Nuclear Disaster in Japan Was Avoidable, Critics Contend via The New York Times

TOKYO — A year after a huge earthquake and tsunami caused nearly catastrophic meltdowns at a nuclear plant, Japan is still grappling with a crucial question: was the accident simply the result of an unforeseeable natural disaster or something that could have been prevented?

Japan’s nuclear regulators and the plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power, or Tepco, have said that the magnitude 9.0 earthquake and 45-foot tsunami on March 11 that knocked out cooling systems at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant were far larger than anything that scientists had predicted. That conclusion has allowed the company to argue that it is not responsible for the triple meltdown, which forced the evacuation of about 90,000 people.

But some insiders from Japan’s tightly knit nuclear industry have stepped forward to say that Tepco and regulators had for years ignored warnings of the possibility of a larger-than-expected tsunami in northeastern Japan, and thus failed to take adequate countermeasures, such as raising wave walls or placing backup generators on higher ground.

“They completely ignored me in order to save Tepco money,” said Mr. Shimazaki, 65.

Mr. Shimazaki and others say the fault lay not in outright corruption, but rather complicity among like-minded insiders who prospered for decades by scratching one another’s backs. They describe a structure in which elite career bureaucrats controlled rubber-stamp academic policy-making committees, while at the same time leaving it to industry to essentially regulate itself.

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