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Japan faces decision over contaminated Fukushima water

hglmThe dismantling of Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant continues in Okuma, Fukushima Prefecture, on Dec. 5, 2019.


January 21, 2020

OKUMA, Fukushima Prefecture—At the wrecked Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant north of Tokyo, workers in protective suits are still removing radioactive material from reactors that melted down after an earthquake and tsunami knocked out its power and cooling nearly nine years ago.

On an exclusive tour of the plant, spread over 3.5 million square meters, Reuters witnessed giant remote-controlled cranes dismantling an exhaust tower and other structures in a highly radioactive zone while spent fuel was removed from a reactor.

Officials from Tokyo Electric, which owns the plant, also showed new tanks to hold increasing amounts of contaminated water.

About 4,000 workers are tackling the cleanup, many wearing protective gear, although more than 90 percent of the plant is deemed to have so little radioactivity that no extra precautions are needed. Photography was highly restricted and no conversations were allowed with the workers.

Work to dismantle the plant has taken nearly a decade so far, but with Tokyo due to host the Olympics this summer–including some events less than 60 kilometers from the power station–there has been renewed focus on safeguarding the venues.

TEPCO tries to disclose all information to the public as soon as possible. If something happens at the site, we let people know by email, for example,” said Kan Nihonyanagi, risk communicator at Fukushima, said in an interview at the site.

The buildup of contaminated water has been a sticking point in the cleanup, which is likely to last decades, and has alarmed neighboring countries. In 2018, TEPCO said it had not been able to remove all dangerous material from the water – and the site is running out of room for storage tanks.

Officials overseeing a panel of experts looking into the contaminated water issue said in December choices on disposal should be narrowed to two: either dilute the water and dump it in the Pacific Ocean, or allow it to evaporate.

The Japanese government may decide within months, and either process would take years to complete, experts say.

The Olympics are coming, so we have to prepare for that, and TEPCO has to disclose all the information not only to local communities but also to foreign countries and especially to those people coming from abroad,” said Joji Hara, a Tokyo-based spokesman for the power company who accompanied Reuters during the visit.

TEPCO has opened English-language Twitter and Facebook accounts, he said. It is also preparing to put out basic emergency information in Korean and Chinese, he added.

Athletes from at least one country, South Korea, are planning to bring their own radiation detectors and food this summer.

Baseball and softball will be played in Fukushima city, about 60 km from the destroyed nuclear plant. The torch relay will begin at a sports facility called J-Village, an operations base for Fukushima No. 1 in the first few years of the disaster, then pass through areas near the damaged station on its way to Tokyo.

In December, Greenpeace said it found radiation “hotspots” at J-Village, about 18 km south of the plant.

When Tokyo won the bid to host the 2020 Summer Olympics, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe declared that Fukushima was “under control” in his final pitch to the International Olympic Committee.

In 2016, the Japanese government estimated that the total cost of plant dismantlement, decontamination of affected areas, and compensation would be 21.5 trillion yen ($195 billion)–roughly a fifth of the country’s annual budget at the time.



January 21, 2020 Posted by | Fukushima 2020 | , , , | Leave a comment

Japan’s Aeon aims to serve ‘eco-certified’ sushi in time for Olympics

‘Eco-certified’  my @ss, radiation contaminated sushi much more likely…. Lying lunatics!

0050b5d88f7306a71e63d89c1337ab5cA meat sushi plate is seen at Nikuzushi restaurant in Tokyo, Japan

January 21, 2020

TOKYO (Reuters) – Japanese supermarket chain Aeon Co Ltd, Asia’s biggest retailer by sales, said it aims to start selling eco-certified sushi this year amid growing demand for sustainable seafood and in time for an expected surge in tourists during the Tokyo Olympics.

Japan is one of the world’s biggest consumers of seafood. While its consumers are known for paying a premium for high-quality food products, and for setting global food trends, Japan has lagged behind Europe and the United States in adopting policies on traceability and sustainable fisheries.

“I would say awareness has really improved in recent years,” Kinzou Matsumoto, general manager in charge of Aeon’s seafood merchandising planning, said on Tuesday as the company unveiled an expansion of its eco-certified lineup of seafood to include oysters approved by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC).

“Right now, certified items make up around 15% of our entire seafood products. Ideally we want to bring it to around 20%,” he said, adding that it would soon have enough types of certified fish to assemble assorted sushi packs.

“We want to sell certified sushi to visitors coming to the Olympics, too… and that would have to be by June.”

The MSC said Aeon’s scale would help expand recognition for sustainable seafood among Japanese consumers, and encourage fisheries.

“A commitment from Aeon is critical in driving change,” said MSC’s Asia-Pacific regional director Patrick Caleo.

Japanese businesses including beer makers and hotels are making preparations to cater for record numbers of foreign visitors to Japan this summer as Tokyo hosts the Olympic Summer Games beginning in late July.

Kura Sushi, among Japan’s largest conveyer belt sushi chains, is opening its biggest branch this week – a store with 272 seats expected to draw 2,000 customers a day.

It forecasts that the number of foreigners visiting its restaurants in Tokyo to rise by about a third compared to a usual year.

Kura Sushi President Kunihiko Tanaka also defended the safety of seafood in Japan, including those from Fukushima, the site of the 2011 nuclear disaster.

Government data shows Fukushima seafood is “absolutely” safe, Tanaka said, adding that Kura Sushi planned to open a restaurant in Fukushima.

South Korea’s Olympic committee said in December that it plans to buy radiation detectors and ship homegrown ingredients to Japan for its athletes because of its concerns over food.

January 21, 2020 Posted by | Fukushima 2020 | , , | Leave a comment

Forgetting Fukushima


21st January 2020

By Jim Green – Nuclear Monitor

Irresponsible tactics are being used to bury social and environmental problems associated with the Fukushima nuclear disaster as Olympics approach in Japan.

Japanese prime minister Shinzō Abe assured the International Olympic Committee in 2013 that “the situation is under control” in and around the stricken Fukushima nuclear plant.

Now, with the 2020 Summer Olympics approaching, and some events scheduled to be held in Fukushima prefecture, all sorts of irresponsible and cruel tactics are being used to bury a myriad of social and environmental problems associated with the nuclear disaster.

Most evacuation orders have been lifted around the Fukushima plant, but 337‒371 sq kms remain classified as restricted entry zones or ‘difficult to return’ zones. There are hopes that all remaining evacuation orders could be lifted within a few years.


Lifting an evacuation order is one thing, returning the area to something resembling normality is quite another. Only 23 percent of those living in nine areas that were declared off-limits after the Fukushima disaster had returned as of March 2019, according to government figures.

Most people aged under 50 who used to live in the towns of Futaba, Namie and Tomioka have no plans to return, an official survey found in early 2019.

The partial lifting of evacuation orders in the town of Okuma in April 2019 illustrates how the rhetoric of progress masks inconvenient truths. Even after the lifting of the order, about 60 percent of the town’s land area ‒ covering 96.5 percent of the pre-Fukushima population ‒ remains off-limits.

A 2018 survey found that only 10 percent of respondents expressed a desire to return to Okuma, while 60 percent had no plans to return. Few people have returned since the evacuation order was lifted.

About 17 million cubic metres of contaminated waste material has accumulated during decontamination work according to the Japanese ministry of the environment. A new occupant in Okuma is a ‘temporary storage facility‘ for some of the contaminated waste.


Decontamination work (outside of the Fukushima nuclear plant) has cost an estimated ¥2.9 trillion (US $26.5 billion). A report by the European Geosciences Union, based on approximately 60 scientific publications, gives this assessment of decontamination efforts.

“This synthesis indicates that removing the surface layer of the soil to a thickness of 5 cm, the main method used by the Japanese authorities to clean up cultivated land, has reduced cesium concentrations by about 80 percent in treated areas. Nevertheless, the removal of the uppermost part of the topsoil, which has proved effective in treating cultivated land, has cost the Japanese state about €24 billion.

“This technique generates a significant amount of waste, which is difficult to treat, to transport and to store for several decades in the vicinity of the power plant, a step that is necessary before it is shipped to final disposal sites located outside Fukushima prefecture by 2050. By early 2019, Fukushima’s decontamination efforts had generated about 20 million cubic metres of waste.

“Decontamination activities have mainly targeted agricultural landscapes and residential areas. The review points out that the forests have not been cleaned up ‒ because of the difficulty and very high costs that these operations would represent ‒ as they cover 75 percent of the surface area located within the radioactive fallout zone.

“These forests constitute a potential long-term reservoir of radiocesium, which can be redistributed across landscapes as a result of soil erosion, landslides and floods, particularly during typhoons that can affect the region between July and October.”

Health risks

Greenpeace coordinated a study in the exclusion zone and lifted evacuation areas of Namie and Iitate and published the results in March 2019. The study found high levels of radiation ‒ ranging from five to over 100 times higher than the internationally recommended maximum of 1 mSv/yr ‒ in both exclusion zones and in areas where evacuation orders have been lifted.

The Greenpeace report documents the extent of the government’s violation of international human rights conventions and guidelines, in particular for decontamination of workers and children (who are more vulnerable to radiation-related diseases than adults).

Associate Professor Tilman Ruff, an Australian public health expert and co-founder of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons gives a sense of the scale of the risk.

He states: “To provide a perspective on these risks, for a child born in Fukushima in 2011 who was exposed to a total of 100 mSv of additional radiation in its first five years of life, a level tolerated by current Japanese policy, the additional lifetime risk of cancer would be on the order of one in thirty, probably with a similar additional risk of premature cardiovascular death.”

Moreover, there is evidence of sinister behaviour to give artificially low indications of radiation levels, for example by placing monitoring posts in areas of low radiation and cleaning their surrounds to further lower the readings.


Maxime Polleri, a PhD candidate in the Department of Anthropology at York University, wrote in The Diplomat: “In the end, state-sponsored monitoring and decontamination are remedial measures that manage the perception of radiation in the environment.

“However, this does not imply that radioactive contamination is gone – not at all. When we look at the official maps of radiation of northeastern Japan, levels are low, but there are many ways to make them appear low.”

Ryohei Kataoka from the Tokyo-based Citizens Nuclear Information Centre said: “The government’s insistence in lifting evacuation orders where heightened radiation-related health risks undeniably exist, is a campaign to show that Fukushima is ‘back to normal’ and to try to make Japan and the world forget the accident ever happened.”

The Japanese government is promoting next years’ Olympic Games as the “Reconstruction Olympics”. Hence the haste to lift evacuation orders and to skirt around the truth of residual contamination from radioactive Fukushima fallout and the health risks associated with that fallout.

And yet, despite the spin, a poll conducted in February 2019 found that 60 pecent of Fukushima region residents still felt anxious about radiation exposure.


Approximately 165,000 people were forced to evacuate because of the Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011, in addition to an estimated 26,600 ‘voluntary evacuees’.

More than 30,000 of the involuntary evacuees are still unable to return. Those now in permanent accommodation have returned to their former homes (either willingly or because they had no choice), or resettled elsewhere, and some have purchased their previously temporary accommodation.

The number of evacuees has been artificially deflated. For example, the Japanese government’s Reconstruction Agency sent a notice to prefectures in August 2014 stating that only those people who moved to different places because of the nuclear disaster and have the “will” to return to their original homes will be counted as evacuees.

The notice said that if it is difficult to determine people’s will to return, they should not be counted as evacuees. Those who have purchased a home outside their pre-disaster locale, and those in public restoration housing or disaster public housing, are no longer counted as evacuees even if they want to return to their previous homes but can’t for various reasons.

An April 2019 Asahi Shimbun editorial said that the number of people who regard themselves as evacuees is believed to be far higher than the official figure of 40,000 ‒ but nobody knows the true figure.

Akira Imai, chief researcher of the Japan Research Institute for Local Government, told Asahi Shimbun: “This is an act to socially hide the real number of evacuees, which could lead to a cover-up of the seriousness of the incident. The evacuee number is an index that is used to consider measures to support evacuees. The current situation should be reflected properly in the numbers.”


The typical experience of Fukushima evacuees has been a collapse of social networks, reduced income and reduced employment opportunities, endless uncertainty, and physical and mental ill-health.

A growing number of evacuees face further trauma arising from the end of housing subsidies, forcing them out of temporary accommodation and in some cases forcing them back to their original homes against their will.

Around 16,000 people who refuse to return to their original homes had been financially abandoned as of January 2019, according to the Citizens’ Nuclear Information Center.

In addition to fiddling with the numbers to artificially deflate the number of evacuees, an increasingly hostile attitude is being adopted towards evacuees to pressure them to leave temporary accommodation and thereby to reduce the evacuee count. The reduction and cessation of housing subsidies is the main component of this problem.

Some years ago, the support structure was modest at best, and many evacuees fell through the cracks. Now, evacuees are being forced through the cracks to reduce expenditure and to create a sense of normality ahead of the ‘Reconstruction Olympics’.


The human impact of government policies ‒ national and prefectural governments ‒ are detailed by Seto Daisaku from the Evacuation Cooperation Center. Some evacuees face a doubling of rental payments, some have been deemed “illegal occupants“, some face legal action to have them evicted.

National and local governments promote these policies as necessary to foster independence among evacuees, but as Seto Daisaku notes, “since their income in the places they have evacuated to has dropped precipitously, far from becoming independent they will fall deeper into poverty.”

The April 2019 Asahi Shimbun editorial noted: “After years of living away from home, many evacuees are also struggling with problems such as reduced incomes, the difficulties of finding jobs, deteriorating health and isolation.

“Some are suffering from poverty, anxiety about losing their housing due to the termination of public financial support and physical and mental illness. … The government’s response to the problem has been grossly insufficient.”


In an October 2018 report, United Nations Special Rapporteur Baskut Tuncak urged the Japanese government to halt the ongoing relocation of evacuees who are children and women of reproductive age to areas of Fukushima where radiation levels remain higher than what was considered safe or healthy before the nuclear disaster in 2011.

Tuncak said the Japanese government’s decision to raise by 20 times what it considered to be an acceptable level of radiation exposure was deeply troubling, highlighting in particular the potential impact on the health and wellbeing of children.

Tuncak said: “It is disappointing to see Japan appear to all but ignore the 2017 recommendation of the UN human rights monitoring mechanism (UPR) to return back to what it considered an acceptable dose of radiation before the nuclear disaster.”

TEPCO is also worsening the evacuees’ plight. Yamaguchi Yukio, co-director of the Citizens’ Nuclear Information Center, wrote in March 2019: “Although the fathomless suffering of the people affected by the accident cannot be atoned for by money, TEPCO has shown no intention of taking any responsibility for the consequences of the accident.

“In the incidents surrounding the petitions by Namie Town, Iitate Village and others to alternative dispute resolution (ADR), TEPCO has refused to agree to the compensation amounts, and rejected the mediated settlement proposal.

“The outlook for resolution of the compensation problem is bleak. This is in complete violation of the three pledges proclaimed by TEPCO: 1) Carry through compensation to the very last person, 2) Carry through rapid and detailed compensation, and 3) Respect mediated settlement proposals.”

This Author

Dr Jim Green is the national nuclear campaigner with Friends of the Earth Australia and editor of the Nuclear Monitor newsletter.

January 21, 2020 Posted by | Fukushima 2020 | , , | Leave a comment

Olympics: Tokyo torch relay to add another Fukushima reactor town

Dentsu Corporation, the hired PR company to calm the fears of the Japanese public, is using every gimmick in the book to deny the existing radiation risks to promote the 2020 Tokyo Olympics

ggjkllJapanese actress Satomi Ishihara, center, attends a promotional event for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic torch relays at an elementary school in Tokyo, on Jan. 16, 2020.

January 18, 2020

TOKYO (Kyodo) — The 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games torch relay is likely to pass through the town of Futaba, which hosts the disabled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in northeastern Japan, as the government plans to lift the mandatory evacuation order for the town on March 4, sources familiar with the matter said Friday.

The town of Okuma, a co-host of the nuclear plant, was already included in the first day of the torch relay. Fukushima Prefecture aims to highlight on the global stage its reconstruction from the world’s worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl in 1986.

