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TEPCO plan to discharge water relies on winning local trust

Storage tanks holding treated contaminated water at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant complex on April 12

September 7, 2021

More than four months have passed since the government gave the green light to plans for Tokyo Electric Power Co. to release treated radioactive water from the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant into the Pacific Ocean.

TEPCO, the plant’s operator, recently announced it would construct a tunnel to discharge the water about 1 kilometer offshore. At the same time, the government unveiled its strategy for responding to concerns the discharge could cause irreparable reputational damage to local businesses, the fishing industry, in particular.

Ever since the nuclear crisis triggered by the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami disaster, the utility has been pumping tons of water to cool melted nuclear fuel at the wrecked facility. Rain and ground water have added to the deluge with the result that the volume of radiation-contaminated water has continued to grow rapidly.

The water is stored in more than 1,000 tanks installed within the compound after being treated with special equipment to eliminate most of the highly radioactive materials. TEPCO said the tanks will reach capacity around spring 2023. The plant operator then intends to start releasing the treated water after first diluting it with seawater.

Under TEPCO’s plan, an undersea tunnel will be built to discharge the treated water. It said the tunnel will ensure that the treated water does not re-enter the on-site discharge equipment after it has been diluted.

This will be a gigantic construction project that will start with a geological survey of the seabed, something that must be approved by the Nuclear Regulation Authority.

TEPCO pledged to measure the concentration of tritium, a radioactive isotope of hydrogen produced as a byproduct in nuclear reactors which cannot be removed with filtering equipment, before the water is released into the ocean. This is a welcome effort to allay concerns among local businesses and communities, especially the fisheries industry.

The company, whose reputation has further been tarnished by a series of embarrassing revelations about security lapses, including those at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear plant in Niigata Prefecture, needs to realize it has an obligation to take all possible steps to ensure the operation is conducted safely and be willing to disclose all related information and options.

No matter how cautiously the problem of tritium-tainted water is handled, the plan to release treated contaminated water into the sea is bound to trigger negative publicity and deter people from eating fish caught in local waters.

To deal with this challenge, the government decided to establish a fund to buy catches that can be put in frozen storage. The fund is framed as an emergency relief measure to assist fishermen and fisheries businesses expecting to face sharp drops in sales. It is a well-conceived proposal to help those affected by the nuclear disaster regain their livelihoods, in addition to providing cash to compensate for their economic losses.

But not all marine products are fit for freezing. Frozen fish tend to fetch lower prices compared with when they are sold fresh. How to secure viable operations of the proposed fund remains a key question, but the government has only said that details will be worked out by the end of the year.

Fisheries businesses may not be only targets of rumors that require compensation payouts. To ease anxiety among local businesses, TEPCO said victims alone will not be forced to bear the burden of proof. The company says it will assess economic losses by comparing prices and sales after it starts releasing the contaminated water into the sea with corresponding estimates for before the operation gets under way.

Still, local businesses remain concerned about whether they will receive appropriate compensation from the utility, which rejected out-of-court settlements with a number of plaintiffs in damages lawsuits proposed by the government’s Nuclear Damage Compensation Dispute Resolution Center. The government, which is effectively the utility’s largest shareholder, has a duty to supervise the company to ensure it offers compensation swiftly and appropriately to any new parties that suffer losses as a result of the water discharge operation.

TEPCO hopes to begin discharging the treated water in spring 2023. It has pledged not to “undertake any disposal measure without gaining the understanding of stakeholders.”

The company will not be able to move forward with the plan unless it first wins the trust of the local communities through sincere and honest talks.

https://www.asahi.com/ajw/articles/14435063?fbclid=IwAR2txoqs9WIH195ny_NmOsmTJm92sJua2pWZ4VaiLZtypAL6SQtISVwSjKo

September 8, 2021 Posted by | Fukushima 2021 | , , | Leave a comment

Legacies of Fukushima.

Introduction

Kyle Cleveland

Abstract: This special collection of papers reflects the work of contributing authors to the newly released book Legacies of Fukushima: 3.11 in Context (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2021). The edited volume addresses the Fukushima nuclear crisis in Japan, taking a multi-dimensional, cross-disciplinary approach to understanding this epic disaster. The book is an intersectional collaboration that is unique in that it incorporates the work of Japan-area scholars, journalists, nuclear experts and Science, Technology and Society (STS) scholars from Japan and abroad, who discuss the trajectory of the Fukushima nuclear disaster in the first decade since its inception. There are 19 authors whose work is included in the book; this special edition of selected papers for The Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus evokes that work, and while they do not entirely represent the scope of the material included in the edited volume, these papers delve into issues that any disaster studies scholar or student of the Fukushima nuclear disaster will find compelling.

The 3.11 disasters were an implausible convergence of events, the massive 9.0 earthquake (the largest on historical record in Japan), a tsunami that took nearly 20,000 lives, which put the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant underwater, leading to 3 nuclear reactors in meltdown, the most convoluted nuclear disaster in history. When the tsunami pushed ashore onto the coast less than an hour after the earthquake, it swamped the Daiichi plant, inundating the reactors and taking out the electrical backup generators, causing a total station blackout. With no power to run instrumentation or take remedial actions, the Daiichi nuclear power plant descended into chaos. The Fukushima crisis was the first multi-reactor meltdown and the only total station blackout (the only time this had happened in the history of nuclear energy). This “beyond-design-basis” event was unprecedented in the history of nuclear energy, and it was considered so unlikely that it left nuclear authorities wholly unprepared to deal with the crisis as it cascaded out of control. TEPCO (the utility that ran the doomed plant) has since maintained that they should not be held legally accountable because these conjoined events, taken together, were the ultimate “Black Swan” disaster. As Charles Casto, a former plant manager and high-ranking administrator in the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, who was the chief liaison for the U.S. government during the crisis and who worked closely with the operational staff at the Daiichi plant put it: it was comparable to having the San Francisco earthquake, the Three Mile Island nuclear accident and the Katrina hurricane all happening on the same day.1

Yet as unlikely as they would seem to be, the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami were hardly unprecedented. Japan is roiled by earthquakes constantly, and while the magnitude of the 3.11 quake was unique, in the months that preceded and followed this event there were clusters of smaller quakes, many in the 7 magnitude (Richter Scale) range, that would be significant outside the context of the penultimate quake of 3.11. And the Sanriku coast in Northeastern Japan has been inundated by tsunami often enough that oral tradition among inhabitants of coastline communities has produced a cautionary mindset in which tsunami have always loomed large in the collective imagination. Under the harsh scrutiny of nuclear critics, scholars, journalists, and industry and governmental officials who were by necessity compelled to address its consequences, a more nuanced and critical perspective eventually took hold and Fukushima, much like Chernobyl, Three Mile Island and other nuclear disasters, seems now in retrospect to be all too predictable, and, avoidable.2

