Yotaro Hatamura: Was Fukushima an Accident Waiting to Happen?

Hatamura is professor emeritus of engineering at the University of Tokyo and head of the government-appointed committee investigating the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster. In its 500-page December 2011 interim report, the committee found the response to the disaster to be inadequate, and noted that risks posed by tsunamis had been underestimated for years. This is the translated and edited transcript of an interview conducted on Jan. 14, 2012.

Can you tell me the basic concept or goal of the investigative committee?

Above all, this committee was initially asked to investigate an accident. I was asked if I might be interested in doing an investigation, but to me, a narrowly focused accident investigation really isn’t worth anything. I said that what I thought was necessary was to investigate whether there had been a specific way of thinking, and to look at whether that way of thinking was correct or not.

I said that we should create a committee with these two names, which is unconventional: “Accident Inquiry” separated by a dot, and then “Investigation Committee,” which resulted in a strange name. …

This is the actual interim report, and inside of it these points were written right at the very beginning. Number one was that the investigation was being done based on my way of thinking. Number two was for the committee to create a report that would meet the approval of someone looking at it 100 years from now, and that they would be able to say that we had truly learned an important lesson from that time. For points three and four, we wanted to give a detailed response to the questions held by citizens and the international community.

“TEPCO clearly stipulated that it was acceptable to not think about total loss of power. This is not the responsibility of TEPCO or anyone. The government itself stated that a situation in which all power was lost didn’t need to be considered. Based on that, all else was set in motion.”

Point number five is an extremely important one. It states that the goal of this inquiry and this investigation is not to assign blame. In the majority of cases, in order to find out the cause of an accident, in order to find out what happened, the focus is on determining responsibility. But if you do so, you lose the chance to learn from the accident. So I said that determining responsibility wasn’t one of our goals.

The next goal was to properly grasp the actual events of the accident. Properly understanding what happened means looking at what structural elements were involved and in what ways did they contribute to the accident. I thought that it was imperative to make clear those structural elements.

The next thing we looked at was the context within which the events took place. These are sometimes called “contextual contributing factors.” These are things that are not plainly expressed up front, things that in some ways everyone ends up thinking, habitual things that are deemed OK, things for which everyone stays silent and decides not to say anything because there isn’t a good opportunity to mention them. In the context of an event, these things can become very large contributing factors.

I felt that these contextual factors played a large role in this nuclear accident as well. The “taboo” problem that happens inside of Japan, the idea that “Let’s not get involved and continue as is” exists as well — I felt that we needed to clearly spell these things out.

Finally, we have number eight, which is very much different than normal. I believe that reproducible experiments and the preservation of the site is very important. If you think maybe this is what happened or this is within the realm of the possible, I thought that it was important to pick out such hypotheses and be able to experimentally reproduce them. …

The midterm report has just been released. Do you feel like you achieved your goal?

We are for the most part heading in that direction. When you are doing an investigation, if you do not properly secure investigative authority or legal force, people won’t tell you what really happened, now, will they?

This investigation was done without compelling legal force, so some have been critical, saying that nothing of importance could be accomplished. But since the interim report was released, those people haven’t said a thing. That’s probably because the report had by far more in-depth content than even they would have thought. We didn’t at all wield legal power like a shotgun and say, “This is how it is, so talk!” We didn’t do that.

We asked the same things one after the other to multiple people, like: “What was the scene that you saw? At that time, what were you thinking about? What kind of things were you feeling?” By doing this, we were able to piece together the whole.

Even though we didn’t have investigative authority, I feel even now that we were able to sufficiently investigate the accident.

Did everyone cooperate in talking to you?

People were very cooperative. No one said, “I don’t want to say,” and no one hid anything or told lies. If people are telling lies, inconsistencies develop, right? I didn’t see any of those kinds of inconsistencies.

… Did TEPCO [Tokyo Electric Power Company], in their emergency manual, for example, anticipate total power loss?

They did not anticipate it. This is extremely strange, but TEPCO clearly stipulated that it was acceptable not to think about total loss of power. This is not the responsibility of TEPCO or anyone. The government itself stated that a situation in which all power was lost didn’t need to be considered.