Organizers announced in July 2018 that Fukushima would be the starting point for the torch relay in the country. Last March, Yoshiro Mori, the organizing committee’s president, revealed that the relay would begin some 20 kilometers from the Fukushima plant at the J-Village national soccer training center, which was used as an operational base for handling the nuclear crisis.

The Olympic torch will arrive in Japan on March 20 and the flame will be taken to Ishinomaki Minamihama Tsunami Recovery Memorial Park in Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture.

It will then travel by train through Miyagi and Iwate prefectures before making its way to Fukushima. The three prefectures were hit hardest by the powerful earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011.

The Japan leg of the relay will begin on March 26, 2020, two weeks after the flame lighting ceremony in Greece, and will carry the torch across all 47 prefectures in the country over a period of 121 days.

The Tokyo Olympics are scheduled to be held between July 24 and Aug. 9, followed by the Paralympics from Aug. 25 to Sept. 6.

January 21, 2020 Posted by | Fukushima 2020 | , , , , | Leave a comment

S. Korea, US Discuss Fukushima Wastewater, Marine Issues


January 17, 2020

South Korea and the U.S. held a director-level meeting on maritime and environment issues in Seoul on Thursday.

According to the Foreign Ministry on Friday, the two sides discussed the possibility of Japan releasing contaminated water from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant disaster site into the ocean.

They also shared views on ways to preserve marine environments.

The two sides discussed how they plan to reduce marine debris and ways to open the Seventh International Marine Debris Conference in South Korea in 2022.

During the meeting, South Korea called on the U.S. to swiftly take steps to remove South Korea from its preliminary list of countries that engage in illegal, unreported, and unregulated(IUU) fishing.

South Korea was designated as a preliminary IUU fishing country by the U.S. after two South Korean fishing boats violated closed fishing grounds and operated near Antarctica in 2017.

January 21, 2020 Posted by | Fukushima 2020 | , , , , | Leave a comment

Fukushima Daiichi Frozen Wall Leaks


Fukushima nuclear plant’s frozen wall leaks

Jan. 17, 2020

Tokyo Electric Power Company says coolant has seeped out from an underground frozen soil wall built around its crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.

The frozen soil wall came into operation four years ago. It was built to keep groundwater from flowing into reactor buildings. They were damaged by the March 2011 earthquake, tsunami and subsequent nuclear meltdowns.

The utility firm, TEPCO, says it found coolant leaking at three locations from components that connect pipes in the wall. The company had noticed a reduction in coolant in its tank earlier this month and was searching for the cause.

TEPCO says it believes 20,000 of 1.1 million liters of the coolant has leaked, but that this will not affect the operation of the wall.

The company says it will replace the components in the wall and repair another leak that was found in December.

hjlmmùùFukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station is seen in Okuma, Fukushima Prefecture, in this photo taken from a Mainichi Shimbun helicopter in August 2019.

Four coolant leaks found in Fukushima nuke plant ‘ice wall’ pipes

January 17, 2020

TOKYO — Coolant has been found leaking from pipes in the underground wall of frozen soil surrounding reactor buildings at the tsunami-ravaged Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station at four locations, its operator said.

According to Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings, Inc. (TEPCO), the coolant liquid contains calcium chloride, commonly used as a snow-melting agent, and is not an environmental contaminant.

The utility has confirmed that a total of about 20 cubic meters of the coolant has leaked from the pipes. Though the coolant supply to the leaking pipes has been halted, TEPCO does not expect the ice wall to suffer any loss of function. The pipes concerned are between the plant’s No. 2 and No. 3 reactor buildings.

TEPCO noticed the problem in late 2019 when the volume in a coolant tank dropped abnormally. Workers examined the ice wall piping and found leaks in the joints. The company is poised to investigate the cause of the leak and replace the problematic parts.

The utility started the operation of the underground wall of frozen soil at the stricken complex in 2016. Coolant chilled to minutes 30 degrees Celsius is circulated through buried pipes, freezing the soil around the reactor buildings to prevent ground water from flowing into the structures

January 21, 2020 Posted by | Fukushima 2020 | , , | Leave a comment

Hiroshima High Courtorder Ikata nuclear reactor to be halted

n-ikata-a-20200118-870x573A group of people supporting residents opposed to running the No. 3 reactor at the Ikata nuclear power plant applaud Friday outside the Hiroshima High Court after Shikoku Electric Co. was ordered to suspend the unit.

Shikoku Electric again ordered to halt Ikata nuclear reactor over volcano risk

Jan 17, 2020

The Hiroshima High Court on Friday revoked a lower court decision and ordered Shikoku Electric Power Co. to suspend its only operable nuclear reactor in Ehime Prefecture because its preparations for a potential eruption of Mount Aso are inadequate.

The utility has previously claimed the reactor is safe to run because it would have enough advance warning of an eruption to take safety measures.

The high court also said the Nuclear Regulatory Agency’s regulations were unreasonable.

The ruling marks the second time the high court has ordered a halt of the No. 3 reactor at the Ikata nuclear power plant.

The reactor had been shut for regular maintenance work since late December and was likely to restart within a couple of months, but now must remain idled pending an appeal. Shares in the company, which didn’t disclose the court’s reason for issuing the order, plunged on the news, ending the day down 6 percent at ¥957.

The move is the latest in a series of setbacks for an industry still struggling to recover from the Fukushima nuclear disaster nearly nine years ago, with less than a fifth of the nation’s reactors having received approval to operate.

Residents near reactors have been filing numerous lawsuits against nuclear power operations in recent years, leading to some temporary closures. Utilities have generally been successful in getting rulings against them overturned on appeal.

In a statement, Shikoku Electric said the decision by the Hiroshima High Court is “extremely regrettable” and pledged to “promptly file an appeal so that the order can be revoked as soon as possible.”

In making its decision, the court considered whether the operator and the NRA’s regulations and risk estimates for a potential eruption at the caldera of Mount Aso, about 130 km away, were adequate.

Last March, three residents of nearby Yamaguchi Prefecture who had lost a case against the Ikata reactor in the Yamaguchi District Court were appealing the decision made by the Iwakuni branch. The lower court ruled the Ikata plant could continue operating because the probability of a big eruption occurring during the reactor’s life span was low, and the NRA’s safety standards were adequate.

The reactor is currently idled for scheduled inspections and the removal of spent mixed-oxide fuel was completed on Wednesday. It is expected to be restarted on April 27.

A previous order forcing a halt in operations was issued by the Hiroshima High Court in December 2017, citing the risk of Mount Aso erupting. The same court then overturned the decision in September 2018 on appeal, and Shikoku Electric restarted the reactor a month later.

hjhlmùùThe plant lies near an active faultline, the court ruled.

Japan court halts nuclear reactor restart citing volcano, earthquake risks

17 Jan 2020

TOKYO: A Japanese nuclear reactor near a fault line must remain shut because of the risk of its being struck by earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, a high court ordered on Friday (Jan 17).

All nuclear power stations were shut down after the 2011 Fukushima nuclear accident following a catastrophic tsunami, and many remain closed.

The Japanese public has turned against atomic power, despite Prime Minister Shinzo Abe insisting the nation needs nuclear plants to power the world’s third-largest economy, and the court decision was a boost for the country’s anti-nuclear movement.

The move by the Hiroshima High Court reversed a lower court decision in March that would have allowed the reactor at the Ikata nuclear plant in western Japan to resume operations.

The plant’s operator, Shikoku Electric Power, wanted to resume work at the reactor, which had been halted for routine inspections, and said it will appeal the high court’s ruling.

The case was originally lodged by residents of a neighbouring region who complained the utility failed to properly evaluate the risks posed by a local volcano and seismic faultlines.

High court presiding judge Kazutake Mori revoked the lower court ruling that paved the way for the reactor to come online.

Mori said there was an active fault line near the plant and safety assessments had been insufficient, national broadcaster NHK said.

He also argued it was not logical to assume that volcanic eruptions can be predicted far in advance, as assumed under the national standards for operating nuclear reactors, according to NHK.

“There is a fault line within 2km from the nuclear plant but Shikoku Electric has not conducted thorough surveys, and the way the Nuclear Regulation Authority reached its assessment that there was no problem contained errors and inadequacies,” the judge said, according to NHK.

Shikoku Electric criticised the ruling and stressed the scientific merit of the firm’s argument that it was safe to operate the reactor.

“After closely examining the decision, we will file a petition of objection so that the injunction will be cancelled as soon as possible,” the utility said in a statement.

January 21, 2020 Posted by | Japan | , , | Leave a comment

Reflections on the TEPCO Trial: Prosecution and Acquittal after Japan’s Nuclear Meltdown

Abstract: This article focuses on the criminal justice consequences of the nuclear meltdown at Fukushima that was precipitated by the earthquake and tsunami of March 11, 2011. Through a process of “mandatory prosecution” initiated by Japan’s unique Prosecution Review Commissions, three executives of the Tokyo Electric Power Company were charged with criminal negligence in 2015-2016. They were acquitted at trial in 2019 when the Tokyo District Court concluded there was insufficient evidence to convict. Following this verdict, Japanese prosecutors essentially said “we told you so – these cases should not have been prosecuted.” But we argue that a courtroom loss does not mean that the case should never have been brought, for the TEPCO trial and the criminal process that preceded it performed some welcome functions. Most notably, this criminal case revealed many facts that were previously unknown, concealed, or denied, and it clarified the truth about the Fukushima meltdown by exposing some of TEPCO’s claims as nonsense. At the same time, this case study illustrates the limits of the criminal sanction and the difficulty of controlling corporate crime in the modern world.

Key Words: Fukushima, criminal negligence, white-collar crime, Prosecution Review Commissions, mandatory prosecution, Japanese criminal justice


The scale of the tsunami far exceeded all previously held expectations and knowledge.”
Headline of “Important Report from TEPCO” (April 24, 2012)

“Who could they be kidding?… The Sanriku coast [in the Tohoku region of Japan] is famously like California: big earthquakes hit it often, hit it regularly, and hit it with massive tsunami.”

Harvard University Professor of Law J. Mark Ramseyer (2012)

On September 19, 2019, a panel of three professional judges in the Tokyo District Court acquitted three former executives of the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO). The defendants were former chairman Katsumata Tsunehisa (79), and former vice presidents Takekuro Ichiro (73) and Muto Sakae (69), who shared responsibility for the company’s nuclear energy sector. They had been charged with criminal negligence1 for failing to prevent the meltdown of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, which was precipitated by the earthquake and tsunami of March 11, 2011, which killed more than 18,000 people and forced 400,000 to evacuate their homes in order to escape the nuclear fallout (Hasegawa, 2013).2 

The 3/11 earthquake was the most powerful ever recorded in Japan, and it was the fourth most powerful earthquake in the world since modern record keeping started in 1900. The tsunami it precipitated reached heights up to 40 meters (130 feet), and in some places the colossal swell traveled at 700 kmh (435 mph) and surged 10 kilometers (6 miles) inland. The only nuclear accident as serious as the meltdowns at the Fukushima plant was the 1986 disaster at Chernobyl in Ukraine. But while the Fukushima triple-disaster was severe, it was not precipitated by a low-probability event. The 3/11 earthquake was a “high-probability event,” for massive earthquakes and tsunamis have been assaulting the northeastern coast of Japan for centuries – in 869, 1611, 1793, 1896, and 1933 (Ramseyer, 2012). The size of the tsunami in 2011 was almost the same as the one in 1933.

There have been many legal and political reactions to the meltdowns in Fukushima (Samuels, 2013; Aldrich, 2019). Japan stopped using nuclear power for much of 2011 and 2012, and its usage has remained low since then, though the administration of Prime Minister Abe Shinzo seems determined to restart many of the country’s reactors. More broadly, several countries, including Germany, Italy, Belgium, and Taiwan, suspended or ended their use of nuclear power, and China suspended its plan to expand its use of nuclear power for half a year. New nuclear safety laws were also established in Japan, China, and South Korea, though in most of East Asia, major changes in the field of nuclear power seem unlikely because of “nuclear power’s sunk-cost structure and embeddedness in national energy plans” (Fraser and Aldrich, 2019, p.58). As for administrative law, Japan’s lax regulatory system (Kingston, 2012) was reformed after 3/11, with the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA) and the Nuclear Safety Commission (NSC) replaced by the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA). Government supervision of the nuclear industry was also transferred from the ministry responsible for promoting it (the Ministry of Economy, Trade, & Industry, or METI) to the Ministry of Environment (MOE), which might result in more emphasis on safety and less on profit and the production of power (time will tell). In civil law, about 30 collective actions have been filed against TEPCO and government officials, in addition to some 400 individual lawsuits filed nationwide by the victims of the Fukushima meltdown (Jobin, 2019, p.74). As of September 2019, eight of the collective actions had resulted in judgments – and all found TEPCO liable (Dooley, Yamamitsu, and Inoue, 2019).3

And then there is the legal process through which criminal sanctions can be imposed. Significant efforts were made to respond to the anti-social behavior of TEPCO executives and government officials by imposing punishment on those believed guilty of violating Japanese criminal law. The central question in this essay is this: what was the criminal process good for in the TEPCO case? We argue that, despite the acquittal of the TEPCO defendants, Japan’s criminal process did some good in this case, and that when it failed it did so in ways that are common in other systems of criminal justice. The latter claim will be no consolation to the victims and survivors of 3/11, but it does reflect how hard it is to hold corporations and their executives criminally accountable for the harms that they cause, not only in Japan but in all countries. While we focus on the limits of criminal law and criminal procedure in a case that may be the biggest crime in postwar Japanese history, our point applies more broadly, for in many societies white-collar crime is “the greatest crime problem of our age” (Coleman, 2002, p. xi).4

Our essay proceeds in three parts. Part one describes the complicated process of criminal prosecution through which charges were filed against the three TEPCO executives. This part of our story involves a uniquely Japanese institution called the Prosecution Review Commission (kensatsu shinsakai), which was reformed in 2009 to enable panels of 11 citizens to override the non-charge decisions of professional prosecutors. Part two analyzes the reasoning of the Tokyo District Court and describes some of the reactions to its decision to acquit the executives. Many Japanese were harshly critical of that decision, but Japanese prosecutors essentially said “we told you so” after the Court concluded there was insufficient evidence to convict. In our view, the verdicts in this case are troubling but unsurprising, for impunity is common both in white-collar crime cases and in cases of “mandatory prosecution” (kyosei kiso) initiated by Japan’s PRCs. Part three of this article concludes by suggesting some lessons to learn from the TEPCO trial. Foremost among them is how difficult it is for criminal law and the institutions of criminal justice to control the conduct of corporations and their agents.


I. Prosecution

A Timeline summarizing the main events leading to and resulting from the triple disaster of 3/11 can be found in the Appendix to this article. The timeline shows that the earthquake and tsunami of March 11, 2011 resembled large natural disasters that had occurred many times before on the northeastern coast of Japan. In this sense, the chain of events leading to 3/11 could be traced back centuries.5 But our summary focuses on a cascade of executive, engineering, and regulatory failures that occurred in the few decades preceding the Fukushima disaster (Synolakis and Kanoglu, 2015). The Union of Concerned Scientists has concluded that “there is plenty of blame to go around” for the Fukushima meltdown (Lochbaum et al, 2014, p.245), and some other analysts share this view (Jones, 2019).6 Among the key proximate causes are the following:

*There was too little attention paid to evidence of large tsunamis that had assaulted the northeastern coast of Japan in previous decades and centuries. This heedlessness was widespread: by TEPCO executives, by regulatory officials and other agents of the Japanese state, and by the mass media.

*There were inexplicably different design conditions in the nuclear power plants located near each other in northeastern Japan. The Fukushima plant design was especially deficient.

*There were major methodological mistakes in the hazard analysis that TEPCO conducted to calculate the maximum possible tsunami at the Fukushima No.1 Nuclear Power Plant.

*In the years preceding 3/11, TEPCO made false reports during government inspections of its nuclear plants more than 200 times, and it concealed numerous plant safety incidents as well.

