9th July 2012
While many would blame nature for last year’s Fukushima nuclear accident, a Japanese parliamentary committee report has concluded that culpability really lies with Homo sapiens.
After 900 hours of hearings and 1100 interviews over a six-month period, the Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission – chaired by Kiyoshi Kurokawa, an academic fellow at Tokyo’s National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies – said that the accident was “a profoundly man-made disaster that could and should have been foreseen and prevented”.
Hindering that process were a lack of regulations as well as “a collusion between the government, the [nuclear] regulators and [plant operator] Tepco and the lack of governance by said parties“, Kurokawa’s panel said in an English-language summary.
Tepco was allowed to continue operations at its Fukushima Daiichi Power Plant without implementing necessary safety measures despite evidence suggesting that major earthquakes and tsunamis had both occurred in the area before, the report noted.
This was the third investigative report since the megaquake and tsunami struck on 11 March last year. The first, by Tepco itself last November, placed blame for the nuclear catastrophe on a once-every-1000-year “unforeseeable” combination of earthquake and tsunami. That claim is questioned in the new report, which suggests it was the quake that triggered the nuclear disaster – the Fukushima-Daiichi plant lacked an adequate anti-quake design.
The second report, in February, was written by scholars and journalists and painted a dim picture of Tepco.
A disaster ‘made in Japan’
The Kurokawa report’s biggest criticism is reserved for what it calls “the Japanese mindset” that meant the disaster was very much “made in Japan”. The disaster’s “fundamental causes are to be found in the ingrained conventions of Japanese culture: our reflexive obedience; our reluctance to question authority,” Kurokawa says.
“Everyone has been saying it was a man-made problem since the accident, and that the problem is systemic for even longer,” says Yoshitsugu Watanabe, a resident of Fukushima. “I think a more important cultural problem, ironically, is reflected in this report: we Japanese need to have lengthy investigations to tell us exactly what we already know. Doing more for stressed-out evacuees would go a lot further than six months of navel-gazing.”
Haruo Shimada, president of Chiba University of Commerce and an expert in policy and energy issues, is impressed by the report’s frankness. “I think what [Kurokawa] said should be applauded for being a reasonable assessment,” says Shimada, who also served as an adviser to former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi.
Just how much of an impact the hard-hitting report will have, however, remains to be seen. Robert Geller, a seismologist at the University of Tokyo, says the litmus test came earlier this month when the government rubber-stamped the restarting of a nuclear power plant in Oi, western Japan.
“They say Japan’s government is in Kasumigaseki [the part of Tokyo synonymous with government buildings], but it’s not – it’s in denial,” says Geller, who last year published a book questioning Japan’s “safety myth” surrounding nuclear power. “They restarted Oi without addressing any of the real issues.”
“We could have another Fukushima-scale nuclear accident tomorrow and 18 months down the line we’d be right back to where we are now,” says Watanabe.