Ex-bosses to go on trial over Fukushima disaster — The Star Online

” Tokyo (AFP) – Three former executives at Fukushima’s operator stand trial this week on the only criminal charges laid in the 2011 disaster, as thousands remain unable to return to homes near the shuttered nuclear plant.

The hearing on Friday comes more than a year after ex-Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco) chairman Tsunehisa Katsumata, 77, and former vice presidents Sakae Muto, 66, and Ichiro Takekuro, 71, were formally charged with professional negligence resulting in death and injury.

The indictments are the first — and only — criminal charges stemming from the tsunami-sparked reactor meltdowns at the plant that set off the worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl in 1986.

“We hope the trial will shed light on where the responsibility for this accident…lies,” Ruiko Muto, who heads a group that pushed for the trial, told AFP.

“The accident hasn’t been resolved. There is nuclear waste from the cleanup efforts everywhere in Fukushima and there are still many unresolved problems,” she said.

The trial follows a battle over whether or not to indict the Tepco executives.

Prosecutors had twice refused to press charges against the men, citing insufficient evidence and little chance of conviction.

But a judicial review panel composed of ordinary citizens ruled in 2015 — for the second time since the accident — that the trio should be put on trial.

That decision compelled prosecutors to press on with the criminal case under Japanese law.

“We want a verdict as soon as possible,” Muto said.

“Some victims of this tragedy have died without seeing the start of the trial.”

If convicted, the men face up to five years in prison or a penalty of up to one million yen ($9,000).

Internal report

Tepco declined to comment on the trial, saying the men “have already left the company”.

The three are reportedly expected to plead not guilty, and argue it was impossible to have predicted the size of the massive tsunami that slammed into Japan’s northeast coast following a huge undersea earthquake.

However, a 2011 government panel report said Tepco simulated the impact of a tsunami on the plant in 2008 and concluded that a wave of up to 15.7 metres (52 feet) could hit the plant if a magnitude-8.3 quake occurred off the coast of Fukushima.

Executives at the company — which is facing huge clean-up and liability costs — allegedly ignored the internal study.

Waves as high as 14 metres swamped the reactors’ cooling systems in March 2011.

Although the quake-tsunami disaster left some 18,500 people dead or missing, the Fukushima accident itself is not officially recorded as having directly killed anyone.

The charges against the executives are linked to the deaths of more than 40 hospitalised patients who were hastily evacuated from the Fukushima area and later died.

Around a dozen others — including Tepco employees and members of Japan’s Self Defense Forces — were injured during the accident.

The disaster forced tens of thousands to evacuate their homes near the plant. Many are still living in other parts of Japan, unable or unwilling to go back home, as fears over radiation persist.

A 2015 report by the International Atomic Energy Agency said a misguided faith in the complete safety of atomic power was a key factor in the Fukushima accident.

It pointed to weaknesses in disaster preparedness and in plant design, along with unclear responsibilities among regulators.

A parliamentary report compiled a year after the disaster also said Fukushima was a man-made disaster caused by Japan’s culture of “reflexive obedience”.

An angry public pointed to cosy ties among the government, regulators and nuclear operators for the lack of criminal charges.

Campaigners have called for about three dozen company officials to be held accountable for their failure properly to protect the site against a tsunami.

The accident forced the shutdown of dozens of reactors across Japan, with just a handful online more than six years later.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and utility companies are pushing to get reactors back in operation, but anti-nuclear sentiment remains high and there is widespread opposition to the idea. ”

by The Star Online

source

The Man who saved Japan, Masao Yoshida — Asia Times

” It was the proverbial 3 a.m. telephone call, three days into the unfolding crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan in March 2011.

Then Prime Minister Naoto Kan was snatching sleep on the couch in his office when Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano woke him with the news that the utility in charge of the plant, Tokyo Electric Power Co., was abandoning the stricken facility.

Fearful that this would entail a massive evacuation of northern Japan and possibly Tokyo, Kan’s instinctive first reaction was to call Masao Yoshida, the superintendent at the plant site about a three-hour drive northeast of the capital.

Yoshida assured him that the report was not true. “There are still some things that we can do,” he told the premier. This was as explosions blew out reactor buildings at the plant, crippled by an earthquake and tsunami, and as fears grew that reactors had started to melt down.