*There were major weaknesses in the regulation of Japan’s nuclear energy industry.7

One question concerns what conduct leading to the Fukushima meltdown can be considered criminal. Although the answer is contested, we believe many people who should have been charged and convicted were not held criminally accountable for the enormous harms that they helped cause. In June 2012, 1324 residents of Fukushima filed a criminal complaint with the Fukushima District Prosecutors Office against 33 TEPCO executives and government officials (Yamaguchi and Muto, 2012). Fifteen months later, prosecutors in Tokyo announced that they would not charge any TEPCO executives because, in their view, there was little chance of conviction. Over the next few years, two different Prosecution Review Commissions would review and reverse this non-charge decision and institute mandatory prosecution against the three former executives who would later be acquitted. This section and the pre-3/11 part of the Timeline explain how this happened.



Ultimately, three of them would be indicted, after citizens on two Prosecution Review Commissions overruled the non-charge decisions of Japan’s professional prosecutors.

A criminal trial can only occur if someone is charged with a crime. In the modern world it is prosecutors who usually make charge decisions. Even in the United States where grand juries can issue indictments, they almost always do what the prosecutor wants: investigating only those whom the prosecutor wants investigated, and indicting only those whom the prosecutor wants indicted (Blumberg, 1979, p.139). In fact, American grand juries are so likely to do the prosecutor’s bidding that critics have said they will even “indict a ham sandwich” – if that is what the prosecutor desires (Heilbroner, 1990, p.245). Thus, in the US as in Japan and most other nations, the prosecutor is the main gatekeeper of the criminal justice system. In the TEPCO case, Japanese prosecutors tried to keep the gate to criminal trial closed, but two Prosecution Review Commissions (PRCs) pried it open by compelling the indictment of the former executives. This section explains how that happened.

Prosecution in Japan has long been characterized by three qualities (Johnson and Hirayama, 2019). First, prosecutors have such broad discretion that they may have more control over life, liberty, and reputation than any other officials in the country. Second, prosecutors tend to exercise their discretion cautiously, by following a conservative charging policy which mandates that they charge a case only if it is all but certain to end in conviction. Third, the best-known results of Japan’s charging conservatism are a conviction rate that approaches 100 percent and an acquittal rate that is close to 0 (Johnson, 2002; Ramseyer and Rasmusen, 2001).

Japan’s conservative charging policy has several strengths. Most notably, it results in less use of imprisonment than do more aggressive charging policies in other democracies, most notably the United States. For progressives who are skeptical of the capacity of the criminal sanction to do good, this is a significant virtue (Packer, 1968). It is hard to say for sure, but Japan’s charging conservatism may also result in fewer wrongful convictions than more aggressive charging policies. Some critics contend that Japan’s high conviction rate results from an authoritarian approach to criminal justice in which too much power is vested in police and prosecutors and in which judges are too deferential to law enforcement’s interests. There are elements of truth in these criticisms, but one meaning of the country’s high conviction rate is that many criminal offenders who would be charged and convicted in other systems are never charged at all in Japan. In this sense, Japan’s cautious approach to charging cases is more protective of the rights and interests of criminal suspects than are prosecution systems in countries with lower conviction rates (Johnson, 2002, pp.237-242).

But Japan’s conservative charging policy also has several negative consequences. Some victims of crime feel abandoned or betrayed by prosecutors who do not charge the individual or organizational actors who have offended against them. There are relatively few criminal trials where guilt is seriously contested and where citizens can be instructed about law, government, and the duties of citizenship in the “classroom” of the courthouse (Tocqueville, 1835). When a contested trial does occur, it is difficult for some judges to remain neutral because issuing 98 or 99 convictions for every acquittal can numb their sensitivity to reasonable doubt. The supply of skilled and aggressive defense lawyering gets suppressed, for who wants to do criminal defense work when the chances of victory are so slim? The Japanese public loses some of the benefits of general deterrence that a more aggressive charging policy would generate. And in the thin layer of cases in which a crime is serious, the defendant denies guilt, and there is public pressure to produce a conviction, the risk of false confession rises, as does the risk of wrongful conviction (Johnson, 2002; Johnson, 2015).

In an effort to address some of the problems of prosecution, Prosecution Review Commissions were established in Japan in 1948, and their powers were strengthened by a legal reform that took effect in 2009 (Fukurai, 2011; Goodman, 2013). At present, there are 165 PRCs in Japan’s 50 district court jurisdictions. Each is composed of eleven citizens chosen randomly from local electoral rolls. If a prosecutor decides not to charge a case, a victim or suitable proxy can request that a PRC review the decision.8

PRCs were created during the postwar Occupation by adapting the American grand jury system to the Japanese context. In the 1930s, when Japan’s government became militaristic and fascistic, prosecutors frequently abused their powers by charging enemies and protecting allies and friends (Mitchell, 1992). Article 1 of the PRC Law of 1948 states that the main purpose of the PRC institution is to guarantee “proper and fair execution of the right of public action by reflecting the popular will,” and American officials in the Occupation described PRCs as a “safeguard against procurators who fail to prosecute cases” (West, 1992, p.694). The PRC Law left prosecutors’ decisions to charge a case unreviewable except by the courts. Most prosecutors believed this reform – a check on their non-charge decisions but no check on their decisions to charge – was more beneficial to their interests than an American-style grand jury would have been (Goodman, 2013).

A Prosecution Review Commission and an American grand jury share some similarities in form. Both rely on citizen oversight to check prosecutorial discretion, and both focus on charging decisions. But the two systems differ in function, with the American grand jury reviewing cases before an indictment is issued, and PRCs reviewing cases after a decision has been made not to charge. In most criminal justice systems, decisions not to charge are seldom subject to discussion or disapproval because the media and the public learn little about them (Davis, 1969; Bach, 2009, ch.3). In Japan, however, the possibility of review by a PRC means that prosecutors know a non-charge decision could be reviewed and (since the 2009 reform) reversed. It also means the public has a means of reviewing uncharged cases. If you believe prosecutors are inclined to protect their friends and allies, or if you think prosecutors are biased in favor of certain individuals or groups, then this form of lay participation may be a welcome development. The affirmative power to charge someone with a crime is enormous, but “the negative power to withhold prosecution may be even greater, because it is less protected against abuse” (Davis, 1969, p.188).

In the United States, there is no institution other than the media to review non-charge decisions, so a case that is not charged but should have been seldom received serious scrutiny. Moreover, in the United States, prosecutors have been so timorous about charging white-collar offenses and corporate crimes that one highly acclaimed book on the subject is called The Chickenshit Club: Why the Justice Department Fails to Prosecute Executives (Eisinger, 2017). The title comes from a speech James Comey gave to prosecutors in 2002 in the Office of the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Manhattan, where Comey was the top prosecutor (in 2013 Comey became Director of the FBI; he was fired by President Donald Trump in 2017). After spending his first months as U.S. Attorney listening to career prosecutors and learning what kind of cases they were making, he gave a speech in the criminal division, where he asked “Who here has never had an acquittal or a hung jury?” Among the go-getters and resume-builders in his office, many hands went up, whereupon Comey congratulated them by saying “You are members of what we like to call the Chickenshit Club” (quoted in Eisinger, 2017, p.xiv). As Eisinger explains,

Prosecuting wrongdoers is an awesome responsibility, to be undertaken carefully and judiciously. But prosecutors – unlike other lawyers – are not simply advocates for one side. They are required to bring justice. They need to be righteous, not careerist. They should seek to right the biggest injustices, not go after the easiest targets. Victory in the courtroom should be a secondary concern, meaning that government lawyers should neither seek to win at all costs nor duck a valid case out of fear of losing. Federal prosecutors should not be judged on their trial record, whether they are criticized or what the political consequences might be of their prosecutions. Comey wanted his prosecutors to be bold, to reach and to aspire to great cases, no matter their difficulty” (Eisinger, 2017, pp.xiv-xv).

As it turns out, Comey’s speech came to be seen as feckless, and Comey himself joined this discreditable Club by failing to pursue many white-collar offenders when he was the top federal prosecutor in Manhattan (Eisinger, 2017, p.136). More broadly, despite widespread and serious malfeasance that led to the 2008 financial crisis, no top bankers from America’s biggest financial firms were prosecuted. The problem of impunity for white-collar criminals in the United States extends far beyond finance, to pharmaceutical companies, technology giants, automobile manufacturers, transnational corporations, and beyond. In short, the U.S. Department of Justice lacks the will and ability to prosecute business elites, and so do many other prosecutors’ offices in the United States (Garrett, 2014; Soltes, 2016) and the world (Bullough, 2019).

The problem of impunity through under-prosecution is one reason why countries such as Germany, Italy, and Sweden require prosecutors to file charges when an offense is made known. Their approach reflects a “principle of mandatory prosecution,” which can be contrasted with the “principle of discretionary prosecution” that prevails in Japan, the US, and South Korea, where prosecutors have no legal obligation to charge, regardless of the state of the evidence (Johnson, 2002, p.37). In the former countries, prosecutors are, by law and tradition, supposed to have no choice but to charge. But how often is the principle of mandatory prosecution evaded or ignored? After all, there is often a gap between law-on-the-books and law-in-action. In Germany, where the principle of legalitatsprinzip has long been established, prosecutors are frequently criticized for inappropriately dismissing charges or deferring prosecution, especially in cases of corporate crime (Boyne, 2017, p.139). The German and the American examples suggest that controlling the problem of under-prosecution – especially in cases of white-collar crime – is a formidable challenge in many countries and cultures. There is much evidence to support this view (Langer and Sklansky, 2017).9

As shown in Figure 1, Japan’s reformed Prosecution Review Commissions can begin an investigation of an un-charged case in two ways: by holding a hearing in response to a claim made by a crime victim or the victim’s proxy, or (through majority vote of its 11 members) by starting its own investigation. The PRC examines each case by questioning prosecutors, summoning witnesses, and asking for advice from legal advisors (shinsa hojoin and kojo bengoshi).10 Ultimately, a PRC arrives at one of three decisions, which it presents to prosecutors in writing: (a) non-indictment is proper (fukiso soto); (b) non-indictment is improper (fukiso futo); or (c) indictment is proper (kiso soto). For the first two outcomes a simple majority vote of 6 to 5 is required, while for the third a super-majority of 8 votes is necessary. Under the revised PRC Law, a PRC’s decision is binding only after it finds that “prosecution is appropriate” two times for the same case. Then one or more “designated attorneys” (shitei bengoshi) will be appointed by a court and will file criminal charges. The designated attorney (a private attorney recommended by the Bar) plays the role of prosecutor during the investigation, trial, and post-trial appeals. In English, cases charged in this way are called “compulsory prosecutions” or “mandatory prosecutions” (kyosei kiso). We employ the latter term.11



The reformed PRC Law seems good on paper, but what effects do PRCs actually have? Until 2009, PRC recommendations to prosecutors were advisory, not binding. Hence, prosecutors could ignore a recommendation – and frequently did (Johnson, 2002, pp.222-223). Since PRCs seldom prompted prosecutors to change their non-charge decisions, they were long considered “obscure” and “underutilized” features of Japanese criminal justice (West, 1992, p.694). This was also a motivation for reforming them.
In assessing PRC influence, some analysts focus narrowly on cases of mandatory prosecution (Goodman, 2013). These are, after all, the most visible consequence of PRC activity. Japan has had only nine cases of mandatory prosecution since the PRC reform took effect in 2009 (TEPCO being the most recent), for an average of less than one case per year. See Table 1. A total of 13 people were criminally charged in these nine cases, and only 2 were convicted, for a conviction rate of 15 percent.12 Some critics of mandatory prosecution claim this low conviction rate means PRCs are pushing for prosecution recklessly, with little regard for the harmful effects on defendants and the public interest (Goodman, 2013;
Sankei Shimbun, 2019; Tokyo Shimbun, 2019). Similarly, prosecutors believe the low conviction rate in cases of mandatory prosecution vindicates their original non-charge decisions. After the TEPCO executives were acquitted, prosecutors stressed that the court had agreed with their original conclusion that “the three couldn’t be indicted or held criminally responsible,” and they claimed the team of designated attorneys who had played the prosecutorial role at trial had “failed to present sufficient proof” to convict (quoted in The Mainichi, September 20, 2019). This “we told you so” attitude is supported by some scholarly observers too (Goodman, 2013; Goodman, 2019). After the TEPCO trial, Meiji University Professor Otsuka Hiroshi said “They’re cases where prosecutors have given up on bringing charges, so in a way it’s natural that a large number of them end in acquittals” (quoted in Dooley, Yamamitsu, and Inoue, 2019).

The sentences imposed on the two defendants who were convicted after mandatory prosecution suggest that PRCs do not always focus on the most serious cases. In one, the mayor of a small town in Tokushima prefecture (on the island of Shikoku) was convicted of assault and fined 9000 yen (about $90). In the other, a sixth-grade teacher in Nagano prefecture was convicted of “professional negligence resulting in injury” for causing a head injury to one of his students, by throwing him in a judo class. He was sentenced to one-year imprisonment, suspended for three years – so he was not incarcerated.13



Measured in the currency of criminal convictions and sanctions actually imposed, mandatory prosecutions seem to have had little effect. But the influence of Japan’s reformed PRCs should not be understated. For one thing, PRCs ratify the large majority of non-charge decisions that they review, thereby lending legitimacy to the practices of professional prosecutors. In 2011, for example, PRCs concluded that “non-prosecution is appropriate” (fukiso soto) in nearly 80 percent of the cases they reviewed. To Japanese prosecutors, this is a strong endorsement of their decision-making. Moreover, the possibility of mandatory prosecution through PRC review surely causes prosecutors to charge some cases more aggressively than they otherwise would, though the frequency of this “hidden impact” is impossible to measure (Hirayama, 2019). In addition, prosecutors sometimes reconsider a non-charge decision after a PRC “kick back” a case (kenshin bakku) by ruling that “prosecution is appropriate” or “non-prosecution is not appropriate.” In the half-century from 1949 to 2001, prosecutors decided to charge in about 7 percent of the cases (1144 out of 15,990 cases) in which PRCs had recommended once that they reconsider. From 2002 to 2017, this figure tripled to 22 percent (Hirayama, 2019), largely because concerns about victims’ rights made prosecutors more responsive to their interests and desires (Herber, 2019, ch.4).14 Thus, while PRCs seldom institute mandatory prosecution, when they ask prosecutors to reconsider a non-charge decision, prosecutors change it fairly frequently. Moreover, when PRCs agree with prosecutors about the propriety of a non-charge decision, they foster the perception that prosecutors are making good charge decisions. In short, while the evidence suggests that PRCs are passive toward prosecutors and powerful offenders in some cases, this institution does perform important political and criminological functions in Japanese society. One such function concerns accountability for white-collar crime. Five of the nine PRC-indicted cases (56 percent) and nine of the thirteen defendants (69 percent) subject to mandatory prosecution involved allegations of white-collar crime by governmental, political, or corporate elites.15

One key issue in the TEPCO case concerned the jurisdiction of prosecution. This is also a political issue in that it concerns “who gets what, when, and how” (Lasswell, 1936). How did such an important case involving victims in Fukushima – a prefecture that did not use a single kilowatt of power generated by TEPCO’s nuclear power plants – get handled by prosecutors in Tokyo and by two different Prosecution Review Commissions, each of which was composed of 11 residents of the nation’s capital, which is 150 miles south of the scene where the nuclear meltdowns occurred?16 The answer to this question requires an understanding of the way in which prosecution in Japan is organized (Johnson, 2002, ch.4, pp.119-143).

Japan’s procuracy is a bureaucracy which routinely employs a system of “hierarchical consultation and approval” (kessai) that is especially thoroughgoing in high-profile cases (Johnson, 2002, pp.128-132). In the TEPCO case, too, there were many discussions between prosecutors at various levels of this bureaucracy. Ultimately, decision-making authority was vested in the executive prosecutors in the Supreme Prosecutors Office in Tokyo,17 who seemed to believe that in moving the jurisdiction to Tokyo they could exercise greater control over the case by avoiding the involvement of Fukushima citizens in a PRC review, and who realized that if charges were filed, it would be better for the trial to take place in Tokyo, where court decisions in criminal cases have long been more pro-prosecutor than in other parts of the country (Johnson, 2002, pp.67-71).

