After I became president [in 2012], we formed a nuclear safety review committee. We concluded that we should have avoided that catastrophic accident, and we could have. We could see what we should have done.” Preventative measures included fitting waterproof seals on all the doors in the reactor building, or placing an electricity-generating turbine on the facility’s roof, where the water might not have reached it. In addition, wrong assumptions were made, he said. “I don’t know if I could have seen or thought this before the accident … Probably I assumed that people had discussed counter-measures to avoid a huge tsunami by something very special like a complete shutdown.” It transpired that the huge cost and technical complexity of a multiple shutdown, in what was considered the unlikely event of an abnormally large tsunami, had led managers to discount such a scenario as implausible and inefficient, he said.
“What happened at Fukushima was, yes, a warning to the world,” he said. The resulting lesson was clear: “Try to examine all the possibilities, no matter how small they are, and don’t think any single counter-measure is foolproof. Think about all different kinds of small counter-measures, not just one big solution. There’s not one single answer.
“We made a lot of excuses to ourselves … Looking back, seals on the doors, one little thing, could have saved everything.”
Tepco was willing to share its experience with British and other nuclear plant operators if they wished, Hirose said. “We can share all the information, all the data we obtained, that we learned from this accident, and then hope that people will use the data and information to prevent the same thing happening.”
This is a common position with complex technologies. In aviation problems are often attributable to “pilot error,” and the planes keep flying. When there are flaws in the airplanes, all the planes of that type are grounded until the problem is fixed. Hirose says this in the context of what problems should be addressed in the construction of future nuclear reactors. If the current reactors are flawed, they should be fixed or shut down. It took two and one-half years after the event in Fukushima before some door seals at Vermont Yankee were finally corrected.
- Fukushima nuclear disaster is warning to the world, says power company boss (theguardian.com)
- Learn from Fukushima, N-chiefs told (standard.co.uk)
- Fukushima boss: 2011 disaster a ‘warning to the world’ (blueandgreentomorrow.com)