Scandals now buzz around Fukushima like parasites on a dead thing, and a withering indictment of nuclear energy in Japan prevails. Corporate collusion, precursors ignored, lessons unlearned, the failure of regulatory oversight, and a lack of accountability have become commonplace in discussions of the nuclear enterprise in Japan. This is not only a scathing indictment of the hubris that brought Japan to this point in the first place, but it reveals a lack of foresight and analytical rigor that sustained the nuclear authorities in their wishful thinking that such an outcome was unimaginable. March 11, 2011, was a day of reckoning and yet the manner in which the disaster has been addressed betrays a callous disregard for human suffering in the aftermath, as communities have been destroyed and people have been offered little solace nor justice by the institutional authorities who were charged with looking after their best interests.3

In an effort to restore its reputational damage, the government and nuclear industry alike have promoted a narrative of resiliency among those most egregiously affected, but the nuclear village itself has proven perhaps to be the most resilient of all: the government maintains a long-term nuclear agenda to restart most of the reactors, despite the humanitarian cost. Japan is invested in nuclear energy not only because it elevates the country’s status as a member of the league of nuclear nations, but has offered, in its most idealistic construct, a potentially significant portion of its overall energy output, with the economic benefits that would entail. By 2011 nuclear power comprised roughly 30% of Japan’s energy supply, but after the nuclear disaster the entire fleet of 54 reactors that were online in 2011 were shuttered to undergo testing and retrofitting under a newly established regulatory regime. Having replaced Japan’s Atomic Energy Commission, the Nuclear Regulatory Authority set stringent new standards, and deemed that 33 reactors are classified as operable. Of these only 9 units at 5 power plants (all in Western Japan) have restarted; another 16 are at various stages in the process of restart renewal. Two reactors are under construction but are stalled pending approval to move forward, and another eight reactors proposed to be deferred indeterminately. The government now plans for 20% of its energy supply to come from nuclear power by 2030 (at the time of this writing in summer, 2021 only 6.5% of Japan’s electricity is nuclear generated).4

As the government seeks to return nuclear energy to a semblance of its former self, throughout the Tōhoku region, and most especially in the evacuated villages in Fukushima adjacent to the Daiichi plant, a sense of foreboding remains and is unlikely to lift anytime soon. Much of the area most affected by the nuclear disaster is in a remote, mountainous region where agriculture and fisheries were major industries before the radioactive fallout irrevocably wrecked the Fukushima brand. A massive exit migration has depopulated towns (a process that was well underway in the economically stagnant rural areas, long before the Fukushima crisis accelerated this process), or resulted in an age stratified population that remains. Elderly landowners, with ancestral roots and property investments have remained, but those under 40, especially with young children, have sought safer domains, free of the worry of radiation exposure and with better long-term career prospects.

Moreover, not only has the agricultural economy and the Fukushima brand been irrevocably tainted by its association with radioactive fallout, but the shuttering of the nuclear plant itself has removed tens of thousands of jobs, as a skeleton staff remains to implement the plant decommissioning at Daiichi. In Tōhoku the nuclear plants had, in an earlier time, been the hub around which communities where organized, and the tertiary industries that helped feed the beast have diminished to such an extent that many men (and in this culture, the nuclear industry is notably gendered) have had to resort to being employed in the emergent massive decontamination industry, essentially now being paid to clean up their own back yards, while subjecting themselves to continuous radiation exposure in the process. Claims that the true radiation exposure incurred in the process are minimal are cold comfort to those who long ago lost faith in the honesty of institutional actors, and it does not forbode well for authorities in their efforts to repair the reputational damage, however well-meaning their actions may be.

Trust in institutional authority is not a renewable commodity. The government and nuclear authorities are now left to reap the whirlwind sown in the toxic breeze of March 2011, as radiation was released on an ill-informed local population, that only days before could never have imagined such a calamity. Although as a matter of the normal regulatory process disaster protocols were in place, these had never been tested in extremis, and there was little concern among those within the nuclear industry and the locals whose communities were dependent on the nuclear plant’s operations for their livelihood that such an event could happen.

In 2016 and again in 2018 I joined with several colleagues to interview the mayors of Namie, Tomioka, Kawauchi, Futuba and Minami-Soma, the evacuated towns most severely affected by the nuclear disaster as it unfolded in the first few weeks of the disaster. In far reaching interviews with the mayors and their administrative staff, the sense of abandonment and betrayal in those more dire times generated a level of animosity that was palatable. Years later, as the political discourse on Fukushima promoted heroic tropes of long-suffering TEPCO staff at the plant5 and the resiliency of locals who remained to rebuild their lives, these feelings had only deepened as the confusion lifted and was given perspective by time and revelations that had not been known until much later, as secrets were revealed and investigative panels painted a more 3-dimensional picture of what had really unfolded in those darkest days. A lack of real-time support during the evacuations, brusque, tone-deaf messaging by TEPCO and the Japanese government, economic finagling that protected TEPCO from ultimate financial and legal accountability and a lack of sheer decency and empathy for those who had suffered the most was burned into the memory of the victims of Fukushima.

These wounds will be slow to heal and leave scars upon the psyche and land that will remain in the lived experience and subsequent oral tradition of this region,6 irrespective of public relation ploys that attempt to downplay the impact of disaster and recast what is a still unfolding disaster into an artificially abbreviated narrative that celebrates recovery that is far from complete. As the 75-year anniversary of the atomic attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were commemorated not long before the 10-year anniversary of the Tōhoku disasters, it has been a time for reflection for the survivors of these historic tragedies. These survivors carry the weight of history in their experiences and serve as a reminder that the cost of state actions echo in the trauma endured by Hibakusha and those whose lives were disrupted by these disasters.7

The Tōhoku disasters – and the Fukushima nuclear crisis in particular, which captured the world’s attention and resonated symbolically in a way the tsunami never could – served as a vehicle for Japan to reposition its national brand post-3.11. A decade into the still unfolding disaster, Japan hosted the Olympics in the summer of 2021, and the world’s attention returned to Fukushima, with the torch relay beginning inside the previous evacuation zone, and the baseball games being staged in Koriyama, the largest city nearby the Daiichi plant.