Prosecutors provided several justifications for their decision to transfer jurisdiction to Tokyo, although the transfer of venue was only announced on September 9, 2013, just a few hours before the non-charge decision was issued by the Tokyo Prosecutors Office, not the Fukushima Prosecutors Office. Procedurally, prosecutors spoke with attorneys from Fukushima before the transfer decision was made, thereby lending a patina of procedural legitimacy to their decision. Practically, since the TEPCO executives lived in Tokyo, any trials that occurred would be more convenient there (there are also many more prosecutors in Tokyo than Fukushima). Historically, a similar transfer of jurisdiction had occurred in 2003, when cases involving allegations of criminal misconduct by TEPCO officials in Fukushima and Niigata had been transferred to the Tokyo District Court. And substantively, prosecutors stressed that shifting the jurisdiction to the capital would help preserve “the stability and unity of case dispositions” (Johnson and Hirayama, 2019).

In our view, these justifications are less persuasive than a more parsimonious and political explanation: executive prosecutors did not want the TEPCO case to be charged.18 In fact, prosecutors and police did not even employ the basic methods of “coercive investigation” (kyosei sosa) that are routinely used in serious cases – search warrants, arrests, interrogations, and the like – ostensibly because TEPCO officials were “cooperating” with the investigation (Herber, 2016). A political explanation for the transfer of jurisdiction is also favored by victims, survivors, and attorneys in Fukushima. One attorney said the decision to transfer jurisdiction to Tokyo was an “extremely dirty trick,” as was the decision to announce the non-prosecutions on the day after the announcement that Tokyo would host the 2020 Olympics, when that welcome news would dominate public discussions (Johnson and Hirayama, 2019). Criticism was common in the national media too, with analysts calling the transfer of jurisdiction and prosecutors’ non-charge decision “strange” (Asahi Shimbun, 2013), “cold to victims” (Mainichi Shimbun, 2013), and “monkey wisdom” (Shukan Kinyobi, 2013). In this context, mandatory prosecution through PRC review seemed to reflect “the public will,” which was the main purpose of the law that created this institution (West, 1992, p.694).

II. Trial

During the pre-trial process that ensued after mandatory prosecution was instituted in February 2016, the issues to be contested at the TEPCO trial were defined, and relevant evidence was presented by the prosecution and defense. Then the trial took place in 38 sessions over a 27-month period, from June 30, 2017 to September 19, 2019.19 It was a shorter trial than many people anticipated, partly because the sessions (one every three weeks, on the average) were held closer together than is often the case when trials occur before a panel of professional judges.20 The Tokyo District Court did not want this trial to last as long as many high-profile contested trials have in the past (in 1999, a former nursery school teacher named Yamada Etsuko was acquitted of homicide some 21 years after she had been charged when a PRC had concluded that prosecutors’ non-charge decision was inappropriate). The TEPCO trial also attracted much attention in the media and many more observers than the courtroom in Kasumigaseki could accommodate. Even late in the trial, few analysts were confident about what the verdicts would be. We were unsure, too.

In presenting the prosecution’s case, the designated attorneys stressed that, based on knowledge that was available before 3/11, a major earthquake and tsunami were concretely foreseeable events, and that the TEPCO executives should have and could have prevented the nuclear meltdown if they had fulfilled their “duty of care” (chui gimu). According to the criminal law of professional negligence as defined in Article 211 of Japan’s Penal Code (and under orthodox interpretations of Article 211 by Japan’s judiciary), if a professional engages continuously and repetitively in acts that are potentially dangerous to others, the person who has chosen to commit those acts has a special “duty of care” (Herber, 2016). Media reporting on this trial stressed that the prosecution’s case relied on a 2002 report from the Headquarters for Earthquake Research Promotion (HERP), which stated that there was a 20 percent chance of a magnitude 8 earthquake occurring near Fukushima within the next 20 years. In actuality, the prosecution presented much evidence in addition to the HERP report, including TEPCO emails and memos that showed TEPCO executives were informed of risks and advised of countermeasures long before 3/11, as well as testimony from witnesses who suggested that executives seemed reluctant to take meaningful countermeasures against a catastrophe. To put it in plain language, the prosecution’s core claim was that TEPCO executives had allowed cost considerations and profit imperatives to prevail over considerations of public safety.
In response to the charges of criminal negligence, the defense maintained what TEPCO spokespersons have long insisted: that the company has adhered to the “basic policy of always keeping safety first” (TEPCO, 2012). It also stressed that HERP’s report was unreliable, and that other experts disagreed with its conclusions, especially the Japan Society of Civil Engineers, whose 2002 report had been emphasized by professional prosecutors in their explanations for the non-charge decisions that were subsequently overturned by the Tokyo PRCs. More fundamentally, the defense insisted that a disaster of Fukushima’s magnitude was not “concretely foreseeable,” and it argued that its 5.7-meter (19 foot) sea wall was designed to withstand a tsunami equivalent to the maximum tide level ever recorded on the Fukushima shores. For their part, the three defendants echoed at trial what TEPCO spokespersons had been saying since the 3/11 meltdown: the safeguards they took were sufficient, but they “deeply regretted” the accident that occurred and the trouble it caused to victims and survivors. Many observers found their words hollow and insincere. Apologies of this kind – “I am not causally or legally responsible, but I am sorry” – are common in Japan. One analyst has noted the tendency to “grovel through a ritual of remorse” is so routine that “it’s a running joke” in some parts of Japanese society (West, 2006, p.285).



The Tokyo District Court made three main points in its decision to acquit the former TEPCO executives (Takeda, 2019). First, the Court acknowledged that the “long-term evaluation of seismic activities,” which was published by HERP in 2002, had predicted that a tsunami of up to 15.7 meters (52 feet) could occur, but it said this assessment lacked a “concrete foundation,” and concluded that there were doubts about its “reliability.” We call this the Shaky Prediction claim. Second, based on knowledge available at the time of 3/11, the Court held that the defendants did not have an obligation to shut down the nuclear plant until safety countermeasures against a giant tsunami could be completed. We call this the No Duty to Shut It Down claim. Third and most broadly, legal standards that applied at the time of the Fukushima incident did not create an obligation for the executives to ensure the “absolute safety” of nuclear power plants. In one often-quoted sentence, the Court stated that “it would be impossible to operate a nuclear plant if operators are obliged to predict every possibility about a tsunami and take necessary measures” (Dooley et al, 2019; Olsen, 2019). We call this the Absolute Safety Not Required claim. On these three grounds, the Tokyo District Court concluded that none of the defendants is criminally responsible for the deaths of the 44 patients who were evacuated from Futaba Hospital or for the injuries of the 13 soldiers that were caused by explosions at the Fukushima plant.

In our view, all of the Court’s core claims are questionable, and so, therefore, are its conclusions.

Shaky Prediction? After the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake of 1995 brought to light a number of problems in Japan’s earthquake disaster prevention measures, a Special Measure Law on Earthquake Disaster Prevention was enacted in July of the same year. The law recognized failures to communicate and apply the results of earthquake research to the general public and to organizations that could and should prevent disasters. It also established a Headquarters for Earthquake Research Promotion, as a special governmental organization attached to the Prime Minister’s Office (HERP now belongs to the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology). Among other missions, it “evaluates seismic activity in a comprehensive manner” and “publishes evaluation results”. Its report in 2002 predicted a 20 percent chance of an M8.0 earthquake and (in such an event) tsunami heights of 8.4 to 10.2 meters, which far exceed the 5.7-meter seawall at Fukushima. But TEPCO ignored this report, claiming there was “no wave source model” for the prediction. However, other engineers have explained that “the Fukushima accident was preventable” when examining seismic hazards over long periods of time, and they emphasized that “the best practice remains to assume that the largest inferred event can occur anywhere along the coast of interest” when there are large seismic events in the historical record (Synolakis and Kanoglu, 2015, p.10). Considering the coast’s historical record, TEPCO’s failure to follow best practice is both “inconceivable” and “incomprehensible” (Synolakis and Kanoglu, 2015, p.10).

There also was an abundance of other evidence introduced at trial that major earthquakes and massive tsunamis have occurred near the Sanriku coast, including (as described at the outset of this article) an 8.1 magnitude earthquake in 1933 that caused a tsunami about the same size as its successor would be in 2011 (Ramseyer, 2012). In many fields where experts forecast the future, predictions are inaccurate and unreliable (Tetlock, 2005). In this case, however, the question was not whether a major earthquake would occur; it was when. And in science and common sense, it is taken for granted that a massive earthquake may cause a giant tsunami. Philosophically, the March 11 earthquake and tsunami have been called “black swan” events, for they were unpredictable, they had big impacts, and (after the fact) it was easy to concoct explanations that made them appear more certain than they actually were (Taleb, 2007; Aven, 2015). But scientifically and legally, a massive earthquake and a mighty tsunami near Fukushima were foreseeable events, even if their exact date was impossible to predict. TEPCO not only paid insufficient attention to historical evidence of large tsunamis striking the region (Acton and Hibbs, 2012). It also failed to follow up on its own computer simulation which showed a serious tsunami risk to the plant in 2008, three years before 3/11. But TEPCO reported the results of this simulation to NISA just 4 days before the triple disaster occurred (Kingston, 2012).

No Duty to Shut It Down? The Court’s second conclusion, that uncertainty about earthquakes and tsunamis means there was no need to shut down the nuclear reactors in Fukushima, is a grand non-sequitur (Takeda, 2019). To be sure, the nuclear meltdowns could have been prevented by shutting the nuclear reactors down. In retrospect, this extreme step would have been prudent. But shutting down the reactors was not the only way to avert nuclear catastrophe. Other countermeasures could have been taken, and some were taken by other power plants impacted by 3/11 (Soeda, 2019). The plants that took sufficient precautions did not meltdown, including Units 4, 5, and 6 of the Fukushima No.1 Nuclear Power Plant (National Academies Press, 2014; Synolakis and Kanoglu, 2015).

By insisting that the only way to avert a catastrophic meltdown was to shut down the Fukushima plants entirely, the Tokyo District Court “arbitrarily changed the frame” (katte ni dohyo o kaeta) for deciding the question of preventability, and it did so in a way that made conviction more difficult (Takeda, 2019). The Court also turned a blind eye to facts that favored conviction. If the emergency power supplies had been moved to higher ground or placed in watertight bunkers, the nuclear disaster could have been prevented. If watertight connections had been made between emergency power supplies and critical safety systems, the nuclear disaster could have been prevented. And if seawater pumps had been better protected or a backup means to dissipate heat had been constructed, the nuclear disaster could have been prevented. In short, even if the TEPCO executives did not have a duty to shut down the Fukushima plant, they repeatedly violated their duty of care by failing to take other reasonable safety precautions.21

Absolute Safety Not Required? The Court’s third conclusion, that absolute safety is not required when operating a nuclear power reactor, also rests on dubious reasoning (Soeda, 2019). For starters, TEPCO’s nuclear power plants have had numerous accidents and incidents over the years. “Absolute safety” is a pipe dream. What the law expects is reasonable care: the degree of caution and concern an ordinary, prudent, and rational person would exercise in similar circumstances. Moreover, by siting nuclear plants in convenient locations building public support for the production of nuclear energy, TEPCO executives had long fostered belief in what has come to be called the “myth of safety” (anzen shinwa) – the view that nuclear accidents could not and would not occur (Aldrich, 2014). Before 3/11, this belief “tended to stifle honest and open discussion of the risks” of nuclear power (Noggerath, Geller, and Gusiakov, 2011, p.37). After 3/11, this belief was revealed to be a fairy tale.22 In order to find that “absolute safety is not required,” the Tokyo District Court had to turn a deaf ear to TEPCO’s decades-long PR campaign, whose aim was to convince the public that nuclear energy is completely safe. It also had to turn a jurisprudential somersault, by applying a duty of care23 in a case involving nuclear power (!) that is lower than the duty of care that courts routinely apply for automobile accidents (Takeda, 2019).

In sum, the Tokyo District Court’s decision makes two major mistakes. First, by requiring the prosecution to show that shutting down the plant was the one and only way to prevent a meltdown, it raised the evidentiary bar to an unusually and unreasonably high level. Second, by lowering the “duty of care” for TEPCO executives, it defined “professional negligence” down in a way that contradicts previous judicial interpretations and that closely resembles the claims prosecutors made in their original non-charge decisions (Soeda, 2019).24

We cannot read the minds or the motives of the judges in this case, but their problematical reasoning is compatible with the view that “peculiar convictions and biases” (tokuyu na omoikomi ya baiasu) led them to their conclusion (Takeda, 2019). There is a long history of Japanese judges deferring to the interests of professional prosecutors in criminal cases (Foote, 2010). Research also shows that Japanese judges who decide cases in ways favored by the ruling party sometimes enjoy better careers than do judges who deviate from the party line (Ramseyer and Rasmusen, 2003). In this light, we should not be surprised to find that judges’ convictions in the TEPCO case closely resemble those possessed by the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and by professional prosecutors.



The outcome of the TEPCO trial also raises an interesting question: what if the trial had occurred before a lay judge panel of six citizens and three professional judges? This did not happen in the TEPCO case because under Japan’s Lay Judge Law, the only crimes eligible for lay judge trial are those for which the maximum possible punishment is a life sentence or a death sentence (only about 2 percent of Japanese crimes fall into these categories). But what if?

One prominent Japanese journalist has claimed that if there had been a lay judge trial, the citizens sitting in judgment would have been free of the “peculiar convictions and biases” that caused judges to tilt toward acquittal (and toward the procuracy and the LDP). He also believes that lay judges’ fidelity to the basic rules of criminal procedure would have led them to conviction (Takeda, 2019). In our view, this counterfactual reasoning is plausible but not persuasive. For one thing, the conviction rate in lay judge cases is actually a little lower than it was in similar cases before the lay judge reform took effect in 2009. For another, professional judges tend to dominate the deliberations by lay judge panels in Japan, much as professional judges do in criminal cases adjudicated by mixed tribunals in European countries (Johnson and Vanoverbeke, forthcoming). Moreover, to convict a criminal defendant in Japan, at least one professional judge must join the majority on a lay judge panel. Under this rule, lay judges cannot simply out-vote their professional counterparts on the bench. In the TEPCO case, persuading one judge to join their side and convict the three defendants may have been a tall order. On the other hand, this was a case in which citizens on two different PRCs overrode the non-charge decisions of professional prosecutors. It is therefore reasonable to wonder whether citizen participation in the TEPCO trial would have reached a different verdict. The answer is not obvious.


III. Lessons

Sometimes a not-guilty verdict is a miscarriage of justice – recall O.J. Simpson’s acquittal for a double-murder in 1995 (Toobin, 1996). In our view, there is proof beyond a reasonable doubt that the TEPCO executives acted with criminal negligence when they failed to exercise reasonable care in their management of the nuclear power plants at Fukushima. In fact, there was more evidence of guilt (and less room for reasonable doubt) in the TEPCO trial than in thousands of cases of negligence that result in the criminal conviction of automobile drivers in traffic accidents each year in Japan (Kawai, 2015; Takeda, 2019).

