Japan Underestimated Tsunami Hazard for Nuclear Sites, UN Expert Group Finds

NEW YORK–(ENEWSPF)–1 June 2011.  Experts from the United Nations atomic energy agency said today that Japan had underestimated potential tsunami hazards to its nuclear power plants before the March earthquake and tsunami that damaged the Fukushima Daiichi facility.

The team of international nuclear safety experts, from 12 countries, said in a preliminary assessment of the safety issues that “the tsunami hazard for several sites was underestimated,” according to a press statement of the United Nations International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

“Nuclear plant designers and operators should appropriately evaluate and protect against the risks of all natural hazards, and should periodically update those assessments and assessment methodologies,” the experts said.

They added that “Japan’s response to the nuclear accident has been exemplary… [and that the country’s] long-term response, including the evacuation of the area around stricken reactors, has been impressive and well organized.

“A suitable and timely follow-up programme on public and worker exposures and health monitoring would be beneficial. “

IAEA said the team held extensive discussions with officials from the Japanese nuclear-related agencies and visited three nuclear sites, including the plant at Fukushima Daiichi.

The visits gave the team a first-hand appreciation of the scale of devastation wreaked by the earthquake and tsunami on 11 March and of the extraordinary efforts Japanese workers have been applying ever since to stabilize the situation, IAEA said.

“Our entire team was humbled by the enormous damage inflicted by the tsunami on Japan. We are also profoundly impressed by the dedication of Japanese workers working to resolve this unprecedented nuclear accident,” said team leader Mike Weightman, the United Kingdom’s Chief Inspector of Nuclear Installations.

The team was comprised of experts with experience across a range of nuclear specialties, hailing from Argentina, China, France, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Russia, South Korea, Spain, Turkey, United Kingdom, and the United States.

Their final report will be delivered to the Ministerial Conference on Nuclear Safety at IAEA headquarters in Vienna from 20 to 24 June.