Based on that, all else was set in motion. … Even though we had a situation where there was indeed a complete station blackout, what were they thinking and who exactly made the decision that it was OK not to think about that contingency? That is the biggest remaining question that I have.

Did TEPCO not do sufficient technical research?

I didn’t look into whether or not they did general research, so I can’t give you a concise answer. But the impression that I got was that once the government determined that it was OK not to think about entire loss of power, no one in TEPCO gave it further thought.

… Was there no manual that detailed what to do in the case of a station blackout, how to vent, etc.?

I don’t know whether or not it’s correct to say that there was absolutely no manual. I think it’s safest to say that there was no manual.

But I think the phrase “total loss of power” stands out. As we started investigating, it became clear that there was not actually a total loss of power. If you closely read through this report you’ll understand, but there were emergency diesel generators that survived. …

Because the external power lines had fallen down, you might think that you don’t have external power, but that’s not true. Power doesn’t come from a single line. It comes from other lines.

It’s a lie to use the phrase “total loss of power” simply because the electricity went out. That was not the case. Even though electricity had been cut off because the electricity distribution panels had been flooded, the most accurate way of understanding the situation was that power could not be sent to where it was needed.

But no one is currently talking about the situation like that, because the term “blackout” is easier for people to understand. That term has come to be understood as a complete loss of power.

That being the case, the thinking was that if only a source of power could be brought on-site then the situation could be remedied, but that didn’t work. This is an extremely important point.

Power was one problem; the cooling system was another. Did TEPCO not anticipate needing multiple ways to cool?

No, they did not anticipate that. They hadn’t anticipated that, but they ended up properly doing cooling, right?

The way that the isolation condenser works on reactor 1 is somewhat different than reactor 2. Regardless, it didn’t work as it should. Either it didn’t work, or it initially worked and then stopped. There are a variety of possibilities.

The important thing to remember [is], people talk about whether or not there were various manuals or whether or not there was proper training, but no one had thought that it would be impossible continue operating if all power were to be lost. This means that in those circumstances, no one had an adequate process in mind, so when the disaster actually occurred, they couldn’t comprehend it.

For example, everyone responded to the emergency as if the valve for the isolation condenser of reactor 1 was open, but in reality it was shut, so no matter what they did, nothing worked. As a result, those kinds of responses end up happening.

In other places as well, the operators tried to hook up emergency cooling devices, have firefighters pump in water and the like, but because connectors were missing, they were unable to cool the reactors. These are the kinds of things that end up happening.

The biggest problem was that those who were responding to the disaster did not have a clear picture of the overall situation, nor how these specific elements were working.

In form, there were many standard operating procedures. They had also done training, but they had only done training for situations that they had foreseen.

When a disaster actually occurs, you can’t coordinate everything in your head in an optimal way, right? Training based on these preconceived forms always produces the same result.

Having said that, there was something great that happened during this disaster. A system of firefighting water pipes had been laid out within all the buildings, and those pipes were properly connected with the flow of cooling water to the reactors and the containment vessels.

After the Chuetsu earthquake of 2007, it was learned that the fire-suppression pipes at the nearby nuclear power plant had burst and were unusable. A determination was made that those pipes needed to be properly integrated into the building, which was done.

As the same time that those pipes were being built, I believe that someone came up with the idea that since a system of fire-suppression pipes was being built, it also made sense to build the system so that it could be used as an emergency cooling system as well. I haven’t properly looked into the matter, but I believe that was their thinking.

So there was a fire-suppression system installed that could function as an emergency cooling system. As a result, the reactors could actually be cooled.

If that had not been done, you could have brought firefighting pumps; you could have brought anything if there had not been a system of pipes in the building, nothing could have been done to cool the plant. But because someone had thought up the idea, and because everyone agreed to go ahead and implement it, operators were able to respond to the disaster.

I don’t know if they did it intentionally, but from my perspective, I look at it as a wonderful great success.

If that system hadn’t been installed, would the accident have been worse?

Without a doubt, a massive accident would have occurred. You wouldn’t have been able to cool the reactors. What would have happened? The pressure vessels would probably have ruptured. The containment vessels would also probably have ruptured. … Had that happened, the resulting damage would have been many times that of Chernobyl, an unimaginable disaster that would have made the eastern part of Japan totally uninhabitable.

