TOKYO>> Japan’s nuclear safety agency criticized the operator of the country’s troubled nuclear complex for repeatedly failing to make inspections of critical equipment in the weeks before it was crippled in this month’s massive quake and tsunami.
In a report released March 2, nine days before the disasters, the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency cited Tokyo Electric Power Co. for ignoring inspection schedules and failing to examine 33 pieces of equipment at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant.
Among the machinery the utility missed were parts crucial to the cooling systems needed to keep Fukushima’s six nuclear reactors and their fuel storage pools from overheating: emergency diesel generators in Unit 3, pumps for reactors in Units 1 and 2 and generator equipment for Unit 4.
In the days since the March 11 disasters knocked out the complex’s power supplies, Fukushima has leaked radioactive gas and triggered a nuclear crisis. In the aftermath, the safety agency has pointed to one mistake — backup generators were stored in the basement and so were easily swamped.
Utility companies often skip inspections because they don’t want to take equipment offline outside of scheduled maintenance periods. Nuclear safety officials have declined to say that the violations cited in the report or the location of the backup generators contributed to the current crisis.
"For now, we cannot immediately link this to the latest accident. We still have to wait for thorough investigation after we manage to settle the crisis," agency official Ryohei Shiomi said Monday.
Overall the report adds to a disturbing catalog of safety, maintenance and other lapses by Tokyo Electric, Japan’s wealthiest utility with influence over the safety agency that is supposed to regulate it.
The safety agency report was a follow-up for other Tokyo Electric transgressions. Another nuclear plant run by the utility, Kashiwazaki Kariwa, experienced previously what was one of Japan’s worst nuclear accidents, when an earthquake in 2007 caused malfunctions — fires, burst pipes, leaks of radioactive water spills — and led to at least eight deaths.
After Tokyo Electric missed 117 inspections at Kashiwazaki, the nuclear safety agency late last year ordered the utility to conduct a companywide review of its inspection systems. In response, Tokyo Electric reported that it skipped 54 separate inspections, the 33 at Fukushima Dai-ichi — whose Unit 1 is one of Japan’s oldest reactors in operation — and the rest at the nearby Fukushima Daini. The latter plant shut down and was quickly brought under control after the earthquake and tsunami.
The March 2 report said that the missed inspections did not present an immediate risk to safety and gave Tokyo Electric until June 2 to respond.