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Sunil Chacko

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Safety Metrics Made in Japan and Canada

Posted: 07/18/2012 10:17 am

Japan's Parliamentary Nuclear Accident Investigation Commission, the first of its kind in the history of Japan's constitutional government, independent and having subpoena power, submitted its Report to the leaders of both Houses of Parliament on July 5, 2012. Chaired by Dr. Kiyoshi Kurokawa, a medical doctor who was President of the Science Council of Japan and a former Professor at Tokyo University and the University of California, the Commission Report delivered a stinging indictment of the nuclear plant operator, Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), regulators and the government. At the same time, the Commission's recommendations lay the solid ground for building accountability, transparency and independence that are the sure building blocks for ensuring public safety.

In a sage message for the ages, Chairman Dr. Kurokawa said that the "mindset that supported the negligence behind this disaster... and the ingrained conventions of Japanese culture: our reflexive obedience; our reluctance to question authority; our devotion to 'sticking with the program'; our groupism; and our insularity... were at the core of the astonishing negligence and multitude of errors and willful negligence that left the Fukushima plant unprepared for the events of March 11 (severe earthquake and tsunami) as well as the serious deficiencies in the response." The language appears stunning, coming as it does from the most distinguished circles of Japan, and hitherto always whispered, never broadcast to a worldwide audience. This was no "Japan-bashing" as it might have been portrayed if lesser individuals had made such assessment, but rather words that convey poignant anguish at the inability of the collective genius of Japan that rose from the ashes of World War II to become a mighty power with the second-largest economy in the world with just one-third of the U.S. population and almost no natural resources on the rocky, volcanic island, to now transform itself for the challenges of the current era, and with proper concern for safety and risk assessment for the public at large.

Gung Ho Nuclear Policy
Chairman Dr. Kurokawa traced the origins of the fateful policies to countering the 1970s oil shocks to accelerate the development of nuclear power that pushed aside the fact that Japan was the only country in the world to have been attacked with nuclear weapons, which had scarred the Japanese psyche, and instead both government and business rushed to embrace the policy goal and ran under the cover of immunity from proper scrutiny using the powerful mandate. The Energy Policy had been continuously ratcheting up nuclear power base load to become over 50% for the policy target. Just before the Fukushima accident, a CO2 cut of 25% had been planned by relying on nuclear power generation. In this scenario, the paramount duty to protect public safety was put on the back burner. This, Chairman Dr. Kurokawa said, enabled all concerned to avoid absorbing the critical lessons learned from the nuclear accidents at Three Mile Island and Chernobyl. It became accepted practice to resist regulatory pressure and cover up small-scale accidents. In certain other countries, even "national security" has been used to reinforce the cover-up.

Kurokawa Commission Reached Out
1,167 interviews were conducted by the Kurokawa Commission and its staff, and some 900 hours of hearings. Set up six months ago, the Commission did an outstanding job of transparently investigating the catastrophe and making recommendations without a single extension of the deadline. Particularly commendable is the effort made under the leadership of tech-savvy Dr. Kurokawa to utilize every available means of enhancing transparency and outreach both in Japan and internationally by the Commission. Never before has a Japanese blue ribbon commission utilized the combination of multiple means of communication including live-streaming video on the web of all Commission meetings, retrievable anytime, open press conferences, social media - facebook, twitter - to enhance community feedback including some 170,000 comments, Chairman Dr. Kurokawa's summary posted on the website after each meeting - a model for other Commissions to follow around the world. And all these efforts were made in Japanese and English languages simultaneously. Directly surveying the affected people in the thousands was also a first, without the filter of bureaucratic or political bodies that might have been tempted to "spin" the findings. Openly disclosing the investigation process via the latest technology requires courage and installs a sense of trust. This new modus operandi will serve well for the future regulatory and safety effort.

