academia, DPJ, Fukushima, Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission, Investigation, Japan, LDP, METI, NISA, NRC, NSC, nuclear industry, nuclear power, nuclear power plant, regulatory capture, risk management, self-perpetuating, TEPCO, USA
The Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission produced a huge document, which is hundreds of pages and perhaps one thousand pages long. In the Executive English summary they note that “As the first independent commission chartered by the Diet in the history of Japan’s constitutional government, we would like to emphasize how important it is that this report be utilized, for the Japanese people and for the people of the world.” (p. 7). It was commissioned under the short-lived DPJ, centrist, government before power returned to the nationalist right wing LDP party (with roots in fascist Japan), which has ruled Japan since 1955, excepting about 5 years. The document is currently available online, in English, though with the new fascist secrecy law we fear that it may be removed. It is about what caused the disaster, and how it could have been prevented.
It points to “a typical example of ‘regulatory capture’ in which the oversight of the industry by regulators effectively ceases“. http://warp.da.ndl.go.jp/info:ndljp/pid/3856371/naiic.go.jp/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/NAIIC_report_lo_res10.pdf
Similarly, the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has long been considered by many to be “a textbook example of the problem of ‘regulatory capture’ — in which an industry gains control of an agency meant to regulate it.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Regulatory_capture
A related topic, which explains, as much or more of, the problem of the self-perpetuation of the nuclear power industry, is that those working for the industry, and nuclear specialists in academia, all have interest in keeping it going. They depend on it for their livelihoods. They fear professional obsolescense. In many ways revolving doors and regulatory capture appear almost innate to many specialized areas, such as the nuclear industry. The best way to nip it out would be to have government support of related academic research, rather than industry supported research.
Perhaps those working in the nuclear industry are too narrow-minded to see that they could use their skills to take care of existing wastes. In much the same way, mining geologists could put their skills to good use monitoring old mines and more generally (under)ground stability. There is also money in cleaning up nuclear and mining wastes (and innovation), but someone must be willing to pay for it. The Fukushima investigators note:
“In Japan, it is impossible to discuss the nuclear industry, nuclear policy, and nuclear expertise without keeping in mind the fact that the potential shutdown of existing reactors threatens the raison d’être of everyone connected to the ‘nuclear power industry.’ In other words, the regulators, the regulated, the experts whose role is to provide objective information—indeed all the players in the Japanese nuclear power industry—relied on the continued operation of the existing reactors, creating a situation where they were ‘all in same boat.’ In such circumstances, it was extremely difficult to secure true independence and expertise at the same time. It became the unspoken understanding that the ‘responsibility for shutting down existing reactors in order to avoid any potential risk of accidents’ weighed more heavily than the ‘responsibility for accidents occurring as the result of inaction.’ Neither the operators nor the regulatory side made the safety of the nuclear power plants the supreme aim. Instead they claimed that ‘nuclear power plants are already safe’ in order to block any possible adverse impact on the existing reactors and buried any new knowledge concerning the risk of accidents. It was this mindset that led to the accident.” http://warp.da.ndl.go.jp/info:ndljp/pid/3856371/naiic.go.jp/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/NAIIC_Eng_Chapter5_web.pdf (we added bold for emphasis)
One also cannot underestimate the pork-barrel (cash cow) aspect of new nuclear power, which piggy-backs on old nuclear power. This pork-barrel, cash cow, is paid for by the taxpayer, often with claims about economic benefits. But, as most countries end up using foreign labor for construction, the pork seems mostly to accrue to the companies rather than local workers, and the companies are often foreign, as well. Think, for instance, of the new Finnish nuclear power plant which was built by France (AREVA) with the majority of the workforce from other European countries, and a few local contractors.
NISA – Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, NSC – Nuclear Safety Commission, METI-Ministry of the Economy, Trade and Industry, TEPCO – Tokyo Electric Power Company
Excerpts from the investigative study in English:
There were many opportunities for NISA, NSC and TEPCO to take measures that would have prevented the accident, but they did not do so. They either intentionally postponed putting safety measures in place, or made decisions based on their organization’s self interest— not in the interest of public safety. …. Despite the fact that both TEPCO and NISA were aware of the risks, no attempts were made to amend the existing regulations or bring them in line with international standards. NISA gave no compulsory instructions to carry out specific measures, and TEPCO took no action. NISA did instruct TEPCO to conduct an anti-seismic backcheck, but by not completing the backcheck as originally scheduled, TEPCO effectively invited the accident that followed. NISA is equally at fault because it did not ensure that the backcheck was completed in a timely fashion, despite its awareness of the backcheck’s importance. NISA’s failure to demand action, and TEPCO’s failure to act, together constitute negligence which led to the accident. They can-not use the excuse of circumstances occurring that were beyond their expectations.