The Japan Olympics were essentially the ultimate consolation prize for the tragic events of 3.11, evoking sympathy for the loss of life, the destruction of a vast swath of infrastructure by the tsunami, and the toxic environment that people in Northeastern Japan have endured. By granting Japan the status of host nation, the IOC offered a symbolic gesture of good will toward Japan. Two generations after the 1964 Olympics helped usher Japan into the modern age, symbolically marking a pivot point in history following the devastation of WWII, which utterly devastated 67 Japanese cities through firebombing and the annihilation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki by atomic bomb attacks, the 2020 Olympics promised to cast Japan as an exemplar of long-suffering fortitude and civic-minded communitarian spirit. This was soft-power politics refracted through the prism of disaster and recovery rather than pop-culture consumerism.8 The Olympics hold out the prospect of being the ultimate exercise in soft-power and have often been employed as a form of nation building, an opportunity for the host country to showcase an idealized representation of itself. This was a difficult enough feat to achieve with resentment toward the government’s inept response to the events of 3.11 still lingering in the collective memory, but the emergence of the COVID-19 crisis in 2019 largely eclipsed the grand narrative of Fukushima as the COVID-19 pandemic and the 2020 Olympics became inexorably linked.

The opening ceremony of the Olympics were an eerily sedate and symbolically resonant reflection on how COVID-19 had disrupted the normal operations of the Olympics, evoking confusion and alienation from inter-personal relations upon which the sentiments of Olympian solidarity are grounded. It was as much a commentary on the organization of the games as it was on the higher values the IOC and host nations strive to promote to sustain the idealistic brand of the games.

By the time the Olympics were actually staged, the Japanese authorities had gone down a convoluted path of trying to manage a message that would sanctify the games and burnish Japan’s reputation. Originally this was directed toward the powerful associations attached to the “Fukushima Olympics,” which in the runup to the games was a central concern. Later, this would be almost entirely eclipsed by the COVID pandemic.

“Dreams of Fevered Imaginations”: MOCCO, the Fukushima Reconstruction Puppet.

On The Tokyo Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games website, MOCCO is characterized by its creators in this way:

“The local dialect where I was born in Miyagi includes the word ‘Odazumokko’, which refers to a popular person who is lively and mischievous. An example sentence is ‘the only son of the family who runs the stationery shop has always been an incorrigible odazumokko, but he’s made it to Tokyo and is doing shows there.’ The word ‘mokko’ originates from a word for carrying a basket, so we used this word for MOCCO to express that he travels bearing people’s thoughts and ideas.” (Kudō Kankurō, scriptwriter, director, actor) 

“MOCCO appears abruptly out of nowhere. Neither adults nor children are afraid of him and while he might look a bit scary, it is kind of a cute scariness. There is lively talk about MOCCO all over and everyone has respect for him, which he fully realizes. Everyone knows that MOCCO carries with him dreams and hope, so while you’re having fun with him you should make a wish in your heart. Stomp stomp stomp, MOCCO is here!” (Arai Ryōji, picture book creator, illustrator). 

“MOCCO is with you when you are happy or sad, and is somewhere in your tender memories. MOCCO is there when you don’t know what tomorrow holds. MOCCO is always together with everyone”. (Kameda Seiji, music producer of Tōhoku no Sachi).

The design was revealed in May 2019, but the full-motion final rendering of the puppet was performed in Iwate Prefecture, Tōhoku, 50 days before the anticipated start of the 2020 Olympics, and then debuted in Tokyo on July 17, 2020, and was thereafter put on display in Tokyo throughout the duration of the Olympics. Conceived as a collaborative project between children and the puppeteers, who discussed their artistic scribblings of the disaster with the puppet creators, MOCCO looks to be a skeletal bricolage of tsunami debris, rendered in human form. In its dramatic unveiling, MOCCO comes to life bellowing smoke from its mouth, knocking the puppeteers to the ground. Did they imagine this represented the radiation plume? Lacking the redeeming qualities of kitsch that animated the radiated lizard, MOCCO seems nothing less than a modern-day Godzilla for the 3.11 disasters. It immediately reminded me of the grotesquerie of Gunther von Hagen’s platinated human corpses, that were put on display in his exhibit “Human Body Worlds,” discomforting audiences around the world.

Although inspiration may have been provided by children whose lives were disrupted by the Tōhoku disasters, MOCCO seems less the product of an idealist vision of future hope and recovery than an embodiment of their nightmares of having lived through a disaster beyond their imagining. The French playwright Philippe Néricault, (a.k.a. Destouches), famously said: “La critique est aisée et l’art est difficile” (Criticism is easy and art is difficult) and so it is perhaps a cheap shot to parody the intentions of these well-meaning artists who brought this vision to life and paraded it in front of the victims of 3.11 in service of the grand notions of resilient nationalism. But art resonates in our collective unconscious in ways not easy to articulate, and it is hard to imagine that this 10-meter animated puppet comprised of tsunami flotsam on a skeletal frame would be a comforting presence for those who recall the vision of the devastation that lay strewn before them as the tsunami destroyed everything in its path.

Billed as “The Reconstruction Olympics,” Japan was selected as the Olympics host partly in sympathy for the impact the 3.11 disasters had on Japan (the most expensive set of conjoined disasters in world history) and as a form of nation branding in service of a narrative of resiliency, not only with regard to the people of Tōhoku who endured the worst of it, but also of the Japanese nation itself. It is ironic, but hardly surprising, that a kind of political alchemy has rendered the suffering of the victims of the nuclear disaster as a symbol of long-suffering fortitude, while implicitly endorsing the structure of collusive interests which sustain the nuclear village, which set the conditions for the disaster in the first place. For those on the receiving end of this, there has been a withering retrospective accounting of disaster management after 3.11 and hard-earned suspicions about the State’s ability to protect public health while promoting the reactor restarts under the guise of recovery on an Olympics timeline.

The Olympics long ago lost their idealistic luster as representing the epitome of “amateur” athletics and have become a marketing juggernaut and form of symbolic nation branding, providing incentive to hold the games irrespective of the long-term costs they lay at the feet of the hosts. Although the host nation may bask in the short-term glare of world attention and the adoration of their athlete stalking horses, the collusive interests between marketing conglomerates, the International Olympic Committee, and nation-states, they ultimately inherit the economic burdens created by cost overruns and infrastructure projects whose functional use is short-lived and cause for regret as the transient games are played out and the host nation is thereafter left to settle accounts.

At the time of the 10-year anniversary of the 3.11 disasters, competing discourses muddied the waters of institutional memory. The cruel timing of the emergence of the COVID viral pandemic, right on the cusp of the initial scheduling of the Olympics to start in the late summer of 2020, eclipsed the previous focus on Fukushima as the defining motif of these times. Having been saddled with the economic cost of the Tōhoku disasters (the most expensive in world history) the COVID-19 viral pandemic undermined the feel-good rhetoric of the Olympics, which had been branded as the “recovery” and “reconstruction” Olympics, an ode to the protracted efforts of the government to dig itself out of the scurrilous association with its inept response to the crisis. But with COVID-19 running rampant and Japan at the end of the line for vaccinations (with the lowest rate of implementation among affluent countries, in the single digits as of summer 2021), the Olympics were initially postponed and then reluctantly held in defiance of public sentiment (at one point nearly 80% of Japanese citizens opposed holding the Olympics) while Japan imposed a de facto immigration firewall against foreign contagion, a longstanding trope of Japan as an insular, island nation unnerved by the threat of foreign invasion. This was entirely antithetical to the notion of universal inclusion that defines the Olympic mission, and it undermined Japan’s efforts to construct an artifice of salutary resiliency in the face of adversity.

