Regulators Ignored Warning Signs at Fukushima
Despite noted problems, an extension was granted for oldest reactor
By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff
Suggested by amato19
Posted Mar 22, 2011 7:42 AM CDT
Gray smoke rises from Unit 3 of the tsunami-stricken Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant in Okumamachi, Fukushima Prefecture, Japan, Monday, March 21, 2011.   (AP Photo/Tokyo Electric Power Co. via Kyodo News)

(Newser) – Government regulators were concerned about the oldest reactor at Japan’s Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant—but still approved a 10-year extension for reactor No. 1, just a month before the devastating earthquake and tsunami that landed the country in its current nuclear crisis. A report from the regulatory committee noted that stress cracks caused the engines to be vulnerable to corrosion from seawater, and weeks after getting the extension, the Tokyo Electric Power Company admitted it did not inspect 33 pieces of cooling system equipment.

Inspectors spent only three days inspecting the unit, which experts say is not enough time to assess earthquake risk, the New York Times reports. Critics are concerned that expert panelists—like those who recommended this reactor’s extension—do not often challenge plant operators. And plant operators are lobbying to use reactors beyond the 40-year limit, even though safety records are spotty and cover-ups common. But building new power plants is difficult and Tokyo prefers nuclear energy to fossil fuels, so government officials are often sympathetic.