‘Myth of nuclear safety’ attacked after disaster

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Officials in Japan were “astonishingly unprepared” for the events that led to the Fukushima nuclear disaster, a damning report has concluded.

Investigators highlighted a catalogue of human errors before and after the earthquake and tsunami last year which killed thousands, devastated the Japanese economy and threatened a nuclear disaster.

In particular, they attacked the myth of “absolute safety” promoted by supporters of nuclear power.

The independent report, published in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, criticised the building of multiple nuclear reactor units so close together, and the failure to take the risk of a deadly tsunami seriously.

The nine-magnitude earthquake on March 11 last year triggered a 14-metre tsunami which wiped out coastal towns, and cut off all electricity to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station. A cascade of events followed, including meltdowns of reactor cores, explosions and the release of radioactive material.

After the disaster the Rebuild Japan Initiative Foundation set up an independent panel to review the actions and responses of the Japanese government, nuclear plant owners the Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco) and regulatory agencies.

The report, written by foundation chairman Yoichi Funabashi and investigation panel director Kay Kitazawa, said the tsunami could and should have been anticipated. But the company dismissed earlier research on tsunami as “academic”. Regulators encouraged the company to incorporate new findings about the risk into its safety plans but did not make them mandatory.

The folly of building a collection of nuclear reactor units in one place was also highlighted. It meant the nuclear power station’s director, Masao Yoshida, had to cope simultaneously with core meltdowns at three reactors and exposed fuel pools at four units.

Questioning why preparations were so inadequate, the report said: “One factor was a twisted myth – a belief in the ‘absolute safety’ of nuclear power. This myth has been propagated by interest groups seeking to gain broad acceptance for nuclear power.”