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Japanese nuclear watchdog tells Fukushima boss to stop messing up

Spate of incidents at troubled plant see Tepco chief given dressing down

Japan’s nuclear regulator has told the bungling bosses of the beleaguered Fukushima nuclear plant to take “drastic steps” to mitigate a spate of mishaps at the power station.

NRA chairman Shunichi Tanaka summoned Tepco boss Naomi Hirose to his office to express grave concerns about the growing problems at Fukushima.

Tepco has mainly blamed the mishaps on human error as workers struggle to deal with the crisis.

But Mr Tanaka said earlier this month that the repeated “silly mistakes” are a sign of declining morale and sense of responsibility.

Tepco has admitted a systemic problem, claiming that workers under tight deadlines tend to cut corners and at times don’t fully understand their assignments or procedures.

But Mr Hirose acknowledged that Tepco had been cutting costs and that the precarious state of the plant had contributed to the deterioration of operations.

He said that the operator was having trouble finding a stable pool of workers, but promised to send more staff from other sites to Fukushima. 

Tepco has admitted that more than 700 employees have left the company in the last year alone.

Vice-president Zengo Aizawa later claimed that the company saw no problem in obtaining enough workers over the next few years, but conceded that uncertainty remained over the long-term decommissioning process.

“We are not sure about our long-term staffing situation during the upcoming process of debris removal, which requires different skills,” Mr Aizawa said.

It was the first time that the regulator had met a utility president.

NRA officials said the meeting indicated the depth of Mr Tanaka’s grave concerns. 

Commissioners said they plan to intervene more directly and provide more proactive instructions in the future.

Mr Tanaka told Mr Hirose that resolving the problems requires “drastic steps” with a long-term vision, not the mere procedural changes that Tepco had suggested.

The regulator also urged the company to do more to reduce radioactivity at the site to allow workers to work without full-face masks, which reduce communication and contribute to difficult working conditions. 

He said the company also needed to make more funds available.

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