Home > Uncategorized > Lessons From Fukushima of Direct Relevance To US Regulators

Lessons From Fukushima of Direct Relevance To US Regulators

Japanese Find: “Existing regulations biased toward promotion of nuclear energy, and not to protecting public safety, health and welfare.”

NJ Gov. Christie’s Lax Regulatory Policy Mimics Japanese Failure

The Japanese Government just issued a scathing Report on the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

My guess is that any US media coverage will suggest that these problems are cultural and limited to Japan, where an unhealthy respect for authority is a cultural reality.

That “it can’t happen here where we have independent and vigorous regulatory oversight” view contrasts with how the NY Times investigative stories covered the nuclear industry in Japan.

In critical stories written shortly after the disaster, The Times exposed scandalous industry corruption, bribery, propaganda, myths, and improper industry influence that they would never write about in the US:

Over several decades, Japan’s nuclear establishment has devoted vast resources to persuade the Japanese public of the safety and necessity of nuclear power. Plant operators built lavish, fantasy-filled public relations buildings that became tourist attractions. Bureaucrats spun elaborate advertising campaigns through a multitude of organizations established solely to advertise the safety of nuclear plants. Politicians pushed through the adoption of government-mandated school textbooks with friendly views of nuclear power.

The result was the widespread adoption of the belief called the “safety myth” that Japan’s nuclear power plants were absolutely safe. …

Japan’s government has concentrated its propaganda and educational efforts on creating such national beliefs in the past, most notably during World War II. The push for nuclear power underpinned postwar Japan’s focus on economic growth and its dream of greater energy independence.

The Times’ reporting on Japan contrasts with what the media portray as strong US regulators and open and pro-public interest culture. While giving US industry and regulators a pass, The Times warned us all about  Japan’s secret and corrupt “culture of complicity“:

In 2000, Kei Sugaoka, a Japanese-American nuclear inspector who had done work for General Electric at Daiichi, told Japan’s main nuclear regulator about a cracked steam dryer that he believed was being concealed. If exposed, the revelations could have forced the operator, Tokyo Electric Power, to do what utilities least want to do: undertake costly repairs.

What happened next was an example, critics have since said, of the collusive ties that bind the nation’s nuclear power companies, regulators and politicians.

Despite a new law shielding whistle-blowers, the regulator, the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, divulged Mr. Sugaoka’s identity to Tokyo Electric, effectively blackballing him from the industry.

So, I’ve again excerpted the primary conclusions from the Report on the Japanese experience as instructive for virtually every sphere of US nuclear, energy, environmental, and public health and safety regulatory programs across government agencies.

The historical policy and institutional problems outlined in the Japanese Report are greatly magnified right here in NJ by the Christie Administration’s policy, which is to slash “job killing red tape” regulations and reorient DEP’s culture and mission to be more “customer friendly” and to “promote economic development”.

These are exactly the policies that caused the Fukushima disaster. (and don’t forget that Oyster Creek, the oldest US nuke plant, is one of 23 Zombie US plants with the same flawed design as Fukushima.)

As the case of NJ nuclear whistleblower Dennis Zannoni makes clear (as well as my own experience), the Japanese findings are directly relevant to the US and the exact same set of systemic problems are present in US industry and regulatory agencies.

Reforming the regulators

The Commission has concluded that the safety of nuclear energy in Japan and the pub-lic cannot be assured unless the regulators go through an essential transformation process. The entire organization needs to be transformed, not as a formality but in a substantial way. Japan’s regulators need to shed the insular attitude of ignoring inter national safety standards and transform themselves into a globally trusted entity. (see Recommendation 5)

The regulators did not monitor or supervise nuclear safety. The lack of expertise resulted in “regulatory capture,” and the postponement of the implementation of relevant regulations. They avoided their direct responsibilities by letting operators apply regulations on a voluntary basis. Their independence from the political arena, the ministries promoting nuclear energy, and the operators was a mockery. They were incapable, and lacked the expertise and the commitment to assure the safety of nuclear power. Moreover, the orga- nization lacked transparency. Without the investigation by this Commission, operating independently of the government, many of the facts revealing the collusion between the regulators and other players might never have been revealed.

Reforming the operator

TEPCO did not fulfil its responsibilities as a private corporation, instead obeying and relying upon the government bureaucracy of METI, the government agency driving nuclear policy. At the same time, through the auspices of the FEPC, it manipulated the cozy relationship with the regulators to take the teeth out of regulations. (see Recom- mendation 4)

The risk management practices of TEPCO illustrate this. If the risk factors of tsunami are raised, for example, TEPCO would only look at the risk to their own operations, and whether it would result in a suspension of existing reactors or weaken their stance in potential lawsuits. They ignored the potential risk to the public health and welfare. (See Section 5)

Problems with TEPCO’s management style, based on the government taking final responsibility, became explicit during the accident. It prioritized the Kantei’s intent over that of the technical engineers at the site. TEPCO’s behavior was consistently unclear, and the misunderstanding over the “complete withdrawal” from the plant is a good example of the confusion that arose from their behavior. (See Section 3)

After the accident, TEPCO continued to avoid transparency in disclosing information. It limited disclosure to confirmed facts, and failed to disclose information that it felt was uncertain or inconvenient. Some examples of continuing disclosure issues include the delay in releasing electricity demand projections used as the basis for rolling blackouts, and the lack in up-to-date information on the core conditions at the plant.

