Japanese Nuclear Plant Operator Plagued by Scandal

This according to der Spiegel.

For years, Tepco, the operator of the Fukushima power plant, has been widely criticized for deadly accidents and improper inspections. The Fukushima disaster is the tragic nadir in a history of poor management at the company’s nuclear facilities.

It must have been a difficult day for Tsunehisa Katsumata. In 2003, the then-president of the Tokyo Electric Power Company, or Tepco, gave a speech addressing what, until then, had been the biggest scandal in the history of Japan’s largest energy utility company. In 29 incidents the year before, nuclear power plant maintenance documents had been falsified and Tepco had been forced to take 17 nuclear reactors temporarily offline as a result. Tepco CEO Hiroshi Araki and four other top executives resigned.

In unflinching words, Katsumata took his company to task for its shortcomings and announced no less than a new corporate culture, one with a strict code of ethics and a policy of open and honest communication with the public. Today, though, those words must ring hollow to the people who have received high levels of radiation following the accident at the Fukushima I power plant, and to those who have been evacuated and may never be able to return to their homes located near the plant again.

The tone of Katsumata’s speech was clear: The numerous past incidents were in no way isolated mistakes made by individual employees. Instead, they were the result of a corporate culture at Tepco that had allowed hair-raising breaches in safety to occur.

A Nuclear Division Spins out of Control

“First, we must admit that we had no clear rules to judge whether equipment was fit for service,” Katsumata states in his speech, which is still available on Tepco’s website today. He said that there were no rules addressing the fact that machinery and equipment generally wear away or crack with the passage of time, so equipment was used as long as such flaws didn’t pose “safety hazards.”

And therein lies the problem: When something was unclear, Tepco engineers apparently made arbitrary decisions. “They repeatedly made personal decisions based on their own idea of safety,” Katsumata said. But it is clear that those ideas of safety weren’t stringent enough. “Nuclear division members tended to regard a stable supply of electricity as the ultimate objective,” he said.

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