But that’s not what happened. A disaster response was possible because those pipes had been laid in advance. And the people on-site removed the batteries from their own cars and took them to the locations that lacked DC power, where they hooked the batteries up or created alternate connections so that monitoring equipment could be used. They did unbelievably good work on-site. So there was that.

There is one more thing: It is called the earthquake-resistant building. If the location that controls everything inside of a nuclear power plant is destroyed because of an earthquake, nothing will work. So a building was built on top of an earthquake-dampening device. And it’s not just the building. It was equipped with information-gathering devices, all of which worked as designed. Because this existed, the operators were able to mount a proper response. …

Other than on-site communication, was information properly shared?

Not at all. Information should have been provided. Even though there was a system set up to share information, in actuality it didn’t work as it was intended. The lines of communication were extremely defective.

Not only were the lines of communication insufficient, for example, there is an off-site center that is located near the plant that is meant to function as a response center during emergencies. When everyone actually decided to go there to coordinate the response, the facility had no radioactivity-protection devices, so when an attempt was made to use the location but that wasn’t possible, everyone had to withdraw from there.

There was not a strong administration that could mandate such must-have functionality. You start to see a lot of institutions that function in form only. However, if the types of things that I just described aren’t implemented, there is a part of the government, such as an auditing board, that does give out warnings. But even though the government is saying that bad things might happen if nothing is done, in the end no action is taken. We saw this situation in a variety of places.

The government has warned about problematic areas through NISA [Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency]. Has the government not properly created and implemented such a system?

On the surface there is a system. NISA is set up to look at everything related to safety, from the moment a project is proposed until the time that the plant begins operation.

But if you look at what NISA is actually doing, they are properly doing their job through the detailed inspection of various machine parts, and there are so many parts. But NISA did not even once ask operators what they would do if a tsunami hit.

So they are enthusiastically and properly doing their job when detailed matters are concerned, but I feel that they don’t function at all when it comes to the big picture.

The reason why this has become reality is because of the strange way that organizations are created within the Japanese government. The goal of the “safety” organization in the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency is to preserve safety, right? But the management of nuclear power is also included in the agency, which is within METI [Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry].

Placing the regulation and promotion of nuclear power in the same location guarantees that policy will not go smoothly. The IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] even strongly said that this sort of structure was bad and said that Japan needed to properly separate these two functions, placing the regulatory arm in a different organization. But Japan insisted that everything would be fine, and did nothing.

The way in which organizations are structured within the Japanese government had been criticized many times, but each time Japan said, “We’re fine, we’re fine,” and many things were left undone.

So this was an accident that was [waiting to happen]?

To a certain extent that is true. When asked if this was a manmade disaster, there are certain aspects to which the proper answer is yes. You can’t attribute everything to a natural disaster. …

What is the IC, and why did the workers think it was working, and what happened as a result?

The isolation condenser, the IC, is a device that automatically cools the nuclear reactor in the event of an emergency. Water is stored at an elevated location with pipes connecting to it between the reactor.

The nuclear reactor, located at a lower location, and the stored water, located at a higher location, are connected together with two pipes, and water circulates in a circular fashion when needed. That allows the heat in the pressure vessel to be dissipate. Water naturally circulates.

This device is inside the reactor, and it is connected by two pipes, one outlet and one inlet, to external tanks. There are valves on both the inside and the outside of the containment vessel. If the nuclear reactor is damaged by an earthquake or some other event, it is dangerous to have liquid leak out, so the stop valves are placed in various locations to stop the water. …

However, the operators thought that the valves were open. They didn’t at all think that the valves could be closed. They assumed that they were open and that if you were to open the reactor, you would see the water circulating freely. However, that did not go well, and the reactor was not cooled at all.

By not being able to cool the reactor, what happened?

Once cooling was lost, the decay heat from the fuel rods within the pressure container increased. If the water isn’t brought in through the natural circulation system, then evaporation begins.

