A Culture of Fear Leads to the Japan Nuclear Crisis

Recently, Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) acknowledged for the first time that nuclear crisis created when the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant facility lost power, leading to an eventual meltdown, in large part could have been prevented. The power company in charge of the Fukushima reactors further stated that it had known beforehand that safety improvements were needed at the plant, according to www.businessweek.com.

What makes this disaster all the more frustrating is that there are records indicating that the northeast coast of Japan, where the reactors are located, had suffered from a major tsunami in the past. So, there was ample precedence for such an event happening again. TEPCO chose to take an optimistic view of the risk involved and ruled that the seawall it had, 18 feet high, was good enough.

It turned out that it wasn’t, as the tsunami that struck the Fukushima Daiichi facility in March 2011 was more than twice that height. There was no way that a tsunami of that height could have been predicted, but, as has been learned in recent years from a multitude of high-profile natural disasters, risk managers should take into account the worst possible scenario when planning. That way they will be more prepared when disaster does strike.

One of the main elements leading to the failure of TEPCO to improve the safety protocols at its Fukushima Daiichi facility was a fear of political, economic and legal consequences of implementing any change. It was this fear of any repercussions that might arise from wanting to better protect nuclear facilities, which led to the failure to do anything about known safety issues within the facility. The fear of anti-nuclear sentiment and the knowledge that the changes needed would lead to an interference with operations and increase the risk of damaging litigation over ruled fixing the problems.

With this latest admission, it is hopeful that a culture of preparedness can be created. One that will see that such an event does not happen again in future disasters. So, some good did come out of the devastating crisis in Japan. It’s too bad that it is one that could have been prevented in the first place.

For more information about the disaster preparedness deficiencies leading up to the Japan disaster, visit: http://www.businessweek.com/ap/2012-10-12/japan-utility-agrees-nuclear-crisis-was-avoidable