October 16th, 2012

CSGJ: Oct. 16 – Dr. Kurokawa, Chair, Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission (NAIIC)

“Lessons Learned: the Fukushima Nuclear Accident — Tuesday, October 16, 2012 at 10:00 a.m.| Capitol Visitors Center SVC 215

Photos courtesy of the U.S.-Japan Council, more available on FMC’s Flickr account at flickr.com/photos/usafmc

See also Dr. Kurokawa’s own post about this event at http://www.kiyoshikurokawa.com/en/2012/10/national-diet-of-japan-fukushima-nuclear-accident-independent-investigation-commission-naiic-11-spee.html.

(L to R) Dr. Charles Ferguson, President, Federation of Atomic Scientists; Meredith Miller, NBR; Dr. Kiyoshi Kurokawa, Chair, Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation CommissionThe Congressional Study Group on Japan (CSGJ) in partnership with the U.S.-Japan Council (USJC) and National Bureau of Asian Research (NBR) convened a briefing on October 16, 2012, to discuss the findings of the Diet’s Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission (NAIIC).

The meeting featured Dr. Kiyoshi Kurokawa, Chairman of the Diet’s Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission, outlining the purpose of the commission and its overall findings. Dr. Charles Ferguson, President of the Federation of American Scientists, provided an American perspective on the findings and recommendations of the Commission.

Dr. Kurokawa opened with an overview of the NAIIC, which was the first independent investigation committee in Japan’s history. It was commissioned for a six-month period to investigate the direct and indirect causes of the Fukushima nuclear accident without political bias. To this end, NAIIC aimed to record the responses, damages, and sequences of events related to the accident while reviewing the history of decisions and approval processes regarding nuclear energy policy.

NAIIC’s study reached several conclusions. The first was that the Fukushima disaster was “man-made,” meaning that there are ways to prevent such nuclear disasters in the future. NAIIC found that there is “regulatory capture” between the government and the nuclear industry; government administrators do not have the proper expertise to regulate the industry and thus have inadvertently enabled and even encouraged plant supervisors to make economic gains a higher priority than safety.

Secondly, coordination problems within the government and the nuclear plant continued after the disaster. The organizational structure of the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) was found to be insufficient. Also, Japan’s Prime Minister (the Kantei) and the Japanese government struggled with organization of emergency response teams. Furthermore, there were great problems with protecting the health and welfare of the public and there is a lack of regulation and policy in Japan regarding nuclear power.

NAIIC offered seven recommendations to the Japanese government based on their findings:

  1. Monitor of nuclear regulatory body by the National Diet
  2. Reform the crisis management system
  3. The government must take responsibility for public health and welfare
  4. The government must monitor the nuclear plant operators
  5. Follow NAIIC’s criteria for the new regulatory body
  6. Reform laws related to nuclear energy
  7. Develop a system of independent investigation commissions

Dr. Kurokawa also discussed the effect of Japanese culture on many of these inefficiencies. Japan has an “order by structure” society as opposed to an “order by function” society, which creates a system in which junior staff cannot question the decisions of higher authorities. When it comes to safety regulations, this creates more risk because only those in authority positions are able to make decisions, which leads to a greater potential for human error.

After the disaster, trust in the Japanese government by its citizens declined from 65% to a mere 8%. In order to reestablish trust, it was suggested that the Japanese government move away from a structured system towards a “functioning democracy” with three branches that have power over each other. Currently, the administrative arm of the government holds most of the power, and changes must be made in the areas of regulation and policy in order to increase safety of the nuclear industry in Japan as well as increase the public’s trust and satisfaction with the way the government is run.

Dr. Ferguson’s remarks focused on lessons learned from the disaster and how they can, and should be applied around the world. The complexity of the machinery involved in nuclear plants leaves room for human error. Safety regulations must account for human error, and safety ought to be placed above economic interests. An issue with a California nuclear power plant was used as an example of this type of problem. The power plant installed new technology in order to increase power production.  Though it has not been confirmed, preliminary findings suggest that the new technology affected existing equipment and led to the shutdown of the plant due to immediate safety issues.

Power plants have an interest in producing profit, which causes them to sometimes overlook safety. In order to combat this problem, it was suggested that governments create more oversight and regulation. Independent international agencies can also be used to monitor nuclear power plants worldwide and provide proper analysis of each plant without economic incentive.

Culture was again discussed as it relates to safety. (L to R) Dr. William Saito, Dr. Kiyoshi Kurokawa, Former Secretary Norm MinetaOne important lesson to be learned from this incident is the value of appropriately questioning authority. This suggestion was strengthened by a business example from the now successful company Korean Air. Korean Air also functioned in a structure-based society. The safety record of the airline was steadily declining and business was ultimately failing. Analysis showed that junior members of staff could and would not question senior authority, even with regards to major problems with safety. Once this problem was identified and addressed, they were able to change the working environment and turn business around. Drawing from this example, and the example of Fukushima, Dr. Ferguson spoke of the need for a “universal safety culture,” which allows workers to question authority when the safety of human lives is in question.

The question and answer session concluded the meeting and expanded on what had been said during the event. The speakers agreed that the mindset in Japan regarding the workplace must be changed, especially where safety is involved. The Japanese government also must move towards a better functioning democracy and must regulate nuclear plants and operators more thoroughly.