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. Despite the fact that constant vigilance is needed to keep up with evolving international standards on earthquake safeguards, Japan’s electric power operators have repeatedly and stubbornly refused to evaluate and update existing regulations, including backchecks and backfitting. The Japanese nuclear industry has fallen behind the global standard of earthquake and tsunami preparedness, and failed to reduce the risk of severe accidents by adhering to the five layers of the defense-in-depth strategy. 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 operators prioritized the interests of their organizations over the public’s safety, and decided that Japanese nuclear power plant reactor operations ‘will not be stopped.’ Because the regulators and operators have consistently and loudly maintained that ‘the safety of nuclear power is guaranteed,’ they had a mutual interest in averting the risk of existing reactors being shut down due to safety issues, or of lawsuits filed by anti-nuclear activists. They repeatedly avoided, compromised or postponed any course of action, and any regulation or finding that threatened the continued operation of nuclear reactors. The FEPC has been the main organization through which this intransigent position was maintained among the regulatory agencies and in the academic world. Our investigation focused on the significant lobbying role taken by FEPC on behalf of the operators, and scrutinized the relationship between the operators and regulators. The Commission found that the actual relationship lacked independence and transparency, and was far from being a ‘safety culture.’ In fact, it was a typical example of ‘regulatory capture,’ in which the oversight of the industry by regulators effectively ceases. We found examples of this in the neutering of revisions in the Guideline for Anti-seismic Design, and the improper discussions that took place on regulating severe accident countermeasures.
TEPCO’s organizational issues
Again, we must point to TEPCO’s organizational mindset as one cause of the accident: on
44 Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission
one hand they strongly influenced energy policy and nuclear regulations while abdicating their own responsibilities and letting METI take the responsibility on the front line. But they also manipulated the cozy relationship with the regulators to take the teeth out of rules and regulations. TEPCO did hold meetings about what it viewed as risks to nuclear power production; such risks were defined as the potential loss of trust in the utility on the part of the public regarding natural disasters and possible decreases in the operation rates of reactors. The risk of a potentially severe accident never appeared in TEPCO’s list of risks. TEPCO explained this glaring omission by arguing that nuclear safety was supposed to be dealt with by its on-site plant department, hence such risks were not to be recorded in the records of the central risk management meetings. The risk of damage to public health and welfare was not an issue for TEPCO. As the nuclear power business became less profitable over the years, TEPCO’s manage-ment began to put more emphasis on cost cutting and increasing Japan’s reliance on nuclear power. While giving lip service to a policy of ‘safety first,’ in actuality, safety suffered at the expense of other management priorities. An emblematic example is the fact that TEPCO did not have the proper diagrams of piping and other instruments at the Daiichi plant. The absence of the proper diagrams was one of the factors that led to a delay in venting at a crucial time during the accident. After the accident, TEPCO had the twin responsibilities of containing the accident situation and disclosing facts regarding the status of the accident to the surrounding residents, the nation and the international community in an appropriate and timely manner. We assert that the actual disclosure of facts by TEPCO was inappropriate, and that such inappropriateness was also an indirect cause of the deterioration of the situation. For example, regarding the disclosure of an increase of reactor vessel pressure at Unit 2, TEPCO issued a press release about seawater injection at 23:00 on March 14, but made no disclosure about an increase in radiation dosage at the entrance of the plant that occurred between 19:00 and 21:00 on the same day. TEPCO also downplayed the severity of the situation in their disclosure regarding the plague in the suppression chamber of Unit 2; moreover, there was a significant delay from when TEPCO informed the Kantei and when it disclosed the information publicly. The Commission also found a record by TEPCO noting that they did not inform the public of an increase in reactor vessel pressure at Unit 3, as of 8:00 on March 14, because NISA had banned the release. In fact, the Kantei had merely instructed TEPCO to inform them of the contents of releases when they were made. In obeying NISA’s order to halt the release of this crucial information, TEPCO effectively prioritized its own interests and those of NISA over the greater good of the public and their right to be informed.
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 organizational 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 fundamental 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”. http://warp.da.ndl.go.jp/info:ndljp/pid/3856371/naiic.go.jp/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/NAIIC_report_lo_res10.pdf (Bold added for emphasis by us.)
