Safety measures neglected in Japan nuke plant utility

The operator of the disaster-struck Japanese nuclear power plant acknowledged the company long neglected safety measures.

Tokyo: The operator of the disaster-struck Japanese nuclear power plant acknowledged the company long neglected safety measures intended to avoid and manage severe accidents while it was obsessed with fixing minor safety problems to improve operational records.

Tokyo Electric Power Co. Is struggling to reform itself, and earlier this year launched an internal reform task force, led by company president Naomi Hirose, to find out what caused the disasters and compile improvement plans.

Last year`s powerful earthquake and tsunami caused multiple meltdowns and massive radiation leaks at the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant. TEPCO continues efforts to keep the plant stable until it`s decommissioned, a process expected to take decades.

The task force said TEPCO just didn`t think disasters beyond their anticipation would occur, and failed to follow international standards and recommendations that could have mitigated the impact of the accident. The utility could have done more to back up its power and cooling systems, was short on emergency equipment such as fire engines and had treated crisis management drills as a formality, the group said.

At the same time, TEPCO focused on small safety concerns to avoid minor troubles that could have triggered inspections or reactor stoppages, the task force said.

"The risk for the company used to mean a decline in operational records. We need them to change that mentality and make safety the top priority and take that to their heart," said committee member Masafumi Sakurai, who had earlier served on a Parliament-commissioned accident investigation panel. "And we would like to see the top management take initiative."

The task force said TEPCO employees also lacked crisis management skills and the company lacked equipment needed in case of crisis.

The task force introduced plans to nurture a company-wide safety culture through various programs, including safety measure contests among employees and performance evaluations of middle management based on their safety efforts.

The plans were submitted today to the overseeing independent committee, led by former US nuclear regulatory chief Dale Klein and four other outside experts, including Sakurai.

Klein said it was difficult at first to obtain information that was accurate and transparent from TEPCO. His committee also was concerned about TEPCO`s lack of apology for the disaster, but he added that the utility is changing.

"Clearly they were not taking responsibility for the accident initially, and that has now changed," he said. He added, however, that he still thinks TEPCO is underestimating how difficult it would be to transform.


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