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Thursday, August 1, 2013

Mismanaging Risk and the Fukushima Nuclear Crisis

  Mismanaging Risk and the Fukushima Nuclear Crisis

“Though global safety standards kept on improving, we wasted our time coming up with excuses for why Japan didn’t need to bother meeting them.” Madarame Haruki, Chairman, Nuclear Safety Commission, Diet testimony, 2/15/12
The nuclear accident at Fukushima was precipitated by natural disaster, but poor risk management, including a failure to comprehend tectonic risk in the most earthquake prone country in the world, and an institutionalized complacency about risk, were major factors increasing the likelihood of a major accident and fumbling crisis response. Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), the utility operating the Fukushima Daiichi Plant, and the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA), the government regulatory authority, mismanaged a range of risks – siting, seismic, tsunami, emergency preparedness and radiation – and it is this mismanagement that made Fukushima into Japan’s Chernobyl. Investigations into the accident have established that the crisis response was improvised and inadequate because of lack of preparation, institutional flaws in emergency procedures, and poor communication within the government and between officials and TEPCO.
A private panel investigating the nuclear disaster concludes that TEPCO’s systematic negligence contributed to the nuclear disaster and criticized its “make-believe” disaster emergency arrangements.2 The myth that nuclear reactors could be operated with absolute, 100% safety embraced and promoted by what the Japanese call their “nuclear village” of pro-nuclear power advocates made it taboo to question safety standards and militated against sober risk assessment and robust disaster emergency preparedness. Those responsible for operating or regulating nuclear reactors bought into a myth of 100% safety and this collective failure left them unprepared to deal with an accident or worst-case scenario. Paradoxically, this safety myth explains why TEPCO lacked a culture of safety and why it’s crisis response was so deficient.
Politicians dealing with the accident lacked knowledge about nuclear issues and crisis management, and did not get sufficient support or information from bureaucrats or TEPCO to cope with the crisis. In addition, the failure to share information bred mistrust between key actors that impaired their ability to coordinate an effective response. One interviewee cited by the private panel compared the premier’s crisis management team to children playing soccer, preoccupied by the cascading disaster in front of them (chasing the ball) rather than strategizing accident response.3
This paper examines how TEPCO minimized risk assessments and preparations prior to 3/11, how it tried to shirk and shift blame since then, and is trying to mitigate risks to its operations involving nationalization and the sudden onset of nuclear allergy among Japanese.4  This paper also explores how citizens are responding to the fallout of Fukushima, a bottom-up approach to managing risk. Elsewhere I have examined TEPCO’s efforts to blame PM Kan Naoto for its own miscues and failure to prepare adequately for the evident risks.5 As we explore below, the nuclear village of pro-nuclear advocates had much to gain by shifting blame to Kan and diverting attention from the institutional problems that are at the heart of the crisis.6
- See more at: http://www.japanfocus.org/-Jeff-Kingston/3724#sthash.WqdHYE8b.dpuf
Introduction
“Though global safety standards kept on improving, we wasted our time coming up with excuses for why Japan didn’t need to bother meeting them.” Madarame Haruki, Chairman, Nuclear Safety Commission, Diet testimony, 2/15/12
The nuclear accident at Fukushima was precipitated by natural disaster, but poor risk management, including a failure to comprehend tectonic risk in the most earthquake prone country in the world, and an institutionalized complacency about risk, were major factors increasing the likelihood of a major accident and fumbling crisis response. Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), the utility operating the Fukushima Daiichi Plant, and the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA), the government regulatory authority, mismanaged a range of risks – siting, seismic, tsunami, emergency preparedness and radiation – and it is this mismanagement that made Fukushima into Japan’s Chernobyl. Investigations into the accident have established that the crisis response was improvised and inadequate because of lack of preparation, institutional flaws in emergency procedures, and poor communication within the government and between officials and TEPCO.
A private panel investigating the nuclear disaster concludes that TEPCO’s systematic negligence contributed to the nuclear disaster and criticized its “make-believe” disaster emergency arrangements.2 The myth that nuclear reactors could be operated with absolute, 100% safety embraced and promoted by what the Japanese call their “nuclear village” of pro-nuclear power advocates made it taboo to question safety standards and militated against sober risk assessment and robust disaster emergency preparedness. Those responsible for operating or regulating nuclear reactors bought into a myth of 100% safety and this collective failure left them unprepared to deal with an accident or worst-case scenario. Paradoxically, this safety myth explains why TEPCO lacked a culture of safety and why it’s crisis response was so deficient.
