li-fukushima-rtr2jw1gvia / September 28, 2015 / The worst nuclear disaster since the 1986 Chernobyl meltdown never should have happened, according to a new study.

In Philosophical Transactions A of the Royal Society, researchers Costas Synolakis of the USC Viterbi School of Engineering and Utku Kâno’lu of the Middle East Technical University in Turkey distilled thousands of pages of government and industry reports and hundreds of news stories, focusing on the run-up to the disaster. They found that “arrogance and ignorance,” design flaws, regulatory failures and improper hazard analyses doomed the costal nuclear power plant even before the tsunami hit.

“While most studies have focused on the response to the accident, we’ve found that there were design problems that led to the disaster that should have been dealt with long before the earthquake hit,” said Synolakis, professor of civil and environmental engineering at USC Viterbi. “Earlier government and industry studies focused on the mechanical failures and ‘buried the lead.’ The pre-event tsunami hazards study if done properly, would have identified the diesel generators as the lynch pin of a future disaster. Fukushima Dai-ichi was a siting duck waiting to be flooded.”

The authors describe the disaster as a “cascade of industrial, regulatory and engineering failures,” leading to a situation where critical infrastructure – in this case, backup generators to keep the cooling the plant in the event of main power loss – was built in harm’s way.

At the four damaged nuclear power plants (Onagawa, Fukushima Dai-ichi, Fukushimi Dai-ni, and Toka Dai-ni) 22 of the 33 total backup diesel generators were washed away, including 12 of 13 at Fukushima Dai-ichi. Of the 33 total backup power lines to off-site generators, all but two were obliterated by the tsunami.

Unable to cool itself, Fukushima Dai-ichi’s reactors melted down one by one.

“What doomed Fukushima Dai-ichi was the elevation of the EDGs (emergency diesel generators),” the authors wrote. One set was located in a basement, and the others at 10 and 13 meters above sea level; inexplicably and fatally low, Synolakis said.

Synolakis and Kâno’lu report that the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), which ran the plant, first reduced the height of the coastal cliffs where the plant was built, underestimated potential tsunami heights, relied on its own internal faulty data and incomplete modeling – and ignored warnings from Japanese scientists that larger tsunamis were possible.


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By Broc West| 19 Comments | Editorials, Featured



  2. They were warned, but the power plant is run by the Japanese mafia, who didn’t give squat what happened. They didn’t want to spend money required for necessary upgrade.

    • Actually started with GE. Sold first Nuke very cheap to get Japan started – below cost. So to save money, GE engineers in New York cut corners to minimize losses.
      Also put pumps on the beach and these pumps were not designed to survive flooding nor tsunami so no working pumps, generator failure – just another nail in the coffin? Cascade of flaws and failures. Don’t know why it took 40 years to fail.

      When will the next meltdown happen? So far about every 7 to 10 years. Japan could have easily been 14 reactors, real lucky only 3 core meltdowns. Don’t think these 14 can be repaired, but all need spent fuel pools cleaned up and reactors decommissioned. Leaves about 35 or so Japan is trying to re-start. To hell with what the people think. 70-85% don’t want Nukes any more.

      Japan spending on all nuke operations should stop, except cleanup. And all that money spent on solar and wind which are the cheapest solutions in 2015.

      3 great pod casts – go to

  3. Volcano ??? No I don’t think so ! The hole just closes in around the melt down ! But the radiation is leaking into the water table than into the sea …. The end result is the ocean all around the planet will have mutant life in 50 years and in 100 years all life in the ocean will be dead …..

  4. The poor Tsunami protection along the coastline resulted in around 20,000 deaths and the spreading of an unknown amount of chemicals along the coastal strip. Many of these will be toxic or carcinogenic. Some 300,000 people are still displaced. Where are the doom mongers berating this?
    Icenine Stranglets,
    Oh dear, you have been taken in by all the hype. Cosmic rays continually hit the earth with more energy than CERN is capable of creating. None of these wonderful particles/events have happened.

    The China Syndrome was a film. A nuclear core requires a quite specific geometry for a sustained chain reaction. This will not be maintained once the core structure melts. Even if the core managed to pass through the earths crust it would be dispersed by the molten magma. (Disposal of nuclear waste into the magma layer via the subduction zones of the earth’s crust is actual quite a good idea)

    Don’t worry about the nuclear stuff, concentrate on the real problems of growing population and dwindling resources.