When this happens, cooling is unable to be sustained, the fuel rods generate decay heat, and a “boil-dry” situation develops. As this situation continues, the fuel rods melt and slump to the bottom of the reactor. That is the process of a meltdown.

The surface of the fuel rods is made out of zirconium. That reacts and creates hydrogen. Hydrogen was generated and seeped outside the reactor and collected inside of the building. The hydrogen collected, and an explosion occurred. This was a hydrogen explosion in which hydrogen inside the reactor leaked out and exploded.

If the reactor cannot be cooled, a meltdown occurs. This generates hydrogen, and if that hydrogen cannot be properly vented, a hydrogen explosion occurs.

Why did no one realize that the IC valves were closed?

Because no one thought that they could be closed. That’s it. The reason why no one thought the valves could be closed is because unless an emergency occurs, the emergency device isn’t used. There was no one at the nuclear power plant who had any actual experience of circulating water through the IC.

That is not done anywhere else in the world, is it?

It is in America. They are sometimes used. Apparently when it is actually turned on, the device makes an extremely loud noise. If you ask, those kinds of stories will turn up, but there aren’t any individuals who have seen one in action or operated one. …

What happened as a result of the IC valve being closed without anyone knowing?

They were completely unable to cool the reactor. …

But there was one more thing. There is a water-level gauge inside of the pressure vessel to measure how far the water has risen. Its display was incorrect. So the operator, the plant manager, everyone thought that water was covering the top of the fuel rods in reactor 1 and that it was being properly cooled.

But in reality, that wasn’t the case. Inside the reactor, the water had dropped abnormally, and slowly the fuel rods were exposed, so a meltdown had been occurring from very early on.

When the meltdown occurred, radioactive particles leaked out from some location outside of the containment vessel. A worker who went to inspect the reactor realized that for some reason, the level of radiation had started to climb, so he left.

Finally, after the radiation had leaked externally, people started to change their perspective and think that perhaps the reactor core wasn’t being cooled.

Operators realized first that the water-level gauge was broken, then that the IC also wasn’t working. Only after radioactive particles were emitted did people start to think that way. …

Once the situation becomes like that, [Fukushima plant manager] Mr. [Masao] Yoshida and company could expect a very serious situation, right?

After they realized what was happening. But Mr. Yoshida had even before then started thinking that it was necessary to make preparations to begin venting and had already given directions to that end.

Even though that was the case, … those on the outside were getting angry and saying such-and-such. They couldn’t understand that even if the operators wanted to vent, they couldn’t. After all, all power had been cut. There were no lights, no gauges. Nothing was working except for flashlights. And they were being told to do this and that.

For those [who] were used to receiving information and then thinking it through, a situation in which people far away in Tokyo were giving such orders was unimaginable.

The people at the top don’t know the actual situation, don’t know the circumstances, and with such limited information, for them to be giving orders causes a certain amount of confusion.

It invites confusion: Because [Prime Minister Naoto Kan] is angry, maybe we should do something, because he might say something based on conjecture.

At about that time, Kan had had enough and thought that he would go and see for himself in a helicopter, early in the morning.

If Kan himself went, he’d become like the emperor without clothes, saying, “The situation can’t be properly brought under control in this way.” So he went to see for himself.

Once he’d seen for himself, he realized that TEPCO was handling the situation as it should, and he said, “OK then, I’ll leave.” And he left.

There are a lot of pros and cons regarding PM Kan’s visit. For example, because he’d gone and seen the situation, he was later able to make good decisions. And [there are] those who say that having such a high-level person come to the plant was bad. … Who is the visit being done for?

People say that the prime minister visiting under such circumstances caused trouble, but even though it caused trouble, he ended up coming. There are some who say that his visit got in the way. But the impact of his visit didn’t go so far as to get in the way. There are those who say that work was delayed because of Mr. Kan’s visit, those that think something happened, that it was unnecessary, that something could have happened.

I think the truth of the matter is that regardless of whether Mr. Kan had gone or not, the same thing would have happened. That being the case, I don’t see any reason to bad-mouth Mr. Kan.

He went, was able to establish communication, and by understanding to a certain extent the lay of the land, one could say that worked in his favor in making later decisions.

Yes, I think that is definitely true.