It is difficult to gaze upon the spectacle of the 2020 Japan Olympics being undone by the COVID-19 pandemic and not see this through the lens of the Fukushima disaster response.9 Karl Marx wrote that “Hegel remarks somewhere that all great, world-historical facts and personages occur, as it were, twice. He has forgotten to add: the first time as tragedy, the second as farce.”10

There are obvious parallels between the manner in which the Tōhoku disasters were handled and the Japanese government’s response to both the COVID-19 viral pandemic and the Olympics. These are all epic, culture-transforming events that are historic in scale, and they cast into stark relief all the deficiencies of the State in its inability to address disasters at this scale. Major disasters expose the weakness of governmental institutions to address multi-dimensional complex disasters effectively. While certain aspects of Japanese culture were complicit in this, culture alone cannot account for the systemic failure of institutions, especially when in calmer times these same institutions are held up as exemplars of bureaucratic competence. One of the most shocking things about the Tōhoku disasters is that it highlighted a yawning gap between the stereotype of Japanese hyper-competency and the abject failure of institutions to effectively address the immediate needs of the moment as these severe disasters wreaked havoc, and it exposed an inability to care for people in their darkest hours of need.

In the nuclear crisis, a lack of governmental coordination left local authorities to fend for themselves, playing catch-up in a reactive mode that left them feeling embittered and abandoned. With the COVID pandemic response, a similar dynamic has played out. Despite having experienced at close hand the SARS-COVID outbreak in 2002/2003—which, like the 2019 SARS-2-COVID pandemic, broke in China—and having been reminded by the glancing blow of the 2009 H1N1 (“Swine Flu”) and the MERS Coronavirus crisis of 2012, Japan remained woefully unprepared at a national level to deal with this emerging pandemic. Although comparatively benign “lock-downs” (largely in name only, with no strict enforcement sanctions) limited the spread of the virus, the Japanese authorities doggedly refused to implement wide-spread testing to monitor the pandemic progression, and relied primarily on a local level response whereby medical clinicians were left to their own devices to assess patients, often with no COVID testing to verify their diagnoses, except in the most extreme cases.11

Japan has no national level coordinating body for infectious disease (comparable to the WHO or Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the U.S.), and thus little guidance was given to medical authorities as to what actions were necessary. The political messaging also reflected this, with the government providing periodic announcements while remaining obstinately reactive to the pandemic as it worked its way through the population. With the penultimate date of the Olympics approaching, the Japanese authorities dithered until they were eventually forced to concede to reality and cancel the Olympics. As the COVID pandemic was amplifying in 2020, this may have been the most prudent decision, but then having had this dress rehearsal and a year-long intermission before the Olympics were set to restart in the summer of 2021, the most obvious mitigating action of vaccinating the population was delayed. A couple of months shy of the start of the 2020 Olympics, Japan still had not implemented a wide-spread testing regime or distributed vaccines. Only 3% of the population had been vaccinated by this time – the lowest among affluent countries by far – and what vaccines that had been given targeted those over the age of 65.

Japan enforced a strict exclusionary policy of closing the borders for immigration, allowing only Japanese nationals and long-term residents with occupation-specific visas to enter the country. At the same time, it was obstinately committed to holding the games despite every indication that it would be a logistical shambles and public opinion polls showing that 80% of the population was opposed to holding the Olympics, it was prohibiting immigration, with the result being that no foreign fans were present. As the virus continued to spread, it was decided that even local Japan-based fans could not attend except in limited circumstances and venues. Japan had great incentive to act decisively on “best-policy” practices and had all the essential information to make informed decisions, both to package the Olympics in a coherent and safe manner, and to protect its population from this insidious disease. And yet, with a series of embarrassing off-brand mishaps that highlighted the tone-deaf messaging of the Tokyo Organising Committee, it let opportunity after opportunity slip by with an almost fatalistic concession to circumstances as though they were beyond their control. They weren’t. Now, as with Fukushima, it is a time of reckoning, and an occasion to reflect on lessons unlearned, a lack of institutional accountability and reform and the consequences of governmental dysfunction and neglect.

In his classic work on suicide, the sociologist Émile Durkheim discussed anomie, a state or condition of normlessness, in which social values and norms are disrupted by social change, leading to a state of moral confusion. This well characterizes the decade following the 3.11 disasters in Japan: the economic disruption, loss of faith in government and legal authority, the disorientation of survivors, a spike in suicide and a general malaise as the Tōhoku region recovers from the tsunami and the Fukushima area is decontaminated and warily reinhabited by returning evacuees. Written over a century ago, Durkheim’s work seems prophetic as it encapsulates the anomic times Japan has experienced through the 3.11 disasters and the COVID viral pandemic, with the sideshow of the Olympics failing to provide the grand narrative of recovery that might have helped redeem State authority and mark a transition point to a return to normalcy. In this light, Durkheim’s words seem not only an indictment of the pursuit of economic solutions to social problems, but a commentary on the 2011 triple-disasters on top of the de facto triple-disasters of 3.11, COVID and the Olympics. Durkheim writes:

“The sphere of trade and industry… instead of being still regarded as a means to an end transcending itself, has become the supreme end of individuals and societies alike. Thereupon the appetites thus excited have become freed of any limiting authority. By sanctifying them, so to speak, this apotheosis of well-being has placed them above human law. Their restraint seems like a sort of sacrilege. So long as the producer could gain his profits only in his immediate neighborhood, the restricted amount of possible gain could not overexcite ambition. Now that he may assume to have the entire world as his customer, how could passions accept their former confinement in the face of such limitless prospects?… From top to bottom of the ladder, greed is aroused without knowing where to find ultimate foothold. Nothing can calm it, since its goal is far beyond all it can attain. Reality seems valueless by comparison with the dreams of fevered imaginations; reality is therefore abandoned…”12

References

Aven, T. (2015) ‘Implications of black swans to the foundations and practice of risk assessment and management,’ Reliability Engineering & System Safety, 134, pp. 83-91.

Casto, C.A. (2018) Station blackout: Inside the Fukushima nuclear disaster and recovery. Radius Book Group.

