Findings of Japanese Parliamentary Panel’s Report on Fukushima Should be Warning to U.S.
By J. Brian Meskill, student, University of Connecticut School of Law
Recent reporting by the Huffington Post and Reuters, among other news outlets, summarized findings from a recent report issued by the Japanese parliamentary panel last week. The report found that the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant disaster grew out of government-industry “collusion” and was, in many ways, “man-made.” Those in Japan who were charged with regulating Japan’s nuclear industry fell prey to “regulatory capture.”
What is further troubling is that this problem is not isolated to Japan. It occurs across the globe in most countries with nuclear industries. Unfortunately, the United States is not an exception.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), the U.S. government agency charged with regulating the nuclear industry, has had problems regulating the nuclear industry since its beginning. For example, after the 1975 Browns Ferry Fire, the NRC made several regulations aimed at increasing fire safety. As early as 1982, however, the NRC discovered fire protection regulation failures in power plants, but looked away, deciding only to collect additional information.
Three decades later, the Union of Concerned Scientists found that “the NRC is allowing 47 reactors to operate despite known violations of fire-protection regulations dating back to 1980.” Additionally the “NRC is also allowing 27 reactors to operate even though their safety systems are not designed to protect them from earthquake-related hazards identified in 1996.” Fire Safety is only one area of problematic oversight. The NRC does not want to see plants take financial hits or close down and has become more of a promoter or shield of the industry than its regulator.
As a senator, Vice President Biden once stated in reference to the NRC: “the fox is guarding the henhouse, and I continue to be troubled by what appears to be a decidedly pro-industry tilt at the NRC.” The NRC has yet to adequately address this problem.
U.S. citizens, especially after witnessing the consequences of Fukushima, deserve regulators concerned with safety, not industry promotion. The report by the Japanese Parliamentary Panel should be carefully analyzed by governments with nuclear industries, including the United States, to improve regulation and avoid regulator-industry collusion.