The most important thing that came of the visit was that Kan was able to see that workers at Fukushima Daiichi were responding properly to the crisis. He was probably disturbed by the way in which information was being shared between the nuclear power plant, TEPCO headquarters and the government.

The government and TEPCO eventually joined forces at the coordinated response center set up inside of TEPCO headquarters. After that, the exchange of information went extremely well. So I don’t think that it was a bad thing that he went. …

I’d like to go back and talk about cooling of reactor 3. I think it was on March 13, just after 2 p.m., a big problem occurred.

A meltdown also ended up occurring in reactor 3. From the very beginning, the emergency cooling system automatically engaged, so it was working. And after that, the reactor’s high-pressure injection system was working as it was supposed to. … Everyone worried that the system would no longer work if power was lost, but regardless, it was functioning properly.

If the system stopped working, it was supposed to be possible to start up a system that forced water from the outside into the reactor via the injection of seawater and the like.

However, just as preparations were being made at reactor 3 to be able to inject water from the outside at any time, the high-pressure injection cooling system stops.

In hindsight, there is a separate issue here of who ordered what and what actually was done. Regardless, the system ended up being stopped. As a result, the reactor was no longer able to be cooled, and a meltdown occurred.

If you are going to switch from one thing to the other, you must be sure that the next measure is properly working. This obvious step wasn’t done, which resulted in what happened.

This is a very small point, but in TEPCO’s internal documents, “It stopped,” as if the device stopped on its own. But after looking into the matter properly, it was a human who had stopped it.

Wasn’t there something about it being stopped because there were vibrations or something in the boiler?

There are a variety of hypotheses that have come out. … A large number of people are again blaming TEPCO of lying, but if you were to ask TEPCO, I bet you that they would respond: “In using the term ‘It stopped,’ we aren’t saying whether it stopped or was stopped. We are just describing what happened.” …

… What exactly is SPEEDI [System for Prediction of Environmental Emergency Dose Information]?

SPEEDI is a system that, based on the amount of radiation released and the weather patterns at the time, calculates where those particles will land as well as the extent of the radiation dispersed. That system of calculation requires various weather information such as wind direction, temperature and wind speed.

At the same time, if a value representing how much radiation has been released isn’t entered, a calculation cannot be done.

During the earthquake, the data that is collected from a variety of monitoring posts could not be collected as normal; 23 out of 24 locations were incapacitated due to the tsunami and electricity outages, so no data was received. …

The government should have been able to tell [in] which direction people would be severely exposed to radiation if they were to evacuate in that way. Even if they hadn’t known the strength of the radiation, the people who were managing SPEEDI could have released information such as “Since the wind direction is going in this direction, flee in this direction,” or “You must not go in this direction.”

But that wasn’t done. … No one among those who were managing the SPEEDI system thought to do this. A treasure ended up not being used. That is how people who thought that it was fine to evacuate in any direction ended up evacuating directly into the path where radiation was falling the most.

That is why everyone got so very angry. Even though the government understood that people could have evacuated without problem to the north along the coast, they said nothing. …

I’d like to talk about SPEEDI data and connect to what I was talking about. I believe your report suggests policies to prevent damage from these multilayered accidents.

We haven’t yet finalized actual policy recommendations. … The investigation is not yet sufficiently advanced.

However, with regard to SPEEDI and the like, the most important part of this report is written in Chapter 7, which is, “The overall picture must be understood.” Unless everyone does so, the results will not be good.

What I mean by the overall picture is if, for example, I am in the control room but don’t know the entirety of the system that I am in charge of — how it is structured, its relationship to other systems — the conditions must be such that each operator has this correctly in their head.

If everything is tied together and work is done in that way, those people who are on duty and those who go on to become leaders will have the overall picture. For example, the nuclear power plant manager must have a proper overall picture. That is what I’m proposing.

… Could this accident have been prevented?

I would like to say that the accident could have been prevented. In the overall scheme of things, if such-and-such preparations had been made in advance, then the accident could have been prevented.

But if you ask whether or not the accident could have been prevented in those places where preparations weren’t made, even then, had certain actions been taken, the accident probably could have been prevented. That is what I think.