Downer, J. (2014) ‘Disowning Fukushima: Managing the credibility of nuclear reliability assessment in the wake of disaster.’ Regulation & Governance, 8(3), pp. 287-309.

Durkheim, E. (1951) Suicide: A study in sociology. Translated by J. Spaulding and G. Simpson. The Free Press.

Erikson, K. T. (1995) A new species of trouble: The human experience of modern disasters. WW Norton & Company.

Funabashi, Y. (2021) Meltdown: Inside the Fukushima nuclear crisis. Brookings Institution Press.

Haruta, J., Horiguchi, S., Miyachi, J., Teruyama, J., Kimura, S., Iida, J., Ozone, S., Goto, R., Kaneko, M. and Hama, Y. (2021) ‘Primary care physicians’ narratives on COVID‐19 responses in Japan: Professional roles evoked under a pandemic, Journal of General and Family Medicine.

Johnson, D.T., Fukurai, H. and Hirayama, M. (2020) ‘Reflections on the TEPCO trial: Prosecution and acquittal after Japan’s nuclear meltdown’ The Asia‐Pacific Journal, 18(2), pp. 1-35.

Kadota, R. (2014) On the brink: The inside story of Fukushima Daiichi. Kurodahan Press.

Marx Engels Internet Archive. (1995) The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte [Online]. Accessed: June 5, 2021. 

Muto R., and Field, N. (2020) “This will still be true tomorrow: Fukushima ain’t got the time for Olympic games: Two texts on nuclear disaster and pandemic,” Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus, 18(13), no. 2, pp. 1-20.

Ronalds, P. (2019) ‘The ruptures of rhetoric: Cool Japan, Tokyo 2020 and post-3.11 Tōhoku,’ The Japan Foundation: New voices in Japanese Studies, 11, pp. 26-46.

Sakaki, A. and Lukner, K. (2013) ‘Introduction to special issue: Japan’s crisis management amid growing complexity: In search of new approaches,’ Japanese Journal of Political Science, 14(2), pp. 155-176.

The Tokyo Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, 2020. [Online] Accessed July 6, 2021.

Notes

1

Casto, C.A., 2018.2

Funabashi, Y., 2021. 3

Johnson, D.T., Fukurai, H. and Hirayama, M., 2020. 4

World Nuclear Association, 2021. 5

Kadota, R., 2014. Kadota was the only journalist to interview Daiichi plant manager Yoshida Masao before his untimely death by cancer (not attributable to the Fukushima disaster, according to TEPCO). Kadota’s book promotes a narrative of epic heroism by “The Fukushima 50,” a self-selected group of operational staff at the plant who elected to stay on to fight the battle despite facing the prospect of lethal radiation doses if they remained. This was the basis for a major production film as well. 6

Erikson, K.T., 1995. 7

Ruiko, M., and Field, N., 2020.8

Ronalds, P., 2019.9

Sakaki, A. and Lukner, K., 2013.10

Marx Engels Internet Archive, 1995.11

Haruta, et al., 2021.12

Durkheim, E. 1951, p. 279.

https://apjjf.org/2021/17/Cleveland.html

September 8, 2021 Posted by | Fukushima 2021 | , , | Leave a comment

Media Coverage of Fukushima, Ten Years Later.

Martin Fackler

Abstract: When taking up the unlearned lessons of Fukushima, one of the biggest may have been the need for more robust oversight of the nuclear industry. In Japan, the failure of the major national news media to scrutinize the industry and hold it accountable was particularly glaring. Despite their own claims to serve as watchdogs on officialdom, the major media have instead covered Japan’s powerful nuclear industry with a mix of silent complicity and outright boosterism. This is true both before and after the Fukushima disaster. In the decades after World War II, when the nuclear industry was established, media played an active role in overcoming public resistance to atomic energy and winning at least passive acceptance of it as a science-based means for Japan to secure energy autonomy.

During the Fukushima disaster, the media served government objectives such as preservation of social order by playing down the size of the accident and severity of radiological releases, resulting in widely divergent coverage from serious overseas media. While a short-lived proliferation of more critical and independent coverage followed the disaster, the old patterns returned with a vengeance after the installment of the pro-nuclear administration of Abe Shinzō. This article will examine the roots of the Japanese media’s failure to challenge or scrutinize the nuclear industry, and how this complicity has played out in the post-Fukushima era. It will use a historical analysis to look at how the current patterns of media coverage were actually established in the immediate postwar period, and the formation of public support for civilian nuclear power. 

During my 15 years as a foreign correspondent in Tokyo, including a six-year stint as Tokyo bureau chief of The New York Times (2009-2015), I often covered the same news events as Japanese journalists, standing shoulder-to-shoulder at more press conferences than we’d care to count. While I admire many Japanese colleagues individually as journalists, I was frequently struck by the shortcomings of Japan’s big domestic media and Japanese journalism as an institution. 

But never did I feel these structural weaknesses as keenly as I did in the tense weeks that followed the triple meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station.

In Minami-soma, a city 25 kilometers north of the stricken plant, where some 20,000 remaining residents were cut off from supplies of food, fuel and medicines, I discovered that journalists from major Japanese media were nowhere to be seen. They had withdrawn from Minami-soma, forbidden by their editors in Tokyo from approaching within 30 or 40 kilometers of Fukushima Daiichi. 

By doing so, they had essentially abandoned the already isolated residents. But you would never know that from the media’s stories, which made no mention of their own pull out or the perceived risks that had prompted this retreat. Instead, the main newspaper articles uniformly repeated official reassurances that there was no cause for alarm because the radiation posed “no immediate danger to human health,” as the chief cabinet secretary at the time, Edano Yukio, so famously put it.1

The mismatch between word and deed—between what the newspapers were telling their audiences and what they were actually doing to protect their own journalists—was glaring. It turned out that this was only the first of several instances during the Fukushima disaster where I witnessed Japan’s major media adhering to the official narrative regardless of the facts on the ground. I refer to this phenomenon as “media capture,” borrowing from the more widely used term “regulatory capture,” which is used to describe a similar failure of government oversight of the nuclear industry.

Over the months and years that followed the meltdowns, I saw numerous instances of national media refusing to take a critical or distanced stance in their coverage of the nuclear industry and its government regulators. Instead, they repeatedly chose to internalize the official narratives and even adhere to the government-approved language. We saw this is the widely diverging narratives that started appearing in the serious foreign press versus the major domestic media as the accident worsened. 

To cite a straightforward example, we started using the word “meltdown” within hours of the first reactor building explosion at the plant, reflecting the almost unanimous view of outside experts that a melting fuel core was the only realistic source of the hydrogen that caused the blast. However, the domestic national dailies and NHK avoided the word “meltdown” (in Japanese, merutodaun) for months, following the insistence of the Ministry of Economics, Trade and Industry (METI), the powerful government agency that both promoted and regulated Japan’s nuclear industry, that a meltdown had not been confirmed. The big Japanese media used other official euphemisms as well, including “explosion-like event” to describe the massive blast at the Unit 3 reactor building, which blew chunks of concrete hundreds of feet into the air. 

