Saturday 10 December 2016

Regulator turned a blind eye to lapses

Ian Hagan in Toyko

Published 18/03/2011 | 05:00

Behind Japan's escalating nuclear crisis sits a scandal-ridden energy industry in a comfy relationship with government regulators often willing to overlook safety lapses.

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Leaks of radioactive steam and workers contaminated with radiation are just part of the disturbing catalogue of accidents that have occurred over the years and been belatedly reported to the public, if at all.

In one case, workers hand-mixed uranium in stainless steel buckets, instead of processing by machine, so the fuel could be reused, exposing hundreds of workers to radiation, two of whom later died.

"Everything is a secret," said Kei Sugaoka, a former nuclear power plant engineer in Japan who now lives in California.

Mr Sugaoka worked at the same utility that runs the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear plant where workers are racing against time to prevent a full meltdown.

In 1989 Mr Sugaoka received an order that horrified him: edit out footage showing cracks in plant steam pipes in video being submitted to regulators. Mr Sugaoka alerted his superiors, but nothing happened.

He decided to go public in 2000. Three Tepco executives lost their jobs.

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