photo: yoppy on Flickr

TEPCO (Tokyo Electric Power Company), which operates the failing nuclear power plants at Fukushima, has a history of scandals associated with its nuclear power operations.   In 2002, one set of such scandals became so severe that the president, vice president and chairman of the company all resigned in disgrace.  Most disturbing in this regard is that the scandal related to TEPCO hiding evidence of cracks in the containment vessels of their nuclear reactors.  Also possibly related to the current crisis is one report I have found of Toshiba providing faulty gauges that are used in monitoring the reactor coolant systems.

TEPCO is widely reported to be the largest utility company in the world that is not owned by a government entity.  According to this undated profile and history, it had annual revenues of nearly $60 billion in 2004 and over 50,000 employees.  The Fukushima Daiichi complex where the current crisis is underway was TEPCO’s first nuclear facility:

TEPCO located its nuclear power plants far from the crowded capital region, on the coast of Fukushima prefecture to the north, the service region of its longtime partner, the Tohoku Electric Power Company. By 1979, five further BWR reactors had been added to the Fukushima No. 1 complex. The company now used its own technology and contracted construction to other Japanese corporations that were experts in the field. Despite potential earthquake hazards that could result in catastrophic events at nuclear power facilities, nuclear power began gaining ascendancy, mainly to reduce air pollution. In 1970, the government legislated severe controls on air, land, and water pollution. An Environmental Agency on the American model emerged in 1971. The oil crisis of 1973 to 1974 reinforced commitment to a nuclear future.

Then, after further expansion of nuclear production, scandal struck:

TEPCO completed construction on the largest nuclear plant in the world in 1997. This was achieved despite public sentiment in Japan, which remained hostile towards the development of nuclear power due to several fatal accidents and scandals. According to a March 2000 Business Week article, nuclear power accounted for nearly 35 percent of Japan’s electricity. In fact, for much of the 1990s, Japan’s industry had aggressively focused on shifting from expensive and polluting coal-fired plants to nuclear power. Due to concerns over the safety of these nuclear facilities, Japan’s government was forced to rethink its expansion efforts, cut back on its nuclear development plans, and find alternative sources of power. Nevertheless, it hoped nuclear power would be supplying over 40 percent of Japan’s energy needs by 2011.

Despite public opposition to nuclear power, TEPCO continued to promote it as an environmentally friendly form of energy. Disaster struck in 2002, however, after the company admitted to falsifying safety documents related to its nuclear facilities. Engineers had failed to report 29 incidents of serious leaks and cracks in reactors at three of its nuclear plants during the late 1980s and 1990s. As a consequence of these revelations, the Japanese government ordered the temporary shutdown of TEPCO’s 17 nuclear facilities. This left Tokyo in the midst of a power shortage during the hot summer months. Three of its plants were allowed to restart by 2003, and the remaining facilities were back online by the end of 2004.

Here is a CNN report from 2002 on the scandal:

The president, vice president and chairman of Japan’s largest utility are quitting following a nuclear safety scandal, along with two advisers.

/snip/

METI [Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry] says it has evidence of false inspection records, with the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency saying that up to eight reactors may still be running with unfixed cracks, though the cracks don’t pose an immediate threat.

The company is conducting an inquiry of its own, and has submitted a list of 29 cases of possible cover-ups of cracks on the core of 13 nuclear reactors, at three plants.

Tim Shorrock is following up on the history of this scandal and reports today on a document he found that appears to be a sort of “lessons learned” report.

Although I hesitate to link to it, this strange post by a commenter at Asian Tribune has some very interesting tidbits. [I say I hesitate to link to it because the person who posted it claims to be subject to mind control by Toshiba.] The comment dates from 2006 and suggests that the 2002 scandal included the Fukushima Number One (or Fukushima Daiichi) unit number three, which had a hydrogen explosion Monday morning:

It is very intentionally late. Toshiba Corp should open it in 2002. 2002 TEPCO’s scandal began from many breaks of Fukushima phase I unit 3 by Toshiba Corp on Aug 23, 2002.

Perhaps even more fascinating, though, is that this person claims that Toshiba supplied faulty gauges to TEPCO and that these gauges were used to monitor coolant flow to reactors:

When Toshiba Corp replaced meters supplied water for reactor ????? at TEPCO’s Nuclear Plant Fukushima phase I unit 6 in 1993, about the equipments Toshiba Corp altered examination data for TEPCO’s standard data. In Sep 2005 TEPCO ordered Toshiba Corp to confirm that and in Nov 2005 Toshiba Corp was heard the fact from 2 persons of Toshiba’s nuclear power design section.
But Toshiba Corp says the equipments are safty and Toshiba Corp doesn’t do the same in other plants. From Dec 2005 Toshiba Corp orders a 3rd company to check the examination about meters supplied water for reactor ?????.

It appears that at least some of the information this person is discussing here comes from a Toshiba press release that is only available in Japanese. I would appreciate it very much if someone who reads Japanese could provide us with a translation.

This is a very important point, because the current crisis appears to have been exacerbated by problems with gauges in the coolant systems. From today’s New York Times:

Workers inside the reactors saw that levels of coolant water were dropping. They did not know how severely. “The gauges that measure the water level don’t appear to be giving accurate readings,” one American official said.

The Times article points out damage to much of the equipment associated with the coolant system to have come from the tsunami, so it is hard to know whether the faulty gauge readings also are tsunami damage or if they are perhaps related to the previously reported issue of faulty gauges from Toshiba.

Stay tuned for further developments.