In fact, I even had Japanese journalists calling me to berate me and my newspaper for using the M-word without METI’s permission. Readers of the Japanese national dailies didn’t see the M-word until mid-May, when METI and the plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co. or TEPCO, conceded in public that Fukushima Daiichi had indeed suffered a meltdown in mid-March—three meltdowns, in fact.

In the chapter that I wrote for Legacies of Fukushima: 3.11 in Context, I tried to explain some of the reasons why the civilian nuclear power industry could have such a peculiarly strong grip on the media and their narratives. The nuclear industry was a national project that was promoted by the powerful central ministries as a silver bullet for resource-poor Japan’s dependence on imported energy. This gave it an elevated status as the elite bureaucrats guided Japan’s postwar recovery and economic take-off.

I looked at the media’s dependence on Tokyo’s powerful central ministries, which takes its most visible form in the so-called kisha kurabu, or “press clubs.” These are arrangements that allow national media to station their journalists inside the ministries and agencies, where they are given their own room and exclusive access to officials. Much of the reporting by the major Japanese media starts in the kisha kurabu, where journalists gather to wait for the next press conference or off-record briefing from officials. The kisha kurabu system fosters a passive form of journalism, in which reporters become dependent on the ministry within which they are embedded. In pursuit of a scoop that can make or break a career, the journalists compete for handouts from ministry officials. All too often, they enter a Faustian bargain in which the journalists swap narrative control in exchange for exclusive access to information. The result is a passive form of access journalism that ends up repeating spoon-fed official narratives. 

I also looked to the past at the emergence of newspapers like the Asahi Shimbun during the early to mid-Meiji era, when the national priority was to protect autonomy by finding a way to catch the industrialized West. I argued that this history baked into the mindset of Japanese journalists a feeling of responsibility for the fate of their nation, including its vital energy needs. It also led to an identification with the government, and particularly the elite officialdom, as protectors of Japan and its people from predatory foreign powers. This inclination to side with the state has continued in the postwar period, when journalists have clearly seen themselves as members of a national elite attached to a broader bureaucratic-led system. 

One point that I wanted to underscore was that this media capture was not something so simple or venal as corruption. This is how it is often portrayed by critical Japanese writers, usually freelancers and book authors, who focus on the so-called Nuclear Village, a nexus of business, government, labor unions, academia and news media linked by the cash flowing out of the highly profitable nuclear plants. While money doubtlessly plays a role in many of these relationships, including perhaps the for-profit commercial TV broadcasters, I see no direct evidence that it sways the coverage of the national newspapers. These are privately held companies for whom advertising is a much less important revenue source than subscriptions (or the rent from their valuable real estate holdings in central Tokyo and Osaka).

Regardless of the cause, the result has been generations of postwar journalists who have consistently failed to serve as watchdogs on one of the nation’s most politically powerful industries.2 Starting in the 1990s, public scandals started plaguing the industry, and TEPCO in particular. In 2002, government inspectors announced that TEPCO had been routinely falsifying safety reports to hide minor incidents and equipment problems at reactors including several at Fukushima Daiichi. TEPCO eventually admitted to more than 200 such violations stretching back to 1977. Five years later, TEPCO revealed even more cover-ups of safety issues, which the company had failed to report in the previous inquiry. 

Despite what was clearly a chronic and systemic failure of both internal compliance and government oversight, no one was arrested or charged, and the existing regulatory framework left unchanged. The media could have played a role of holding the regulators’ feet to the fire by exposing the structural problems behind this abysmal record of obfuscation and cover-ups. Instead, the watchdogs chose to remain largely silent, reporting on the government’s revelations, but making few efforts at independent investigative reporting.

Of course, such criticisms enjoy the benefits of hindsight, with the accident in 2011 making it easier to see these failures as part of a broader narrative that leads inevitably to Fukushima. But how about after 2011, when the severity of the disaster led to numerous calls for reform? During that time, the national media have also been held up to uncomfortable scrutiny by a jaded and distrustful public, who felt betrayed by their early coverage of the accident. 

Unfortunately, ten years later, nothing seems to have changed.

This was apparent in mid-April of 2021, when the Japanese government announced a decision to release into the Pacific Ocean more than 1.2 million tons of radioactive water that has been building up in hundreds of huge metal tanks on the grounds of the Fukushima Daiichi plant. (The accumulation of contaminated water has plagued the plant from the early days of the disaster. TEPCO has resorted to some high-tech solutions with mixed results, including a mile-long “ice wall” of frozen dirt that failed to fully block the water, much of which flows into the plant from underground.) 

The water stored in these tanks contains tritium, a radioactive isotope of hydrogen that is best known for its military use as the fuel for thermonuclear warheads (hence the term “hydrogen bomb”). On the spectrum of radioactive substances, tritium emits relatively low levels of radiation in form of beta particles. But it is a radioactive substance nonetheless, a fact that major media played down or even omitted by choosing, once again, to adopt the industry and government’s language to describe the dump. The main news stories in the major national newspapers and TV broadcasts used the official term for this water, which is shorisui, or “treated water.”

While technically correct, this term euphemistically glosses over the fact that this is not the same as, say, treated sewage water. Nor does treated water convey the fact that this water still contains a radionuclide that emits beta radiation. 

One result was an interesting battle of words that pitted the mainstream media, which used the approved “treated water,” against journalists who were outside the press club’s inner circle. These publications and web sites chose to use clearer terms such as osensui, or “contaminated water.” The leftist daily Tokyo Shimbun, a smaller regional newspaper that has stood out for its more critical coverage of the nuclear disaster, compromised by calling the water osenshorisui, or “contaminated treated water.”3

More eye-opening was the fact that there were actually efforts to enforce use of the officially approved term. As many journalists discovered, there was an army of social media trolls at ready to pile onto anyone with the temerity to use more critical terminology, and particularly “contaminated water.” TEPCO and the government mobilized university experts and PR professionals to police the public sphere for use of words that were deemed “unscientific” and “ideological.”

Of course, the choice of the word “treated” is itself also highly political. It buttressed the larger message put forth by the government and the plant’s operator that the release of this water was no cause for alarm, but something very common and normal that nuclear plants around the world do all the time. By accepting the official terminology, the media were implicitly adopting this framing of the issue, which focused on the claim that the water could be diluted to the point of being harmless when dumped into the Pacific.

