“I don’t know if I could have seen or thought this before the accident... Probably I assumed that people had discussed counter-measures to avoid a huge tsunami by something very special like a complete shutdown,” he said.
It transpired that the huge cost and technical complexity of a multiple shutdown, in what was considered the unlikely event of an abnormally large tsunami, had led managers to discount such a scenario as implausible and inefficient, he said.
“What happened at Fukushima was, yes, a warning to the world,” he said. The resulting lesson was clear: “Try to examine all the possibilities, no matter how small they are, and don’t think any single counter-measure is foolproof. Think about all different kinds of small counter-measures, not just one big solution. There’s not one single answer.”
“We made a lot of excuses to ourselves... Looking back, seals on the doors, one little thing, could have saved everything,” he said.
TEPCO was willing to share its experience with other nuclear plant operators if they wished, Hirose said. “We can share all the information, all the data we obtained, that we learned from this accident, and then hope that people will use the data and information to prevent the same thing happening,” he added.
Hirose confirmed that his company has paid a large price for the disaster. It planned to “streamline” the business and shed hundreds of jobs through voluntary retirement to keep itself in business. “We have a huge debt for the compensation for damages and losses and for decommissioning... We have to be sustainable as a going concern,” he said.
Concerned that TEPCO may be unable to cope and responding to criticism that the company has bungled parts of the clean-up operation, Japan’s government has agreed to spend ￥47 billion (US$463.9 million) on dealing with hundreds of static tanks to store radiated water at the plant.
It is also considering paying part of the cost to decommission Fukushima’s damaged nuclear reactors. TEPCO will reportedly seek ￥500 billion in bank loans by the end of the year to help keep itself afloat.
Asked about the severe domestic and international criticism that followed the discovery in July of leaks from some of the tanks storing contaminated water, Hirose said the problem stemmed from a “simple mistake” in managing the tanks. Since the discovery, the monitoring system had been changed and new welded tanks installed, instead of the old bolted together versions.
Hirose said he could not state categorically that all leakage of contaminated groundwater into the sea had ceased, but the outflow was much reduced.
“Probably there is some leakage. It is very difficult to say where it comes from and how much it is, but the harbor [radioactivity] level does not go down, so that means there is some leakage... We are trying to stop it,” he said.
Hirose said he felt deeply sorry for the estimated 150,000 local residents who have been forced to leave their homes due to potentially harmful radiation levels, and may in some cases never be able to return.
“I have visited Fukushima many times, met the evacuees, the fishing union, the farmers, many people whose businesses have been damaged very much. I feel very sorry for them. We have to compensate them fully for the damage we caused by our accident,” he said.