The Fukushima Nuclear Plant
Reason for Apologizing:
The Fukushima nuclear plant crisis followed a long series of failures
and compounded ripple effects across layers of security, beginning with
a 9.0 magnitude earthquake and tsunami off the Northeast coast of Japan
on March 11, 2011.
The resulting nuclear catastrophe was ultimately raised to a category 7
(alongside the 1986 Chernobyl disaster). Many of the reactors at the
plant were affected and required solutions that were too
complex and multifaceted to implement quickly.
Although the Fukushima nuclear plant was designed to withstand a 19 foot
tsunami wave, the 46 foot wave that followed the earthquake completely
flooded the plant and all electronics, and the plants key generators and
pumps designed to maintain the flow of water through the cooling systems --
the latter was essential to cooling the reactors fuel rods and preventing
them from overheating and melting through the reactor's core.
Ultimately, all of the reactors (1-4) at the Fukushima nuclear plant were
affected and experienced partial meltdown and nuclear fuel leakage. The
spent fuel rods stored in reactors 5 and 6 also overheated, despite the fact
that they were actually shutdown at the time of the tsunami.
The combined effects of these failures raised concerns about radiation
leakage and led to a 20 km (12 mile) evacuation zone around the plant, a ban
on all food produced in the area, and the prohibition of using tap water to
prepare food for children.
The initial assessment by Japanese officials from the Tokyo Electric
Power Company (TEPCO) was that the crisis at the Fukushima nuclear plant
reached level 4 on the International Nuclear Event Scale, but that was
raised over a period of weeks to level 5 as the number of crises multiplied,
and then, after failing to resolve them and serious radiation levels, the
crisis was raised to the maximum level, 7.
The overwhelming consensus on TEPCO's and the Japanese government's
crisis management strategy was uniformly negative and highly critical.
Information was consistently slow in coming as the company officials tried
their best to minimize or downplay the severity of the crisis. These delays
in assessing the gravity of the crisis led to a much slower pace of
evacuation and can logically be linked to higher rates of cancer.
It was not until May 20, over two months later, when officials from TEPCO
admitted reactor 1 did in fact experience a full meltdown, reaching
temperatures that approached 3,000 degrees Celsius.
This occurred within 6 hours of the earthquake, and within 16 hours the
reactor core dropped to the bottom of the vessel. In others words, TEPCO
took over two months to announce (and address) the fact that the worst case
scenario occurred within 16 hours of the earthquake -- officials were less
concerned about the safety of the Japanese public and more concerned about
the company's survival and reputation.
Despite knowing the truth they continued to insist the crisis merited
only a category 4 ranking. It should be noted that the nuclear core of
reactors 2 and 3 were also beached, which resulted in tons of water being
pumped into the reactors to cool which leaked radioactive material into the
surrounding area -- very little of the contaminated water was contained.
Of course the most serious error was the failure to plan for the worst
case scenario, especially given the location of the Fukushima nuclear plant
on the shorelines of an earthquake zone, and the haphazard and insufficient
cleanup efforts. It took several weeks before the company and government
requested and received support from the US for crucial equipment to
facilitate the re-cooling of the reactors.
Fukushima Nuclear Plant and TEPCO Apology
"I would like to extend my sincerest condolences and prayers for
the precious loss of life due to the devastating Tohoku-Chihou-Taiheiyo-Oki
Earthquake that struck our nation on March 11. Our deepest sorrows go to
those people and their families who are suffering from the damage.
Furthermore, I deeply apologize for the distress caused due to the
extensive damage that Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station sustained
resulting in the leakage of radioactive materials to the surrounding
areas of the power station, Fukushima Prefecture, and broader society.
Currently, we are working around the clock to bring the situation under
control with support and cooperation from the society, related
ministries and government offices and local governments.
We also regret the tremendous inconvenience the recent rolling
blackouts have caused to our customers and society since March 14th due
to the tight supply-demand balance of electricity.
