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Monday, Sep. 17, 2012
Head of nuclear disaster investigation defends report
By YURI KAGEYAMA
The head of a major investigation into the Fukushima nuclear disaster is defending his report against criticism that his panel avoided blaming individuals and instead blamed elements of the nation's culture.
Kiyoshi Kurokawa, a doctor who headed the Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission, said he sticks with his view that the catastrophe was "Made in Japan," underlining collusion among the regulators and the utility that set off the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl. He said his panel intentionally stopped short of naming individual culprits.
"No one takes responsibility in Japan, even those in positions of responsibility," Kurokawa said last week at his commission office in Tokyo. "This is unique to Japan, a culture that stresses conformity, where people don't complain."
People are complaining, however, about the commission's report, not only for lacking specifics on responsibility but for making statements on Japanese culture that appeared in the English-language version of the document but not the Japanese version.
The 641-page report, released in July, compiled interviews with 1,167 people and scoured documents obtained from nuclear regulators and Tokyo Electric Power Co., the utility that ran Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant.
A devastating March 2011 tsunami set off by a 9.0-magnitude quake destroyed backup generators and sent the quake-damaged Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant into multiple meltdowns and explosions. About 150,000 people were eventually evacuated from a 20-km no-go zone, and fears remain in Fukushima that cancer and other illnesses will grow as a result of radiation.
The independent panel of 10 experts, including a lawyer, former diplomat and chemist, was appointed by the legislature. It is a style of investigation that was common in Western nations but unprecedented in Japan.
The panel's report has drawn fire from Japanese and overseas critics alike.
"One searches in vain through these pages for anyone to blame," Columbia University professor and Japan expert Gerald Curtis wrote in an opinion piece submitted to the Financial Times. "To pin the blame on culture is the ultimate cop-out. If culture explains behavior, then no one has to take responsibility."
Tatsujiro Suzuki, vice chairman of the government Atomic Energy Commission, which promotes nuclear technology, was critical of the differences between the English and Japanese versions of the report. He said it appeared to be putting on one face to the Japanese people, while presenting another abroad.
The preface of the English version said, "What must be admitted — very painfully — is that this was a disaster 'Made in Japan.' Its fundamental causes are to be found in the ingrained conventions of Japanese culture: our reflexive obedience; our reluctance to question authority; our devotion to 'sticking with the program'; our groupism and our insularity," he wrote in the English version.
The passage wasn't in the Japanese message. But Kurokawa said that he made similar points in other parts of the report in Japanese.
He said he wanted to reach a global audience by pointing to "amakudari," the longtime practice of handing plum jobs to retired bureaucrats, the nation's half-century domination by a single party, and elitist employees taking lifetime jobs for granted, as a peculiar "mindset" that fosters irresponsibility, slow decision-making and dubious governance.
"I didn't want to say it, but it is 'Made in Japan,' " Kurokawa said. "This is about Japanese culture and values. There is nowhere else quite like that."
Tokyo prosecutors recently accepted a request by a group of lawyers to carry out a probe into criminal charges of professional negligence against regulators and the plant's management. If prosecutors move ahead, their power to subpoena records, raid offices and question officials would be far greater than that of Kurokawa's panel.
Kurokawa said such an investigation was welcome as a sign of a "healthy democracy." He said his six-month investigation offered plenty of fodder for a criminal inquiry. He said it showed that bureaucrats brushed off evidence of tsunami risks that had been clear as far back as 2006, and that representatives from international watchdog groups took travel money from the utilities. He said it may not have the names, but the dates and circumstances are there so all the investigators have to do is check, he said.
Japanese media have reported that prosecutors waited for Kurokawa's report before deciding to take up a criminal investigation. The report's finding that the accident was preventable and man-made made it more likely the prosecutors would investigate.