Japan’s Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry stated today that it has identified another 12 tunnels throughout the country with similar ceiling constructions as the Sasago Tunnel in Yamanashi Prefecture, which killed nine people when a section of its concrete panels collapsed. The ministry says all 12 are administered by local governments and highway operators, which in turn have been asked to conduct emergency safety inspections.
On Monday, the day after the accident, when rescue workers were still ensuring everyone alive had made it out of the collapse, the central government stated there were a total 49 tunnels build with suspended ceiling panels. Of the 12 identified as questionable, all were built between 1967 and 2003, with seven constructed in 1977 or earlier. One of the tunnels, built in 1971 in Ehime Prefecture, was found by the local government to have 60 minor flaws, including loose bolts and rusted fixtures used to hang the concrete panels. The Ehime government, however, says these issues do not affect the tunnel’s safety, which is quite worrisome as missing and failed bolts were identified as one of the primary causes of the Sasago Tunnel accident.
In addition to the revelation that the collapsed tunnel, located around 85 kilometers (53 miles) west of Tokyo, hadn’t had a single repair done in its lifetime, its most recent safety inspections, which the expressway operator has admitted weren’t properly conducted, took place only two days before the deadly incident. The Central Japan Expressway Co., which is responsible for the Sasago Tunnel and Chuo Expressway, says an employee was sent on November 30th to perform a visual check from the passenger side of car driving through. This is considered a routine inspection method, carried out several times a month, in addition to the physical checks carried out every few years.