Who’s to blame for the Fukushima nuclear disaster?

On 11th March 2011, the Fukushima Nuclear power plant exploded due to the tsunami triggered by a magnitude 9.0 earthquake. The seawater broke down the electric system of the power plant disabling the cooling system. The accident led directly and indirectly to the death of 1600 people and incalculable radiation hazard and pollution to the atmosphere. In the disaster, the General Electric Company and Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) both have compelling obligation. General Electric Company was the designer of the power plant while Tokyo Electric Power Company were the operator.

TEPCO should bear the responsibility of the disaster

The whole incident showed that TEPCO values it financial interests over public safety. It is no doubt that TEPCO considered money above all else in the decades from the plant’s construction to to disaster.

In 1980s, the manufacturer, General Electric reviewed that there was a technical problem in the design of the nuclear reactor. The design of the containment was smaller than the requirement, which was less resistance to explosions, however TEPCO did not stop the operation of the power plant. This was because the closing of the plant would lead to a huge economic loss. According to a General Electric Co. engineer Dale Bridenbaugh, who designed the nuclear reactor of the Fukushima power plant, the design flaw would require a “fairly significant expense”. After discussing with TEPCO, the two companies decided to continue the operation of the power plant. It is clear that TEPCO did not follow the Code of Conduct of nuclear power plant strictly. According to the Nuclear Power Plant Exporters’ Principles of Conduct, the company should ensure “a safely, securely, and in an environmentally sustainable manner”. Although the company knew that there was a problem, it failed to take the problem seriously.

There were no serious accident in the previous 40 years, but in 2011, a tsunami caused by an earthquake, resulted in a disastrous chain reaction . Unfortunately the management team of TEPCO failed to make the correct decision again. After the explosion happened at the Fukushima power plant, TEPCO immediately sought help from professionals. One American expert in nuclear engineering suggested stopping the furnace instantly however, the shutdown would bring a serious economic loss to the company. In addition, TEPCO is only a private enterprise, the company didn’t take the advice and finally led the disaster to continuously get worse.

In 2015, 3 former executives of TEPCO were indicted due to the negligence of predicting hazards of tsunami. Since in 2008,  a report has already pointed out that Fukushima nuclear power plant might be hit by a tsunamis up to 10.2 meters, which is quite close to the height  of the tsunami that occurred in the disaster. Japanese Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency had reported that an earthquakes greater than magnitude 9 might occur outside Miyagi by speculating the frequency of large-scale earthquakes. Even with this information about the occurrence of the natural disasters, the former executives of TEPCO insisted on not taking any measures to prevent the disasters because of the consideration of benefits of the company, eventually caused serious consequences.

All in all, TEPCO didn’t foresee and predict the hidden crisis properly and didn’t solve the problem on time in terms of their own interests, therefore TEPCO should be blamed for the disaster.

GE should bear the responsibility of the disaster. 

On 12th of March 2011 an earthquake of the coast of japan triggered the automatic shutdown of all of the reactors at the Fukushima plant. Diesel generator where started to power the cooling system, however a powerful Tsunami damage the buildings and disabled the generators causing the reactor to overheat and explode.

Engineers at GE (the reactor designers) knew there was an inherent problem with the reactor design. In planning GE mark 1 reactors they had not taken into consideration the dynamic effect on the rod when water boiled off during shut down. In 1972 and 1986, there were critical reports from both the Atomic Energy Commission and the Nuclear Reactor Regulation on the design of the reactor. If cooling was lost during shutdown there could be a dangerous build-up of high pressure hydrogen in the containment structure. Stephen H Hanauer and Joseph Hendrie from ACE had expressed concerns on the Mark 1 system and was pushing for its discontinuation. Harold Denton, then the director of NRC quoted, “The Mark 1 is still a little more susceptible to an accident that would result in a loss of containment” on the remedial measures performed on the Fukushima reactors by GE before 2011 which shows the level of confidence on the design of Mark 1.  However, both calls went unheeded, likely due to reasons with cost and the fear of changing a well-known policy within an industry that is notoriously slow to adapt.

GE should not only have admitted there was a problem but insisted on a retrofitted solution to the inadequate containment. Even after concerns were raised by whistle blower and the American atomic energy regulator Mark 1 GE reactors were still being installed until 1986.

As a company, GE should be aware of the dangers of a meltdown, as shown in history from the Chernobyl disaster that occurred on 1986, will ruin thousands of lives within the vicinity. Taking consequentialism into mind, having known about the design flaw, the Mark 1 design should be gradually discontinued as it has low probability, high risk consequences. This is further compounded by the fact multiple reactors has been built around the world. One of these locations is bound to have the required events to cause the coolants to stop functioning, which unfortunately, did occur at Fukushima.

Ultimately despite the whistle blowers GE did nothing and sold their designs to their customer TEPCO to manufacture. They failed in their responsibility to provide safe nuclear reactor designs and as such should be held responsible for containment breach at Fukashima Daiichi and any subsequent damage caused by dispersal of radioactive material.

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WANG SIQI FUNG Sau Wai
Doug Aitchison Imran Law
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2 thoughts on “Who’s to blame for the Fukushima nuclear disaster?

  1. I thinks it a bit unfair to blame general electric. from what iv read TEPCO’s safety record is a joke. and they’ve been trying really hard to cover up the extent of the accident on the surrounding environment and people.

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  2. I thinks it a bit unfair to blame GE. from what i’v read TEPCO’s safety record is a joke. and they’ve been trying to cover up the how much damage has been done to the environment and people around the plant.

    Like

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