Two days earlier, Kan had flown to the plant by helicopter to inspect the accident site first hand. During a 20-minute meeting with Yoshida, he sized him up as a man he could trust in the crisis, especially as the prime minister rapidly lost faith in Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco) executives.

Almost nobody associated with the Fukushima disaster came out of it looking good, not Kan, not the regulators (such as they were), and certainly not the executives at Tepco’s downtown headquarters.

The exception was Yoshida, often touted as the “hero” of the Fukushima disaster, although he was too modest to claim the title for himself.

Yoshida is the central figure in a new book on the nuclear meltdowns called Yoshida’s Dilemma, One Man’s Struggle to Avert a Nuclear Catastrophe by Rob Gilhooly, a Japan-based journalist and photographer.

Gilhooly’s book is the best and most comprehensive account of the nuclear disaster in English so far (a Japanese translation is under discussion). Much of the subject matter is technical, but the author is skillful enough to make it readable and accessible to the general reader.

In writing the book Gilhooly drew on interviews with officials at the nuclear plant, extensive visits to the Fukushima area and the plant site, as well as three comprehensive government and private investigations into the accident.

It is not clear from the book whether he interviewed Yoshida on-the-record. Yoshida was known to avoid the limelight and gave very few interviews. He’s not mentioned in the book’s acknowledgements.

Yoshida took early retirement in late 2011 after being diagnosed with esophageal cancer. He died in July, 2013. The illness is not thought to have been linked to radiation exposure.

Even former PM Kan lamented, “I wish I had had the chance to talk to him at length about the nuclear disaster.” It is rather astonishing that possibly the two key players in the nuclear tragedy never really compared notes.

Yoshida did give one rare interview to a counselor from Kyoto who had earned his gratitude by treating and counseling workers who faced social ostracism and other problems because they worked at Fukushima.

The only time during the interview that Yoshida showed much emotion was when he denied ordering any abandonment of the plant. That is a question that has lingered over the Fukushima story even after his death.

In 2014 the Asahi newspaper published and then retracted a story that Yoshida had ordered the 700 or so plant workers to leave the site.

Yoshida explained to a government investigation committee that he had ordered the evacuation of nonessential personnel from the plant, but kept back 50 to 60 engineering staff to tackle the cascading disaster and at no time contemplated abandoning the plant on Japan’s Pacific coast.

He and his group of engineers became known as the “Fukushima 50” that risked their own lives to contain the calamity.

By most accounts, Yoshida, who had worked for Tepco for 32 years, was a typical Japanese company man, but he surmounted the stereotype in the way he handled the accident.

For example, massive amounts of water were being pumped into the damaged reactors for cooling and as all sources of fresh water were depleted at the site, Tepco executives ordered him not to use sea water as a replacement.

The executives, still apparently under the delusion that the reactors could be brought back into service some day, opposed salt water as it would have contaminated the reactors beyond all repair.

Yoshida ignored these orders from head office and ordered his plant workers to pump seawater into the damaged reactors. This was a critical decision at a critical moment in the disaster.

“Just keep pumping,” he told subordinates. “Pretend you didn’t hear me [tell Tepco executives he was pumping fresh water] and just keep pumping.”

The Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission established by the parliament later concluded that (Yoshida’s) disregard for corporate headquarters instructions was possibly the only reason that the reactor cores did not explode.

It was Masao Yoshida’s finest hour. ”

by Todd Crowell, Asia Times

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Former TEPCO executives to be tried for Fukushima negligence

Three former TEPCO executives — Tsunehisa Katsumata (ex-chairman), Ichiro Takekuro (ex-vice president) and Sakae Muto (ex-vice president) — are being tried in the Tokyo District Court starting June 30 for criminal negligence for failing to take certain safety measures that may have prevented the triple meltdowns at Fukushima No. 1.

More background information is available in this New York Times article.

Tepco mandated to create fund for scrapping Fukushima plant — The Japan Times

” The Diet passed a bill Wednesday requiring Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc. to put aside extra funds to decommission its crisis-hit Fukushima nuclear power plant, as the state seeks to gain more financial control over the utility.

