Has Japan learnt from Fukushima disaster?
Russia had its Chernobyl; the US Three Mile Island; Japan is the only country to have suffered both a nuclear attack and catastrophic civilian reactor meltdown. Its people therefore have good reason to reflect on plans to resume nuclear power generation. What sets the Fukushima nuclear disaster apart, three years ago today, is that although it was precipitated by cataclysmic natural events, an independent investigation found that it was ultimately man-made. This is despite the lessons of the past and prescient updated warnings to government, nuclear regulators and reactor operators of the dangers posed by extreme natural events to which Japan is prone. The commission found an official culture of denial of risk and non-accountability, collusion and disregard for global nuclear safety trends.
The question is whether lessons have been learned. That matters, because the government of conservative Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is poised to restart reactors once they pass security checks. This follows increasing voter support for pro-nuclear election candidates despite a vocal anti-nuclear lobby.
Sadly, as we have reported, Dr Kiyoshi Kurakowa, chairman of the independent investigation, is not convinced that its findings have made a difference to a culture that tends not to reflect on previous mistakes. Tokyo Electric Power Company has never even acknowledged the report's findings, even though the accident and its aftermath was magnified by Tepco's incompetence, inefficiency and mismanagement. Little wonder local officials in Fukushima were relieved when the Abe government took over control of the decontamination process from Tepco last year after scarcely credible blunders like serious radioactive water leaks into the Pacific Ocean.
That said, the reality is that Japan has no choice but to use nuclear power, having run up a huge import bill for oil and gas that is undermining Abe's bold policies to restore sustained economic growth. Japan's misfortune prompted global reflection on the safety of nuclear power. China, for example, froze work on new nuclear plants while it ordered checks on those in commission. Fukushima is a reminder that safety and preparedness can never be compromised. We trust that for the sake of the Japanese people, the Abe government makes the nuclear industry a shining exception to a culture of face-saving, lack of accountability and vested interest that prevailed at such human and economic cost that persists to this day.