Report: Japanese utility executives turned blind eye to tsunami risk

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Jan. 5 (UPI) — Executives at Tokyo Electric Power downplayed the risks of a deadly tsunami before the Fukushima Daiichi plant was crippled by meltdowns in the wake of a magnitude-9 earthquake in 2011, according to a Japanese press report.

The Asahi Shimbun reported Tuesday a former TEPCO employee who agreed to speak on the condition of anonymity had raised concerns of a potential accident along the Fukushima coast before the disaster, but his requests were routinely ignored.

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Negligence at the most senior levels of Japan’s state-owned utility led to an “inevitable” nuclear accident at the site, the Asahi’s source said.

On March 11, 2011, three of six reactors at the Fukushima plant were struck by a tsunami that killed the plant’s backup power supply, causing fuel to melt inside the reactors.

The nuclear meltdown at Fukushima did not change the culture at TEPCO, where management was exclusively focused on concealing the facts they were aware of the risks of a tsunami, the Asahi’s source alleged.

According to the former TEPCO employee, Tsunehisa Katsumata, the then-chairman of Tokyo Electric Power, reportedly told his subordinates that, “There is no need to write anything that is not based on facts,” three months after the quake and the company was drafting an investigative report. Katsumata’s words were understood to mean he was requesting a report that claimed the nuclear meltdown was “unpreventable” in the event of a natural disaster, the source said.

In 2019 Katsumata and top TEPCO executives Ichiro Takekuro and Sakae Muto were cleared of negligence. According to The Guardian, Japanese prosecutors had charged the former officials of failing to act on information that showed the risks of a tsunami to the Fukushima plant. Defendants claimed the data available to them before the disaster was “unreliable.”

Nuclear debris removal has been postponed at the site due to COVID-19. Kyodo News reported last month the project has been delayed because Japan is waiting for tests to be complete for a robot arm from Britain, where a new lockdown has impacted schools and businesses.

According to official estimates, about 16,000 people died and thousands of people went missing in the aftermath of the 2011 earthquake.