But while the TEPCO trial ended in acquittal, it was not all for naught. The trial and the criminal processes that preceded it revealed many facts that are proving useful to plaintiffs in their ongoing civil lawsuits with TEPCO and the Japanese government (Dooley, Yamamitsu, and Inoue, 2019).25 The TEPCO prosecution also revealed facts that were previously unknown, concealed, or denied (Repeta, 2013; Herber, 2016; Takeda, 2019), and it promoted public discussion of issues related to nuclear power and regulation (Jones, 2019). The criminal process also clarified the truth about Fukushima by exposing many of TEPCO’s claims as humbug and hokum. In this sense, the TEPCO trial was an elaborate and successful act of “bullshit-detection” (Frankfurt, 2005).26 Thanks to the information revealed in this case, we now know that TEPCO executives had many opportunities to increase safety at the aging Fukushima plants, and that they had many good reasons to believe more safety was imperative (Acton and Hibbs, 2012). But instead of spending money to make the Fukushima facilities safer, and instead of making improvements that could have made Fukushima as safe as the nuclear reactors at Onagawa in Miyagi prefecture (just north of Fukushima), which were assaulted by the same size tsunami but had an entirely different fate, TEPCO executives paid dozens of celebrities to appear in advertising aimed at persuading the public that safety was the company’s top priority (Horvat, 2011, p.201). Safety was not TEPCO’s top priority. Profit was (Repeta, 2011, p.186). The “most critical question” for company executives was not “how safe is safe enough?” but rather “how can we maximize profits?” (Lochbaum et al, 2014, p.248). It is not clear whether TEPCO’s priorities have changed in the post-3/11 period. In many local areas, the company continues to push for the use of nuclear power, much as it has been doing for decades (Aldrich, 2010). Backed by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry and by the cabinet of Prime Minister Abe Shinzo, TEPCO is also lobbying for permission to dump into the ocean up to one million tons of contaminated water that are currently stored in 1000 or so giant tanks on the Fukushima plant site (the water was pumped through the reactors to cool melted fuel that is too hot and radioactive to remove). TEPCO repeatedly claimed that all but one type of radioactive material (tritium, which is believed to pose a low risk to human health) had been removed to levels deemed safe for discharge under Japanese law, but in the summer of 2019 the company acknowledged that “only about one-fifth of the stored water had been effectively treated,” because TEPCO had not changed filters frequently enough in its decontamination system (Rich and Inoue, 2019). Fukushima fishermen believe that dumping the dirty water will destroy their already devastated business, and many observers believe TEPCO’s long history of dishonesty and deception means its assurances should not be trusted.

The three elderly defendants in the TEPCO trial returned home after they were acquitted, but they did not return to life as normal. The designated attorneys have appealed to the Tokyo High Court, which will hold hearings in the next year or two. Considering the tendencies of Japan’s conservative judiciary, convictions on appeal seem unlikely (Segi, 2015).

Japan’s criminal courts have long been criticized for having an “iron hand” of justice that results in conviction rates of “close to 100 percent” (Johnson, 2002, p.215),27 but in the TEPCO trial it was acquittals that prompted widespread criticism. A spokesman for Greenpeace said,
“A guilty verdict would have been a devastating blow not just to TEPCO but the Abe government and the Japanese nuclear industry. It is therefore perhaps not a surprise that the court has failed to rule based on the evidence. More than eight years after the start of this catastrophe, TEPCO and the government are still avoiding being held to full account for their decades of ignoring the science of nuclear risks”.28

Ishida Shozaburo, one of the designated attorneys, also claimed the fix was in. “This is a ruling that took the government’s nuclear power policy into consideration,” he lamented (The Mainichi, 9/20/2019). A more general version of this view holds that Japanese courts are often instruments of state power, and that Japanese judges routinely stand on the side of government by affirming its preferences – as they did in the TEPCO trial (Segi, 2014; Ramseyer and Rasmusen, 2003).29

Lawyer Kaido Yuichi, who has represented victims of the Fukushima meltdown in various legal proceedings, echoed these views when he fumed that “I never imagined such a terrible ruling would be handed down…If criminal punishments can’t be pursued for causing an accident, a similar [nuclear] accident could occur again” (The Mainichi, September 20, 2019).

Members of a support group for victims and complainants who were waiting outside the Tokyo District Court “roared in anger” when they were informed of the acquittals (Asahi Shimbun Asia & Japan Watch, September 20, 2019). Yoshidome Akihiro, an 81-year-old anti-nuclear campaigner from Tokyo, said “I had braced myself that we might not get a clean victory, but this [result] is too awful. This shows Japanese courts don’t stand for people’s interest” (Japan Today, September 20, 2019).

And an editorial in Japan’s newspaper of record called the Tokyo court ruling “baffling” because it took “a surprisingly different stance toward the predictability of the tsunami from other [Japanese] court decisions concerning the matter” (Asahi Shimbun Asia & Japan Watch, September 20, 2019).30

Around the turn of the 20th century, the scientist Marie Currie carried around a vial of radium salt because she liked the pretty blue glow. Since then there have been many atomic mistakes, accidents, and disasters (Mahaffey, 2015). Two of the biggest were Three Mile Island in 1979 and Chernobyl in 1986. The criminal justice consequences of both differed markedly from those in the Fukushima case.

On March 28, 1979, the accident that occurred at Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania began when a pump providing cooling water to steam generators stopped running. This triggered a series of events that caused a nuclear reactor to shut down (Walker, 2006). It was the 13th time in a year that problems in the cooling system had caused a shutdown. The TMI accident was much less serious than the crisis at Fukushima, but the fundamental cause was “one common and dangerous belief: that an accident at Three Mile Island, or Fukushima Daiichi, just could not happen” (Lochbaum et al, 2014, p.142). TMI has been called “the most studied accident in U.S. history, at least up to that time” (Lochbaum et al, 2014, p.149). Many analysts agree that “the accident largely resulted from safety studies and reviews that focused too narrowly on nuclear plant designs and hardware and not sufficiently on the human part of the safety equation” (Lochbaum et al, 2014, p.149, emphasis added). For example, the Kemeny Commission (appointed by President Jimmy Carter) stressed “the failure of organizations to learn the proper lessons from previous incidents” and said “we are convinced that an accident like Three Mile Island was inevitable” (quoted in Lochbaum et al, 2014, p.150).31 Other studies have revealed that organizational and management factors, not technology, were the main cause of the TMI incident (Perrow, 1984; Pidgeon, 2011). Yet America’s nuclear industry was “uncowed by these conclusions,” and in the decades that followed, the industry and its supporters repeatedly emphasized that “nobody died at TMI.” This shibboleth would become “a huge stumbling block to comprehensive safety reform” in the United States and other countries, including Japan (Lochbaum et al, 2014, p.150). In the end, a federal grand jury indicted the TMI operator, the Metropolitan Edison Company, for falsifying leak rate data and destroying documents related to the accident, but none of the human mistakes or misconduct resulted in the prosecution and conviction of corporate executives (Weinraub, 1983).

In the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster in the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, a reactor exploded during a test of emergency power availability, killing at least 31 people (this official Soviet count is contested, and it does not include those who died from the effects of radiation exposure in the years that followed). The subsequent meltdown forced the evacuation of 135,000, and it spread radioactive material across Europe and beyond. This has been called “the world’s greatest nuclear disaster” (Higginbotham, 2019). After 3/11, it took Japan’s criminal justice system eight-and-one-half years to reach verdicts in criminal court. In Chernobyl, it took just three months for the head of the nuclear power station and two of his aids to be convicted of crimes and sentenced to 10 years in a labor camp. In a summation of the criminal court’s decision, the chief judge stressed that the Chernobyl plant had been poorly administered, and that “an atmosphere of lack of control and lack of responsibility” was the main cause of the disaster (New York Times, July 30, 1987). Three other Chernobyl employees were convicted of crimes and sentenced to 5 years, 3 years, and 2 years, respectively, and three other engineers who were criminally charged had their prosecutions terminated when they died. The criminal trial of the six people who were convicted lasted all of three weeks, and most of it was closed to the public. This was a rush to judgment of the kind that is common in repressive legal systems (Nonet and Selznick, 1978, p.29). As for the remains of Chernobyl itself, they now lie within an “exclusion zone” of 1000 square miles, where wildlife flourishes in what some have called “a radioactive Eden” (Higginbotham, 2019).

Another turn of the comparative kaleidoscope focuses on a non-nuclear accident involving Japan’s nearest neighbor, South Korea. The sinking of the M.V. Sewol ferry in South Korean waters on April 16, 2014 killed 304 people – 250 of them high-school students on a class trip. Lee Jun-seok, the captain of the Sewol, jumped a railing and abandoned ship. He was one of 172 passengers and crew to survive – and one of 15 members of the crew to be convicted of criminal charges related to the sinking (Lavery, 2019). In November 2014, the Gwangju District Court found Lee guilty of negligence and sentenced him to 36 years in prison. The chief engineer of the Sewol was convicted and received a 30-year sentence, and the 13 other defendants were convicted and sentenced to terms of imprisonment up to 20 years. After the prosecution and defense appealed, Lee’s sentence was increased from 36 years to life imprisonment, while the other 14 defendants had their sentences reduced to a maximum term of incarceration of 12 years. This may not have been a rush to judgment in the Russian style, but it was fast enough to make many observers wonder if the “quick” was undermining the “careful.” The criminal prosecutions in the Sewol case were also shaped by brazenly populist and political forces that are common in Korean criminal justice (Choe, 2019) but more difficult to discern in high-profile cases in Japan – including the TEPCO case.32

The TEPCO case raises important questions about the capacity of the criminal law to hold corporations and their agents accountable. For many decades corporations have been, for good and for ill, some of the primary makers and managers of social change in Japanese society, and they are rightly considered the source of many of the country’s most serious crime problems (Miller and Kanazawa, 2000, pp.81-92). Some analysts believe the TEPCO acquittals are prima facie evidence that there was insufficient evidence to prosecute the former executives in the first place (Goodman, 2019). But in our view, “a courtroom loss, even if predictable, does not mean the case should not have been brought” (Gillers, 2000). As described above, the TEPCO trial and criminal investigations revealed many important facts and performed a variety of functions, including increased public awareness of the risks of nuclear power.

Other analysts have criticized the Tokyo PRC for presuming the possibility of a “zero-risk society” (Sankei Shimbun, August 1, 2015). On this view, using law to promote extremely low tolerance for risk creates perverse incentives for business, governmental, and civilian actors, who may become too cautious about taking risks that would lead to economic growth. But when it comes to nuclear energy, the central risk is a disaster that could be catastrophic – and that was catastrophic at Fukushima and Chernobyl. The most perverse legal incentives are those put in place by the rules of limited liability that apply to corporations in Japan and many other nations, for in the event of a disaster they cap a corporation’s liability at the fire-sale value of its net assets. As Ramseyer (2012) has observed,

Because that maximum [amount of liability] falls far short of the social costs of a nuclear meltdown, Tokyo Electric will not pay the full cost of running these reactors. Instead, it can use the law to externalize the cost of doing business. It and the other power companies built nuclear reactors that could not survive expected earthquakes. But they did not do so foolishly. They did so because the limited liability at the heart of the corporate law made it profitable to do so.”

Ramseyer is right about the effects of the legal rule of limited liability, for it creates incentives for corporations to externalize the negative consequences of their actions. But we wonder about the wisdom of contrasting profit-seeking behavior with foolishness, for what is profitable can be foolish in the extreme – and Fukushima is Exhibit A. The legal regime under which TEPCO and many other corporations operate is perverse in that it encourages and condones harmful behavior if it is profitable to the company. It is even appropriate to ask a question that some may find inflammatory: are corporations “psychopathic?”
One hallmark of corporations is that they “lack the ability to care about anyone or anything but themselves” (Bakan, 2004, p.57). This is also a defining trait of psychopathy. And when an expert on psychopathology (Dr. Robert Hare) was asked how his checklist for diagnosing this condition in individuals applied to the character of corporations, he found a close match in several other respects (see Bakan, 2004, pp.56-57):

(1) Corporations are irresponsible in that they attempt to satisfy the goal of profitability and are willing to put much else at risk in the process.

(2) Corporations are manipulative about public opinion.

(3) Corporations are grandiose, frequently insisting on their own superiority.

(4) Corporations lack empathy for the victims of their behavior.

(5) Corporations are asocial and inconsiderate of the interests of others.

(6) Corporations refuse to accept responsibility for their own actions.

(7) Corporations are unable to feel remorse.

(8) Corporations relate to others superficially, by presenting themselves to the public in a manner that seems appealing but does not reflect their real character.

In short, corporations are often “compelled to cause harm when the benefits of doing so outweigh the costs” (Bakan, 2004, p.60). This is not mainly a matter of will or malevolence. Rather, the corporation has within it, as the shark has within it, “those characteristics that enable it to do that for which it was designed” (Bakan, 2004, p.70). The result is a self-interested organization that is created and enabled by law yet difficult for law to control (Stone, 1975; Bakan, 2004; Barak, 2017). Japan’s lawmakers have done little to criminalize corporate misconduct (Matsuo, 2007), and Japanese prosecutors and judges have long been reluctant to punish corporations and their agents for the harms that they cause (Miller and Kanazawa, 2000; Johnson, 2000; Johnson, 2017). In these senses, Japanese criminal law and criminal justice resemble their counterparts in many other countries. In the TEPCO case, it was lay citizens on the Prosecution Review Commissions whose decisions led to the prosecution of a few corporate elites – and ultimately to their acquittal. In the end, Fukushima teaches lessons about the risks of nuclear energy, the awesome power to prosecute, and the limits of the criminal sanction. It also serves as a poignant reminder that “business as usual” for corporations can have terrible consequences for people and the planet, both in the present and far into the future.33 Experts believe it will take 40 to 200 years to clean up the Fukushima site (Jobin, 2019, p.73). In the meantime, the plant and its surroundings have become a huge storage area for radioactive waste and a grotesque monument to corporate misconduct, government dereliction, and criminal impunity.


Appendix: Fukushima Timeline

Our summary of the events leading to and resulting from the Fukushima nuclear meltdown of March 11, 2011 focuses narrowly, on a few decades before 3/11, and the decade or so after it. The first entries in the timeline are meant to highlight the context of 3/11 by describing events that preceded Japan’s triple disaster, while the remaining entries summarize the criminal justice aftermath.

Before 3/11

May 1960 – The Great Chilean earthquake (magnitude 9.4 – 9.6) is the largest ever recorded instrumentally. Estimates of the total number of fatalities from the earthquake and subsequent tsunamis range between 1000 and 7000. A 6-meter tsunami (20 feet) reached Japan 23 hours later, killing 138 people. In Chile, the tsunami reached 25 meters (82 feet). And the 35-foot tsunami that struck Hilo, Hawaii at 1:05 AM on May 23 killed 61 people. It was on the basis of these experiences that seawalls with normalized heights of 6 meters or so were constructed along the Sanriku coast in the Tohoku region of northeastern Japan (Synokalis and Kanoglu, 2015).

1974 – Two scholars (SL Soloviev and ChN Go) publish a 310-page book (A Catalog of Tsunamis on the Western Shore of the Pacific Ocean) which refers to 19 studies (published between 1868 and 1969) of the magnitude 8.6 Jogan earthquake of 869 AD, which had an epicenter approximately 120 kilometers west of the earthquake that occurred on March 11, 2011. This Russian book was translated into English in 1984. It assigned the Jogan tsunami an intensity of I = 4 (one of the highest values). Research published in 1971 showed that the magnitude 8.5 Showa Sanriku earthquake of 1933 generated a tsunami with heights up to 29 meters (95 feet). Hardest hit was the town of Taro in Iwate prefecture (now part of Miyako city), where 42 percent of the population was killed and 98 percent of the houses were destroyed. The seawall built to protect the Fukushima plant was 5.6 meters (18 feet). After 3/11, TEPCO argued repeatedly that there had been no reliable evidence of significantly larger tsunamis striking the eastern coast of Japan (Synolakis and Kanoglu, 2015).

July 1993 – A magnitude 7.7 earthquake occurs, causing the Hokkaido Nansei-oki tsunami that devastated the island of Okushiri with run-ups in some places reaching 30 meters (98 feet). Okushiri’s 4.5-meter seawall (15 feet) was overtopped by a tsunami of 11 meters (36 feet). In 1998, Japan spent over $600 million ($130,000 per Okushiri resident) to build an 11-meter seawall, to rebuild the main town of Aonae, and to protect about 20 kilometers (12 miles) of coastline.

2000 – Sugaoka Kei, a nuclear inspector working for General Electric at Fukushima No.1, notices a crack in a reactor’s steam dryer, which extracts excess moisture to prevent damage to the turbine. When TEPCO directs Sugaoka to cover up the evidence, he contacts government regulators, who order TEPCO to handle the problem on its own. TEPCO does, and Sugaoka is fired.

July 2002 – Japan’s Headquarters for Earthquake Research Promotion (HERP) publishes a long-term Evaluation of Seismic Activities (choki hyoka) which estimates a 20 percent chance of an M8.0 earthquake occurring in the next 30 years in the Japan Trench that includes Fukushima Prefecture.

