Tokyo Electric Power Co. turned down requests in 2009 by the nuclear safety agency to consider concrete steps against tsunami waves at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, which suffered a tsunami-triggered disaster two years later, government documents showed Friday.
“Do you think you can stop the reactors?” a Tepco official was quoted as telling Shigeki Nagura of the now-defunct Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, who was then assigned to review the plant’s safety, in response to one of his requests.
The detailed exchanges between the plant operator and the regulator came to light through the latest disclosure of government records on its investigation into the nuclear crisis, adding to evidence that Tepco failed to take proper safety steps ahead of the world’s worst nuclear accident since the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.
According to records of Nagura’s accounts, Nagura heard Tepco’s explanations of its tsunami estimates at the agency’s office in Tokyo in August and September 2009 as it was becoming clear that coastal areas of Fukushima and Miyagi prefectures were hit by massive tsunami following an earthquake in 869.
Tepco said the height of waves was estimated to be around 8 meters above sea level and will not reach the plant site, which was located at a height of 10 meters, they show.
But Nagura said he remembered thinking pumps with key cooling functions, which were located on the ground at a height of 4 meters, “will not make it” and told Tepco, “If this is the outcome, you better consider concrete responses.”
In refusing to immediately act, Tepco said it would wait for related studies to be carried out by the academic society of civil engineers, which it had requested to be done by March 2012.
Nagura also proposed placing the pumps inside buildings to protect them from being exposed to water, but a Tepco official told him, “Our company cannot make a decision without seeing the results of the (studies by the) society of civil engineers.”
Then another Tepco official told Nagura, “Do you think you can stop the reactors?” according to the government documents.
Nagura recalled in the documents, “I wondered why I had to be told such a thing.” But he also admitted that, after all, he only encouraged Tepco to “consider” tsunami countermeasures and did not request that it “take” specific measures.
The Fukushima crisis has revealed how Japan, which had boasted of possessing the world’s safest nuclear power plants, was ill-prepared against a severe nuclear accident.
Three reactors suffered core meltdowns after they lost their key cooling functions amid a loss of all electrical power following a huge earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011.
The government-appointed nuclear accident investigation panel has already issued a final report, and the government is now gradually disclosing the records of hearings conducted to people involved.