    For full information go to

  • Iain

    Nukes are hi-tech. They require a lot of highly educated and well paid people to keep them up and running. This requires lots of infrastructure. Something nukes generate. So do you really think that those local Bozo’s are going to pee in their own coffee?
    Here in Canada the government dismissed the nuclear watchdog because she said our Chalk River reactor (medical isotope breeder) was unsafe and needed a lot of work.
    Corruption is rampant.

  • Michael Lindsay

    The wake of this will reveal another fundamentally depressing side to human nature.

    When the damning report of incompetence and cover-ups come out the tendency of those in power to blame fall guys, backpedal furiously and dodge responsibility!

  • Sharma SK

    The AIIC (Fukushima accident independent investigation committe) report, is an eye opener. It is a must read for everyone. It is heartening to see that there are still some committitees in the world who can speak true. Even though, Japan is not a fully democtatic country, still this committiee has dared to say the truth which people in even fully democratic countries can not dare. Hats off to this committee for going into deep and finding the root cause of the accident. Findings of this committee are applicable to all nuclear power generating countries. It is true for all.
    Sharma SK


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