Hindsight is always 20/20

Hindsight is always 20-20. “When I see the situation now…” The issue is that no-one thought at the time that shaving 25 meters off the bluff was a potential problem.

Also, is it definite that this would have avoided a nuclear disaster? Admittedly, the nuclear disaster’s immediate cause was the tsunami flooding the compound and knocking out the power lines to the national grid as well as the first-line backup generators. However, there have been numerous other problems which have come to light as the disaster has unfolded, many of them to do with safety policies or features that TEPCO was required to put in place or fix and which they did not.

The level of complacency in the Japanese nuclear industry as a whole can be measured by the fact that all nuclear reactors have undergone safety checks since March 11, and several were put on standby or on reduced power, awaiting checks and approval from local and national government.”No, no, no! Absolutely no danger! They’re all completely, 100%, utterly safe! We’re just, erm, double-checking to satisfy the naturally nervous public but there’s really nothing to worry about.” Yeah, right.

I reckon there would have been a major accident somewhere sometime, even if the tsunami hadn’t happened. It took the tsunami to reveal the head-in-the-sand arrogance and complacency of the nuclear industry and the public’s wilful ignorance and blind trust in their “elders and betters” (TEPCO and government ministers).

Many Japanese keep wittering on about being the only country that has suffered atomic attack. Yet prior to March 11,  when it came to types of radioactive isotopes, safe levels, the meaning of “millisievert”, half-lives, etc., Joe Tanaka was as ignorant as any citizen from a country without any nuclear power industry.

Katsumi Naganuma, 70, a former worker at Tokyo Electric Power Co., feels particular guilt because he knows that a 35-meter-high, tsunami-safe, bluff overlooking the sea was shaved down to build the Fukushima plant closer to sea level more than 40 years ago.Tepco, assuming tsunami 3.1 meters or higher would never hit the coast, cut down the bluff by some 25 meters and erected the plant on artificially prepared ground only 10 meters above sea level.”When I see the situation now, I feel it was wrong to clear that much of the hill away,” said Naganuma, who worked at Tepco’s local office preparing for the construction in the late 1960s.”If they did not dig the ground down that much, we would not have faced this situation. The nuclear disaster would not have happened,” said Naganuma.

via Fukushima plant site originally was a hill safe from tsunami | The Japan Times Online.

The article takes the easy option: slam TEPCO (with hindsight), but it includes good reasons why TEPCO did this:

During a recent interview with The Japan Times, Masatoshi Toyota, 88, former senior vice president of Tepco, said one of the reasons the utility lowered the bluff was to build the base of the reactors directly on solid bedrock to mitigate any earthquake threat.

Toyota was a key executive who was involved in the Fukushima No. 1 plant construction.

It is actually common practice to build primary nuclear plant facilities directly on bedrock because of the temblor factor.

Toyoda also cited two other reasons for Tepco clearing away the bluff — seawater pumps used to provide coolant water needed to be set up on the ground up to 10 meters from the sea, and extremely heavy equipment, including the 500-ton reactor pressure vessels, were expected to be brought in by boat.

If the entire structure had collapsed because it was not built on bedrock, no doubt the Japan Times and others would be slamming TEPCO with articles like “Fukushima plant not built on bedrock! TEPCO wanted safe height to avoid unlikely tsunami”.