Tokyo 2020 Olympics venues linked to earthquake safety data scandal

Posted at 12:44 AM, Oct 19, 2018
and last updated 2018-10-19 21:37:37-04

A major Japanese hydraulics company has admitted to doctoring earthquake safety data for buildings across the country, including some venues for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Tokyo-based KYB and a subsidiary admitted to routinely doctoring data for hydraulic oil dampers used to reduce shaking during earthquakes — a pertinent concern in super seismic Japan — but said there were no immediate safety concerns.

KYB released an incomplete list of affected buildings Friday, after local media reported several Olympic venues used the faulty products, including the 634 meter (2,030 ft) Tokyo Skytree, the Ariake Arena and the Olympics Aquatics Center.

In a statement, Tokyo 2020 said it had been informed by the local government “that some of (KYB’s) products have been equipped at the Olympic Aquatics Centre and that it (was) planned to install them at Ariake Arena.”

The government has ordered an inspection into the KYB products to find out if they are up to standard, the statement added.

KYB only named 70 affected buildings, saying it did not receive permission from hundreds of other properties which are believed to have been affected by the scandal. Earlier, KYB said at least eight employees had fudged data to save time and avoid delays in delivery, adding that all affected products would be replaced.

Osaka Governor Ichiro Matsui blasted KYB for installing “defective products” and said the scandal “shows a decline in corporate ethics.”

Speaking to reporters Thursday, Matsui added it was “frightening that there is such an atmosphere” within the company that it would tamper with safety data in pursuit of greater profits, and that he wanted the company to “recognize that data falsification could put people’s lives at risk.”

In a statement, Japan’s Land Ministry said the problem stretched back as far as March 2000, with 986 structures, including apartment blocks, office buildings, hospitals, and government buildings so far identified as using the KYB hydraulics.

The ministry said affected buildings would still be able to withstand quakes up to 7 on the Japanese Meteorological Agency’s (JMA) seismic intensity scale, which measures the perceivable effects of earthquakes rather than the energy released (as the Richter scale does).

At that level, the agency said, “it is impossible to remain standing or move without crawling (and) people may be thrown through the air.” Buildings without sufficient earthquake resistance are “more likely to collapse” as pillars at ground level disintegrate due to the extreme shaking.

Last month, at least 39 people died after a magnitude 6.7 earthquake hit the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido, collapsing some structures and sparking landslides. The quake measured 7 on the JMA scale, according to local media.

Japan sits along the Ring of Fire, a 40,000 kilometer (25,000 mile), earthquake and volcano-prone arc which spans the boundary of the Pacific tectonic plate with smaller plates such as the Philippine Sea plate, and the Cocos and Nazca Plates which line the edge of the Pacific Ocean.

The KYB scandal is only the latest example of corner cutting and data fudging by Japanese firms. Last year, industrial giant Kobe Steel admitted it falsified information on products sold to major brands including Boeing and Toyota, while care maker Nissan had to halt production after problems in its inspection process emerged.

Some experts say Japanese firms are too willing to sacrifice standards in order to grow market share and profits. That’s a particular challenge in their domestic economy, which has struggled for decades with sputtering growth and falling prices.