Politicians dealing with the accident lacked knowledge about nuclear issues and crisis management, and did not get sufficient support or information from bureaucrats or TEPCO to cope with the crisis. In addition, the failure to share information bred mistrust between key actors that impaired their ability to coordinate an effective response. One interviewee cited by the private panel compared the premier’s crisis management team to children playing soccer, preoccupied by the cascading disaster in front of them (chasing the ball) rather than strategizing accident response.3
This paper examines how TEPCO minimized risk assessments and preparations prior to 3/11, how it tried to shirk and shift blame since then, and is trying to mitigate risks to its operations involving nationalization and the sudden onset of nuclear allergy among Japanese.4  This paper also explores how citizens are responding to the fallout of Fukushima, a bottom-up approach to managing risk. Elsewhere I have examined TEPCO’s efforts to blame PM Kan Naoto for its own miscues and failure to prepare adequately for the evident risks.5 As we explore below, the nuclear village of pro-nuclear advocates had much to gain by shifting blame to Kan and diverting attention from the institutional problems that are at the heart of the crisis.6
- See more at: http://www.japanfocus.org/-Jeff-Kingston/3724#sthash.WqdHYE8b.dpuf
Introduction
“Though global safety standards kept on improving, we wasted our time coming up with excuses for why Japan didn’t need to bother meeting them.” Madarame Haruki, Chairman, Nuclear Safety Commission, Diet testimony, 2/15/12
The nuclear accident at Fukushima was precipitated by natural disaster, but poor risk management, including a failure to comprehend tectonic risk in the most earthquake prone country in the world, and an institutionalized complacency about risk, were major factors increasing the likelihood of a major accident and fumbling crisis response. Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), the utility operating the Fukushima Daiichi Plant, and the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA), the government regulatory authority, mismanaged a range of risks – siting, seismic, tsunami, emergency preparedness and radiation – and it is this mismanagement that made Fukushima into Japan’s Chernobyl. Investigations into the accident have established that the crisis response was improvised and inadequate because of lack of preparation, institutional flaws in emergency procedures, and poor communication within the government and between officials and TEPCO.
A private panel investigating the nuclear disaster concludes that TEPCO’s systematic negligence contributed to the nuclear disaster and criticized its “make-believe” disaster emergency arrangements.2 The myth that nuclear reactors could be operated with absolute, 100% safety embraced and promoted by what the Japanese call their “nuclear village” of pro-nuclear power advocates made it taboo to question safety standards and militated against sober risk assessment and robust disaster emergency preparedness. Those responsible for operating or regulating nuclear reactors bought into a myth of 100% safety and this collective failure left them unprepared to deal with an accident or worst-case scenario. Paradoxically, this safety myth explains why TEPCO lacked a culture of safety and why it’s crisis response was so deficient.
Politicians dealing with the accident lacked knowledge about nuclear issues and crisis management, and did not get sufficient support or information from bureaucrats or TEPCO to cope with the crisis. In addition, the failure to share information bred mistrust between key actors that impaired their ability to coordinate an effective response. One interviewee cited by the private panel compared the premier’s crisis management team to children playing soccer, preoccupied by the cascading disaster in front of them (chasing the ball) rather than strategizing accident response.3
This paper examines how TEPCO minimized risk assessments and preparations prior to 3/11, how it tried to shirk and shift blame since then, and is trying to mitigate risks to its operations involving nationalization and the sudden onset of nuclear allergy among Japanese.4  This paper also explores how citizens are responding to the fallout of Fukushima, a bottom-up approach to managing risk. Elsewhere I have examined TEPCO’s efforts to blame PM Kan Naoto for its own miscues and failure to prepare adequately for the evident risks.5 As we explore below, the nuclear village of pro-nuclear advocates had much to gain by shifting blame to Kan and diverting attention from the institutional problems that are at the heart of the crisis.6
- See more at: http://www.japanfocus.org/-Jeff-Kingston/3724#sthash.WqdHYE8b.dpuf

http://www.japanfocus.org/-Jeff-Kingston/3724

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