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Editorial: TEPCO execs keep heads in the sand on nuclear security issue

  • October 4, 2021
  • , The Asahi Shimbun , 1:20 p.m.
  • English Press

Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s report on security lapses at its Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant in Niigata Prefecture casts doubts on the utility’s will to reinvent itself.


TEPCO submitted the report on problems with anti-terror measures at the plant’s No. 7 reactor to the Nuclear Regulation Authority on Sept. 22. It described the causes of the problems and measures to prevent a recurrence.


The report underscored a lack of commitment to safety as indicated by the utility’s tendency to ignore warnings about problems from front-line workers. The bitter lessons from the accident at its Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant in 2011 have apparently been lost.


In response to revelations of nuclear security failures, the NRA in April issued an order that effectively banned TEPCO from restarting the reactor, which had been cleared for operation through the watchdog’s safety inspection.


In one incident, a TEPCO employee had entered the central control room without authorization by using another employee’s identification card.


In addition, security devices installed to detect unauthorized entry had failed to function properly at the plant.


As reasons behind the security lapses, the report cited poor recognition of risks among rank-and-file employees, the failure of executives to keep on top of front-line operations and the entire organization’s inability to rectify problems.


The report pointed out the need to improve communications within workplaces and between organizations, change the top-down and control-oriented culture, which tends to discourage workers from pointing out problems, and ensure more respect for security personnel.


It proposed measures to review the organization and establish an effective safety culture within the company.


The findings indicate TEPCO’s propensity to prioritize cost reduction over safety.


The company cut costs by buying intrusion detectors it used to lease. Malfunctions increased as these devices aged, but the company dealt with glitches only after several cases occurred.


Nuclear security is vital for protecting nuclear materials from terrorism and should never be compromised. Any flaw would undermine the international community’s trust in Japan.


We wonder how seriously TEPCO’s management has taken the situation.


A survey of TEPCO employees conducted by an outside fact-finding committee received many harsh opinions against management.


One respondent wrote that it was hard to believe that executives and managers understood the importance of nuclear security.


Another wrote that executives would not seriously respond to proposals concerning safety and instead gave a dressing-down about high costs and slow progress.

Yet another pointed out that managers acted to accommodate the assumed wishes and intentions of higher-ups.


After the report was submitted to the NRA, TEPCO Chairman Yoshimitsu Kobayashi and President Tomoaki Kobayakawa faced harsh questions at a news conference.


Kobayashi said, “We will implement measures (to prevent a recurrence) with the resolve that this will be our last chance.”


However, when asked whether TEPCO will withdraw from nuclear power generation if it fails to solve the problems, the top executives did not give a straightforward answer.


The NRA will scrutinize the report and conduct additional inspections.


At a regular news conference on Sept. 29, NRA Chairman Toyoshi Fuketa expressed concerns about top TEPCO executives’ poor understanding of the importance of nuclear security and their low involvement in the issue.


The NRA should carefully evaluate TEPCO’s safety culture and management mindset.


At the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant, a flurry of cases have revealed flawed work to install safety measures at the No. 7 reactor.


In its editorials, The Asahi Shimbun has said that TEPCO is not qualified to operate a nuclear plant.


The company’s top executives need to not only establish a solid and shared safety culture but also reform their own mindset based on a clear recognition of how their words and deeds affect front-line company operations.


–The Asahi Shimbun, Oct. 3

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