Over the years there have been all sorts of cases of data fabrication and falsification at nuclear, thermal and hydroelectric power plants. Each time the power companies and plant makers apologize and say that they will lance the wound, but then they go and repeat the same behavior over and over again. When Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) reported yet another case of data falsification to the Ministry of Economy Trade and Industry (METI) the headline in the Fukushima local newspaper the following day (1 February 2007) was "'Not Again!', sigh the local people and the Prefectural government ".
The latest scandal began when Asahi Shimbun newspaper reported on 31 October 2006 that Chugoku Electric Power Company had falsified data for Doyo Dam on the Matano River. People might assume that the reason for Chugoku Electric's admission was simply that it had made a judgment that the problem could no longer be concealed once it was leaked to the newspaper. However, there was more behind the admission than meets the eye. Even before this, anti-dam activists had been pursuing TEPCO over suspicious data related to its dams. For example, it had recorded flow measurements that could not possibly have been taken, because the locations were inaccessible due to heavy snow falls. Chugoku Electric's admission should be seen against this background.
METI and the Ministry of Land Infrastructure and Transport responded by demanding that all electric power companies check their records. The upshot was that it was discovered that Chugoku Electric was not alone. In fact, it became apparent that all power companies had falsified and fabricated data in relation to such things as subsidence of dam embankments, and alterations to facilities without prior approval.
The next major development came on November 15th, when it was revealed that Chugoku Electric had falsified data in relation to releases of hot wastewater at its Shimonoseki thermal power plant. This led to similar revelations for nuclear power plants owned by TEPCO, Kansai Electric Power Company (KEPCO), Tohoku Electric Power Company and Japan Atomic Power Company (JAPCO). On 10 January 2007 TEPCO submitted a report to METI entitled "Causes of and measures to prevent a repetition of falsification of sea temperature data at the condenser outlets of Kashiwazaki-Kariwa Nuclear Power Plant, Reactors 1 and 4". The report said, "An investigation of power plants was instigated, because the Shimonoseki thermal power plant case reminded a worker that corrections had been made to sea temperature data." As a result, falsification (referred to by TEPCO as "corrections") was discovered at Kashiwazaki-Kariwa reactors 1 & 4 and Fukushima I reactors 1, 4 & 5.
The hot wastewater referred to here is seawater, which has been used to cool and condense the steam used to drive the turbines of thermal and nuclear power plants. When the steam from the turbine condenses, its heat is transferred to the coolant, which in this case is seawater. The temperature of the seawater is raised in the process. If the seawater released is too hot, it can affect the ecosystem. Therefore, the temperature at both the intake and outlet points is measured and monitored to ensure that the temperature difference is not too great. At some power plants computers were programmed to record a higher than actual intake temperature, while at others they were programmed to record a lower outlet temperature. The readings were thus falsified to show a lower temperature difference than was really the case.
On 31 January 2007 TEPCO released details of data falsification at its nuclear power plants. It admitted to a total of about 200 irregularities. A few examples are discussed below.
1. During a periodic inspection in May 1992 at Kashiwazaki-Kariwa reactor number 1 (K-K-1), the day before it was to be tested it was discovered that, due to a fault with the electric motor, the residual heat removal pump (part of the Emergency Core Cooling System (ECCS)) was not working. TEPCO staff made some adjustments to make it appear from the central control room that the pump was working. In this way, they were able to trick the METI inspector into awarding a pass for the inspection.
2. Again at K-K (the reactors are not specified), from around 1995 to 1997, measurements of the concentration of radioactive iodine released from the exhaust stack were made to appear lower than they really were by taking the measurements on the reverse side of the filter. In May 1995 the concentration of radioactivity from rare gases emitted from the exhaust stack of reactor 4 was also falsified.
3. From 1979 to 1998, in order to pass inspections, internal pressure readings for steam pipes connecting the reactor to the turbines at Fukushima I reactor 1 were falsified to match the specifications in the inspection guidelines. It was said that the specifications were inappropriate and that they were later amended so that falsification ceased to be necessary.
There were many instances of malpractice besides these, in relation to periodic inspections and also in other areas. Fabrication and falsification had indeed become standard practice. Investigations are still proceeding and one cannot help feeling that the most serious and dangerous cases are still to come.
Of course, the cases revealed so far are already serious enough. In some cases the management of electric power companies was involved, while in other cases subcontractors were at fault. It is a very serious matter when the whole company, including management, is involved. However looked at from another perspective, it is also very serious when management is not involved. When malpractice occurs at the work site and judgments are made at the whim of individuals, data ceases to have any meaning. We must conclude that all data is suspect and that the basis on which nuclear reactors have been judged to be safe has been completely undermined.
Moreover, data falsification, which was carried out so freely, at times involved considerable effort and ingenuity: for example, altering computer programs related to the measurement of sea temperature, or changing the wiring of instruments to deceive government inspectors. Why did they go to such lengths?
The Focus (Shouten) column in the February 9th edition of the Denki Shimbun (Electricity Newspaper) makes the following comment. "The production sites of electric power enterprises are all huge assemblies of technicians. For better or worse, these places are governed by the values of technicians....The thing of most concern [to technicians] is protecting the process." If Denki Shimbun is right about the values of technicians, it is hard to see how TEPCO's explanation in its 10 January 2007 report has any basis in the "values of technicians". TEPCO claimed that "falsification occurred because passing the inspections became the objective". However, if this is indeed a truer indication of the values of technicians, the problems go beyond the safety of nuclear power plants. We must conclude that Japan's conception of technology is fundamentally distorted.
