Fukushima operator must learn from mistakes, new adviser says

TOKYO Sat Oct 13, 2012 2:22pm IST

Workers are seen at the tsunami-crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant No. 4 reactor building in Fukushima prefecture, October 12, 2012. REUTERS/Kyodo

Workers are seen at the tsunami-crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant No. 4 reactor building in Fukushima prefecture, October 12, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Kyodo

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TOKYO (Reuters) - Tokyo Electric Power Co must adopt measures used in other Japanese industries to reform after acknowledging that it failed to anticipate and tackle the Fukushima disaster, the utility's newly installed outside adviser said on Saturday.

Tokyo Electric (9501.T), also known as Tepco, acknowledged for the first time on Friday that it failed in its response to the radiation crisis in March 2011 when three reactors melted down at its Fukushima Daiichi plant after it was hit by an earthquake and tsunami.

Dale Klein, appointed last week to head a panel of outside specialists overseeing the company's reforms, said in an interview that Tepco could look to other Japanese companies.

"We had some open and frank discussions with our committee and with the Tepco management," Klein, a former chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, told Reuters.

Klein said Japan "has demonstrated excellence in manufacturing. In that process any worker can stop the process, if he believes there is a defect. Tepco needs to do the same thing with their nuclear safety culture".

Klein, associate vice chancellor for research at the University of Texas, said the latest findings "will be a strong wake-up call for Tepco.

"There is a tendency among companies and individuals when there first is a problem of denial. So you try to justify your actions to either cover up, save face, whatever you want to call it," he said. "Fukushima Daiichi cannot be covered up."

An inquiry ordered by Japan's parliament concluded in July that the disaster was the result of "collusion" between Tepco, the government and regulators.

COMPANY REVERSES STAND

In Tepco's draft plan for reform issued on Friday, the company said it could have undertaken better preparations, reversing its previous stand that the disaster was unavoidable because of the unexpected force of the tsunami.

The draft also said the company had feared that implementing accident measures "would exacerbate ... public anxiety and add momentum to anti-nuclear movements".

In future, the company said, Tepco had to "have the courage and capability to share problems with the siting community and the public".

All 50 working nuclear reactors in Japan were shut down for safety checks after the disaster.

The government's decision this year to restart two units to preclude possible summer power cuts galvanised the country's anti-nuclear movement, prompting mass demonstrations.

A new government energy policy, taking account of that sentiment, seeks to end reliance on nuclear power, though ministers are vague on setting any deadlines.

Klein said the sight of Fukushima, where three reactor buildings were badly damaged in the worst civil nuclear accident since Chernobyl in 1986, was "devastating".

"When you look at the site, it is very depressing. The damage is stunning. The amount of forces that were released."

Recorded radiation levels were as high as 1,000 microsieverts an hour on Friday when a Reuters journalist visited the site as part of a media tour. Typical background radiation levels are usually 2.4 microsieverts per year, according to the World Nuclear Association.

Workers were seen putting together water filtration systems and shifting equipment near the damaged reactors, two of which remain capped by twisted steel and damaged concrete. A third damaged reactor building is covered up by a giant tarpaulin.

(Reporting by Aaron Sheldrick; Editing by Ron Popeski)

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