In hindsight, if there was perhaps a path that could have been taken that would have led to a positive outcome, then the process becomes looking for that path now, doesn’t it? I think that was a chance.

Very early on in the crisis, if venting [had] been done, if all of the pressure [had] been released and water forcibly injected into the reactor, then I think the crisis could have been averted.

This belief isn’t the viewpoint of the committee investigators. This is my own personal opinion. … But I think that no one could have made that decision. This is because Japan lied. Japan said that nuclear energy was safe. They should have been saying that nuclear energy was dangerous. Instead they said that nuclear power was safe.

It’s not OK to take any actions that are dangerous. If you vent, radiation will be released into the atmosphere. For people from the nuclear power industry, that is the one thing that they most don’t want to do. Yet had they done that at a very early stage, then you would have been able to inject water from the outside. And if you had done that, then a meltdown would not have occurred. That is what I believe.

But there is something that is even more important. This is different. They should have not said that it was OK not to think of a situation in which all power was lost. If they had forced [themselves] to think about such a situation, then a total loss of power wouldn’t have occurred.

Even if some incident had happened, they would without doubt have decided not to place the power distribution board in a place where it could be flooded. The disaster would have been sufficiently prevented. Had that been done, a tsunami could have hit, an earthquake could have happened, and everything would have been fine. …

Most people say that a high seawall should have been built to prevent the tsunami, but that is all that they say. The response to that is that because it takes money, building a wall isn’t feasible. But that’s not the case. If the buildings had been built so that they were watertight and water was prevented from getting into the building, had that been done, nothing would have happened. …

When assessing how to minimize damage, there should have been a huge number of different responses.

We went to Kashiwazaki [nuclear power plant]. The vents are now constructed to be watertight.

They just built that, right? It’s because they learned their lesson this time.

Would you say that there are things that the government and TEPCO did that were good?

There are a lot of things. The reason that over half of Japan didn’t become uninhabitable was because finally they were able to cool the reactors.

Radiation was released into the atmosphere, but the reason why the situation could be brought under control within that area was because the containment vessel and the pressure vessels didn’t explode. …

The ERB [earthquake-resistant building] was only completed just several months earlier.

Yes, the situation was very dangerous. Let me tell you about something even more interesting. The Tokai Daini nuclear power plant is located about 100 kilometers to the south of Fukushima Daiichi. A tsunami hit there as well, and a variety of problems developed.

Its water-protection board is 6.1 meters high, I think. It was raised in September of the year before [last]. The tsunami that hit there was 5.4 meters high. Just 70 centimeters — because of just that much of a difference, the plant wasn’t flooded, and everything continued operating.

The scary part is that they did [this] only a half-year before the earthquake, almost haphazardly. When I went to visit and asked them why they had constructed it, they responded that, “We thought that it would be dangerous to leave it as is, so we built it.”

They said that it was good that they had done so, but you have to look deeper to see just how good it was. Tokai Daini is 110 kilometers from Tokyo. If by chance it had been disabled by a tsunami, the same thing that happened at Fukushima would have happened there. And if the wind had been blowing in the wrong direction, all of Tokyo would have been in danger. …

This shows the difference of what happens when the truly dangerous contingencies are considered and steps [are] taken to prevent them versus a situation in which people say, “It’s OK not to do anything,” and everyone ignores something like the Jogan tsunami.

Is there anything that you can say about the mentality of the Japanese people by looking at the reactions of TEPCO, the government, the citizens, etc.?

The thing about the Japanese is that no one wants to think about things that are bad. A mind-set develops where it becomes OK not to think about those sorts of things, resulting in the avoidance of such subjects. …

So talking about such things isn’t tolerated, and putting into words what one is thinking isn’t tolerated. It is completely taboo. Within this kind of atmosphere, a situation develops where the idea that nuclear energy is dangerous has disappeared in Japan.

Another thing is that unless there is a structure in place, everyone complains. While complaining that some structure hasn’t been put into place, the energy ends up going into focusing on that structure. Everyone ends up believing that everything will be OK as long as a structure is set in place, and they end up forgetting about the reasons for the structure. So the structure ends up being built.