Under the revised law, the state-backed Nuclear Damage Compensation and Decommissioning Facilitation Corp. will also be involved in the decommissioning process.

Currently, Tepco has been using profits to pay for scrapping the Fukushima No. 1 plant, which was destroyed after a 2011 earthquake and tsunami triggered a triple meltdown.

The revised law is expected to take effect later this year. With the estimated cost of the decommissioning work already surging to ¥8 trillion from the previously forecast ¥2 trillion, a government panel has called for setting up a funding system that is not dependent on the company’s financial health.

The government projects the total cost to deal with the Fukushima nuclear disaster will reach ¥21.5 trillion, including decommissioning costs, compensation and decontamination work.

Under the new program, the state-backed organization will decide on the amount Tepco should store away each business year and the industry minister must approve it.

The utility must also formulate a financial plan and obtain the minister’s approval when it uses the reserve fund for its decommissioning work.

The new law will strengthen the monitoring power of authorities as well, enabling the industry ministry and the organization to conduct on-site inspections to check whether Tepco is putting aside the money.

The government has a major say in the utility’s operations after acquiring 50.1 percent of the company’s voting rights. Tepco faces huge compensation payments and decommissioning costs among other problems due to the 2011 disaster.

The industry ministry has projected roughly ¥300 billion will be needed annually for the next 30 years to complete the scrapping of the power plant, which involves the difficult procedure of extracting nuclear debris.

The costs could grow further. A study by a Tokyo-based private think tank has shown the bill for the decommissioning could balloon to between ¥11 trillion and ¥32 trillion assuming materials from the No. 1 to 3 reactors, which suffered core meltdowns, need to be specially treated for radioactive waste.

The Japan Center for Economic Research estimated the total cost of managing the disaster could reach ¥70 trillion, more than three times the government calculation. ”

by Kyodo, The Japan Times

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‘Yoshida’s Dilemma: One Man’s Struggle to Avert Nuclear Catastrophe’: But for him, Fukushima could have been much worse — The Japan Times

” Disaster response, even at its most heroic, can fall to people who would rather be somewhere else.

So it was for Masao Yoshida, who, while helming the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant during the disaster in 2011, gave the groan, “Why does this happen on my shift?”

But in some ways Yoshida, an industry veteran of 32 years, was the right man to handle the crisis. His leadership during those days on the edge, at times in defiance of orders from the top of the utility that employed him, is at the center of Rob Gilhooly’s new book “Yoshida’s Dilemma: One Man’s Struggle to Avert Nuclear Catastrophe.”

Gilhooly writes from the eye of the storm, putting the reader in the plant’s control room with almost claustrophobic immediacy. One of his challenges was to render the emergency in real-time. How much can prose, moving forward in measured steps, convey a lethal technology unraveling in extremis? How do you convey the breakdown of machinery without getting mired in technical detail?

“It was difficult,” says Gilhooly, who spent almost four years researching and writing the book. “What struck me about the plant workers — it sounded like complete chaos. My decision was not to make it sound orderly. I wanted it to appear chaotic, without the writing becoming chaotic itself. I tore my hair out over the technical details, because I wanted the book to be readable.”

In the end, the book is a cumulative experience — an intense ride that rewards endurance. Gilhooly weaves in the history of nuclear energy in Japan, interviews with experts and re-created conversations among the plant workers.

“Yoshida was a straight talker from Osaka — a larger-than-life personality,” says Gilhooly, who interviewed the superintendent off the record. “He was different from the other superintendents, more prepared to stick his neck out. He was sharper, more bloody-minded. When tipping his hat to authority, he may have done so with a quietly raised middle finger.”

This attitude might have saved lives, when, after a hydrogen blast at the No. 1 plant, Tepco HQ in Tokyo ordered staff to evacuate. Yoshida knew that the executives had little idea of what was actually happening at the plant. Going behind the backs of his superiors, he contacted then-Prime Minister Naoto Kan, insisting that leaving the plant would be reckless. The utility also ordered that seawater not be pumped through the reactor as coolant, since that would render it useless for energy generation in the future. Exposed to life-threatening levels of radiation, Yoshida and his team defied the order, scrambling to cool the overheating reactor with seawater.

