The Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission (NAIIC), the investigation commission set up by the Diet, issued its 600+ page report on the Fukushima Accident on July 5. Yesterday, on July 23, the Investigation Committee on the Accident at the Fukushima Nuclear Power Stations (ICANPS), the government commission, issued its final 800+ page report. Beyond what I am sure are sensible recommendations that the reports offer, there is a lot of attention being paid to the following questions:
1) Did TEPCO management consider the withdrawal of all personnel from Fukushima Daiichi?
2) Did Prime Minister Kan’s interventions hamper the emergency response efforts?
The two questions are related. If the answer to the first question is yes, then Prime Minister Kan arguably saved Japan from an even worse fate by insisting that TEPCO hold its ground. That presumably would make up for any obstacles that Kan’s interventions ostensibly placed in the way of the broader response even the answer to the second questions was yes. I would ask a couple of related but different questions, though.
1) Did all the government figures who interacted with TEPCO management believe that it was considering the withdrawal of all personnel from Fukushima Daiichi?
2) Did Prime Minister Kan’s interventions magnify the scope of the accident or its human toll?
The answer to the first question appears to be an unequivocal yes, in which case Kan did make the right decision, and a potentially game-changing one at that. Besides, TEPCO’s defense turns on the difference between the words 退避, which it claims it used, and 引き揚げ, which it did not. This is a fine distinction to make to say the least—obscure, actually—particularly when TEPCO appears to have failed to mention its alleged intent to leave a skeleton crew behind. As for my second question, I’ve seen nothing so far that indicates that Kan’s interventions, however annoying and potentially dangerous they may have been, actually did serious harm.
My interest lies elsewhere. Specifically, was the reactor significantly damaged by earthquake itself even before the tsunami cut off all emergency power supplies? This, and not Kan’s share of the blame, should be the focus of attention in my view. After all, reviewing the prime minister’s role is but one, relatively small, part of the redesigning that the emergency preparedness and response framework. By contrast, our perception of the cause or causes of the damage to the reactors determines the extent of safety measures necessary to maintain the risk of meltdown within acceptable proportions and indeed whether some reactors can be reactivated at all. The ICANPS report concludes that the earthquake itself did not cause the damage, while the NAIIC report does not discard the possibility.
So who are we to believe? The memberships of the two bodies are remarkably similar, each consisting of scientists and engineers representing the relevant disciplines, one science writer, legal professionals, a retired diplomat, and a Fukushima representative. They each also list a couple of senior technical advisors. But ICANPS goes further and lists eight scientists and engineers in three teams that investigated specific issues in detail, one of which appears to have done the technical work that led to the conclusion that the tsunami was the sole cause of the release of radioactive material including the eventual meltdown. With that, I think that I’ll wait for the jury of their peers, unless someone actually pays me to read the full reports. (And yes, I am aware that there are yet another two. Hmm, I think I’m going to ask B--- G---------. for…)