Business should face up to Japan's nuclear threat

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 27 April, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 27 April, 2011, 12:00am

The nuclear crisis in Japan is in fact out of control. The way it's being handled and the latest developments have fully exposed the incompetence and dereliction of duty of the Japanese government as well as Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco). Their behaviour contrasts sharply with the resilience and calmness of the Japanese people in dealing with the crisis.

The Fukushima nuclear disaster first emerged more than a month ago. The six reactors at the quake-stricken plant all ran into problems and the authorities have been unable to contain the radiation leak.

There have been discrepancies and errors in the information released in relation to the disaster, prompting criticism of a cover-up. As a Chinese saying goes: 'Paper can't hide a fire.' In the end, the Japanese government had no choice but to face reality: about two weeks ago, officials upgraded the severity of the Fukushima nuclear accident from a 5 to the maximum 7, the same rating as the Chernobyl crisis in 1986.

However, the authorities have so far only cordoned off areas within 20 kilometres of the stricken plant, and advised those living between 20 and 30 kilometres to stay indoors or evacuate voluntarily - far below the 80 kilometres the US government set for its nationals in Japan. How can the Japanese authorities still have any credibility in the eyes of its people and the world?

Tepco recently said it hopes to stabilise the cooling systems at the plant and collect all contaminated water for proper treatment within three months. And it hopes to take another six to nine months to achieve a 'cold shutdown', which means bringing core temperatures below 100 degrees Celsius, and secure dangerous spent fuel. The crucial issue is to reduce, then stop, the radioactive leaks, and work towards decommissioning the reactors. Unfortunately, it is unclear if these targets can be met.

According to the British science journal Nature, the clean-up at Fukushima could take as long as 100 years as it could take that long to fully decommission the reactors. One thing is for sure: this nuclear crisis is unprecedented in Japan's history. For the many years ahead, this problem will continue to haunt Japan as well as the rest of the world.

Disregarding the safety of the public, some unscrupulous Hong Kong travel agencies are still organising post-quake Japan tours by offering huge discounts to attract customers. This is totally irresponsible.

We have to be aware that, as long as the nuclear crisis drags on in Japan, many problems pose a serious threat to public health. Radioactive leakage will continue to affect air quality and the environment, and contaminate drinking water and food.

Travel agencies that in the past have focused their business on Japan tours should now consider developing other markets before it's too late. The same goes for other businesses such as Japanese restaurants. They need to branch out and develop different business models in order to survive. Simply telling customers that they don't use ingredients imported from Japan is not a long-term solution.

As long as the nuclear crisis remains unresolved and the radioactive leakage continues, we will continue to hear negative reports about Japan. No one can pull the wool over our eyes because the truth will always come out.

A word of advice for the chief executive and senior officials: don't stage political shows by eating at Japanese restaurants, because that is not necessarily politically correct. In 1997, during the bird flu crisis, then director of health Margaret Chan Fung Fu-chun made the classic mistake of declaring: 'I eat chicken every day.' Her action failed to calm public fear. So, my advice is: don't repeat Chan's stunt.

Albert Cheng King-hon is a political commentator.


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