Scientifically, this is a valid claim. My point here is not to take sides. Rather, I am criticizing the large domestic media for failing to do the same: i.e., not take sides. By adopting the official narrative, the media were complicit in the government’s and TEPCO’s exclusion of other, also valid counterarguments. One of the biggest is the fact that this release is anything but normal. No nuclear plant has ever conducted an orchestrated release of such a huge quantity of tritium-laden water. (At the time of writing, the amount, 1.2 million tons, is enough to fill almost 500 Olympic-sized swimming pools.) Worse, the release is to be carried out in the same closed, opaque manner as the rest of Japan’s decade-long response to the disaster. Unless TEPCO and METI break with past precedent to allow full international oversight to verify that the water is as clean as they claim it is, we are left once again to trust actors who have consistently violated public faith. 

Just as importantly, there are valid reasons to at least question whether the water is as clean as TEPCO says it is. The company has been telling us for years that it has installed state-of-the-art treatment and filtration technologies that scrub the water of every radioactive particle except tritium. However, in 2018, the plant operator suddenly revealed that 75% of the treated water at the plant still contained excessive amounts of other, more radioactive substances including strontium 90, a dangerous isotope that can embed itself in the living tissue of human bones.4

To be fair, TEPCO may be right in its assessment of the water’s safety. Even so, it is the job of conscientious journalists to take a skeptical attitude toward such claims until they can be independently verified. The media also need to remind why this is necessary, given the company’s and the industry’s history of cover-ups. My goal here is to fault the major domestic media for once again failing to do this, despite the bitter lessons of 2011. Adopting the language of METI and TEPCO privileges the official perspective over others. It shows that the journalists are internalizing the official framing of the event and how it should be discussed and understood. 

Officialdom is thus allowed to set the boundaries of public debate, excluding more critical perspectives as “political,” “unscientific” or even “foreign.” The last characterization reflects the fact that the Chinese and South Korean governments raised some of the loudest objections to the release. The media have tended to frame these as the latest in a litany of self-serving complaints by Asian rivals that like to accuse Japan of failing to apologize for World War II-era atrocities. While Beijing and Seoul may have political motives for seizing on the water issue, this shouldn’t be a reason for journalists to avoid taking up more substantive criticisms about the release. Opposition has appeared in many other countries and reflects the failure of Japan to consult with other nations that share the Pacific Ocean, which will be the site of the mass water dump. 

This is a failure by media, once again, to inform their readers of the existence of alternative narratives that take a dimmer view of the actions taken by Japan’s officialdom, or that point out where government interests diverge from those of Japan’s public. This is also a failure of a different sort: of media to protect their own intellectual independence. By uncritically adopting the official narratives, the journalists are relinquishing the right to frame in their issues. This surrendering of agency is the central fact of the media capture that I described above.

To be clear, Japan is not unique in suffering from the problem of media capture. The press in other democratic countries face similar challenges. In the United States, we use the term “access journalism” to describe the pitfalls of journalists, often in Washington, who trade autonomy for exclusive access to official sources. However, Japan’s version of access journalism is more extreme, producing a uniformly monolithic coverage closer to that in non-democratic societies. The most apt American equivalent may be the period of extreme patriotic fervor between the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and the March 2003 invasion of Iraq, when U.S. media failed to adequately challenge the erroneous claims of the Bush administration that Iraq was in possession of weapons of mass destruction.

In Japan’s ongoing Fukushima disaster, this lack of agency manifests itself as a failure to not only set the narrative, but even to decide what is newsworthy. Most of the coverage is essentially an act of regurgitating the information that was distributed at the ministry’s kisha kurabu. Since the news reports are based on information received from ministry officials, not surprisingly they usually showcase the actions of those officials. Both the pages of Japan’s national dailies and the evening news broadcasts of NHK are filled with stories of Japanese officialdom in action, solving some problem or punishing some wrongdoer. Most news reports are mini-dramas in which officials play the starring role. As such, they serve as demonstrations that agency lies in the elite bureaucracies at the center of the postwar Japanese state, and not the major media, which seems to serve as an appendage. 

Even when critical stories appear, they are rarely the work of enterprising reporters unearthing facts that the powerful would rather keep covered. Rather, the revelations tend to come from official actors when they have decided to take action against malfeasance. One example was TEPCO’s cover-ups, mentioned earlier, which were exposed by nuclear regulators, not investigative reporters. A more recent example is revelations that started to become public in March 2021 of years of security lapses at the huge Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear plant in Niigata, facing the Sea of Japan. Over the next two months, news stories dribbled out about workers who were able to access the sensitive areas around the plant’s nuclear reactors without proper ID. In one case in 2015, a man entered the reactor area using the ID of his father, who also worked at the plant. Once again, there lapses were not exposed by intrepid reporters but regulators themselves, who leaked them to prepare the public for their decision to reject TEPCO’s request to restart the plant.5

The lack of media agency is all the more glaring because there have been very notable exceptions. Japan’s journalists have shown that they are capable of true investigative reporting that can define and drive the public narrative. For a brief window of time during the early years of the Fukushima disaster, some major Japanese media experimented with more autonomous journalism. This began in the late summer of 2011, as public disillusionment in the domestic press’s compliant coverage grew. This prompted some media to try to re-engage readers with more hard-hitting reports that challenged the official claims.

The most notable of these efforts was launched by the Asahi Shimbun, Japan’s second-largest daily, which beefed up a new reporting group dedicated to investigative journalism. (By investigative journalism, I mean journalists taking the initiative to pry out hidden truths and assemble these into original, factual narratives that challenge the versions of reality put forth by the powerful.) The Asahi’s investigative division got off to a strong start by winning Japan’s most prestigious press award two years in a row. It scored what it trumpeted as its biggest coup in May 2014, when two of its reporters wrote a front-page story that exposed the dangerously poor crisis management at the plant as it teetered on the brink of catastrophe. The story revealed that the government had hidden testimony by the Fukushima Daiichi plant’s manager during the accident, Yoshida Masao, who later died of cancer. It also recounted what it said was the most explosive revelation of this secret testimony: that hundreds of workers and staff had fled the crippled plant at the most dangerous point in the disaster, despite the fact that Yoshida never gave them the order to leave.