Reforming laws and regulations

The Commission concludes that it is necessary to realign existing laws and regulations concerning nuclear energy. Mechanisms must be established to ensure that the latest technological findings from international sources are reflected in all existing laws and regulations. (see Recommendation 6)

Laws and regulations related to nuclear energy have only been revised as stopgap measures, based on actual accidents. They have not been seriously and comprehensively reviewed in line with the accident response and safeguarding measures of an international standard. As a result, predictable risks have not been addressed.

The existing regulations primarily are biased toward the promotion of a nuclear energy policy, and not to public safety, health and welfare. The unambiguous responsibility that operators should bear for a nuclear disaster was not specified. There was also no clear guidance about the responsibilities of the related parties in the case of an emergency. The defense-in- depth concept used in other countries has still not been fully considered.

Cosmetic solutions

Replacing people or changing the names of institutions will not solve the problems. Unless these root causes are resolved, preventive measures against future similar accidents will never be complete. (see Recommendations 4, 5 and 6)

The Commission believes the root causes of this accident cannot be resolved and that the people’s confidence cannot be recovered as long as this “manmade disaster” is seen as the result of error by a specific individual. The underlying issue is the social structure that results in “regulatory capture,” and the organizational, institutional, and legal framework that allows individuals to justify their own actions, hide them when inconvenient, and leave no records in order to avoid responsibility. Across the board, the Commission found igno- rance and arrogance unforgivable for anyone or any organization that deals with nuclear power. We found a disregard for global trends and a disregard for public safety. We found a habit of adherence to conditions based on conventional procedures and prior practices, with a priority on avoiding risk to the organization. We found an organization-driven mind- set that prioritized benefits to the organization at the expense of the public.

The “regulatory capture” of Japan’s nuclear industry

The fundamental causes of the accident, including the failure to carry out earthquake and tsunami measures and the lack of measures for dealing with a severe accident, can be also traced to the Federation of Electric Power Companies (FEPC). This is an unregulated lobbying association of electric power companies, and thus also bears a share of the responsibility. …

The Commission’s examination of the way safety regulations are deliberated and amended reveals a cozy relationship between the operators, the regulators and academic scholars that can only be described as totally inappropriate. In essence, the regulators and the opera- tors prioritized the interests of their organizations over the public’s safety, and decided that Japanese nuclear power plant reactor operations “will not be stopped.”

Organizational issues concerning regulatory bodies

Prior to the accident, the regulatory bodies lacked an organizational culture that prioritized public safety over their own institutional wellbeing, and the correct mindset necessary for governance and oversight. The Commission concludes that the structural flaws in Japan’s nuclear administration must be identified through a critical investigation into the organi- zational structures, laws and regulations and personnel involved. We should identify the areas in need of improvement, recognize the lessons to be learned, and plot the fundamen- tal reforms necessary to ensure nuclear safety in the future.

Autonomy and transparency must be built into the new regulatory organizations to be created. They must have significant powers of oversight in order to properly monitor the operators of nuclear power plants. New personnel with highly professional expertise must be employed and trained. It is necessary to adopt drastic changes to achieve a properly functioning “open system.” The incestuous relationships that existed between regulators and business entities must not be allowed to develop again. To ensure that Japan’s safety and regulatory systems keep pace with evolving international standards, it is necessary to do away with the old attitudes that were complicit in the accident that occurred.

Laws and regulations governing nuclear power

The Commission has found that prior to the accident, revision and amendments of laws and regulations were only undertaken on a “patchwork” basis, in response to micro-con- cerns. The will to make large, significant changes in order to keep in step with the standards of the international community was utterly lacking.

At the time of the accident, the laws, regulations and infrastructure were based on the assumption that the scope and magnitude of possible natural disasters would not exceed precedent. There was a failure to take into account the prospect of unprecedented events such as the earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011, despite the fact that the possibility of such events was known.

Those in charge of the laws and regulations that governed the nuclear power indus- try in Japan had a dogmatic mindset that failed to keep pace with evolving international laws, standards and practices, and which disregarded pertinent technological advice and improvements from abroad. As a result, the laws and regulations governing Japan’s nuclear power industry at the time of the accident were outdated relative to those of other coun- tries and, in some cases, obsolete.

Prior to the accident, the primary purpose of the nuclear laws and regulations was the promotion of nuclear energy. The laws need to be rewritten with emphasis placed on pri- oritizing public safety, health and welfare. The roles, responsibilities and relationships of the operators, regulators and other involved entities need to be clearly delineated in the Act on Special Measures Concerning Nuclear Emergency Preparedness. The defense-in-depth needs to be formally enshrined in the regulations so that it will function properly when needed in the future.

Categories: Uncategorized Tags:
You must be logged in to post a comment.