August 2002 – The Japanese government reveals that TEPCO is guilty of false reporting in routine governmental inspections of its nuclear plants, and of concealing numerous plant safety incidents. All seventeen of TEPCO’s boiling-water reactors are shut down for inspection, and the company’s chairman, president, vice-president, and two advisers resign. TEPCO eventually admits that it submitted false technical data at least 200 times between 1977 and 2002. TEPCO’s new president announces that the company will take all necessary countermeasures to prevent fraud and restore the nation’s confidence, but in 2007 the company announces that an internal investigation has revealed other unreported incidents.

December 2004 – A 9.1 to 9.3 magnitude earthquake in the Indian Ocean near Sumatra ruptures along a fault length of 1500 km (900 miles, or longer than the state of California). The rumbling lasts 10 minutes and causes a series of tsunami waves up to 30 meters high (100 feet), killing more than 220,000 people in 14 countries. This comes to be known as the Boxing Day Tsunami.

September 2006 – In response to a 6.8 magnitude earthquake in Kobe that killed 6000 people in January 1995, Japan’s Nuclear Safety Commission (an organization within the Cabinet Office) issues 14 pages of new guidelines “concerning inspection standards for vibration resistance,” and the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (under the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry) instructs nuclear power operators to conduct “backchecks” to confirm compliance with the new guidelines. The guidelines state that Japan’s nuclear facilities must be built to withstand tsunamis “which are appropriate to expect during the operational life [40 years] of the plant even though the possibility of such occurrence may be very rare.” But they provided no guidance about what would be “appropriate to expect” (Repeta, 2011, pp.188-189).

July 2007 – A 6.8 magnitude earthquake occurs in Niigata Prefecture. Later in 2007 TEPCO acknowledges that it had known since 2003 about the 14-mile-long active fault in the seabed about 11 miles from Kashiwazaki-Kariwa, but it had not reported its findings because company staff did not believe the fault could produce an earthquake large enough to threaten the reactors. After this earthquake, all seven units at TEPCO’s Kashiwazaki-Kariwa Nuclear Power Plant are stopped and safety checks are performed. Without 20 percent of its generating capacity, TEPCO posts its first loss in 28 years, totaling $1.44 billion, and its stock value drops 30 percent. To boost public confidence, Shimizu Masataka replaces Katsumata Tsunehisa as the new TEPCO president, and Katsumata (who later became one of the TEPCO trial defendants) becomes chairman. Shimizu, a career TEPCO employee, makes cost-cutting a high priority, and within two years he returns TEPCO to profitability, exceeding his target of $615 million in cuts, partly by “reducing the frequency of inspections” (Lochbaum, Lyman, Stranahan, and the Union of Concerned Scientists, 2014, pp.50-51).

March 2008 – TEPCO makes a tentative calculation that a tsunami of up to 15.7 meters in height (52 feet) could strike the site of the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant. The calculation is reported to vice-president Muto Sakae in June 2008.

July 2008 – Vice-president Muto puts on hold a TEPCO plan to take countermeasures against a large tsunami. He suggests taking more time to study the issue, and he asks an academic society specializing in this field to do the relevant research.

January 2010 – A 7.0 magnitude earthquake and more than 50 aftershocks occur in Haiti, killing approximately 160,000 people. The fishing town of Petit Paradis is hit by a localized tsunami, killing three people.

February 7, 2011 – After 40 years of operation, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) issues TEPCO a renewed license to operate Unit 1, the oldest nuclear reactor at the Fukushima Daiichi (No.1) Nuclear Power Plant.

March 11, 2011, 2:46 PM – The Great East Japan Earthquake (higashi nihon daishinsai) occurs at 2:46 PM, Japan Standard Time. The 9.0 magnitude earthquake strikes off the northeast coast of Honshu, causing a tsunami that destroys many towns and villages. At the Fukushima Daiichi (No.1) Nuclear Power Plant, which was commissioned in 1971, the power supply and the cooling system for the reactor are damaged, causing nuclear fuel to overheat and melt down. Despite warnings from scientists, critical backup diesel generators had been placed in low-lying areas at high risk for tsunami damage. Some generators were put in the basement, and others were placed 10 to 13 meters above sea level. The tsunami heights coming ashore reached about 15 meters (49 feet). In the words of two engineering scholars who studied the meltdown, TEPCO’s placement of the emergency diesel generators was “inexplicably and fatally low” and made the Fukushima No. 1 plant “a sitting duck waiting to be flooded” (Synolakis and Kanoglu, 2015).

March 11, 2011, 7:03 PM – The Japanese government declares a nuclear emergency and issues evacuation orders to residents who live nearby. The evacuation boundaries are gradually expanded from 3 km to 30 km in the weeks to come. In total, approximately 170,000 people were evacuated from the “prohibited” and “on-alert” areas. In the coastal town of Namie-machi, mayor Baba Tomatsu learned of the nuclear crisis by watching TV, after which TEPCO and government officials directed citizen evacuees from his town of 21,000 directly into the path of the plume. Fifteen-thousand Namie citizens later signed a complaint against TEPCO, and Baba accused TEPCO and the government of “institutional murder” (Cleveland, 2019). In total, the 3/11 earthquake and tsunami killed approximately 18,000 people and forced about 400,000 to evacuate their homes in order to escape the nuclear fallout.

After 3/11

March 12, 2011 – Workers at the Fukushima plant open a Unit 2 reactor vent, which releases pressure and radioactive fumes from inside. The first of a series of hydrogen explosions at the plant rips through the building, but the reactor remains intact. Approximately 160,000 people living near the plant vacate their homes.

December 16, 2011 – Japan’s government says it has contained the leaking reactors, which are now in a state of cold shutdown.

June 11, 2012 – Some 1324 Fukushima residents file a criminal complaint with the Fukushima District Prosecutors Office against 33 TEPCO executives and government officials.

June 20, 2012 – TEPCO releases an accident report that says the strength of the tsunami was beyond what could have reasonably been foreseen.

July 4, 2012 – A panel of experts appointed by the Japanese Diet releases a report which concludes that the Fukushima nuclear accident was “a profoundly manmade disaster – that could and should have been foreseen and prevented” (National Diet of Japan, 2012). This report has been criticized for stressing the purported dysfunctions of “Japanese culture,” thereby obscuring personal and political responsibility for the decisions that led to the meltdown (Curtis, 2012).

September 7, 2013 – Tokyo is selected to host the 2020 Summer Olympic Games. In a speech to the International Olympic Committee, Prime Minister Abe Shinzo says the Fukushima crisis is “under control,” though decontamination and decommissioning work is expected to continue for decades.

September 9, 2013 – The Fukushima District Prosecutors Office officially transfers the criminal case to the Tokyo District Prosecutors Office. On the same day, prosecutors in Tokyo announce that they will not charge the TEPCO executives because there is little chance of obtaining convictions.

October 2013 – A Citizens Group from Fukushima asks a Prosecution Review Commission (kensatsu shinsakai) in Tokyo to review prosecutors’ non-charge decision against 6 of the former TEPCO executives.

July 2014 – The Prosecution Review Commission in Tokyo finds that “prosecution is appropriate” (kiso soto) for 3 of the former executives, which obligates prosecutors to reinvestigate the case.

January 2015 – For the second time, the Tokyo District Prosecutors Office decides not to charge the 3 former executives.

July 31, 2015 – A Prosecution Review Commission in Tokyo concludes for the second time that “prosecution is appropriate” (kiso soto), which initiates the process of “mandatory prosecution” (kyosei kiso). The panel of 11 citizens on this PRC decide that the three former executives should be tried for negligently causing: (a) the deaths of 44 patients from Futaba Hospital, who died during their evacuation from the area around the Fukushima plant, and (b) the injuries of 13 Self Defense soldiers who were hit by rubble thrown by explosions at the Fukushima plant. These 57 people became the designated victims in the TEPCO criminal trial.

August and September 2015 – The Tokyo District Court appoints five private attorneys (recommended by Nichibenren, the Japan Federation of Bar Associations) to be the “designated attorneys” (shitei bengoshi) to play the role of prosecutor in the mandatory prosecution of the three former executives.

February 2016 – The designated attorneys charge the three former executives with “professional negligence resulting in death or injury” (gyomujo kashitsu chishishozai). The maximum criminal punishment for this crime is five years imprisonment or a fine of not more than 1 million yen (about $9100). This was the ninth case of mandatory prosecution since a legal reform in 2009 enabled PRCs to override the non-charge decisions of professional prosecutors and compel prosecution. In the previous eight cases, only 2 out of 11 defendants were convicted.

March 17, 2017 – For the first time, a court orders TEPCO and the Japanese government to pay compensation (38.6 million yen, or about $340,000) to some of the residents who had fled their homes after the nuclear disaster. A total of at least 30 civil lawsuits have been filed against TEPCO and the Japanese government over their failure to anticipate and prevent the 2011 meltdown. As of September 2019, eight judgments have been rendered, and TEPCO has lost all eight (Dooley, Yamamitsu, and Inoue, 2019).

June 30, 2017 – In the first session of their criminal trial at the Tokyo District Court, the three former executives plead “not guilty.” All claim they “do not recognize any predictability in the disaster.” Over the next 27 months, 37 more trial sessions are held. In the penultimate trial session on March 12, 2019, the designated attorneys asked the Court to impose a prison sentence of five years on each of the three defendants.

September 19, 2019 – The three TEPCO defendants are acquitted. Presiding Judge Nagafuchi Kenichi takes nearly three hours to read the court’s decision, which acknowledges that the executives were aware that a massive tsunami could strike the Fukushima plant, but concludes that there was not enough evidence to find that the executives should have suspended the plant’s operation in order to avoid a nuclear accident. The court-appointed prosecutors appealed on September 30, 2019, and the appeals process is expected to take at least a year or two.



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More precisely, the three former executives were charged with “causing death or bodily injury through negligence in the pursuit of social activities” (gyomujo kashitsu chishisho), which is defined by Article 211 of Japan’s Penal Code as follows: “A person who fails to exercise due care required in the pursuit of social activities and thereby causes the death or injury of another shall be punished by imprisonment with or without work for not more than 5 years or a fine of not more than 1,000,000 yen. The same shall apply to a person who through gross negligence causes the death or injury of another”.


A discussion of the health effects of radiation is beyond the scope of this essay. For summaries, see Thomas and Symonds (2016) and Hooper (2015).


The number of civil lawsuits brought against TEPCO “is far fewer than the number brought in similar cases in the U.S.,” such as the Deepwater Horizon BP Gulf of Mexico oil spill of 2010 (Yamaguchi and Muto, 2012, p.5).


We define white-collar crime as “an illegal act, punishable by law, committed by an individual or organization in the course of a legitimate occupation wherein a public … trust is violated” (Walters, 2002, p.129).


On the perils of forgetting past tsunamis and neglecting their implications for the present, see Bonnie Henderson, The Next Tsunami: Living on a Restless Coast (2014), about a tsunami that struck the Oregon coast on March 27, 1964, after a magnitude 9.2 earthquake in Alaska. As geologic oceanographer Chris Goldfinger observes in this fine book, “It seems that the more ‘advanced’ a society becomes, the shorter its memory.” Two-and-one-half centuries earlier, on January 26, 1700, another massive tremor in the Pacific Northwest caused a tsunami that devastated coastal regions in Japan, some 5000 miles away. In a fascinating and frightening essay, Kathryn Schulz (2015) has summarized science that shows another earthquake and tsunami – “the really big one” – will sooner-or-later “destroy a sizable portion of the coastal Northwest” of the United States. In her view, the only question is when – and northwestern North America is utterly unprepared for it.


The story of the nuclear meltdowns at Fukushima is closely tied to Japan’s pursuit of rapid economic growth in the postwar period. Indeed, one fundamental cause of this disaster is “the boundless appetite for power needed to drive [Japan’s] economy” (Repeta, 2011, p.192).


A recent review of worldwide nuclear accident data found that “Japan has had more nuclear accidents of greater severity than other countries” (Behling, Williams, and Managi, 2019, p.308).


Unlike the selection of jurors in the United States and of lay judges in Japan, there is no voir dire for selecting PRC members, though some citizens are excluded by law from participating, including ex-convicts and elected officials. Each member of a PRC serves for six months, and a foreperson is selected to lead it. The PRC system is administered by a government office known as the Prosecution Review Commission Office, and each PRC is largely reliant on secretaries (jimukan) in the judiciary for assistance in managing and processing its caseloads (Fukurai, 2013).


In addition to corporate and white-collar crime, at least two other types of crime are under-prosecuted in many societies, including Japan and the United States: sexual assaults, and domestic violence. In the United States, shootings by police are seldom charged as well (Zimring, 2017, ch.9). On the tendency of law (“governmental social control”) to more often be directed “downward” (toward persons who lack wealth, power, prestige, and influence) than “upward,” see Donald Black, 1976, pp.11-36. On the same tendency in Japan, see David T. Johnson (1999), which echoes Jonathan Swift by noting that criminal laws in Japan “are like cobwebs, which may catch small flies, but let wasps and hornets break through.”


One question concerns how much influence legal advisors have on PRC decision-making. More research is needed on this subject, but three things seem clear. First, the legal advisor’s role is important. Second, many legal advisors are unsure how proactive to be in their interactions with PRC members, and some believe they should not lead a PRC to deliberate or vote in a certain way. Third, final authority for making a charge decision rests with the PRC. Note, too, that requests for PRC review come from ordinary citizens (not from legal advisors), and that in high-profile cases (such as TEPCO and Rikuzankai), the citizens who serve on a PRC are often aware of relevant facts and issues. For more on legal advisors, see JFBA (2016).


In most cases of mandatory prosecution, the designated attorneys are not well paid. In the TEPCO case, for example, each designated attorney was paid less than 1,000,000 yen per year, which is less than $10,000 (Nishimura, 2019). In 2016, the Japan Federation of Bar Associations published a 15-page report recommending a number of PRC reforms, including pay increases, “management improvements,” and other “system reforms” (see JFBA, 2016).


Japan’s PRCs are not the only legal institutions that have failed to produce many criminal convictions. In nearly two decades, the highly publicized International Criminal Court “has won only four convictions, and its caseload has consisted mainly of African leaders” (see Londono, 2019).


Death and serious injury are common in Japanese judo classes. From 1983 to 2011, at least 118 students died as a result of judo class exercises (an average of 4 deaths per year). In the Nagano trial, Kojima Takeshima, the father of one judo victim (Kojima Musashi) and the vice president of the Judo Accident Victims Association, testified about the frequency of judo deaths and injuries.


The figures for 1949 to 2001 come from unpublished studies by former prosecutor Yamashita Terutoshi. We are grateful for his assistance. For the decade from 2002 to 2011, Yamashita found that the charge rate by prosecutors after a PRC “kicked back” a case was 25 percent.


The five white-collar crime indictments are: (1) professional negligence by the Deputy Chief of the Akashi Police Department in the Akashi Pedestrian Bridge incident; (2) professional negligence by three railway company presidents in the JR West Amagasaki Rail Crash case; (3) insider trading by a company president in the Okinawa Unlisted Stock Fraud case; (4) political funding violations by Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) leader Ozawa Ichiro in the Rikuzankai case; and (5) corporate and professional negligence by three executives in the TEPCO case.


Article 2 of Japan’s Code of Criminal Procedure states that “The territorial jurisdiction of courts is determined by the place where the crime was committed, the place where the domicile or the residence of the accused is located, or the place where the accused is at present.” In the TEPCO case, the second and third provisions were deemed to trump the first one, though the process by which this occurred warrants additional study (Articles 17, 18, and 19 of the CCP are also relevant).


More precisely, control of the TEPCO case shifted from Fukushima to Tokyo through shobun seikun (“request for instructions as to steps to be taken”), which is “less a form of consultation and approval than a complete ‘takeover’ of the case by prosecutor executives” (Johnson, 2002, p.131).


Some analysts believe prosecutors did not want to indict TEPCO executives because a former Prosecutor General (kenji socho, which is Japan’s top prosecutor) had “descended from heaven” (“amakudatte iru”) to be an auditor (kansayaku) for the company (Kawai, 2015). On this view, corruption and/or old-boy influence caused prosecutors not to charge.


