Japan’s Trade Minister says the country’s nuclear regulator may have contributed to the Fukushima nuclear disaster by rejecting global standards for disaster response.
On March 11 last year, a magnitude 9 earthquake triggered a tsunami that hit Japan’s northeast coast, overwhelming a 10 metre breakwater at the Fukushima plant, knocking out cooling systems and triggering meltdowns.
Documents released this week show that five years earlier the Nuclear and Industry Safety Agency (NISA) said Japan's disaster prevention measures were fine and urged that consideration of adopting global standards be dropped, as changing the measures would increase public worries over nuclear safety.
"NISA bears great responsibility for not having been able to prevent the Fukushima nuclear power plant accident," Trade Minister Yukio Edano, who oversees the safety agency and energy policy, told a news conference.
"In considering what led to the disaster, there were several key factors ... and it is quite possible that this issue may have directly contributed," he said, referring to the failure to adopt global standards.
In a June 2006 document addressed to another panel, the Nuclear Safety Commission, which was considering introducing the global standards, NISA said: "No problems can be found in our country's existing disaster prevention measures."
"Making significant changes to the existing disaster prevention scheme risks triggering societal confusion and increasing public worries over nuclear safety.
"Therefore, we would like (the Commission) to freeze consideration (of global standards)," NISA said in a separate memo to the commission dated April, 2006.
In the end, the standards drawn up by the UN nuclear watchdog, which would have expanded the scope of designated disaster response areas, were not introduced.
The Fukushima disaster shattered public trust in atomic power and in the country's leaders. The documents, released according to the law in response to a request for disclosure, are likely to reinforce many people's doubts.
NISA official Yoshinori Moriyama told a news conference on Thursday the agency had at the time not responded adequately to global trends, and that was cause for reflection, the Mainichi newspaper reported.
NISA is set to be separated from the Trade Ministry under legislation pending in parliament.
In the latest sign of public frustration, a group of Fukushima residents is planning to file a criminal complaint against executives of Tokyo Electric Power Co, the operator of the Fukushima plant, as well as government officials responsible for overseeing nuclear safety, an organiser said.