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The Fukushima report, grim truth and a salute to heroism in Japan

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Signatures of the ten members of the Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission

Japan has found new heroism and it is in the form of the ten members of the first independent commission chartered by the Diet in the history of Japan’s constitutional government. Their report, ‘The official report of The Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission’, has come as a powerful call for the abandonment of nuclear power in Japan and indeed worldwide.

The voluminous report was designed from the start along lines wholly and utterly ignored by the subjects of the report – the government of Japan and the Japanese nuclear power industry (and also, by association, the international nuclear mongers). And that is the maximum degree of information disclosure. To achieve this, all 19 of the commission meetings were open to public observation and broadcast on the internet (except the first one), simultaneously in Japanese and English, to a total of 800,000 viewers. The commission also also used social media, Facebook and Twitter to communicate with the public, receiving over 170,000 comments. To gain a global perspective, the commission dispatched three teams overseas, and included interviews and hearings with experts from the USA, France, Russia, Ukraine and Belarus.

These ten members have shown the determination to achieve maximum information disclosure in a culture, and against unfathomable pressure, that is determined otherwise. They have posed the toughest questions possible and drawn out, from hundreds of responses, the strands of truth about Japanese society which have since 2011 March 11 been obscured by the scale of the disaster, the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, and the massive, tragic loss of life.

These ten members have emphasised through their doggedness and their untiring pursuit of the truth, no matter how bitter, that it is of vital importance that their work – this report – be utilised, as they have said, “for the Japanese people and for the people of the world”. They have demanded that national pride be set aside if it obstructs the truth, and for this, they symbolise a heroism Japan has, in an hour of unprecedented public outrage, rediscovered.

They are Kiyoshi Kurokawa (chairman) and members Kenzo Oshima, Hisako Sakiyama, Masafumi Sakurai, Yoshinori Yokoyama, Mitsuhiko Tanaka, Koichi Tanaka, Katsuhiko Ishibashi, Reiko Hachisuka and Shuya Nomura. We must salute them.

The text below is from the chairman’s message in the English executive summary of the report (pdf, 2.4 mb):

Map showing accumulated cesium-137, from the report

“The earthquake and tsunami of March 11, 2011 were natural disasters of a magnitude that shocked the entire world. Although triggered by these cataclysmic events, the subsequent accident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant cannot be regarded as a natural disaster. It was a profoundly manmade disaster – that could and should have been foreseen and prevented. And its effects could have been mitigated by a more effective human response.

“How could such an accident occur in Japan, a nation that takes such great pride in its global reputation for excellence in engineering and technology? This Commission believes the Japanese people – and the global community – deserve a full, honest and transparent answer to this question.

“Our report catalogues a multitude of errors and willful negligence that left the Fukushima plant unprepared for the events of March 11. And it examines serious deficiencies in the response to the accident by TEPCO, regulators and the government. For all the extensive detail it provides, what this report cannot fully convey – especially to a global audience – is the mindset that supported the negligence behind this disaster. What must be admitted – very painfully – is that this was a disaster “Made in Japan”. Its fundamental causes are to be found in the ingrained conventions of Japanese culture: our reflexive obedience; our reluctance to question authority; our devotion to ‘sticking with the program’; our groupism; and our insularity. Had other Japanese been in the shoes of those who bear responsibility for this accident, the result may well have been the same.

“Following the 1970s “oil shocks,” Japan accelerated the development of nuclear power in an effort to achieve national energy security. As such, it was embraced as a policy goal by government and business alike, and pursued with the same single-minded determination that drove Japan’s postwar economic miracle. With such a powerful mandate, nuclear power became an unstoppable force, immune to scrutiny by civil society. Its regulation was entrusted to the same government bureaucracy responsible for its promotion. At a time when Japan’s self-confidence was soaring, a tightly knit elite with enormous financial resources had diminishing regard for anything ‘not invented here’.

“This conceit was reinforced by the collective mindset of Japanese bureaucracy, by which the first duty of any individual bureaucrat is to defend the interests of his organization. Carried to an extreme, this led bureaucrats to put organizational interests ahead of their paramount duty to protect public safety. Only by grasping this mindset can one understand how Japan’s nuclear industry managed to avoid absorbing the critical lessons learned from Three Mile Island and Chernobyl; and how it became accepted practice to resist regulatory pressure and cover up small-scale accidents. It was this mindset that led to the disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant.

“This report singles out numerous individuals and organizations for harsh criticism, but the goal is not—and should not be—to lay blame. The goal must be to learn from this disaster, and reflect deeply on its fundamental causes, in order to ensure that it is never repeated. Many of the lessons relate to policies and procedures, but the most important is one upon which each and every Japanese citizen should reflect very deeply. The consequences of negligence at Fukushima stand out as catastrophic, but the mindset that supported it can be found across Japan. In recognizing that fact, each of us should reflect on our responsibility as individuals in a democratic society.

“As the first investigative commission to be empowered by the legislature and independent of the bureaucracy, we hope this initiative can contribute to the development of Japan’s civil society. Above all, we have endeavored to produce a report that meets the highest standard of transparency. The people of Fukushima, the people of Japan and the global community deserve nothing less.”

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