When the corporation is in charge: Japanese nuke co delayed ‘sea water solution’ to protect future profits

The problem the U.S. faced in the Gulf when BP was allowed to take the lead in cleaning up its oil spill disaster is repeating itself in Japan, where the company is doing all it can to prevent a catastrophic radiation leak — unless “all it can” interferes with its potential profits from continuing to operate the plant.

From the Wall Street Journal:

TOKYO—Crucial efforts to tame Japan’s crippled nuclear plant were delayed by concerns over damaging valuable power assets and by initial passivity on the part of the government, people familiar with the situation said, offering new insight into the management of the crisis.

Meanwhile, a regulator who was inspecting the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear-power complex when the quake hit offered The Wall Street Journal one of the first eyewitness accounts of the havoc at the site, describing how the temblor took down all communications in the area, greatly complicating the response.

The plant’s operator—Tokyo Electric Power Co., or Tepco—considered using seawater from the nearby coast to cool one of its six reactors at least as early as last Saturday morning, the day after the quake struck. But it didn’t do so until that evening, after the prime minister ordered it following an explosion at the facility. Tepco didn’t begin using seawater at other reactors until Sunday.

So why the delay?

Tepco was reluctant to use seawater because it worried about hurting its long-term investment in the complex, say people involved with the efforts. Seawater, which can render a nuclear reactor permanently inoperable, now is at the center of efforts to keep the plant under control.

Tepco “hesitated because it tried to protect its assets,” said Akira Omoto, a former Tepco executive and a member of the Japan Atomic Energy Commission, an official advisory body involved in the effort to tame the plant. Both Tepco and government officials had good reason not to use saltwater, Mr. Omoto added. Early on, nuclear fuel rods were still under cooling water and undamaged, he said, adding, “it’s understandable because injecting seawater into the fuel vessel renders it unusable.”

Tepco spokesman Hiro Hasegawa said the company, “taking the safety of the whole plant into consideration, was trying to judge the appropriate timing to use seawater.”

Leading at least one member of Japan’s government to come to the following conclusion:

“This disaster is 60% man-made,” said one government official. “They failed in their initial response. It’s like Tepco dropped and lost a 100 yen coin while trying to pick up a 10 yen coin.”

The Japanese government is also coming under fire for delays, slow reaction times, and for not being entirely candid with the public about the nuclear danger. But it appears that corporate profit-shielding is indeed at the core of the ongoing Japanese nuclear disaster. Earthquakes and tsunamis can’t be helped – and one this big certainly wasn’t anticipated, but this is a cautionary tale for Americans, who are seeing our country place more and more in the service of, and under control of, corporations, whose prime directive is profit, not the public interet. Public interest is what governments are for.

Related: truth and Fukushima

Update on the reactors.

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