Tepco admits it should have declared meltdowns at Fukushima plant much earlier

by

Staff Writer

Nearly five years after the nation’s worst nuclear accident, Tokyo Electric Power Co. has admitted that its staff failed to follow damage assessment guidelines, according to which they should have reported the meltdowns almost immediately.

A Tepco spokesman on Wednesday said the company’s Disaster Management Manual requires a reactor to be declared “in meltdown” if 5 percent or more of its fuel rods are determined to be “damaged.”

Tepco knew the extent of the damage early on. As of March 14, 2011, it estimated that 55 percent of the fuel rod assemblies of the reactor No. 1 and 25 percent of those at reactor No. 3 were “damaged,” based on the levels of radiation detected, Tepco spokesperson Yukako Handa told The Japan Times by phone.

Yet, despite widespread public skepticism at that time, the company refused to use the word “meltdown” for a period of about two months.

This led to widespread public speculation about a cover-up and failure to admit the extent of the damage. The sudden removal of a nuclear regulator spokesman fueled this.

Handa said a meltdown would have been declared if the guidelines had been followed correctly. But she said Tepco reported its estimates of damage to the government immediately — as required by law — and its failure to describe the situation as one of meltdown did not break regulations.

“Executives in charge of public relations at the time of the accident were not aware of the assessment criteria written in the Disaster Management Manual,” Handa said.

“They believed there was no clear definition of a ‘meltdown,’ so they didn’t make any clear remarks about one,’ ” she said.

Handa said Tepco will investigate why it failed to follow the assessment manual.

Wednesday’s announcement by Tepco was the first confirmation that such a manual even exists. NHK broke the news earlier in the day.

Whether to admit a “meltdown” was taking place at the plant was a sensitive topic for both the central government and Tepco from the start.

On March 12, one day after the tsunami knocked out power and cooling facilities, Koichiro Nakamura, a senior official at the now-defunct Nuclear and Industry Safety Agency, told a news conference that a “meltdown of a reactor’s core” may be taking place at the Fukushima plant, given the radiation levels detected.

Nakamura was promptly removed from a PR position at the agency, sparking speculation of a government cover-up of something critical underway at the site.

  • Tando

    This is great news, after 5 years we are told that everything was just a misunderstanding. Before that Tepco said that everyone was overreacting and that PM Kan, who tried to clear things up was the one who disrupted emergency measures. On the part of Tepco no one was ever held responsible. It’s very simple in Japan.

  • Pink Floyd

    Tepco should have been dissolved and heads should have rolled years ago, here we are 5 years later and they now admit they were wrong, too late! … it is mind boggling how no one has really been held accountable for this , no litigation, no real public apology and top brass kept their jobs while the people of Fukushima have been treated like dirt… sickening

  • Roy Warner

    In other news, Amelia Earhart is missing. Pink and Tando are right. There is still no one regulating Japan’s nuclear power industry. Even meltdown doesn’t describe what in all likelihood occurred, that at least some of the fuel escaped containment.

  • VistaOS

    Tell that to the people in Japan with health issues and contaminated water or sea-foods. Is this world piling up with idiots or am I over exaggerating.

    Also, Nuclear related work should be taken seriously, it ain’t a joke. You screw up even once; the entire world suffers the consequence.

  • Conrad Brean

    So who is going to jail????? Ahhh like the 2008 economic meltdown in the US…no one. Ah democracy….

  • Conrad Brean

    Nakamura was promptly removed from a PR position at the agency,….and is right now standing in some non descript office swinging a golf club at an imaginary golf ball while collecting a huge salary…..

  • Al_Martinez

    But the big secret is still being kept: the meltdown started before the tsunami hit. Sure, the tsunami didn’t help matters, but because of criminally negligent maintenance at the plant over the years, it was actually the earthquake that knocked out the cooling system. This is what the govt. and Tepco don’t want the people to know because of the ramifications this fact would have for all the other nuclear reactors sitting on or nearby faults.

  • Starviking

    Meanwhile, in an alternate world where TEPCO immediately declared a meltdown, The Japan Times castigates them for the deaths caused by a panicked public fleeing Fukushima, and states they should have considered the “full picture” rather than just following a manual.

  • bridgebuilder78

    Wait, what? There has been a meltdown at Fukushima? That’s the first I’ve heard of it!

  • fromjapan

    deceptive authority of Japan insist on “Safety at Fukushima”.

    but Japan’s ministers,the ruling party politicians and bureaucrat never stay for a long time at Fukushima.

    Thier behavior have showed dangerousness.

  • J.P. Bunny

    They should have reported the meltdown, but didn’t. Maybe they were hoping that nobody would notice.

  • J.P. Bunny

    They should have reported the meltdown, but didn’t. Maybe they were hoping that nobody would notice.

  • J.P. Bunny

    They should have reported the meltdown, but didn’t. Maybe they were hoping that nobody would notice.

  • J.P. Bunny

    They should have reported the meltdown, but didn’t. Maybe they were hoping that nobody would notice.

  • J.P. Bunny

    They should have reported the meltdown, but didn’t. Maybe they were hoping that nobody would notice.

  • J.P. Bunny

    They should have reported the meltdown, but didn’t. Maybe they were hoping that nobody would notice.

  • J.P. Bunny

    They should have reported the meltdown, but didn’t. Maybe they were hoping that nobody would notice.

  • J.P. Bunny

    They should have reported the meltdown, but didn’t. Maybe they were hoping that nobody would notice.

  • J.P. Bunny

    They should have reported the meltdown, but didn’t. Maybe they were hoping that nobody would notice.

  • J.P. Bunny

    They should have reported the meltdown, but didn’t. Maybe they were hoping that nobody would notice.

  • Liars N. Fools

    There was no clear definition of “aggression” either during Imperial Japan’s annexation of Joseon either. Interesting when Japan plays the meaning of word game.

  • Starviking

    You need to face facts – the tsunami markers are on the Sanriku coast, not on the Hamadori coast where Dai-ichi is located.

  • Starviking

    Of course you are a conspiracy theorist – you stated that I am:

    a paid up pro nuclear troll

    Something that you have no evidence for.

    I took a quick look at your link – interesting that it states that a 7.5 mag earthquake was predicted for the area – not a 9.0 one.

  • Al_Martinez

    “I prefer the NRA report”

    Hope that works out for ya.

  • Joffan

    Conspicuously lacking from all of this fuss and bother is any indication that using the term “meltdown” would have meant anything would have been done differently. Because it wouldn’t.

    Tepco talked about fuel damage from early on, in percentages that match this yawn-worthy “revelation” that they should have called Fukushima meltdowns earlier than they did. So they didn’t hide the state of the plant – they just talked cautiously about their state of knowledge of the wrecked plant rather than jumping straight to the panic button. And a good thing too.