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How small error started 17 minutes of nuclear horror

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Christian Fernsby ▼ | June 20, 2019
Japan nuclear
Asia   Many government departments and companies in Japan still rely on fax machines

Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings (Tepco) sparked a nuclear scare after a an earthquake by ticking the wrong box on a fax form.

The workers at Tepco, operator of the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear plant in Niigata Prefecture where the strong quake struck, faxed a message to local authorities Tuesday night, seeking to allay any fears of damage.

But the Tepco employees accidentally ticked the wrong box on the form, mistakenly indicating there was an abnormality at the plant rather than that there was no problem.

One official filled out the form, and it was checked by a colleague before being sent. Many government departments and companies in Japan still rely on fax machines for communication.

Tepco’s Tokyo headquarters noticed the mistake and a correction was published 17 minutes after the original release, the firm’s Tokyo-based spokesman said.

The mayor of Kashiwazaki city, Masahiro Sakurai, saw the incorrectly filled-out form and immediately directed staff to check what was happening.

The mayor hit out at Tepco, which also operated the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant — site of the worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl — when an earthquake and tsunami struck in 2011.

“When a real earthquake is happening, not a drill, this is a massive error,” Sakurai told local reporters, according to the Mainichi Shimbun daily.

“It is extremely poor on their part to make errors in the most important and basic information at a time of crisis,” he said, according to the Asahi Shimbun newspaper.

Tepco apologized and vowed not to repeat the mistake.


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