Fukushima power plant operator 'knew of need to protect against tsunami'

Revelation casts doubt on Tepco’s claim that it had taken every possible action to protect the plant which suffered meltdown in 2011 disaster

The operator of Japan’s ruined Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant was aware of the need to improve the facility’s defences against tsunami more than two years before the March 2011 disaster but failed to take action, according to an internal company document.

The revelation casts doubt on claims by Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco) that it had done everything possible to protect the plant, which suffered a triple meltdown after being struck by a towering tsunami.

The nuclear accident, the world’s worst since Chernobyl 25 years earlier, caused massive radiation leaks and forced the evacuation of more than 150,000 people, most of whom have yet to return to their homes.

Tepco executives agreed that building coastal defences to defend the plant against tsunami higher than those previously recorded in the region was “indispensable”, according to the document, which was discussed at a meeting at the plant in September 2008 – two and a half years before the disaster.

The utility disclosed the document this week during a lawsuit brought by more than 40 Tepco shareholders who are demanding damages totalling 5.5 trillion yen from company executives.

Fukushima, Japan four years on: ‘Nuclear power and humans cannot coexist’ – video

Tepco has always insisted that it was powerless to take precautions against a tsunami of the size that struck Japan’s north-east coast in March 2011, killing almost 16,000 people.

In April 2012, for instance, the company said that based on expert knowledge of previous tsunami in the region, the March 2011 disaster “could not have been foreseen, and Tepco also considers the height [scale] of the tsunami that followed this earthquake to have been unpredictable ”.

The company has voiced similar claims during the ongoing damages case at Tokyo district court, but Kyodo News quoted lawyers for the plaintiffs as saying that the internal document proved that Tepco “had clearly recognised as of [2008] that measures against tsunami were inevitable, contradicting the company’s explanations so far”.

The document showed Tepco recognised the need to improve tsunami defences as “inevitable, as we cannot help but expect bigger tsunami than currently projected”, Japanese media said.

Plaintiffs cited a government report showing that Tepco had predicted in June 2008 that the Fukushima Daiichi plant could be hit by tsunami waves of up to 15.7 metres in height following a major offshore earthquake. Tepco failed to act on that prediction, and on concerns raised in the internal report, which was discussed by executives at Fukushima three months later.

In response, Tepco told the court that it was wrong to conclude that the 2008 tsunami estimate would have prompted the firm to improve the plant’s defences, “because there were differences of opinion, even among experts, on how to estimate [the size] of an earthquake”, the newspaper Asahi Shimbun said.


Justin McCurry in Nagasaki

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant operator 'ignored tsunami warning'
Tokyo Electric Power rejected report warning the nuclear plant could be at risk from 10-metre high tsunami, media claim

Justin McCurry in Tokyo

29, Nov, 2011 @1:48 PM

Article image
Fukushima nuclear disaster: PM at the time feared Japan would collapse

Naoto Kan said that Tepco had considered abandoning the plant after it was hit by the 11 March tsunami

Justin McCurry

08, Sep, 2011 @7:26 PM

Article image
Fukushima town revealed in Google Street View two years after tsunami
Mayor of Namie invites Google's cameras in to stop world forgetting twin disasters of tsunami then nuclear meltdown

Justin McCurry in Tokyo

27, Mar, 2013 @7:36 PM

Article image
Fukushima reactors will be stable by January, operator insists
Tepco sticks to timetable for 'cold shutdown', despite revelations plant suffered greater damaged than previously thought

Justin McCurry in Tokyo

17, May, 2011 @2:17 PM

Article image
Japan marks tsunami anniversary

Memorial services held to remember 19,000 who lost their lives in disaster as prime minister vows to speed up reconstruction

Justin McCurry in Tokyo

11, Mar, 2013 @9:37 AM

Article image
Back in the water: Fukushima no-go zone gets first surf shop since disaster
The opening of Murohara Surfboards is part of an attempt to revive the area’s reputation as a surfing hotspot after nuclear meltdown

Justin McCurry in Minamisoma

08, Mar, 2019 @5:14 AM

Article image
Japan earthquake prompts tsunami warnings

Aftershock of magnitude 7.1 hits north-east of country one month after quake and tsunami killed 28,000 people

Justin McCurry in Tokyo

11, Apr, 2011 @10:32 AM

Article image
Japan earthquake and tsunami triggers Fukushima fears

Quake and tsunami jolts north-east Japan, striking regions hardest-hit in 2011 disaster that killed 20,000 people

Justin McCurry in Tokyo

07, Dec, 2012 @3:13 PM

Article image
The truth about the Fukushima 'nuclear samurai'

Japan's 'nuclear samurai' are risking their lives to avert catastrophe, but many are manual labourers unequal to the task

Suzanne Goldenberg in Yonezawa

21, Mar, 2011 @6:23 PM

Article image
Search for Japan tsunami victims continues

Thousands of troops conduct searches, with less than half those killed in disaster thought to have been found

Justin McCurry in Tokyo

10, Apr, 2011 @2:31 PM