    Best regards


  5. Congratulations on summarising information that has already been publicised, and making into an angle that attacks the nuclear industry, yes it was preventable, but something on this scale with both an earthquake and tsunami occouring on the same day is extremely rare, and could happen anywhere so THANK YOU CAPTAIN HINDSIGHT, now go crawl back under the stone you have been living under and let us get back to constructive ways to solve the situation rather than pointing and blaming.

    • But what happens when the world runs on nuclear and mother nature destroys them again. our Countries were not all the same shape many years ago… Not a matter of if but when…..

      • Sure but it all depends on location, for example many of the plants in the uk are far away from any major fault lines, volcanoes, and really any other potential natural disaster area. The only cause of a reactor issue would be operator error or pressure from an outside body, such as the Windscale incident.

        Unless you are talking about a 2012 (film) event where all the plates shift, in which case your pretty much screwed anyway without nuclear reactors.

    • Not to worry. So far atomic power core meltdown on average one every 7 years. How are you going to solve? Most obvious answer is to shut them all down. Do your own internet searches to verify wind power down to $0.03 and solar $0.05.

      The promise that nuclear power is too cheap to meter.
      The reality is too expensive to matter.

      (And the most complex and dangerous way to boil water yet devised by mankind. Where and when will the next core meltdown happen? )

  6. Nuclear plants are more likely giants kettle that turn the heat from radio isotop to boil the water then run the turbine. The most expensive and unefficient technology to produce electricity.

  7. @ TAD: “…but something on this scale with both an earthquake and tsunami occouring on the same day is extremely rare…”

    I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt, and assume you don’t understand English. Perhaps you meant to say, “These two events happen hand in hand 99.9% of the time,” which is more factual. True, not every earthquake results in a tsunami, but I can’t say I’ve ever heard of a tsunami occurring without an earthquake.

  8. This nuclear power is pure greed of a few of the elect .wind energy vastly more sustainable .given uranium’s supply is only 50 years mayby . its letal toxic waste outlives our, they now have shortened lives .

  9. Of course it was preventable. It takes a special kind of stupid to put the emergency backup generators below ground level on a tsunami prone island. And an even more special kind of stupid to build a nuke plant on a fault line.

  10. Design flaw?? I’ll tell you what the design flaw was…The design flaw was building a nuclear power plant in, what is probably, the most volatile, earthquake prone region on Planet Earth. That was your design flaw.

    But, of course, any group with enough money and enough architects, scientists and engineers in their pocket will always be able to convince the “authorities” that they can design a complex that can withstand anything Mother Nature can throw their way…

  11. It takes an even better stupid to build more … let the filthy rich decide the fate of human kind ..the money grabbing animals only see one Tesla towers would be another option … quite efficient and a lot safer than nuclear meltdowns. .. they do happen… we’re all just gonna keep on truckn.. and pretend all is good?

  12. All these comments, pertinent and widely held by thinking individuals, but none of this logic was applied by the people/govt etc that built and ran it. To fix this now Pacific wide issue needs mentation that isn’t available on the planet, unless as PHROST posits Mother Nature deals with it once and for all, and these consequences will likely be drastic.

  13. Chernobyl was nowhere near this bad.

  14. Most of the disaster was preventable – although probably not the loss of reactors 1-3 as operating power plants – and Tepco were on track to prevent it. If there had not been interference in the process by the Prime Minister, the venting process at reactor 1 would have begun 6 hours earlier, IIRC, and water injection would have averted the overpressure, hydrogen escape and explosion. Without the explosion and radioactive rubble across the site, the actions already underway to save reactors 2 & 3 would have been completed sufficiently to again avert the explosions that allowed the significant contamination to occur and continue.

    So in fact the blame for the disaster should be laid at the feet of Naoto Kan. Perhaps not exclusively, but certainly a very large proportion of the problems are due to political interference with a safety-critical process. There is great irony in his current bid for fame on the back of the Fukushima disaster – some would say chutzpah.

    Unfortunately, I have not seen a strong emphasis in the “lessons-learned” from Fukushima on ensuring autonomy for the plant engineers from political interference during a crisis.

  15. Pumps on the beach were all destroyed, and so no way to pump water even IF they had power.
    See for former Nuclear engineer to get actuall facts, which are slow to come out as Government and TEPCO tried to cover up. Same happened at Three Mile Island and Chernobyl. That is what government and corporations do when failures happen – Cover Ups.

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