Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Japan's Approaches to Nuclear Accidents:

Views from Inside Japan

I am a little late in reporting on a very interesting and important presentation given last month by Professor Kiyoshi Kurokawa to the Japan Atomic Energy Commission (JAEC) on the approaches Japan should take toward nuclear accidents.  However, I haven't seen too much on it in U.S. publications, so I think this is still worth posting.

Professor Kurokawa, who is from the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies, served as chairman of the National Diet of Japan Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission (NAIIC).

One somewhat surprising thing he pointed out was that NAIIC was the first investigative committee that modern Japan had ever had for the investigation of a major accident.  By contrast, he noted that most other technologically advanced countries routinely establish such a committee whenever a major accident occurs.

He also noted that, despite past calls to review existing safety measures against tsunamis, nothing had ever been done until after this accident.  The implied reason for the lack of action was an ingrained disbelief that such a tsunami could strike and could cause such extreme consequences.  The tsunami issue, of course, goes well beyond issues related to nuclear power plants.

Professor Kurokawa then went on to enumerate some of the shortcomings he saw in the Japanese approach to nuclear safety.  Most of these are well known and have been discussed in detail in the four years since the Fukushima accident, so I won't repeat all his points.  Perhaps I can summarize his points by saying that he cited insufficient defense-in-depth and a number of other elements that I would say mainly fall under the category of a lack of safety culture.  These include lack of independence, lack of a questioning attitude, and lack of mechanisms to incorporate knowledge based on past experience.

He also laid out his recommendations for what Japan must do now.  A number of his recommendations focused on the engagement Japan needs to have with the rest of the world, both to share what Japan learns from the accident, and to benefit from what other countries have to offer.

I was particularly pleased to see that so many of his observations and recommendations reflect what others around the world, as well as in Japan, have been observing and recommending about the Japanese situation.  In particular, his observations echo what others have been saying about the importance of independence and the need for transparency, both domestically and internationally.

I know that it has been difficult for the Japanese establishment, both government and industry, to absorb these messages and to incorporate them in a culture that has historically behaved very differently.  Although many changes have been made since the accident, there is still a lot that needs to be done to assure that the changes are not simply cosmetic.  I hope the repetition of the message from a respected Japanese source will reinforce the need for true change.


1 comment:

  1. Thanks for publicizing this presentation, which includes a link to a set of illustrated videos that candidly explain, in plain English, what happened at the plant, why, and what needs to occur going forward.

    Japan has long thought of itself as a "special and unique" society. The resultant closed-mindedness and lack of transparency has come back to bite them. There's a potential lesson learned for other countries in Japan's experience.