The desperate move worked. The team managed to cool the reactor, and later the Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission, which was authorized by the Diet, concluded in its report that “(Yoshida’s) disregard for corporate instructions was possibly the only reason that the reactor cores didn’t explode.”

In Western media coverage of the Fukushima disaster, much was made of Japanese groupthink. A culturally ingrained obedience and a reluctance to question authority was blamed in part for the disaster. Still, the responses vary, and some staff put safety concerns over company loyalty.

“I didn’t want to editorialize,” says Gilhooly, who writes with a calm, thoughtful voice, avoiding the temptation of melodrama. “But yes, Yoshida — and others — refuted the stereotype that was used to explain parts of the disaster.”

Gilhooly is talking to a Japanese publisher, but thinks a translated version may prove difficult: His sources spoke freely about the events at the plant assuming the interviews wouldn’t be published in Japanese. Still, Gilhooly, who takes a stand in the book against using nuclear energy, hopes to fuel the ongoing debate in his adopted home.

“I just wanted to know the truth,” he says. “There is a discussion that needs to happen about nuclear power — about disaster un-preparedness in Japan. I wanted to contribute to that argument. It’s six years on and already we are airbrushing some things out.”

The book points out the gulf between rural Fukushima and the large cities consuming the energy it produced. Gilhooly talked to Atsufumi Yoshizawa, Yoshida’s deputy at the plant, who recalled the first home leave with his boss, a month after the disaster:

“Tokyo was … as though nothing had happened. They were selling things as usual, women were walking around with high heels and makeup as usual, while we didn’t even have our own clothes (which had been contaminated). I remember thinking, ‘What the hell is this? How can it be so different?’ I realized just how useless it would be to try and explain the situation at the plant to these people, what we had been through and the fear we had faced.”

It is a punch in the gut, then, to read about Yoshida’s death from esophageal cancer at age 58, just two years after his exposure to radiation. It’s one of the many elements of the Fukushima crisis that stirs anger, demanding a change that honors the lessons and sacrifice.

Gilhooly points out that, unlike Yoshida in the stricken plant, Japan has the chance to make positive choices about the future, choices that should be informed by the suffering in Fukushima.

“We should think more about how we use energy,” he concludes. “There are things we can do better, with small changes in lifestyle.” ”

by Nicolas Gattig, The Japan Times

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Six years after Fukushima, much of Japan has lost faith in nuclear power — The Conversation

” Six years have passed since the Fukushima nuclear disaster on March 11, 2011, but Japan is still dealing with its impacts. Decommissioning the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant poses unprecedented technical challenges. More than 100,000 people were evacuated but only about 13 percent have returned home, although the government has announced that it is safe to return to some evacuation zones.

In late 2016 the government estimated total costs from the nuclear accident at about 22 trillion yen, or about US$188 billion – approximately twice as high as its previous estimate. The government is developing a plan under which consumers and citizens will bear some of those costs through higher electric rates, taxes or both.

The Japanese public has lost faith in nuclear safety regulation, and a majority favors phasing out nuclear power. However, Japan’s current energy policy assumes nuclear power will play a role. To move forward, Japan needs to find a new way of making decisions about its energy future.

Uncertainty over nuclear power

When the earthquake and tsunami struck in 2011, Japan had 54 operating nuclear reactors which produced about one-third of its electricity supply. After the meltdowns at Fukushima, Japanese utilities shut down their 50 intact reactors one by one. In 2012 then-Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda’s government announced that it would try to phase out all nuclear power by 2040, after existing plants reached the end of their 40-year licensed operating lives.

Now, however, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who took office at the end of 2012, says that Japan “cannot do without” nuclear power. Three reactors have started back up under new standards issued by Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority, which was created in 2012 to regulate nuclear safety. One was shut down again due to legal challenges by citizens groups. Another 21 restart applications are under review.

In April 2014 the government released its first post-Fukushima strategic energy plan, which called for keeping some nuclear plants as baseload power sources – stations that run consistently around the clock. The plan did not rule out building new nuclear plants. The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI), which is responsible for national energy policy, published a long-term plan in 2015 which suggested that nuclear power should produce 20 to 22 percent of Japan’s electricity by 2030.

