France: Seven years later: Fukushima, case closed?

- in World News


Seven years after the Fukushima accident (March 11,[tooltip id=”4500c2f113202943ff1ae30d00c9d4ac”] [/tooltip]2011), almost everything has been said about its causes. However, the experts’ conclusions pay little attention to the story of Masao Yoshida , then director of the plant and deceased in 2013. Who knows what decisions he had to take to avoid the worst between March 11 and March 15,[tooltip id=”4500c2f113202943ff1ae30d00c9d4ac”] [/tooltip]2011? His testimony, available in French , calls into question alone the foundations of nuclear safety. A disaster “Made in Japan” The accident was quickly described by the international community and by the Japanese themselves as a Made in Japan accident , in the sense that it is a dual feature: the natural hazards of Japan (earthquakes and tsunamis) and the Japanese culture in its proven collusion, or not, between the industrialists and the political power. The management of the accident, both by the Tepco industrialist and the Japanese government, was harshly judged for its inefficiency. Of serious shortcomings in the response of the operators, who could not avoid melting reactors and explosions that ensued. At most we recognize some form of heroism of the actors on the ground. The Made in Japan label underlines the bankruptcy of a sociotechnical system that would be far too far from the best practices of the industry and international standards, those of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Thus, the inescapable nature of the accident and the specificity of its causes would make it a surprising case. Its extraordinary size allows it to join in history another “abnormal” accident, that of Chernobyl (due to Soviet negligence), reinforcing de facto the utopia of a nuclear industry “highly reliable and safe”[tooltip id=”4500c2f113202943ff1ae30d00c9d4ac”] [/tooltip]. There have been numerous inquiries and expertise: a Japanese government commission of inquiry and a parliamentary commission of inquiry , the investigations of the IAEA , the American NRC , the OECD through the NEA … The analyzes mainly focused on the consequences of the earthquake and tsunami on the industrial facility, on the management of the crisis by the operator and the authorities, on the modalities of cooperation between on-site and off-site actors ( rescue and external means of Tepco). Tens of thousands of pages of reports have been made public. In the end, the authorities unanimously conclude that compliance with IAEA standards alone is sufficient to guarantee nuclear safety. What can be said then of the hearings of the stakeholders, more than a thousand, remained for the most part confidential? This is not without posing a problem to the functioning of democracy: would one accept, in France, that the hearings of any parliamentary commission of inquiry are not made completely public? In Japan, it will be until September 2014 that the hearing of the director of the Fukushima Daiichi plant, Masao Yoshida, following defamatory remarks in the press, is finally revealed. This is a document of more than four hundred pages accounting for nearly twenty-eight hours of audition. A story to rewrite history Yoshida’s audition has been translated into French on the initiative of the Mining ParisTech Risk and Crisis Research Center (CRC). This task should have been the responsibility of an industry operator; this was not the case, certainly because everything had already been said and resolved by the investigation reports. The reading of the story opens yet a new horizon to think the management of such an accident. Naturally, the investigators who interrogate Yoshida unfold a pre-established grid, whose only purpose is to validate hypotheses whose ambition is to link facts to purely technical justifications.


Faced with this, Yoshida responds from a completely different point of view. He places at the heart of his decisions and his actions the violent report of the men – his own and himself – to the technique, more precisely to the machines (the reactors) which suddenly released from the grip of the operator.

From then on, it was no longer a matter of managing a crisis, of applying a procedure, of rolling out a Plan A, even a Plan B … especially since the extreme violence of the situation has shattered everything. For a few days, the plant became an island plunged into darkness (lack of electricity and emergency diesel) and almost total destitution.

Mostly left to themselves, the operators have somehow found themselves in the situation of the primitive hunter who at any time can become prey. In the stifling heat of their protective clothing, terrorized by the aftershocks, the speakers are attentive to the slightest noise, they track down any visual clue in the absence of telemetry data, they grope in the meanders of a devastated site and reach somehow to protect themselves from radioactive contamination to continue their activity.

Yoshida gives us his fears, his doubts, his beliefs. It enhances the commitment of its employees, working from within (within the plant). On the other hand, it castigates the absence and the incompetence of the others, of all the others, those of the outside (the seat of Tepco, the relief forces, the government, the authority of control …).

The emotional intensity of his testimony, tinged with tragi-comedy, challenges, jostles. It shatters rationalities that are too managerial, which impoverish the complexity of situations to the point of despising what makes humanity. Especially since the workers are facing their own end, and even more so, those of their brothers in arms, their family and any other social and identity attachment.

After four days of fierce struggle, the worst (the explosion of the Daiichi reactors and the very likely “over-accidents” of nearby Daini and Onagawa power plants) was avoided very little, almost miraculously.

Faced with an unexpected disaster, what have we learned? Almost nothing…

Beyond the safety margins

Of course, the review of safety standards (“stress tests”) is useful, as is the construction of a hard core (a sort of Maginot line, erected as a bulwark against external aggression) or the installation of expensive emergency diesel (the forgotten French nuclear before Fukushima, supposed to provide electricity to safety equipment in case of failure of power supplies). These provisions undoubtedly increase the safety margins. But what about beyond? The creation of nuclear “special forces”[tooltip id=”4500c2f113202943ff1ae30d00c9d4ac”] [/tooltip](the FARN, EDF’s Nuclear Rapid Action Force) is a good illustration of this issue. They stand ready to intervene to restore – not liquidate – the facilities, in compliance with the law on exposure to radiation … What will they do if the radioactivity exceeds the thresholds set by the legislator? Can we count on their commitment, like that of Yoshida and his, both heroes and victims sacrificed authority or by free consent, to avoid the apocalypse?[tooltip type=”box” html=”Input Your Content Here” box_background_color=”#eeeeee” box_opacity=”0.95″ box_padding=”10″ box_border_color=”#3F3F3F” box_border_width=”1″ box_border_radius=”0″ id=”4500c2f113202943ff1ae30d00c9d4ac” /]

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