But apparently this is not so strange for people associated with the electric power industry. TEPCO advisor Masao Takuma (manager of K-K at the time of the cover-up of the fault in the reactor 1 ECCS) said, "People at the site have great pride in their technology. However, the regulations covering nuclear power are very strict. It seems that this had the opposite effect to that which is intended. People ended up thinking that all that was necessary was to pass the inspections." (Niigata Nippo, 2 February 2007)
We find a similar comment in the 8 February 2007 edition of the Genshiryoku Sangyo Shimbun (Nuclear Industry Newspaper). "If scientific and rational regulations which everyone could accept were introduced, the incentive for malpractice would be naturally reduced." Apparently they are hoping to repeat their success after the cover-ups which were revealed in 2002. After those cover-ups a "fit for service" rule1, which allows them to keep operating reactors even after defects have been discovered, was introduced.
The February 15th edition of Denki Shimbun goes even further. Here are some extracts. "There is a tendency these days for inspectors to 'crack down on infringements like the pre-war special police.'" "It's as if they were trying to get the last grain of rice out of the lunch box."2 "[In the past] nuclear power companies could discuss management of the plant with government officials in advance...Welcoming meetings for the inspectors were held regularly at the site...There was a close connection between the inspector and the inspected." The article celebrates those as the good old days, but it shows no understanding of the fact that it was precisely those days when the malpractices occurred.
TEPCO President, Tsunehisa Katsumata, said at a press conference on 30 November 2006, "Perhaps there were some sort of life skills at play." "There was a time when people thought they would be excused if they didn't follow the proper reporting procedures." Malpractices became the norm in those times.
One question that must be asked is whether malpractice was restricted to those times and no longer occurs today. In its January 31st report to METI, TEPCO excuses itself by saying, "We consider that [these malpractices] had no impact on safety." It adds, "We are in the process of confirming that falsification such as this is not practiced today." However, the issue is not whether individual incidents directly caused safety problems. It is rather that, based on excuses such as these, safety was undermined by data falsification related to important safety systems such as ECCS and by passing periodic inspections through trickery.
On March 1st TEPCO handed METI another report which included some additional instances of malpractice and a plan for preventative action. The preventative measures plan emphasized creating "a more open corporate culture", but there were few details. An additional example of malpractice related to the failure to report scrams which occurred when reactors were being shut down manually for inspection (Fukushima II-1, K-K-1).
TEPCO claimed after the 2002 revelation of cover-ups related to inspection data that it had created a culture and a system in which malpractices would not occur. It says that the incidents that have emerged this time all predate these changes and that they were not discovered during periodic inspections. However, if these practices really stopped as promptly as TEPCO claims, they must have shown up during periodic inspections. Until 2002 malpractices such as doctoring computer programs were carried out on a daily basis. In order to stop such practices TEPCO would have had to take corrective measures, including returning doctored computer programs to their proper state. They couldn't do this if they didn't know about these malpractices.
This tells us that the TEPCO has not changed its nature since the inspection data cover-up. This time, TEPCO once again tried at first to conceal its malpractice. It euphemistically said that it had "corrected the temperature difference between the intake and outlet points" at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa NPP. Due to the local outcry against TEPCO's lack of remorse, it chose different words to describe its behavior at the Fukushima I NPP. In that case TEPCO admitted that it had "handled the temperature measurement data inappropriately", but it still refused to admit that it had "falsified" the data. Since then it has admitted that it made a mistake, but the style of its announcements reveals TEPCO's true colors even more clearly than its past malpractices.
In fact, TEPCO's claim that there have been no instances of malpractice since 2002 is false. On 1 June 2005 TEPCO reported a case at Fukushima I-5 related to the system which controls the concentration of flammable gases. A correction coefficient for a flow control device was "set inappropriately". This situation continued from 1983 to 2005. TEPCO says that this case began before 2002 and that it went unnoticed thereafter. TEPCO is desperate to find excuses, but malpractices which began after 2002 have been discovered in fossil fuel plants and we suspect that it is just a matter of time before they are discovered in nuclear plants too.
According to a Kyodo News article published by several Japanese newspapers on February 8th, "A METI executive said, 'If there have been any cases since then , personally I think we should consider revoking their reactor establishment license.'" "What are they waiting for?" one might ask. However, it is probably just as important to question METI's lax inspection system, which was so easily deceived.
On February 16th METI issued a press release in which it listed three areas which needed to be strengthened:
1. Simultaneous observations of the central operations rooms and the actual operation sites;
2. Onsite confirmation before inspections are carried out of such things as whether or not valves are open;
3. Strict examination of measuring instruments.
It makes one wonder what on earth they were inspecting for all these years.
Over and over again METI has demanded that electric power companies "report on their investigations into the causes". However the roots of this massive malpractice go very deep. Getting to the bottom will be no easy matter. Time should be taken to carry out a thorough investigation. A laid back response will achieve nothing.
All power companies are due to announce the final results of their reviews on March 31st. We look forward to more entertainment watching them trying to wriggle out of their responsibilities.
Baku Nishio (CNIC Co-Director)
1. Codes for in-service inspection
2. Idiomatically translated this means something like "Some inspectors go overboard."
See also article about a cover-up of an uncontrolled criticality incident at Shika-1.