Meanwhile, thanks mainly to strong energy conservation efforts and increased energy efficiency, total electricity demand has been falling since 2011. There has been no power shortage even without nuclear power plants. The price of electricity rose by more than 20 percent in 2012 and 2013, but then stabilized and even declined slightly as consumers reduced fossil fuel use.

Japan’s Basic Energy Law requires the government to release a strategic energy plan every three years, so debate over the new plan is expected to start sometime this year.

Public mistrust

The most serious challenge that policymakers and the nuclear industry face in Japan is a loss of public trust, which remains low six years after the meltdowns. In a 2015 poll by the pro-nuclear Japan Atomic Energy Relations Organization, 47.9 percent of respondents said that nuclear energy should be abolished gradually and 14.8 percent said that it should be abolished immediately. Only 10.1 percent said that the use of nuclear energy should be maintained, and a mere 1.7 percent said that it should be increased.

Another survey by the newspaper Asahi Shimbun in 2016 was even more negative. Fifty-seven percent of the public opposed restarting existing nuclear power plants even if they satisfied new regulatory standards, and 73 percent supported a phaseout of nuclear power, with 14 percent advocating an immediate shutdown of all nuclear plants.

Who should pay to clean up Fukushima?

METI’s 22 trillion yen estimate for total damages from the Fukushima meltdowns is equivalent to about one-fifth of Japan’s annual general accounting budget. About 40 percent of this sum will cover decommissioning the crippled nuclear reactors. Compensation expenses account for another 40 percent, and the remainder will pay for decontaminating affected areas for residents.

Under a special financing scheme enacted after the Fukushima disaster, Tepco, the utility responsible for the accident, is expected to pay cleanup costs, aided by favorable government-backed financing. However, with cost estimates rising, the government has proposed to have Tepco bear roughly 70 percent of the cost, with other electricity companies contributing about 20 percent and the government – that is, taxpayers – paying about 10 percent.

This decision has generated criticism both from experts and consumers. In a December 2016 poll by the business newspaper Nihon Keizai Shimbun, one-third of respondents (the largest group) said that Tepco should bear all costs and no additional charges should be added to electricity rates. Without greater transparency and accountability, the government will have trouble convincing the public to share in cleanup costs.

Other nuclear burdens: Spent fuel and separated plutonium

Japanese nuclear operators and governments also must find safe and secure ways to manage growing stockpiles of irradiated nuclear fuel and weapon-usable separated plutonium.

At the end of 2016 Japan had 14,000 tons of spent nuclear fuel stored at nuclear power plants, filling about 70 percent of its onsite storage capacity. Government policy calls for reprocessing spent fuel to recover its plutonium and uranium content. But the fuel storage pool at Rokkasho, Japan’s only commercial reprocessing plant, is nearly full, and a planned interim storage facility at Mutsu has not started up yet.

The best option would be to move spent fuel to dry cask storage, which withstood the earthquake and tsunami at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. Dry cask storage is widely used in many countries, but Japan currently has it at only a few nuclear sites. In my view, increasing this capacity and finding a candidate site for final disposal of spent fuel are urgent priorities.

Japan also has nearly 48 tons of separated plutonium, of which 10.8 tons are stored in Japan and 37.1 tons are in France and the United Kingdom. Just one ton of separated plutonium is enough material to make more than 120 crude nuclear weapons.

Many countries have expressed concerns about Japan’s plans to store plutonium and use it in nuclear fuel. Some, such as China, worry that Japan could use the material to quickly produce nuclear weapons.

Now, when Japan has only two reactors operating and its future nuclear capacity is uncertain, there is less rationale than ever to continue separating plutonium. Maintaining this policy could increase security concerns and regional tensions, and might spur a “plutonium race” in the region.

As a close observer of Japanese nuclear policy decisions from both inside and outside of the government, I know that change in this sector does not happen quickly. But in my view, the Abe government should consider fundamental shifts in nuclear energy policy to recover public trust. Staying on the current path may undermine Japan’s economic and political security. The top priority should be to initiate a national debate and a comprehensive assessment of Japan’s nuclear policy. ”

by The Conversation

source with graphics and internal links