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Public deserves closer look into Fukushima response

What this article from Nikkei (the Japanese Business & investment Newspaper) does not say is if the nuclear industry discloses, informs the public about the true facts, the public trust in the nuclear industry will NEVER be restored, and no nuclear plant will ever be allowed to restart.




TOKYO — For Tepco, there is no escaping the accusation that the utility’s deliberate avoidance of the term “meltdown” after the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster was an attempt to minimize the severity of the situation to the public.

Tokyo Electric Power Co. recognized immediately that a core meltdown had occurred at the ill-fated power plant, and so did Japan’s government. On March 12, 2011 — the day after the crisis began — the term was used at a news conference held by the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, Japan’s nuclear power regulator at that time. The spokesman who uttered the word was replaced the following day.

The report issued Thursday by a third-party committee investigating Tepco’s handling of the disaster underscores once again the inability of the prime minister’s office and the bureaucracy at the time to face the reality of the situation. It also deepens the suspicion that officials sought to control the flow of information to the public.

A fear of causing widespread panic is a poor excuse for covering up the truth. If anyone was panicking, it was arguably Tepco’s president at the time, Masataka Shimizu, as well as other officials at the utility and at the prime minister’s office. The report said Shimizu gave instructions at Tepco to avoid using the term meltdown.

Crews at Fukushima Daiichi, led by plant manager Masao Yoshida, made every effort to contain the crisis on the assumption that they were dealing with a meltdown. Even if Tepco headquarters had used this term instead of “core damage” in informing the public, the utility’s response on the ground probably would have been the same. But residents of the evacuation zone, as well as the Self-Defense Forces and other first responders, may have acted differently.

The investigative committee did not determine who in the government might have prompted Shimizu’s directive against using the word. There has been reluctance to examine the involvement of elected officials and bureaucrats in the disaster response. More probing is needed.

It took more than five years for Shimizu’s instructions to come to light. The latest investigation itself never would have occurred if not for the persistence of the Niigata Prefecture government, which has its own Tepco — whose formal name is now Tokyo Electric Power Co. Holdings — nuclear power plant to worry about.

What happens at the nation’s nuclear reactors ought to be made public without disguise — and not just when serious safety breaches like meltdowns are involved. Efforts on disclosure must begin with everyday information in order to restore the public’s trust in nuclear power.

June 20, 2016 Posted by | Fukushima 2016 | , , , | Leave a comment