Tuesday 25 September 2018

Safety claim falls on deaf ears after legacy of cover-ups

John Bingham in Tokyo

Attempts to offer reassurances over the leak of nuclear material in the wake of the earthquake and tsunami have been undermined by years of cover-ups over safety in the country.

The ageing Fukushima Daiichi plant, which has been rocked by two explosions since Friday's magnitude 9.0 earthquake, has repeatedly been at the centre of scandal over falsified safety data.

Five years ago, the operator of the plant, Tokyo Electric Power -- known as Tepco -- was ordered to carry out a trawl of its records after the company admitted temperature readings for coolant materials had been falsified as long ago as 1985.

It meant that subsequent safety inspections at the plant were based on incorrect figures.

The admission came as the company was attempting to restore public confidence following an even bigger scandal four years earlier.

In September 2002, the company's then president Nobuya Minami, his vice-president, chairman and a handful of senior officials resigned in disgrace after the Japanese government disclosed allegations that at least 29 cases of cracks and other damage to reactors had been covered up.


The scandal centred on three nuclear sites, including Fukushima's number one and number two plants.

There was further alarm five years ago after four workers were killed and several others injured when steam leaked from a broken pipe at the Mihama nuclear power plant. It was the third incident at the plant to raise safety concerns.

In 1999 two workers at a nuclear processing plant accident in Tokaimura died from radiation poisoning. Only a few months earlier there were accusations of a cover-up after an accident at the Tsurugura nuclear power plant in the north of Japan.

The plant's operators, Japan Atomic Power, were criticised after it took 14 hours to fully shut the site down after a leak of cooling water from a pipe.

It later transpired that the level of radiation was several times higher than that originally estimated.

There was also outrage across Japan amid allegations of a cover-up following a fire at the Monju reactor in central Japan in 1995. Reports detailing the extent of the incident had allegedly been falsified and videotape edited.


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