Fukushima in Hindsight: Nuclear Fears Ignored in Japan

The New York Times finds a 'culture of collusion' propping nuclear power in Japan

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It's been a consistent refrain since Japan's March 11th quake: Government and Tokyo Electric officials could've been able to prevent a "full meltdown" at the Fukushima nuclear station. Instead, they ignored regulators warnings and are now facing a six-to-nine month timeline for stabilizing the reactors.

The latest bit of hindsight about unheeded warnings arrives from the New York Times, which leads their overview of Japan's long-time nuclear critics by describing a failed, decade old lawsuit demanding the shut down of the Hamaoka nuclear plant because of quake fears. Even though lawyers detailed a similar chain of events to Fukushima (backup generators failing, radiation seeping into the sea), the attempt to shut down the plant failed until it was only recently suspended temporarily after the quake.

The Times takeaway line: "the fact that virtually all these suits were unsuccessful reinforces the widespread belief in Japan that a culture of collusion supporting nuclear power, including the government, nuclear regulators and plant operators, extends to the courts as well."

The newspaper's chronicles of "weak oversight" on nuclear plants is only the latest in similar articles. In late March, Reuters published an analysis concluding that TEPCO rolled the dice on a potential disaster at Fukushima and lost a "calculated risk." The report noted that government officials and utilities "downplayed dangers and ignored warnings" including a 2007 study that estimated a 10 percent risk that a tsunami could overrun the plants defenses.

Even earlier, the Wall Street Journal noted that TEPCO officials could have retrofitted the plant's reactors with new cooling technologies but the utility decided not to. "Experts said doing so was likely deemed too costly and cumbersome given what was seen as a small risk of total power outage," the Journal concluded.

Hindsight affords these sort of observations, including this one from a Japanese seismologist to the Times: "the Japanese archipelago is a place where you shouldn't build nuclear plants."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.