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Nuclear Crisis
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Fukushima NPP built 10 meters lower than initial plan to cut costs

October 09,2011
Akahata Sunday edition

Ex-TEPCO exec. testifies

An ex-Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) executive testified that the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant in 1966 was built at 10 meters above sea level, 10 meters lower than the original design at 20 meters above sea level, to cut costs. This change of placing profit before safety has resulted in the serious damage following the tsunami on March 11 and the ensuing serious nuclear disaster.

Construction of No. 1 reactor at the Fukushima NPP began in December 1966 and General Electric Company undertook everything from producing and installing the reactor to designing and constructing the reactor building. TEPCO at that time had no experience with nuclear reactors, and put everything in GE’s hands.

GE’s initial plan was to lower the construction site from the natural 35 meters above sea level to 20 meters above sea level and place the reactor building at this level. If this plan had been realized, damage from the 15m-high tsunami would have been averted.

The ex-TEPCO executive said, “We left everything concerning the reactor and the reactor building to GE, but rejected the 20m above sea level plan and had the level changed to 10m above sea level. The reason for the change was that the original plan would have required extra costs to operate the reactor.”

An ex-TEPCO advisor who took part in the construction of the facility gave further details: “An enormous amount of sea water is required to cool down a nuclear reactor. 25 tons of sea water per second is needed to be pumped up for just the No.1 reactor. Pumping up sea water to 20 meters above sea level would incur extra costs. I remember executives at that time were reminding us that power companies are producers, not users, of electricity.”

Thus, the No.1-4 reactors were all constructed at 10 meters above sea level. The absence of national safety standards in regard to tsunamis has allowed TEPCO to give priority to profits.

Cut construction costs

There is a record of a meeting which reveals that ex-TEPCO vice president Toyoda Masatoshi, who was in charge of constructing the Fukushima Daiichi NPP, outspokenly talked about TEPCO’s real intentions about NPP, at a closed study meeting in 1994. He said, “The most important point is to reduce the construction cost of nuclear power plants and nuclear fuel reprocessing facilities, and to raise their operating rates. The economy of nuclear power generation is always at the center of our attention.”

TEPCO not only lowered the level of the construction site to cut costs but also neglected to take measures against the potential of tsunami damage. The Japan Society of Civil Engineers in 2002 compiled tsunami assessment data at NPPs. Based on this, TEPCO reviewed its safety ratings against tsunamis, by supposing a tsunami caused by an earthquake of magnitude 8.0, with the maximum height of tsunami at 5.7m and the maximum fall of water level at minus 3.0m.

The ex-TEPCO executive, who once was attached to the Fukushima Daiichi NPP, said, “It was argued that the loss of sea water in a backwash will cause sea-water pump motors to burn off and later lead to the loss of cooling water for reactors.”

Engineers proposed to take measures against backwash by building barriers around the sea-water pump intakes so that a certain amount of sea water is retained even during backwash.

However, TEPCO executives treated the proposal coldly, saying “Will backwash be so severe as to make water intake impossible? Building barriers would take much money. Besides, who should take the blame if reactors have to stop operating due to problems incurred during the construction of barriers?”

In the end, TEPCO revised its manual to incorporate the most inexpensive measures against backwash.

Japanese Communist Party House of Representatives member Yoshii Hidekatsu in March 2006 took up this question and pointed out that the intake of cooling water would be impossible at No. 1 to No.5 reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi NPP if the backwash reaches minus 4 meters. Yoshii warned that the cooling functions of the reactors would be threatened.

Yet the government and all the power companies neglected to take measures against tsunamis.

In the name of “economy,” unreasonable profit-hunting continued. It is because the government and utilities wanted to increase the operating rates of NPPs to show that nuclear power generation is more profitable than thermal power generation.

Thus, NPPs are being operated beyond their assessed durability. Nuclear reactors after many years of service become decrepit, and their materials are deteriorated by radiation. But the government claimed that operation for up to 60 years is possible if safety is ensured.

The ex-TEPCO executive said, “We hear such absurd opinions within TEPCO as reactors can last as long as 70 or even a hundred years. TEPCO now has to answer to its fundamental neglect of safety over the years.”

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