Madarame sorry for lapses leading to Fukushima

Nuclear safety boss faults agency, utilities

by Masami Ito

Staff Writer

Nuclear Safety Commission chief Haruki Madarame apologized Wednesday for mistakes and safety shortcomings that surfaced during the triple-meltdown crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 power plant and blamed them on bureaucrats and utilities that failed to heed calls for better disaster preparedness.

Madarame was summoned to the Diet to give unsworn testimony before a special committee investigating the causes of the disaster at the Tokyo Electric Power Co. plant.

Madarame told the committee that NSC safety guidelines, which are nonbinding for utilities, lacked tsunami countermeasures and assumed that no preparations were needed in the event of a long-term “station blackout,” as occurred at Fukushima No. 1.

Madarame said the NSC, before he joined in April 2010, ignored international discussions on safety standards.

“I must admit that there clearly were mistakes (in the guidelines) and I offer my apologies on behalf of the NSC,” he said.

“While various safety guidelines were being considered internationally, (the commission) spent its time finding excuses and explaining why Japan did not need to take such” measures.

Madarame, a former professor of nuclear engineering at the University of Tokyo, stressed that the NSC’s role is solely to “give advice” to the government, and that utilities bear the primary onus of ensuring safety.

“Power companies have the fundamental responsibility of securing safety and they need to set their standards much higher than what the government suggests. . . . It is extremely outrageous if power firms are using the NSC’s safety standards as an excuse not to raise them,” Madarame said.

He repeatedly faulted bureaucrats and utilities over the handling of the Fukushima crisis, drawing criticism from one of the committee members.

“Aren’t you the leader of the organization? You’ve been blaming the bureaucrats and utilities, but aren’t you the person who is most questionable?” the panel member asked.

Madarame responded by stressing he has only been at the NSC’s helm for a short time.

“I have to admit that is true to a certain extent, but I myself became a member of the NSC two years ago,” he said. “It sounds like I am making excuses now, but I had been trying to (improve) various things in the first 11 months and then the disaster struck.”The panel also summoned Nobuaki Terasaka, former head of the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency.

Admitting he is not a reactor expert, Terasaka said he left his subordinate, a nuclear expert, at the crisis headquarters at the prime minister’s office on March 11 and returned to NISA.

“I realized that deep technical knowledge would be necessary after such a severe accident and felt that someone with such technical expertise should stay at the prime minister’s office,” Terasaka said. “I did not study nuclear engineering, nor did I build my career on nuclear safety.”

The special Diet panel, set up in December to examine the crisis, is headed by Kiyoshi Kurokawa, a former professor at the University of Tokyo medical school and dean of the Tokai University School of Medicine.