TOKYO — Last year’s Fukushima nuclear accident was a man-made disaster caused by Japan’s culture of “reflexive obedience” and not just the tsunami that hit the plant, a damning parliamentary report said Thursday.
Ingrained collusion between plant operator Tokyo Electric Power, the government and regulators, combined with a lack of any effective oversight led directly to the worst nuclear accident in a generation, the report said.
“They effectively betrayed the nation’s right to be safe from nuclear accidents. Therefore, we conclude that the accident was clearly ‘man-made’,” said the Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission. “We believe that the root causes were the organizational and regulatory systems that supported faulty rationales for decisions and actions.”
The probe is the third of its kind in Japan since the huge tsunami of March 2011 crashed into the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station.
Reactors went into meltdown, sending clouds of radiation over a wide area, forcing tens of thousands of people from their homes, some possibly forever.
An earlier report by plant operator Tokyo Electric Power (TEPCO) had all but cleared the huge utility, saying the size of the earthquake and tsunami was beyond all expectations and could not reasonably have been foreseen.
But an independent group of scholars and journalists, who reported their findings in February, said TEPCO could and should have done more. It also said that had the company had its way, its staff would have been evacuated from the crippled plant and the catastrophe could have spiraled even further out of control.
In his straight-talking preface to the more than 600-page report, panel chairman Kiyoshi Kurokawa said difficult lessons that go to the heart of the national character had to be learned from the catastrophe.
“What must be admitted — very painfully — is that this was a disaster ‘Made in Japan’,” he wrote.
“Its fundamental causes are to be found in the ingrained conventions of Japanese culture: our reflexive obedience; our reluctance to question authority; our devotion to ‘sticking with the program’; our groupism and our insularity.
“Had other Japanese been in the shoes of those who bear responsibility for this accident, the result may well have been the same.”
The findings call for further investigation into the impact of the 9.0 magnitude earthquake — as opposed to the towering tsunami — on the reactors at Fukushima.
“As for direct cause of the accident, the commission reached the conclusion that we cannot definitely say any devices that were important for safety were not damaged by the earthquake,” it said.
Although many scientists and activists have questioned the dominant narrative that cooling systems were knocked out by the rising waters, the government and TEPCO have been unwilling to say the reactors were damaged by the initial earthquake.
TEPCO spokesman Junichi Matsumoto said the company would be carefully reading the report before responding fully. — AFP