Lack of Transparency in Nuclear Power Governance, and Absence of Checks and Balances
The collusion between regulators, industry and others has been revealed by the Kurokawa Commission. No other commission has pinpointed that fact, and this in itself is a historical landmark. Further, the near-absence of investigative journalism among major media groups is startling. Because both top national parties had promoted unbridled nuclear power with the encouragement of some Prefectural governments, there was little incentive for a re-assessment or indeed for independent analysis till the work of the Kurokawa Commission, and public health and safety were blithely subsumed under the assumption of the "cleanest and safest" energy source. When the regulators have a cavaliar attitude to the local community's anxiety for ensuring public safety, there need to be checks and balances, and training for all concerned on liability and responsibility to protect.

The Kurokawa Commission cast light on the practice of powerful organizations in Japan to put organizational self interest above the interest of public safety, and called for locating functions of industrial promotion and regulation in entirely separate entities. The nuclear power plant is a multi-billion dollar undertaking, as well as the scale of accident consequence is much more far reaching than any other product liability case. For this reason, accelerated rigor of layers of checks and balances is required by engaging multiple, conflicting interest groups, if necessary, to enforce public safety and measurement.

Incomplete Information, Miscommunication and Haphazard Response
While the politicians and officials huddled together at the Prime Minister's Office were struggling to contain the growing problem because of the situation that appeared to be spiraling out of control, including on live TV, they were functioning with incomplete information of the ground realities and in some cases with incomplete expertise as well.

However, the public knows well that then-Chief Cabinet Secretary Mr. Edano was clearly visible, frequently appearing for long hours on live TV press conferences, and making his best efforts in communicating. Further, it was reported that he and his colleagues slept little - barely 4 hours a day throughout the crisis.

Miscommunication between the crisis management center at the Prime Minister's Office and TEPCO engineers at the plant site appears to have been rampant, made worse by TEPCO's feeble management in Tokyo who seemed to be vacillating between the two sides. Incredibly, both the Chairman and the President of TEPCO were in China when the earthquake and tsunami hit, something entirely startling given that they were the top management of a nuclear operator. The President of TEPCO, Mr. Shimizu, even called in sick when the pressure on him rose. Dr. Kurokawa, however, also an acclaimed physician, was able to compel Mr. Shimizu to come to the open hearing broadcast live on the web that gave many people in Japan the faith on accountability and transparency in action. Tough cross-examination by Commission members like Prof. Nomura, also a professional lawyer, added to the professionalism of the investigation and helped enhance Japan's international reputation.

This Commission, thus for that matter, put a stop to the habit of important witnesses declaring "illness" or "resignation" to avoid responsibility. If necessary, the investigation should wait until the witness recovers from the alleged illness. In this context, the late CIA Director Casey appears to have been conveniently used to blame everything on as soon as he died, on the Iran-Contra matter, thus a few people certainly must have escaped from his or her liabilities.

Prevention is Often Better Than Attempted Cure
There were many opportunities for taking preventive measures. But often, prevention has no champion and there are no institutional rewards for prevention. TEPCO did not take preventive measures, and the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA) and the Nuclear Safety Commission (NSC) were tacit. The Kurokawa Commission opined that those entities either intentionally postponed putting safety measures in place, or made decisions based on their organization's self interest, and not in the interest of public safety. The evacuation of thousands of people, multiple times, because of ad hoc instructions, and even to areas with high radiation, and moved with just the most bare necessities, caused undue hardship. Even today, and for the future, much remains to be done for the evacuees.

No Diverse Electric Power Supply Systems
The Commission asked about responsibilities for maintaining power supply. There was no diversity or independence on what was supposed to be earthquake-resistant external electric power systems, and the two source stations feeding the Fukushima plant were both made inoperative by the earthquake and tsunami. Further, from the Commission Report, it is clear that there was very weak knowledge and preparation on the scenario of complete loss of power that did occur to all four reactors.

In much of the world, access to electricity is not as reliable as Japan's 120% supply. In such situations, like India's remote locations, local engineers and people are accustomed to using multiple sources of electricity switching frequently between weak grid power to diesel generator, battery and now increasingly solar and other renewables with the special configuration by electronic devices. Sharing the knowledge of disaster experience of Japan for off-grid areas of the world will create innovative, independent power supply solutions to build and strengthen lifeline infrastructure that will help future disaster preparedness as well as power supply for weak grid locations of the world.