However, the Asahi erred by giving the story a misleading headline, which left readers with the impression that the workers had fled in defiance of Yoshida’s order to stay. (In fact, Yoshida himself says in the testimony that his order didn’t reach these workers—a stunning breakdown in command and control that was lost in the subsequent blow up over the article.) This misstep gave critics the opening that they needed to try to discredit the entire story, and by extension the newspaper’s proactive coverage of the disaster. A host of critics, including the prime minister himself and the rest of the mainstream media, set upon the Asahi with unusual ferocity. After weeks of withering attacks, which essentially accused the newspaper of lacking patriotism and of belittling the heroic plant workers, the Asahi’s president made a dramatic surrender in September 2014, retracting the entire article, gutting the investigative team and resigning his own job to take responsibility for the fiasco.6

Thus marked the end of the Asahi’s short-lived foray into investigative journalism, which I have described in more detail in this journal.7 Suffice it to say here that when forced to make a choice, the Asahi, the nation’s leading liberal voice favored by the intelligentsia, chose to remain on the boat. To preserve the privileged insider status as a member of the kisha kurabu media, the newspaper chose to sacrifice not only its biggest reporting accomplishment of the disaster, but also the journalists who produced it, who were sent into humiliating internal exile. For years afterward, the newspaper shunned proactive reporting on Fukushima, staying within safe confines of the official storyline.

The Asahi’s biggest mistake was its failure to stand behind its journalists. Investigative reporting is by nature a highly risky undertaking, and one that pits a handful of underpaid journalists against some of the most powerful members of society. By not only failing to stand up for its investigative reporters but trying to scapegoat them by punishing them for the mistakes in coverage, the Asahi sent a chilling message to all mainstream journalists: Newspapers don’t have your back. In such an environment, what journalists in their right mind would want to challenge the powers that be?

Admirably, some of the Asahi’s investigative reporters did stand their ground even at the cost of their careers at the newspaper. Soon after the debacle, two of the investigative group’s top reporters quit to launch Japan’s first NGO dedicated to investigative journalism, which in 2021 was renamed Tokyo Investigative Newsroom Tansa.8 Another resigned to join Facta, a Japanese magazine dedicated to investigative coverage (and offering stories that cannot be found in the large national newspapers). These decisions to place principle over company and career underscore my broader point: The sources of Japan’s media capture are bigger than the individual reporters and embedded in the structure of media institutions and the practice in Japan of journalism itself. 

The Asahi’s capitulation in 2014 marked the end of not just the Asahi’s but all the mainstream media’s efforts to create new, more critical narratives of the Fukushima disaster. These days, most reporting tends to fall into one of a few prepackaged, safely uncontroversial storylines. There is the Fukushima 50 narrative of successfully overcoming Japan’s biggest trial since World War II. Another is the “baseless rumors” (fuhyō higai) narrative, which casts fears of radiation as over-exaggerated, and usually the creation of women, leftists and foreigners. 

Journalists have told me that the Asahi’s surrender created a powerful prohibition on critical coverage. Having seen what happened to Japan’s leading liberal newspaper, and the star reporters there who lost their careers, few journalists have the stomach to challenge the status quo. The result is a grim new conformity. 

Adding to the pressure to toe the line has been the appearance post-Fukushima of another new, problem-plagued national project: the Tokyo Summer Olympics, originally scheduled for 2020. Coverage of the Olympics has again tended to adhere to official narratives, even as public misgivings grew in Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide’s decision to go forward with the Games a year later, in 2021, in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic. 

From the start, the government has used the Olympics to divert attention from Fukushima while proclaiming that the disaster is now in the past. While there has been critical coverage, it has been the exception and not the rule. Indeed, the media’s silence was deafening when the previous prime minister, Abe Shinzō, told the International Olympic Committee in Buenos Aires in September 2013 that the plant’s “situation was under control,” even as contaminated water was then still bleeding into the Pacific. 

By failing to take the initiative in Fukushima, the media have ended up supporting official efforts to use the Games to put the lid back on the nuclear disaster. The Olympics have become yet one more means for Japan’s elites to regain control of the public sphere, or at least the part of it controlled by the big legacy media. (They have had less success asserting control over the much more anarchic and anonymous world of social media.)

The media’s reluctance to challenge the government has also been apparent during the Covid-19 pandemic. I’m still waiting for the investigative articles that expose the truth behind Tokyo’s biggest failures during the pandemic. The major media emitted barely a peep in response to the government’s blatantly discriminatory decision during the first six months of the pandemic to close Japan’s borders to all foreign nationals, including long-term residents, while allowing Japanese nationals to come and go. More importantly, I would be the first in line to read an investigative exposé into what delayed the roll out of vaccines in Japan.

All too often, coverage of COVID-19 ended up repeating the pattern that we saw in Fukushima. The media once again surrendered their biggest public asset: their power to challenge the official narrative and expose the facts that officials don’t want us to know. Instead, the major domestic media once again show themselves more interested in preserving their privileged insider status. By doing so, they once again do a disservice of their readers.

The need to serve their readers by finding an independent and critical voice should have been the media’s biggest takeaway from Fukushima. Instead, they appear to be merely repeating the mistakes of a decade ago.

References

Brown, A. and Darby, I. (2021) ‘Plan to discharge Fukushima plant water into sea sets a dangerous precedent’, The Japan Times, April 25 [Online]. Accessed: June 25, 2021.

Fackler, M. (2016) ‘Sinking a bold foray into watchdog journalism in Japan’, Columbia Journalism Review [Online]. Accessed: June 25, 2021.

Fackler, M. (2016) ‘The Asahi Shimbun’s failed foray into watchdog journalism’, The Asia Pacific Journal Japan Focus, 14(24) [Online]. Accessed: June 25, 2021.

Jomaru, Y. (2012) Genpatsu to media shinbun jānarizumu ni dome no haiboku [Nuclear Power and the Media: The Second Defeat of Newspaper Journalism]. Tokyo: Asahi Shimbun Shuppan.

Kyodo. (2021) ‘Another security breach at Tepco nuclear plant uncovered’, The Japan Times, May 9 [Online]. Accessed: June 25, 2021. 

Ogawa, S. (2021) ‘Fukushima dai ichi genpatsu no osen shorisui, seifu ga kaiyō hōshutsu no hōshin o kettei e 1 3 nichi ni mo kanei kakuryō kaigi [Government Moving Toward Decision to Release the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant’s Contaminated Treated Water in the Ocean], Tokyo Shimbun, April 9 [Online]. Accessed: June 25, 2021.

Tansa. (2021) Tokyo investigative newsroom Tansa [Online]. Accessed: June 4, 2021.

Notes

1

SankeiNews (2011). “Edano kanbōchō kankaiken No1 ‘Tadachi ni kenkō shigai wa denai…’” [Chief Cabinet Secretary Press Conference Edano No1 ‘No Immediate Health Damage’]) [Online Video]. Accessed: August 23, 2011.2

Jomaru, 2012.3

Ogawa, 2021.4

Brown and Darby, 2021.5

Kyodo, 2021.6

Fackler, 2016.7

Fackler, 2016.8

Tansa, 2021.

https://apjjf.org/2021/17/Fackler.html

September 8, 2021 Posted by | Fukushima 2021, Japan, media | , , | Leave a comment