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Fukushima Reflections: Looking back, looking forward

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

Robert Jacobs has a short but powerful piece in the Asia-Pacific Journal on the topic of 'forgetting Fukushima':1

"Forgetting begins with lies. In Fukushima the lies began with TEPCO (the owner of the power plants) denying that there were any meltdowns when they knew there were three. They knew they had at least one full meltdown by the end of the first day, less than 12 hours after the site was struck by a powerful earthquake knocking out the electrical power. TEPCO continued to tell this lie for three months, even after hundreds of thousands of people had been forced to or voluntarily evacuated. Just last week TEPCO admitted that it was aware of the meltdowns much earlier, or to put it bluntly, it continued to hide the fact that it had been lying for five years. ...

"The most powerful legacy of Chernobyl, besides its long-lived radiation, is the widespread use of the word "radiophobia" by nuclear industry apologists to describe the public response to large releases of radiation: fear. Look for this word and sentiment in the many articles being published this month about Fukushima. When you see it, or read the claim that more people were harmed at Fukushima by their own irrational fears than by radiation, you are seeing the work of forgetting turn its cruel wheels. Behind those wheels are the shattered lives and emotional wellbeing of hundreds of thousands of people whose communities were destroyed, and whose families were ripped apart by the Fukushima disaster. People whose anxieties will rise every time they or their children run a high fever, or suffer a nosebleed or test positively for cancer. People whose suffering – at no fault of their own – is becoming invisible.

"Soon when we talk about Fukushima we will reduce the human impact to a quibbling over numbers: how many cases of thyroid cancer, how many confirmed illnesses. Lost-hidden-forgotten will be the hundreds of thousands of people forced to flee their homes, in many cases permanently, and try to rebuild their shattered lives. Public relations professionals and industry scientists will say that these people did this to themselves. And the curtain will draw ever downward as we forget them. This is the tradition of nuclear forgetting.

"[W]e should not allow our gaze to remain fixed on the nuclear plants, we must learn to see the deep wounds to society that are left to heal in darkness. We must learn to bring the whole of the population and ecosystem that suffer from radiological disasters into the light of our awareness and concerns. We must grieve for all that has been lost and we must hold government and the TEPCO Corporation responsible for assisting those whose lives have been shattered."

The full article is online.1

TEPCO – a company rooted firmly in denial

Mark Willacy, an Australian journalist and author of the book Fukushima: Japan's Tsunami and the Inside Story of the Nuclear Meltdowns, writes:2

"TEPCO modelled a large offshore earthquake and predicted that it could spawn waves as high as 15.7 metres (about the exact height of the ones that did cripple the plant). But TEPCO would hide its report and do nothing. "Taking extra safety measures would have been interpreted as TEPCO being worried about a tsunami. If we had built seawalls in front of the plant ... it would've made [local residents] worry," TEPCO's Junichi Matsumoto told me.

"I was stunned. Here was one of the nuclear company's top brass telling me they knew a big tsunami could strike, but that they had done nothing about it because they didn't want to spook people living near the plant. Now these people were among Fukushima's 150,000 "nuclear refugees", forced to evacuate their homes for tiny makeshift shelters many kilometres inland.

"I came to believe TEPCO was a company rooted firmly in denial. I would lose count of the number of times a conga line of TEPCO officials would shuffle into a press conference, apologise to the people of Japan for what had happened and then bow deeply. It was too little, too late.

"Last month three former TEPCO executives were charged with negligence over the Fukushima meltdowns. But it only happened after a citizen's panel ruled they should faced trial. Until that point prosecutors had twice dismissed the idea of indicting anyone."

Bottomless depths of corruption

Few people or organizations can say they paid sufficient attention to the corruption in Japan's nuclear industry in the years before the Fukushima disaster. The Tokyo-based Citizens Nuclear Information Center (CNIC) is an honorable exception. Here is a brief excerpt from a 2007 CNIC article titled Nuclear State and Industry: Bottomless Depths of Corruption.3

"A web of falsification and deception in Japan's electric power industry was uncovered late in 2006. On 30 March 2007, all 12 power companies submitted reports to the government. Their reports, covering nuclear, fossil fuel and hydroelectric power stations, identified a colossal 10,646 irregularities. Of those, 455 cases involved nuclear power plants, including 230 at Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) and 123 at Chubu Electric.

"On April 6th, power companies submitted reports to the Nuclear Industrial and Safety Agency (NISA) explaining how they propose to prevent such problems arising in future. NISA responded on April 20th by announcing administrative proceedings against four companies in relation to seven reactors. The penalty imposed is that the companies must alter their safety provisions. NISA has not demanded that reactors be shut down, nor has it suspended any licenses. With such lenient treatment as this, one can hardly expect that such problems will not arise in future.

"A previous TEPCO scandal came to light in August 2002 when a whistleblower revealed that the company had falsified inspection records and concealed problems at its nuclear power plants. Thereafter, similar problems were discovered at plants belonging to other power companies. On that occasion TEPCO was forced to close down all 17 of its nuclear reactors. Four directors accepted responsibility by resigning and the company promised to work to recover public trust. This time there is little evidence of contrition.

"During the 2002 scandal, the discovery of corruption in the government's periodic inspections showed the hollowness of Japan's nuclear safety system. This time the Minister for Economy Trade and Industry directed that a thorough investigation be carried out to "uncover the truth with no concealment". However, by rights, these problems should have been identified at the time of the 2002 scandal. The root of the problem is that the government, the power companies and the plant makers are all in bed together. What we are seeing once again is the true nature of Japan's nuclear club. ...

"Can we be sure that there are no more incidents to be uncovered? Certainly not. NISA admitted as much during a meeting with politicians and citizens groups on April 13th. It seems that the depths of corruption in Japan's nuclear industry are unfathomable. ...

"It has become clear that we cannot trust the regulator any more than the companies, but even if it wanted to, NISA does not have the ability to properly check what is going on. When representatives of CNIC and other NGOs visited NISA on April 13th, NISA showed not the slightest sign of remorse. The fact that it is located within the Ministry of Economy Trade and Industry, which also has the role of promoting nuclear power, does not help of course."

A U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission report said of the fatal 1999 criticality accident at Tokai-mura: "The NRC staff agrees with the Government of Japan's conclusion that the general root causes of the accident were: (1) inadequate regulatory oversight; (2) lack of an appropriate safety culture; and (3) inadequate worker training and qualification."4 Sound familiar?

CNIC's highly informative English-language newsletters, pre- and post-Fukushima, are online at

Here is a list of some of CNIC's pre-Fukushima articles:


1. Robert Jacobs, 1 March 2016, "On Forgetting Fukushima", The Asia-Pacific Journal, Vol. 14, Issue 5, No. 1,

2. Mark Willacy, 10 March 2016, 'The ghosts of Fukushima',

3. Yukio Yamaguchi, 11 May 2007, 'Nuclear State and Industry: Bottomless Depths of Corruption', Nuke Info Tokyo 118,

4. U.S. NRC, 'NRC Review of the Tokai-mura Criticality Accident',