“The National Diet of Japan Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission Chapter 5 | page 29
5.2.4 Conclusion: What the operators and the regulatory authorities tried to protect
The operators exerted their influence on the regulatory authorities in various ways in order to mitigate the impact on the operating ratios of existing reactors. As the result, the adoption of new information was not incorporated into the regulations, but remained at the guide and administrative guidance levels. The administrative guidance did not consist of imposing deadlines, but fit under the name of ‘independent safety maintenance by the voluntary efforts of the operator,’ which was implemented at a slow pace. Creating any risk of shutdowns at existing reactors by adopting new regulations was considered taboo, not only by the operators but also by the regulatory authorities. Any standards that would raise doubts about the safety of existing reactors or would be difficult to meet because of the existing reactors’ design limits were passed over for adoption even if they were necessary to secure safety. Both operators and regulators also maintained the premise that ‘the safety of nuclear power plants is already secured.’ It even appears that they lost sight of the original objectives of regulation and guidelines to ‘mitigate fundamental risks’ and ‘secure safety,’ and saw them only as tools to demonstrate how safe Japanese nuclear power plants were and to sweep away the concerns of local residents. Although the entire process of the exchange of views between NISA and the operators was supposed to be made public, they were coordinating important standards behind closed doors. If disclosed, these would have raised concerns about their effects on the operation of existing reactors and caused doubts about existing safety standards. It could hardly be said that transparency was being implemented. Because NISA had less expertise than the operators, operators’ proposals on the details would sometimes be accepted. The overall situation was such that the very independence of the regulatory authorities was cast in doubt. At the same time, the operators also exerted their influence on the academic world in various ways. With experts who provided new information concerning accident risks, they built relationships by collecting information and seeking opinions, and sought to influence them to avoid adversarial relationships. With regard to new information indicating risks, to take earthquake probabilistic safety analysis and tsunami probabilistic safety analysis as examples, they sought to postpone their adoption in regulations and guidelines, highlighting their ‘with low reliability and vague scientific grounds, and at research stage.’ It is clear that this unhealthy relationship (‘structural captivity’) between the opera-tors and the regulatory side influenced the lack of an appropriate response to, and long-time neglect of, the eventual causes of the accident. In Japan, it is impossible to discuss the nuclear industry, nuclear policy, and nuclear expertise without keeping in mind the fact that the potential shutdown of existing reactors threatens the raison d’être of everyone connected to the ‘nuclear power industry.’ In other words, the regulators, the regulated, the experts whose role is to provide objective information—indeed all the players in the Japanese nuclear power industry—relied on the continued operation of the existing reactors, creating a situation where they were ‘all in same boat.’ In such circumstances, it was
 FEPC documents  FEPC documents
The National Diet of Japan Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission Chapter 5 | page 30
extremely difficult to secure true independence and expertise at the same time. It became the unspoken understanding that the ‘responsibility for shutting down existing reactors in order to avoid any potential risk of accidents’ weighed more heavily than the ‘responsibility for accidents occurring as the result of inaction.’ Neither the operators nor the regulatory side made the safety of the nuclear power plants the supreme aim. Instead they claimed that ‘nuclear power plants are already safe’ in order to block any possible adverse impact on the existing reactors and buried any new knowledge concerning the risk of accidents. It was this mindset that led to the accident.
5.3 Institutional issues at TEPCO
Although TEPCO exerted a strong influence on energy policy and nuclear power regulation, it did not face the issues squarely on its own. Instead, it acted as the power behind the throne, shifting responsibility to the administrative authorities. Governance at TEPCO was bureaucratic, lacking autonomy and a sense of responsibility. It constantly worked to water down regulations, by working through FEPC and other bodies, using the information gap concerning nuclear power technology as a weapon. We can point to the distortion of risk management at TEPCO as the background to this. TEPCO does have deliberative bodies to examine the risks of nuclear power. However, it treated the risks of nuclear power together with natural disaster both leading to the loss of social trust and to a decrease in operating ratios, and never treated the risk of nuclear power as the very real risk of severe accidents. The reason was that nuclear safety was to be secured within the confines of the Nuclear Power and Plant Siting Headquarters chain of command and was not handled as a high management issue, which led to distortion in TEPCO’s risk management. When new information concerning tsunamis became available through research and from academic circles, the normal response would have been to understand the increased likelihood that such risk could materialize. However, TEPCO’s understanding was that it was the impact of the risk on its business that had increased, not the likelihood of the risk. This meant that it did not consider the impact on the health of local residents and other adverse effects that could result from a severe accident as risk. Instead, they were only aware of risks of taking countermeasures, shutting