Summaries of each TEPCO trial session and of the judicial decision are available here.


Trials before lay judge panels need to be more concentrated in time than trials before panels of professional judges because the citizens who serve as lay judges have work and family responsibilities.


If the TEPCO executives really believed that a severe nuclear accident was impossible, their belief must have been the product of considerable “confirmation bias” (the tendency to overvalue evidence that supports a pre-existing belief and undervalue evidence that contradicts it). Responsibility for the failure to recognize and resist this bias can be located in many actors and institutions, but much of it surely belongs in TEPCO’s safety-second organizational culture (Diet Report, 2012) and in Japan’s lax system of regulation (Kingston, 2012). The next sub-section suggests that Japanese judges in the TEPCO trial may also have been influenced by confirmation bias in their evaluation of evidence about safety and reasonable care.


Of course, even after 3/11, the “myth of safety” was not always acknowledged to be a fairy tale, even in the United States (Pascale, 2017).


A legal “duty of care” is the requirement that a person act toward other people and the public with the watchfulness, attention, caution, and prudence that a reasonable person in the circumstances would use. If a person’s actions do not meet this standard of care, then his or her acts are considered “negligent.”


The Tokyo District Court also disregarded evidence that TEPCO had repeatedly concealed nuclear plant safety incidents. As explained in the Timeline in our Appendix, TEPCO admitted in August 2002 that it had submitted false technical data at least 200 times between 1977 and 2002, and in 2007 it announced that an internal investigation had revealed still more unreported safety problems.


In civil cases in Japan, nuclear victims “have to overcome high hurdles to make use of judicial remedies,” and most lawyers have not been educated to employ innovative strategies within their practice (Suami, 2015, p.184). More generally, on the consequences of Fukushima in Japanese civil and administrative law, see Matsui (2018) and Jobin (2019).


Princeton University philosopher Harry G. Frankfurt believes one of the most salient features of modern cultures is that “there is so much bullshit,” and he argued that “bullshit is a greater enemy of the truth than lies are” (Frankfurt, 2005, pp.1, 61). For similar views, see Michiko Kakutani’s (2018) account of “the death of truth,” “the decline and fall of reason,” and the rise of “propaganda and fake news” in the modern world.


The common view is simplistic and misleading. A Japanese criminal justice system that convicts almost all defendants is actually quite protective of the interests of criminal suspects, because many suspects who would get charged in similar circumstances in other criminal justice systems (including those in the USA) do not get charged in Japan (Johnson, 2002, p.214; Foote, 1992, pp.346-350; Bazelon, 2019).


The acquittals in the TEPCO trial were not only important to Japan’s nuclear industries and the Abe administration, which has long supported nuclear power. They were also welcomed by proponents of nuclear energy around the world, including GE, Westinghouse, Areva, and the uranium mining industry.


For an insightful critique of two contrasting views of Japan’s judiciary (“Political Lackeys or Faithful Public Servants?”), see Frank Upham (2005).


A spokesman for TEPCO declined to comment on the acquittals but said the company expressed its “sincere apologies for the great inconvenience and concern that the TEPCO Fukushima nuclear accident has caused on the people of Fukushima prefecture and society as a whole” (quoted in Dooley, Yamamitsu, and Inoue, 2019). He might just as well have said: “Sorry about the radiation, folks. We know it is inconvenient.”



John G. Kemeny was the President of Dartmouth College. The complete text of the Kemeny Commission’s report (1979, pp.1-178) is available here.


There are, of course, other cases that could be compared to TEPCO. One is the Deepwater Horizon (British Petroleum) oil spill of April 2010, which was the largest marine oil spill on record and one of the biggest environmental disasters in American history. The original explosion killed 11 workers, and nearly 5 million barrels of oil (210 million gallons) were spilled in the Gulf of Mexico. In November 2012, British Petroleum and the U.S. Department of Justice settled federal criminal charges, with BP pleading guilty to 11 counts of manslaughter, two misdemeanors, and a felony count of lying to Congress. BP also agreed to four years of government monitoring of its safety practices and ethics, and the Environmental Protection Agency announced that BP would be temporarily banned from new contracts with the US government. In 2014, a U.S. District Court judge ruled that BP was primarily responsible for the oil spill because of its “gross negligence” and “reckless conduct.” As of 2018, cleanup costs, charges, and penalties had cost the company more than $65 billion (including $18.7 billion in fines, the largest corporate settlement in U.S. history). By comparison, the Japan Center for Economic Research has estimated that cleanup costs for Fukushima will reach at least $470 billion.


The most urgent example of the perils of “business as usual” is global warming, which is “worse, much worse” than most people think (Wallace-Wells, 2019). Without major change in how corporations conduct business (and how billions of people conduct their lives), parts of planet earth could well become “close to uninhabitable” by the end of this century, and other parts will surely become “horribly inhospitable” (Wallace-Wells, 2019). We do not claim that solutions to this problem are simple, and we thank Japan Focus editor Mark Selden for pointing out the importance of considering the possibility (and necessity?) of “slower growth in a redistributive world economy” (email of December 25, 2019). We also recognize that some analysts believe nuclear energy is a “viable and practical solution to global warming” (Cravens, 2008). Even Adam Higginbotham (2019), author of a terrifying history of the nuclear meltdown at Chernobyl, observes that from a statistical point of view, nuclear power is safer than alternative sources of energy such as coal and oil.


January 21, 2020 Posted by | Fukushima 2020 | , , | Leave a comment

No long-term prospects in Japan for reusing, storing spent MOX fuel

hhlmùùA spent nuclear fuel rod is seen stored in a pool at the No. 3 reactor building at the Ikata Nuclear Power Plant in the Ehime Prefecture town of Ikata on Jan. 14, 2020

January 15, 2020

There are no prospects that spent mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel, made by reprocessing spent nuclear material, can be further reprocessed and reused for nuclear power generation in accordance with the Japanese government’s energy policy. Storing such fuel for a long period has thus raised safety concerns.

Shikoku Electric Power Co. showed work to replace and store MOX fuel in the No. 3 reactor building at its Ikata Nuclear Power Plant to media outlets on Jan. 14.

It was the first time that the company has removed spent MOX fuel since it began to use MOX fuel — produced by extracting plutonium and other reusable nuclear materials from spent nuclear fuel and mixing them with uranium — for commercial power generation at the plant.

An employee operated a crane to extract MOX fuel rods, each of which is about 4.1 meters long and weighs some 700 kilograms, from the reactor core and transfer them into a storage pool one by one inside the reactor building.

According to the company, work to extract spent nuclear fuel rods began on the evening of Jan. 13, and will have removed 16 rods by Jan. 16. In early March five new rods will be inserted into the core. The firm will keep cooling down spent MOX fuel in the pool for more than 10 years.

However, the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) has expressed concerns that the storage of spent MOX fuel in the pool over such a long period is highly dangerous. In case of a power blackout, the temperature of the water in the pool could not be maintained at a certain level and it would become unable to cool the fuel just as was the case with the Fukushima nuclear crisis.

“From the viewpoint of safety, it’s undesirable that a large number of such rods are preserved,” said NRA Chairman Toyoshi Fuketa.

Furthermore, spent MOX fuel generates heat about three to five times that generated by ordinary used nuclear fuel. In case of trouble with a cooling system, such MOX fuel would be far more dangerous than conventional spent nuclear material.

Nevertheless, an employee of an electric power company confessed that the firm “has no leeway to think about what it should do after cooling down spent MOX fuel.”

Pools holding spent fuel at nuclear power plants are almost full, and utilities operating atomic power stations are struggling to find places to store the material.

The Federation of Electric Power Companies of Japan (FEPC) intends to use MOX fuel in 16 to 18 nuclear reactors across the country. Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc. (TEPCO) and Chubu Electric Power Co. had planned to use MOX fuel in the No. 3 reactor at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa Nuclear Power Plant in Niigata Prefecture, and the No. 4 unit at the Hamaoka Nuclear Power Plant in Shizuoka Prefecture, respectively.

However, such fuel is being used at only four reactors — Ikata’s No. 3 reactor, the No. 3 and 4 reactors at Kansai Electric Power Co.’s Takahama plant in Fukui Prefecture and the No. 3 unit at Kyushu Electric Power Co.’s Genkai complex in Saga Prefecture.

If MOX fuel is used at more reactors, the amount of spent material will keep increasing. However, utilities are dealing with the problem by shifting fuel whose heat generation volume has declined to facilities where the spent fuel is air-cooled.

The government is aiming to reprocess spent MOX fuel to reuse it in an effort to “effectively utilize resources.” If spent nuclear fuel including MOX fuel were to be disposed of as radioactive waste, the government’s atomic power policy based on the assumption that spent nuclear fuel should be reused would waver.

Japan and France are the only countries in the world that are still working on the extraction of reusable nuclear materials from spent MOX fuel. Japan’s Agency for Natural Resources and Energy will have allocated a total of 1.4 billion yen from state budgets in fiscal 2019 and 2020 for basic research on reuse of spent MOX fuel, and will earmark more funds through fiscal 2024.

However, it remains to be seen how far such technology can be developed in the foreseeable future.

“There have been no research achievements enabling the commercial use of the technology,” said an official of the Japan Atomic Energy Agency.

Even if the technology to reuse spent MOX fuel is developed, there is a possibility that sufficient funds will not be secured to put it into commercial use unless idled nuclear power stations are restarted steadily because massive amounts of money are needed just for reprocessing spent nuclear fuel. Many atomic power stations remain offline because safety regulatory standards for such facilities have been stiffened following the outbreak of the Fukushima nuclear crisis in March 2011.

An official of the Agency for Natural Resources and Energy said the reprocessing and reuse of spent MOX fuel is not a priority.

“There is approximately 19,000 metric tons of ordinary spent nuclear fuel that hasn’t been reprocessed in Japan, and priority is placed on reprocessing such material into MOX fuel. The volume of spent MOX fuel is extremely small, and we’re not working fast enough to consider how to reuse such fuel,” said the official.

(Japanese original by Yuichi Nakagawa and Ryoko Kijima, Matsuyama Bureau, and Suzuko Araki, Riki Iwama and Yuka Saito, Science & Environment News Department)

January 21, 2020 Posted by | Japan | , | Leave a comment

Costs for managing Japan’s nuclear plants to total 13 trillion yen

KYODO NEWS Jan 15, 2020

The total costs to implement government-mandated safety measures, maintain facilities and decommission commercially operated nuclear power plants in Japan will reach around 13.46 trillion yen ($123 billion), a Kyodo News tally showed Wednesday.

The amount, which could balloon further and eventually lead to higher electricity fees, was calculated based on financial documents from 11 power companies that own 57 nuclear reactors at 19 plants, as well as interviews with the utilities.

Two years after the 2011 Fukushima nuclear crisis, the Japanese government introduced new safety standards which made measures against natural disasters and major accidents mandatory for restarting reactors.

The power companies have been given the option of either maintaining their idled nuclear power plants and restarting them once they had implemented the required safety measures, or decommissioning their plants.

But it has become clear either choice required massive costs. Of the total costs, 5.4 trillion yen was for safety measures implemented as of last month at 15 power plants they are trying to restart.

Decommissioning costs for 17 reactors belonging to nine nuclear power plants, which were deemed too expensive to implement safety measures for, totaled around 849.2 billion yen. As the estimated costs for decommissioning the No. 1 to No. 4 reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant run by Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc. differ, they were not included in the figure.

Maintenance costs, which will not only apply to restarted plants in operation but also to idled ones and those in the process of being decommissioned, are required for 54 reactors at 17 plants. Those under construction were excluded.

In the six years from fiscal 2013, when the new regulations were introduced, they totaled around 7.2 trillion yen.

The costs include labor, repairs and others considered nuclear power plant expenses as shown in each company’s annual securities report. But plant depreciation costs and a reserve for dismantling facilities were subtracted as they overlapped with some expenses for safety measures and decommissioning.

Maintenance fees will be required every year moving forward and are expected to continue to grow from the annual costs of around 1 trillion yen across the 11 utilities.

The total costs could further rise by several hundred billion yen as money needed to construct anti-terrorist facilities, also required under the new safety standards, was not included in the figures of some of the companies.

The majority of the 17 reactors at nine power plants slated for decommissioning are aging and they also include four at the Fukushima Daini complex, which local officials requested to be scrapped.

gjmjijpFile photo taken from a Kyodo News helicopter on May 30, 2019, shows the No. 3 (L) and No. 4 reactors at Kansai Electric Power Co.’s Takahama nuclear power plant in Fukui Prefecture, central Japan.

The total costs to implement government-mandated safety measures, maintain facilities and decommission commercially operated nuclear power plants in Japan will reach around 13.46 trillion yen ($123 billion), a Kyodo News tally showed Wednesday.

The amount, which could balloon further and eventually lead to higher electricity fees, was calculated based on financial documents from 11 power companies that own 57 nuclear reactors at 19 plants, as well as interviews with the utilities.

Two years after the 2011 Fukushima nuclear crisis, the Japanese government introduced new safety standards which made measures against natural disasters and major accidents mandatory for restarting reactors.

The power companies have been given the option of either maintaining their idled nuclear power plants and restarting them once they had implemented the required safety measures, or decommissioning their plants. But it has become clear either choice required massive costs.

Of the total costs, 5.4 trillion yen was for safety measures implemented as of last month at 15 power plants they are trying to restart.

January 21, 2020 Posted by | Japan | , | Leave a comment

To 21st January – climate/nuclear news

With apologies to Samuel Johnson and “MadMen” – “Nothing concentrates the mind like the prospect of the economy going bust ”  Now, at the 50th anniversary meeting of  the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, climate change is the top subject. While poorer countries for a decade or more have suffered extreme droughts, floods -the impacts of global heating, it has taken the extreme wildfires of a rich country, Australia, to make the world’s big business people now sit up and take notice.

The case of Australia is remarkable also, in that the wildfires’ consequences have affected an entire continent.

While the news media is now more awake up to the global heating crisis, thing are pretty quiet on the nuclear scene.  The world continues to teeter on the nuclear war brink, and the millennials are apprehensive about this. On January 23rd, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists will announce the 2020 time of the Doomsday Clock.

A bit of good news – Dutch Guy Famous for Cleaning Up Pacific Garbage Patch is Now Clearing the World’s Rivers Too

Climate change afflicting the health of the world’s children. New review confirms that global heating  increases the risk of wildfires. The oceans are getting hot.

Debunking James Hansen’s claims in favour of nuclear power.

Low dose radiation causes cell mutations – new research.

Nuclear industry in terminal decline – over to solar and wind. Nuclear’s swansong?

AUSTRALIA.  Much of Australia might simply become too hot and dry for human habitation. Australia led the world in climate action, in 2012 with the Gillard Labor government.

JAPAN. Japan’s Olympics – recovery for Fukushima? rescue for the nuclear industry? Japanese High Court rules against nuclear reactor restart.  No chance of re-using spent mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel, its storage highly dangerous.

IRAN. Tehran warns it may cease cooperation with IAEA.

KENYA. Vast swarm of locusts ruining the livelihood of 1000s in East Africa.

CHINA. China’s nuclear ghost city 404 – a personal story. New report: China soon to join countries with renewables cheaper than coal.

TURKEY. In Turkey, renewable energy rising, as nuclear partnership with Japan is scrapped.


UK.  UK’s nuclear region, Cumbria, has unusually high rates of certain cancers. Bottled Water Use – Many West Cumbrians frightened to drink the tap water.

In UK, energy bosses bullying locals into submission over Sizewell nuclear build?  The highly controversial question of how to fund UK’s nuclear build. Britain’s Sizewell nuclear project in jeopardy, as EDF struggles to get funding. As building large nuclear stations stall in UK, sites are picked for ‘small’ nuclear reactors.

Britons want real action on climate change, but Boris Johnson’s govt missing in action on this.

EUROPE. European Parliament endorses $1.6 trillion investment plan for Green New Deal.  Europe’s Just Transition Mechanism excludes nuclear from the European Green Deal.  V4 group and Austria disagree on nuclear power.

