TEPCO boss admits neglecting safety


Sun, Dec 16, 2012 - Page 5

The operator of the Japanese nuclear power plant damaged in last year’s earthquake and tsunami has acknowledged that the company neglected safety measures intended to avoid and manage severe accidents while it obsessed over fixing minor safety problems to improve its operational record.

Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO) is struggling to reform, and earlier this year launched an internal reform task force, led by company president Naomi Hirose, to discover which failings caused the problems at the plant and to create improvement plans.

Last year’s powerful earthquake and tsunami led to multiple meltdowns and massive radiation leaks at the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant.

TEPCO is continuing efforts to keep the plant stable until it is decommissioned — a process that is expected to take decades.

The task force said on Friday that TEPCO just did not think disasters beyond their anticipation would occur, and failed to follow international standards and recommendations that could have mitigated the impact of the accident.

The utility could have done more to back-up its power and cooling systems, was short on emergency equipment, and had treated crisis management drills as a formality, the group said.

At the same time, TEPCO focused on minor safety concerns to avoid triggering inspections or reactor stoppages, the task force said.

“The [concept of] risk for the company used to mean a decline in operational records. We need them to change that mentality and make safety their top priority and take that to their heart,” said committee member Masafumi Sakurai, who had also served on a Parliament-commissioned investigation panel.

“We would like to see senior management take initiative,” he added.

The task force said TEPCO employees also lacked crisis management skills.

The task force introduced plans to nurture a company-wide safety culture through various programs, including safety measure contests among employees and performance evaluations of middle management based on their safety efforts.

The plans were submitted on Friday to the overseeing independent committee, led by former US nuclear regulatory chief Dale Klein and four other outside experts, including Sakurai.

Klein said it was difficult at first to obtain accurate and transparent information from TEPCO.

His committee was also concerned about TEPCO’s lack of an apology for the disaster, but he added that the utility is changing.

However, he said he still thinks TEPCO is underestimating how difficult it will be to transform itself.

The reform plans apparently aim to use lessons from Fukushima at TEPCO’s Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant in northern Japan, as the cash-strapped utility wants to restart that plant.