down existing reactors and facing lawsuits. As difficulties in the business environment of TEPCO’s nuclear power department mounted, ‘cost cutting’ and ‘enhancing the nuclear power operating ratio’ became important concerns. Although the catch phrase, ‘securing safety is of the highest priority,’ was circulated internally in the Nuclear Power and Plant Siting Headquarters and the power stations, the reality was a clash between securing safety and the business interests, and the safety-first posture came under pressure. Symbolic of this is, for example, the fact that deficiencies in the piping and instrumentation diagrams had been left unattended for many years, and were one of the causes of the delay in venting during the response to the accident. When the accident occurred, TEPCO was responsible both for bringing the accident under control and for disclosing facts as they unfolded in a timely manner to local residents, the Japanese public and the global audience. The disclosure of information by TEPCO was far from sufficient, and wound up increasing the overall negative impact. For example, information concerning the rising pressure in the containment vessel at Unit 2 and the injection of seawater was issued in a press release at 23:00 on March 14. But there was no heads-up notice in the time between 19:00 and 21:00, when the dosage rate at the front gate of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant had actually gone up. There was also a big time gap between the notification to the administrative authorities and the press release regarding abnormalities in the pressure control room at Unit 2, and the seriousness of the situation was downplayed in the press release. Concerning the rise in pressure in the containment vessel at Unit 3 at 08:00 on March 14, TEPCO records state that it did not make this public because it had [p. 31] received instructions from NISA to stop issuing press releases. However, according to the Kantei, it had merely instructed TEPCO to at least inform the Kantei when issuing a press release. For TEPCO to act according to instructions from the Kantei and the supervising authorities may be considered sensible. However, it transpired that the company apparently was placing higher importance on its public appearances vis-à-vis the government than transparency of information in a situation where residents in the vicinity and other people were being placed in danger.” http://warp.da.ndl.go.jp/info:ndljp/pid/3856371/naiic.go.jp/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/NAIIC_Eng_Chapter5_web.pdf (bold added by us for emphasis)
The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission has been long-believed victim of regulatory capture:
“According to Frank N. von Hippel, despite the 1979 Three Mile Island accident in Pennsylvania, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has often been too timid in ensuring that America’s 104 commercial reactors are operated safely:
Nuclear power is a textbook example of the problem of ‘regulatory capture’ — in which an industry gains control of an agency meant to regulate it. Regulatory capture can be countered only by vigorous public scrutiny and Congressional oversight, but in the 32 years since Three Mile Island, interest in nuclear regulation has declined precipitously.
Then-candidate Barack Obama said in 2007 that the five-member NRC had become ‘captive of the industries that it regulates’ and Joe Biden indicated he had absolutely no confidence in the agency.
The NRC has given a license to ‘every single reactor requesting one’, according Greenpeace USA nuclear policy analyst Jim Riccio to refer to the agency approval process as a ‘rubber stamp’. In Vermont, ten days after the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami that damaged Japan’s Daiichi plant in Fukushima, the NRC approved a 20-year extension for the license of Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Plant, although the Vermont state legislature had voted overwhelmingly to deny such an extension. The Vermont plant uses the same GE Mark 1 reactor design as the Fukushima Daiichi plant. The plant had been found to be leaking radioactive materials through a network of underground pipes, which Entergy, the company running the plant, had denied under oath even existed. Representative Tony Klein, who chaired the Vermont House Natural Resources and Energy Committee, said that when he asked the NRC about the pipes at a hearing in 2009, the NRC didn’t know about their existence, much less that they were leaking. On March 17, 2011, the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) released a study critical of the NRC’s 2010 performance as a regulator. The UCS said that through the years, it had found the NRC’s enforcement of safety rules has not been ‘timely, consistent, or effective’ and it cited 14 ‘near-misses’ at U.S. plants in 2010 alone. Tyson Slocum, an energy expert at Public Citizen said the nuclear industry has ’embedded itself in the political establishment’ through ‘reliable friends from George Bush to Barack Obama’, that the government ‘has really just become cheerleaders for the industry.’
There have also been instances of a revolving door. Jeffrey Merrifield, who was on the NRC from 1997 to 2008 and was appointed by presidents Clinton and Bush, left the NRC to take an executive position at The Shaw Group, which has a nuclear division regulated by the NRC.[note 2]
A year-long Associated Press (AP) investigation showed that the NRC, working with the industry, has relaxed regulations so that aging reactors can remain in operation. The AP found that wear and tear of plants, such as clogged lines, cracked parts, leaky seals, rust and other deterioration resulted in 26 alerts about emerging safety problems and may have been a factor in 113 of the 226 alerts issued by the NRC between 2005 and June 2011. The NRC repeatedly granted the industry permission to delay repairs and problems often grew worse before they were fixed.[note 3]”
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Regulatory_capture (references at link; bold added for emphasis)