The utility behind Japan’s nuclear disaster has acknowledged for the first time that it could have avoided the crisis.
Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco) said in a statement on Friday that it knew safety improvements were needed before last year’s tsunami triggered three meltdowns, but it had feared the political, economic and legal consequences of implementing them.
“When looking back on the accident, the problem was that preparations were not made in advance,” Tepco’s internal reform task force, led by company President Naomi Hirose, said in the statement.
“Could necessary measures have been taken with previous tsunami evaluations? It was possible to take action” by adopting more extensive safety measures, the task force said.
The task force said Tepco had feared efforts to better protect nuclear facilities from severe accidents such as tsunamis would trigger anti-nuclear sentiment, interfere with operations or increase litigation risks.
Tepco could have mitigated the impact of the accident if it had diversified power and cooling systems by paying closer attention to international standards and recommendations, the statement said.
Tepco also should have trained employees with practical crisis management skills rather than conduct obligatory drills as a formality, it said.
The admissions mark a major reversal for the utility, which had defended its preparedness and crisis management since the March 2011 tsunami.
Internal reform committee
The disaster knocked out power to the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant, leading to the meltdowns, which forced massive evacuations and will take decades to clean up.
The statement was released after Tepco held its first internal reform committee meeting, led by former US nuclear regulatory chief Dale Klein. His five-member committee oversees the task force’s reform plans.
“It’s very important for Tepco to recognise the needs to reform and the committee is very anxious to facilitate the reform necessary for Tepco to become a world-class company,” Klein told a news conference.
“The committee’s goal is to ensure that TEPCO develops practices and procedures so an accident like this will never happen again.”
Investigative reports compiled by the government and the parliament panels said collusion between the company and government regulators allowed lax supervision and allowed Tepco to continue lagging behind in safety steps.
Despite records indicating a major tsunami had once hit off Japan’s northern coast, Tepco took the most optimistic view of the risk and insisted that its 5.7-metre-high seawall was good enough.
The tsunami that struck Fukushima Dai-ichi was more than twice that height.
The company had said in its own accident probe report in June that the tsunami could not be anticipated and that the company did the best it could to bring the critically damaged plant under control, although there were shortfalls that they had to review.