BELGIUM. Belgium lawmakers narrowly agree to keep U.S. nuclear weapons, Belgian public overwhelmingly opposes this.

BELARUS. Anxiety in Belarus and Lithuania, over new Chernobyl-style nuclear power station.

TAHITI. Australian bushfire smoke across the Pacific shows how French nuclear tests spread radiation.

MIDDLE EAST.  Nuclear reactors for the gulf region could be an even worse threat than global heating.

FRANCE. Significant drop in France’s nuclear energy production.

CANADA. The fallout from a false nuclear alarm .

January 21, 2020 Posted by | Christina's notes | Leave a comment

Work begins to remove spent MOX fuel at Ikata nuclear plant in Ehime

n-ikata-a-20200116A pool containing used mixed-oxide fuel that was removed from reactor No. 3 of the Ikata nuclear power plant in Ehime Prefecture on Tuesday

January 15, 2020

MATSUYAMA, EHIME PREF. – Shikoku Electric Power Co. has started removing nuclear fuel, including spent mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel, from a nuclear reactor in western Japan.

The work at the No. 3 reactor at the company’s Ikata nuclear plant in Ehime Prefecture, which began late Monday night, is the first time used MOX fuel, a blend of plutonium extracted from spent nuclear fuel and uranium, has been removed from any commercial nuclear power plant in Japan excluding tests.

A total of 157 fuel assemblies, including 16 MOX fuel assemblies, will be removed. The work is expected to continue through Thursday.

The work was originally scheduled to start at 12 a.m. Monday, but was delayed as the firm was investigating an incident that occurred during preparation work Sunday, in which a control rod was removed from the reactor by mistake and was re-inserted seven hours later.

Japan is not equipped to reprocess spent MOX fuel. Shikoku Electric, therefore, will store the MOX fuel at the power plant for the time being.

In March, five new MOX fuel assemblies will be installed in the reactor.

January 21, 2020 Posted by | Japan | , , | Leave a comment

Radiation concerns overshadow Tokyo

Ahead of the Summer Games, independent readings remain high


12202029While many are concerned about radiation at venues located north of Tokyo, some readings have shown high levels a few miles from the Olympic Stadium, above.

Jan 13,2020

The 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo is now just over six months away, but rather than excitement, there is growing apprehension regarding the radiation levels in Japan.

In the aftermath of the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, the Japanese Ministry of Environment has downplayed concerns regarding radiation in the country, but local civic groups and environmental organizations around the world still have their suspicions. Looking at the radiation levels of the sites where each sporting event will be held, it is understandable why so many are concerned.

The J-Village, which is the official training site of the Japanese women’s football team and where the torch relay will start on March 26, is located about 10 kilometers (6 miles) south of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. The Japanese women’s football team is scheduled to kick off the torch relay across the country.

Operated by Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco), the power plant suffered severe damage from the magnitude 9.0 earthquake and tsunami that struck in 2011. The damage to several reactors led to leaks of radiation, which is considered the biggest problem ahead of the Games.

When the environmental organization Greenpeace measured the radiation levels of a grassy area near the parking lot of the J-Village in October 2019, the measurement came out to be 71 microsieverts per hour (μSv/h) close the surface and 32 μSv/h at 10 centimeters (4 inches) above the surface, even though the Japanese Ministry of Environment has pledged to keep the reading to below 0.23 microsieverts per hour, according to a report released by the organization.

In the response to the report, the Japanese Ministry of Environment and Tepco moved fast to remove the soil around the hotspot uncovered by Greenpeace Japan.

Based on a Greenpeace report released in December, the organization returned to the J-Village to conduct tests once again and found that the levels at the specific location had dropped to lower than 1 μSv/h at 10 centimeters. However, on the same day just to the north of that hotspot, Greenpeace tested an area adjacent to the parking lot, where levels were up to 2.2 μSv/h at 10 centimeters. Near the entrance of this same parking lot, Greenpeace measured 2.6 μSv/h at 10 centimeters.

“Many questions and uncertainties remain: how were such high levels of radiation (71 μSv/h at close to surface) not detected during the earlier decontamination by Tepco? Why were only the most alarming hotspots removed and not the wider areas following the standard decontamination procedures?” asked Heinz Smital, nuclear physicist and radiation specialist at Greenpeace Germany.

After a request of the Japanese government, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) agreed to host some of the Olympic baseball and softball games at Fukushima Azuma Baseball Stadium, which is only 97 kilometers away from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant.

The Miyagi Stadium, located in Miyazaki, is a football venue for the Games and is about 118 kilometers away from the power plant.

Since both sites are located relatively close to the site of the accident, many have expressed concerns, as football and baseball are expected to be some of the most popular events at the Olympics this summer.

Interestingly, there hasn’t been much data published regarding those two sites. But when the radiation levels are measured by the organization that takes care of Azuma Stadium every month, the number doesn’t go any higher than 0.2 μSv/h.

Once again, environmental organizations are suspicious. When Greenpeace measured the radiation levels at Namie, located 10 kilometers north of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, the radiation levels were as high as 100 times more than the international limit for public exposure. Although the contaminated soil has been removed, the levels still go up when it rains because the soil from the top of the forest runs down to the decontaminated area.

According to Greenpeace, since the Olympics will be held during the summer, typically a rainy and typhoon-prone season in Japan, the soil from the mountains around the Azuma Baseball Stadium may re-contaminate the decontaminated areas.

Although Japan completed the decontamination process around the stadium, right after Typhoon Hagibis last year, the radiation increased about 2000 times.

Aside from baseball, softball and football, the other 39 stadiums at which events will be held are located within a two-hour radius of the Olympic Stadium in Shinjuku, Tokyo.

The Olympic Stadium is about 244 kilometers from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, so the site is not as affected by radiation as the more contaminated regions to the north.

But members of the anti-nuclear movement in Japan have stated that Tokyo also may not be safe. The 2017 Nobel Peace Laureate Tilman Ruff, who is on the Australian Board of the International Campaign of Abolish Nuclear Weapons (iCAN), said in November that radiation has not only reached areas south and west of the power plant like Chiba, Saitama and Fukushima, but contamination levels are also pretty high in the northern part of Tokyo as well.

The radiation level of soil that Tokyo residents have measured themselves has turned out to be as high as 0.443 μSv/h.

One of the biggest reasons behind the controversies regarding the high radiation levels and hosting the Tokyo Olympics has been the limited data provided by the Japanese Ministry of Environment. Officials have repeatedly said that Fukushima is safe, but they haven’t announced detailed data regarding the contamination or decontamination of the area around Fukushima.

Due to distrust in the government, some Japanese citizens have stepped up to carry out their own measurements of the radiation levels in the areas. Since the disaster, Minna-no Data Site, a collective database of citizen’s radioactivity measurements, has collected readings on food, soil and other things.

International environmental organizations are asking the Japanese government to release more measurements and to reveal the current level of radiation.

Despite the concerns, for professional athletes, the Olympics represent a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that, for many, is the culmination of their entire career. While they might be concerned about the current political situation or safety issues, very few of Korea’s potential Olympians are willing to give up an opportunity that they’ve trained most of their lives for.

Due to this, the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism and the Korean Olympic Committee (KOC) are considering running their own cafeteria to provide food for the athletes using ingredients from Korea.


January 21, 2020 Posted by | Fukushima 2020 | , , | 1 Comment

Control rod mistakenly removed from Ikata reactor in Ehime during maintenance

n-ikata-a-20200114-870x582Reactor No. 3 at the Ikata nuclear power plant in Ehime Prefecture in April 2018

Jan 13, 2020

MATSUYAMA, EHIME PREF. – During recent maintenance work at the Ikata nuclear power plant that was to include the country’s first removal of spent mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel following full-scale “pluthermal” power generation, a control rod was removed from the reactor by mistake, according to Shikoku Electric Power Co.

The incident involving reactor No. 3 at the plant in Ikata, Ehime Prefecture, caused no loss of control of the nuclear reaction in the unit and no radioactive materials were released, the company said Sunday. The reactor has been shut down since Dec. 26 to perform the maintenance work.

To remove fuel assemblies during the inspection, it was necessary to raise the apparatus at the top of the reactor from which fuel is suspended. While raising the apparatus, a control rod was also lifted out of the reactor along with the fuel assemblies, Shikoku Electric stated.

Control rods are used to suppress nuclear fission, and are inserted in order to halt a nuclear reactor. According to the power company, for fission to be allowed to occur within the reactor, it is necessary to adjust the concentration of boron within the reactor coolant in addition to removing the control rods.

According to Shikoku Electric and prefectural authorities, one of the 48 control rods in the unit was lifted out of the reactor containment vessel accidentally at around 1:20 p.m. Sunday together with the upper part of the apparatus that holds fuel assemblies in place from above and below.

As the apparatus was lifted by crane, a worker noticed that the control rod had also been raised out of the containment vessel. Around seven hours later, the control rod was reinserted into the reactor.

Because the crane’s weight sensor had shown a value typically seen when the control rods are disconnected, the control rods were determined to have been detached from the apparatus and the crane was raised, Shikoku Electric said.

The company had planned to start removing the spent MOX fuel assemblies, which contain a blend of plutonium extracted from spent nuclear fuel and uranium, from the reactor at 12 a.m. Monday. The work is now expected to be delayed due to the company’s investigation into the incident involving the control rod.

Shikoku Electric also announced last Tuesday that in October 2017 it mistakenly conducted an inspection of an emergency air supply filter in the main control room of reactor No. 3 without removing all the fuel from the reactor as stipulated in the safety regulations.

The operation to extract the MOX fuel assemblies is the first such removal to be performed at any commercial nuclear power plant in Japan since an initiative on pluthermal power generation using the mixed fuel was announced in 1997, according to Shikoku Electric.

The government and power firms are promoting pluthermal power generation as part of the nuclear fuel cycle featuring the extraction of plutonium from spent nuclear fuel for reuse. Shikoku Electric started pluthermal power generation in 2010 using 16 MOX fuel assemblies installed in the Ikata No. 3 reactor.

The company had been planning to remove all of them during the reactor maintenance, which is to continue through April 27. The firm will consider reusing the spent MOX fuel, which is expected to be stored at the power plant for the foreseeable future due to a lack of reprocessing facilities in this country.

January 21, 2020 Posted by | Japan | , , | Leave a comment

Fukushima’s Hot Particles in Japan: Their Meaning for the Olympics and Beyond


January 10, 2020

By Cindy Folkers

Hundreds of thousands of people—athletes, officials, media, and spectators—will flood into Japan for the 2020 Olympics. But radiation exposure dangers from the Fukushima nuclear catastrophe have not ended since the meltdowns and explosions spread radioactive contamination over large areas reaching down to Tokyo and beyond. Soon after the start of the meltdowns in 2011, experts began warning of exposure to radioactive micro-particles or “hot particles”—a type of particle that poses a danger unaccounted for by regulatory agencies. In order to understand the special danger posed by these particles at the Olympics and beyond, we must first understand the current state of radiation exposure standards.

Hot Particles Don’t Fit Current Exposure Models

For decades, protection from radiation exposure has been based on understanding how doses are delivered to the human body. Are the doses high or low? Inside or outside the body? If a dose is internal, which organ is it impacting? Is the dose given all at one time, or over a longer time? Additional consideration should be given to who is receiving the exposure: men, women, children, fetuses—although protection based on age, gender and pregnancy falls short.

The difficulty with hot particles, which can travel great distances, is that they don’t deliver doses in the way experts expect. Current exposure assumptions hold that radionuclides settling in the body, i.e. through inhalation or ingestion, deliver a low dose to surrounding cells where they lodge. But these models are not truly reflecting the damage that is occurring. For instance, precise distribution of many radionuclides within the body eludes experts. And radiation doses delivered inside cells, which may seem low to an entire body, are large doses when just single cells or groupings of cells receive them. Hot particles deliver a much larger dose than what is considered “low.” And once they are inhaled or ingested, they deliver it specifically to the (often unpredictable) area of the body where they lodge.

Hot Particles Make Already Unpredictable Damage Worse

Not only can hot particle doses be unpredictable—so can the damage. Called “stochastic,” damage from radiation exposure may occur at all doses [no matter how small]. The higher the dose is, the greater the chance is that damage will happen. However, the severity of the damage is independent of the dose; that is even low doses of radiation can result in severe consequences. Sometimes these consequences take decades to manifest, but for times of life when fast growth is occurring—such as pregnancy or childhood—the damage may show up in a much shorter time frame.

Since all parts of the human body develop from single cells during pregnancy, the severity of a “radiation hit” during this development can be devastating for mother and child, yet governments and the nuclear industry never consider these exposures as having an official radiation impact. Therefore, NO safe dose CAN exist. Stochastic risk, coupled with the additional unpredictable and unaccounted-for risk from radioactive micro-particles, can lead to impacts that are more dangerous and difficult to quantify with currently used methods.

Olympics 2020 and Beyond

Clearly, as Japan prepares to host the 2020 Olympics, the danger posed by exposure to radioactive micro-particles should be considered, in addition to known and better understood radio-cesium contamination. While most of the radioactive particle dust has settled, it can be easily re-suspended by activities such as digging or running, and by rain, wind, snow, and flooding. Health officials in Japan continually fail to act and stop ongoing radioactive exposures. This lack of governmental action puts all residents of Japan at risk, and also any athletes, spectators and visitors that participate in the Olympics.

Currently, the torch relay is scheduled to begin with a special display of the “Flame of Recovery,” as the torch passes through still-contaminated areas of Fukushima Prefecture. Then, the “Grand Start,” the Japanese leg of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Torch Relay, will occur at “J. Village,” the former disaster response headquarters used during the initial nuclear meltdowns in 2011. It is 12.4 miles from Fukushima-1 wreckage site, and resides close to acres of radioactive topsoil and other material stored in bags. The bags and the cranes moving them are visible on satellite maps dated 2019. After starting in Fukushima, the torch will travel to all remaining prefectures of Japan. Further, there is indication that J. Village (now called National Training Center) is being retrofitted as a practice area for baseball, softball, and soccer. Games hosted in Fukushima Prefecture aren’t the only exposure concern, as radioisotopes have traveled far from the ruined cores of Fukushima’s reactors. Radionuclides from the meltdowns were found in Tokyo’s metropolitan area as late as 2016 and would increase and decrease, researchers observed, based on rainfall and run-off. One “high activity radioactively-hot dust particle” traveled from Fukushima’s ruined core, to a house in Nagoya, Japan—270 miles away.

In our normal lives, each one of us breathes in a modest amount of dust daily. People are also exposed through contaminated food, ingestion of dusts and soil, or through skin contact. Endurance athletes are at a higher risk, since they often eat much more—and take in more breaths per minute—than an average athlete or a person at rest. And, biologically, due to developing cells, children and pregnant women are at a much higher risk from radiation exposure than men. Many Olympic and Paralympic athletes are of childbearing age or adolescents.

Contamination in Japan has not gone away and neither should our awareness. While most of the athletes, coaches and spectators will leave Japan, the contamination remains, impacting generations of people who will have to contend with this danger for much longer than the eight-plus years they have already been through.

Japan’s government policy of dismissing radiation’s dangers, and normalizing exposure to radioactivity, is part of an attempt to resettle people in areas that would allow an external dose of 2 rem per year. Prior to the Fukushima meltdowns, this level was considered high-risk to the general population. This is not an acceptable level of exposure. The radioactive micro-particles found in areas with even lower background levels indicate a significant risk that Japan and governments around the world who support nuclear technologies are covering up. Merely understanding and quantifying these hot particles is not enough. Governments must protect people from exposure everywhere in the world, not just in Japan. The danger of radioactive micro-particles should be added to a long list of reasons why nuclear technology is not safe and should no longer be used.

Thanks to Arnie and Maggie Gundersen at Fairewinds Energy Education for technical and editorial input.

Cindy Folkers is on the staff of Beyond Nuclear where she specializes in radiation impacts on health, Congress watch, energy legislation, climate change, and federal subsidies.

January 21, 2020 Posted by | Fukushima 2020 | , | 1 Comment