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Asia

Japan expert says atomic warnings ignored

A leading Japanese earthquake researcher has said the operator of the crisis-hit Fukushima nuclear plant had been alerted about the risk of natural disaster, but that the risk was not taken seriously.

TEPCO had been alerted about the risk of natural disaster in Fukushima

TEPCO had been alerted about the risk of natural disaster in Fukushima

Japan’s leading earthquake researcher has said he tried to alert the operator of the crisis-hit Fukushima nuclear plant to the risk of natural disaster, but his warnings were not heeded. Yukinobu Okamura, head of the Active Fault and Earthquake Research Centre, said Wednesday he warned as early as 2009 that Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO)'s plant on the northeastern seaboard could be hit by a quake and tsunami at any time.

"An operator of nuclear plants needs to take a precaution even against an extremely rare natural disaster," Okamura told AFP. "They may not have been sure if such a big earthquake could occur, but even if there was only a slight chance, they should have taken action."

Warnings in 2009 that TEPCO's plant could be hit by a quake and tsunami at any time were ignored

Warnings in 2009 that TEPCO's plant could be hit by a quake and tsunami at any time were ignored

Okamura, who studies major historical quakes by examining the Imperial archives, says during meetings with TEPCO and the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA) he tried to draw attention to the "Jogan" earthquake of 869 AD. That quake triggered a tsunami so devastating to Japan's northeast that people in the area could still recount stories about it, handed down generations for over 1,100 years.

But minutes of the 2009 meetings indicate that a TEPCO panel member only responded that there were no records indicating the ancient earthquake had caused any significant damage, especially not in the coastal area near Fukushima.

Warnings ignored

Okamura says NISA itself also underestimated the risks and failed to take any action despite the warnings. He adds that the March 11 earthquake and tsunami that ravaged northeast Japan's Pacific coast was even larger than what geologists who have studied the "Jogan" quake had expected.

Meanwhile a review of company and regulatory records by Reuters showed that Japan and its largest utility repeatedly downplayed dangers at its nuclear power plants and ignored warnings -- including a 2007 tsunami study from Tokyo Electric's senior safety engineer. The research paper concluded there was a roughly 10 percent chance that a tsunami could test or overrun the defenses of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant within a 50-year span.

TEPCO president Masataka Shimizu was hospitalized amid utility collapse concern

TEPCO's President Masataka Shimizu was hospitalized amid concern of the utility's collapse

TEPCO, who has come under fire for its handling of the world's biggest atomic accident since Chernobyl in 1986, said Wednesday that the plant's four troubled reactors would have to be decommissioned. TEPCO chairman Tsunehisa Katsumata said he was very sorry about causing concern and inconvenience to society due to the fires, explosions and radiation leaks from the plant. Katsumata said he was especially sorry for those living in the vicinity who "have been forced into a very severe situation" as some have had to stay indoors and others to evacuate.

Katsumata has taken charge of the ongoing nuclear crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi plant after TEPCO president Masataka Shimizu was hospitalized Tuesday, after concerns that the utility may collapse under the strain of paying for the disaster.

No end in sight to the crisis

Japan’s government has conceded that there seems to be no end in sight to the crisis as a spike in radioactive iodine levels in seawater added to evidence of reactor leakages around the complex and beyond. And plutonium finds in soil at the plant this week has already raised public alarm over the accident.

Controlling radiation leakage from the plant could take months

Controlling radiation leakage from the plant could take months

New readings showed a spike in radioactive iodine in the sea off the plant to 3,355 times the legal limit, the state nuclear safety agency said, although it played down the impact, saying people had left the area and fishing had stopped. "We are not in a situation where we can say we will have this under control by a certain period," chief cabinet secretary Yukio Edano was quoted by Reuters after a news briefing. The country has said it would upgrade its safety standards for nuclear power plants, its first acknowledgement that norms were insufficient to withstand the March 11 devastating earthquake and ensuing tsunami that wrecked the Fukushima facilities. It is unclear how radiation is spilling into the ocean and controlling leakage from the plant could take weeks or months, making precise risk assessments difficult.

Author: Sherpem Sherpa (AFP/Reuters/dpa)
Editor: Sarah Berning

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