Japan's disaster response failed, report finds


Japanese policemen undergo testing for possible nuclear radiation at screening center near Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant. A study released Monday condemned the response to the disaster.


Athit Perawongmetha

Japan's disaster response to the earthquake and tsunami that shook the country in March 2011 was riddled with problems, an interim report released on Monday found. 

The 507-page report, which is set to be completed by mid-2012, found that government authorities and workers at Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant made multiple mistakes, including assuming that an emergency cooling system was working and delaying the disclosure of dangerous radiation leaks to the public, according to the Associated Press.

It also found that officials had seriously underestimated the risks of the tsunami in the first place: they assumed that the highest wave would be 20 feet (6 meters), when the waves were actually double those levels.

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The report revealed that the Tokyo Electric Power Co. workers who operated Fukushima were unprepared to handle the power shutdown that caused the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl. The report outlined the continued fear of radiation in Japan, noting that many Japanese were still concerned about the contamination of their air and water, as well as the food they eat.  

"The nuclear disaster is far from over," the report said, according to the AP. 

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Not only was there no clear emergency procedure for the plant workers to follow, but they also failed to communicate amongst themselves and with the Japanese government, the AP reported. They assumed the reactors' emergency cooling system was working, ignoring multiple warning signs that it was actually sending the nuclear core into meltdown.

The earthquake and tsunami in March left about 20,000 people dead or missing. Though the Japanese government initially tried to downplay the damage, Fukushima was eventually ranked as a "level 7" accident by the Japanese Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency — the same ranking given to the 1986 disaster at Chernobyl.