Implementing the Recommendations with Accountability and Transparency
The Parliamentary Kurokawa Commission made 7 Recommendations:

1. Monitoring of the nuclear regulatory body by the National Parliament
2. Reform the crisis management system
3. Government responsibility for public health and welfare
4. Monitoring the operators of nuclear plants
5. Independent, transparent, professional, proactive and consolidated new regulatory body
6. Reforming laws related to nuclear energy
7. Develop a system of independent investigation commissions to resolve issues such as the decommissioning process of reactors, dealing with spent nuclear fuel, and others.

Central to all these recommendations is that there has been relatively little focus on public health and safety issues, especially on ensuring accountability and transparency within the management of facilities. It is public financing behind these mammoth nuclear projects and indeed it is that very public that is called upon to pay for the costs, both human and material, of the aftermath of calamities. Hence, the stress by the Kurokawa Commission on democratic processes of oversight and professionalism in the operations of such publicly funded or subsidized entities.

Assuring accountability and transparency now is no easy task, especially as the public appeared to have had absolute faith in the capabilities of those who were managing key installations. But with that trust now shaken, needed are new ways of approaching the problem. Simply handing down operational and safety standards drawn up by industry alone lacks credibility and neutrality, is not unbiased, and therefore cannot rebuild that trust. It has to be by a combined effort of civil society, industry, government, public health, environment and legal experts - competent professionals -
those people who have independent professional reputations to defend. Ideally, media should be a steward, if not spearheading force, for the courage of true representatives of public interest and whistleblower protection. And, indeed Canada that for example was among the earliest suppliers of nuclear fuel to India, should join hands with Japan on these matters.

Truth and Reconciliation Commission
In the end, by providing implementable recommendations and also stridently proclaiming that the Report does not seek to ascribe blame to any individual, only to ensure that the lessons learned from Fukushima are never repeated, the NAIIC has cast itself as a truth and reconciliation commission. It is therefore understandable that the generally calm Chairman Dr. Kurokawa expressed frustration at the sudden loss of memory by some of Japan's most privileged when key aspects of the accident and Japan's response were under focus at hearings. However, this may well be a worldwide problem, given the history of several investigative commissions around the world, including the Iran-Contra Hearings in the U.S. Congress.

Dr. Kurokawa said that "the consequences of negligence at Fukushima stand out as catastrophic, but the mindset that supported it can be found across Japan" and that profound point can be extended to many countries around the world. Thus, the willingness of Japan's Commission to lay bare the roots of the problem may well enable other countries too to transform oversight of nuclear power and protections for civil society.

Conclusion
In effect, the Kurokawa Commission has made the case for overcoming and learning from a national nuclear disaster made in Japan, and transform this unparalleled experience into the safety metrics made in Japan, installing the mode of independent oversight that is abundantly expressed in its Commission Recommendations.

The Swiss non-governmental organization, ISO, has a worldwide standardization certification business. Switzerland is a tiny country of 8 million people with GDP of $636 billion, a fraction of Japan's 128 million people and $5,900 billion economy, and indeed, the Swiss have little high-technology production as compared to the widely recognized excellence of Japanese industrial production and technology.

Therefore, combined with this industrial might of Japan, and having experienced and recovered from its share of horrific and more mundane accidents and incidents, Japan can and should take a bold step to become a co-developer and advisor on safety management and evaluation metrics and methodology, worldwide, ranging from nuclear power to renewable energy, such as for high capacity Lithium-ion batteries that will power the energy needs of tomorrow as complement to the grid.

Working together with those who care for Japan, a new system can be built to put safety first, even as Japan seeks new technology markets abroad. Japanese products already enjoy brand reputation of quality, longevity, reliability and safety features. Derived from the accident lessons and the Commission Report and Recommendations, new rigor of independent oversight and governance will propel its "Made in Japan" brand to the next height. Surely, Japan has always thrived on overcoming adversity and creating new pathways for growth. Transparently and accountably managing safety for its high-technology products and services would certainly be a major competitive advantage in this post-Fukushima era.

 
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