As a result of widespread cooperation from our customers in
conserving electricity, the supply-demand balance has improved
significantly. Hence, in principle, we have decided to cease the
implementation of rolling blackouts and will do our best to maintain the
supply of electricity aiming to achieve "Zero Rolling Blackouts" in
principle during the summertime. Your continuous cooperation in saving
electricity would be highly appreciated."
(April 2011, The Tokyo Electric Power Company, Incorporated -- Masataka
TEPCO President Shimizu went back to the Fukushima plant in early May
2011 to offer another apology as the disaster escalated. This time he
directed the apology at Fukushima governor Yuhei Sato, the latter very
critical of how TEPCO was handling this crisis.
"We have caused very serious trouble. We'll soon begin handing out
initial payments, set up consultation centers and respond to people's
requests. Compensation must be provided at all cost."
Fukushima & TEPCO Apology Evaluation
Following TEPCO's apology to the governor, Sato reportedly offered an
emotional response when referring to the 6,000 children who had to move to
other areas because of radiation fears:
"How can you understand the feelings of children from the
disaster-hit areas? They've been scattered across the nation and only
want to come home as soon as possible."
The governor then criticized Shimizu's response to the crisis so far:
"Isn't there a more sincere way to apologize? I don't want to hear
the words 'unpredictable scale of the tsunami' ever again. [The workers
in the Fukushima nuclear plant] are working harder than the president.
They're the only hope for the residents of this prefecture. I wish their
working environment would be improved."
As was the case with the lingering BP
oil spill crisis and apology, it is very difficult for TEPCO officials
to offer a credible apology when the damage, pain and suffering continue to
unfold before everyone's eyes, and when some of the most devastating effects
of ongoing radiation poisoning are virtually guaranteed to kick in over the
next months and years.
A good measure of the suffering is a direct product of what TEPCO
officials were not prepared to do earlier. Effective crisis
communication, supported by an honest and early apology, would have gone a
long way to demonstrating a commitment to accept full responsibility and a
commitment to fix past mistakes at the Fukushima nuclear plant. Instead,
the communication strategy accomplished the exact opposite by creating the
impression that TEPCO had no control over the worsening crisis.
The Fukushima nuclear plant catastrophe is perhaps an even worse
illustration than BP's of how not to manage an environmental crisis. Like
the BP crisis, the issuing of apologies in the midst of an ever
deteriorating crisis makes it very difficult to generate the kind of
rational understanding and public resignation required for apologies to be
accepted -- a significant majority of Japan's citizens will never forgive
TEPCO or the government.
And, of course, TEPCO also owes an enormous debt of gratitude to the
individuals who sacrificed their health and safety to manage an ever
worsening meltdown and cooling crisis, many of whom accepted the job of
cleaning up the nuclear waste after. These individuals and their families
will probably never receive the kind of thanks, gratitude and apology they
TEPCO also gets very poor grades for failing to apologise for the way
they managed the crisis -- the public relations campaign, spin and delays
inevitably jeopardized the health of tens of thousands of citizens in
These inexcusable mistakes obviously compounded the problem by expanding
the number of reasons for additional apologies. Consequently, the very
general apology issued by TEPCO could not possibly be perceived as
sufficient to cover the enormity of the pain and suffering experienced as a
result of the meltdowns at Fukushima nuclear plant. And the slow pace of
cleanup after the tsunami will no doubt generate more demands for another
round of official apologies.
The stoic image of Japanese citizens waiting in long, violence free lines
waiting for food and supplies, committed to working as a community to
rebuild their nation after the crisis, has certainly served the Japanese
people very well in a difficult time. But this reserved response to the
crisis also means that TEPCO officials will get off without having to
experience the kind of anger they deserve.
Fukushima/TEPCO Apology Rating
Japan's environmental catastrophe is arguable much larger than BP's, and
the costs to Japan's government put the country's economy into a full blown
recession. It will never be known how much damage TEPCO could have prevented
had they managed the crisis more effectively, but the health costs to the
country (and tax payers) will continue to rise for decades as a result of a
silent, hidden killer.
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