IAEA criticizes Japan's Tepco for underestimating tsunami threat
An International Atomic Energy Agency report Wednesday said it was the tsunami that followed the March 11 earthquake that damaged the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.
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In a preliminary report issued Wednesday, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco) had underestimated the tsunami hazard, despite warnings that a huge wave could breach the plant’s 5.7-meter protective wall.
The waves that crashed into the nuclear power complex following the March 11 magnitude-9.0 earthquake were more than 50 feet tall.
The 18-member team, led by Britain’s chief nuclear safety official Mike Weightman, backed Tepco’s claims that the damage had been inflicted by the tsunami, not the earthquake that preceded it as some reports had suggested earlier.
“In terms of the cause it is clear – the direct cause was a tsunami, associated with an earthquake, of tremendous size,” Mr. Weightman told reporters in Tokyo.
Japan’s nuclear power industry, reeling from the Fukushima accident and a loss of public and government enthusiasm for new nuclear plants, will find it difficult to ignore the IAEA’s findings. Inspectors called for the nuclear industry to take a more active role in prevention of such disasters going forward: “Nuclear plant designers and operators should appropriately evaluate and provide protection against the risks of all natural hazards.”
Unless operators can convince regulators and host communities that their facilities are safe, the country’s 54 reactors could be subject to temporary closure while safety improvements are made, severely crimping power to the country.
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With only 19 reactors currently in operation in the country, experts speculate that, in a worst-case scenario, all reactors could be offline by the middle of 2012. That would deprive Japan of 30 percent of its electricity generation and result in forced power cuts over the long term.
Crucially, the inspectors called for Japan’s regulatory body to be independent of the government. The current regulator is attached to a ministry that promotes the nuclear power industry.