NISA put a lot of energy into doing a variety of inspections, making such-and-such a request, giving approval, and essentially doing a lot of relatively meaningless tasks. But if NISA hadn’t done these sorts of activities, I think that everyone would complain, because NISA isn’t doing the job it’s supposed to be doing.

It seems to me that the Japanese culture itself is no longer thinking about truly dangerous things from a straight-on perspective.

That Japanese mentality hasn’t changed for a long time.

I believe that it hasn’t changed.

One more thing: The people who were closest to the plant were working desperately hard, but the people at the top don’t have a sense of urgency. They think abstractly and then make decisions without having really grasped what has happened.

This is characteristic of Japan, not just with TEPCO because of this accident. If you go to any company in Japan you find this phenomenon. Fifty years ago, 100 years ago, this phenomenon has continued the entire time.

So Japan hasn’t learned anything, even from the damage from World War II?

I think that’s the case. Perhaps we haven’t learned properly. One of the good things that came out of the Meiji Restoration, perhaps against the grain for Japan, was that the people at the very top properly grasped what was going on in the extremities of government.

During the Meiji Restoration, from 1868 until 1945, when Japan lost in World War II, over a period of 70 years, I truly believe that Japan had transformed itself. But I get the feeling that the shape of that transformation continues in Japan today.

In the report you put out, you said that it was important to change.

I believe that Japan must change. I don’t know to what extent I’ve been persuasive in my report, but I do believe that Japan needs to change. …

TEPCO had been warned that a 5.7-meter tsunami could hit the plant. Even though it had been warned, TEPCO did nothing. Why not?

… As more and more research was done, it became evident that a gigantic tsunami had struck the region around Fukushima in the past. Traces of the tsunami were also discovered. Some of the research was done at AIST [National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology]. They reported that the massive Jogan tsunami had hit.

They told TEPCO that it would be dangerous not to think about the tsunami. TEPCO heard the warning and in the end ignored it.

A variety of researchers were saying a variety of things around that time, but such information was not clearly laid out in writing. Looking just at ground layers is treated as just one possible hypothesis of many.

Japan is very much document-driven. For example, historic earthquakes are written in some document. As a result, people believe that it happened. That tradition is very strong in Japan. …

But because the Jogan tsunami wasn’t written about, [they didn't pay attention]. If there is clear evidence you might give it some thought, but in cases where that doesn’t exist, the decision is that there is no need to think about it.

From my perspective, that logic seems strange, but the basis is different. The things we don’t want to see, we don’t see. The things we don’t want to think about, we don’t think. That is human behavior. …

But for things like nuclear energy which are fundamentally dangerous, for which mistakes are very costly, things that are very difficult to control, you need to correct the system to take into account the human tendency to avoid seeing or thinking about things it doesn’t want to see or think about.

Even though this is an extremely important aspect of handling nuclear power, TEPCO didn’t do this at all.

I don’t want to bully or bad-mouth TEPCO. It’s not that at all. I just want to emphasize that humans will always be like this. So those that next create nuclear power, or not even just nuclear power, but those who use massive systems need to adequately think about the system design and the operation of the system. It would be strange not to generalize and think about this.

Did TEPCO ever imagine a total loss of power?

TEPCO never expected a complete loss of power. … But you have to think of what is behind that reality. Compared to other countries, the quality of Japan’s electricity is extremely good. There are almost never any power outages.

Next, fluctuations in voltage are extremely rare. High-quality electricity is always available. Even if some trouble occurs, electricity can be restored in a very short period of time. This has been true for a long period of time.

This can be said for not only electricity, but for all of Japanese industrial products. Very high-quality products can always be obtained. That’s the truth.

As a result, Japan became a trading nation which used foreign currency that allowed for rich lifestyles. So those in Japan assume that all industrial products, those items that come from industrial activities, will always be stably supplied. People learned this and came to think that way.

The government encouraged people to think that way, and the sentence that perfectly illustrates this is, “There is no need to consider a full loss of power.”

I find it strange that such a thing could be said as if it was normal, but in reality, that is what they say. And no one criticized the government, instead incorporating it into their methods.

When did the government say that?

I don’t remember the exact year. I think it was probably over 30 years ago. …

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