Japan Will Sink if It Does Not Change Now (Sankei-shinbun 2012/10/11)

We interviewed Dr. Kiyoshi Kurokawa, the former chair of the National Diet of Japan Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission, which investigated the nuclear accident at the Tokyo Electric Power Company Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. He explains the context of Japanese society in which the accident occurred, drawing attention to the tendency for leaders of organizations to be chosen according to the seniority system rather than by ability, and the difficulty of changing direction once decided. His tells us “if Japan does not use this as an opportunity to change, it will sink.”

Impact of Public Disclosure

–Both the cabinet and the private sector also set up their own investigation commissions, but the parliamentary panel focused particularly on the following points

“When conducting such an investigation, the investigators’ personal judgments usually have an effect. In order to prevent this as much as possible, the report tried to present only the facts, not the investigators’ personal udgments. The report did not use the phrases “nuclear village” or “safety myth.” If we use those words, readers would generally agree, “yes, that’s right.” We decided to only describe the facts in a straightforward manner.”

–Another major difference from the other commissions is that the committee meetings were made open to the public and the media

“All of the twenty commission meetings with hearings were made open to the public and were broadcast live on the website. Simultaneous English translations were also provided. It is important for the process to be transparent, and we wanted the people to see for themselves how the witnesses responded rather than the commission’s judgements.”

–Although there may have been advantages and disadvantages to public disclosure…

“We requested thirty-eight people to serve as witnesses at the commission hearings and not one declined. As TEPCO is a private company, it was not forced to submit its documents we requested, but if it declined we would only record and state that TEPCO would not release the documents. However, TEPCO ended up allowing us to inspect and view both their documents and the video records of the teleconferences among TEPCO Tokyo headquarter and Fukushima Daiichi Plant Operation Center. Media reacted strongly when the committee disclosed  the fact that there was no sound in the (teleconference) footage of when former Prime Minister Kan went into TEPCO headquarters. Later, in the end, TEPCO disclosed their records to the media. Thus, making our committee meetings open to the public was the right decision.”

Checking the Administrative Branch of the Government

–The report condemned the accident as “man-made”

“People in positions of power must act responsibly. What happens when they know but don’t do anything? It became awfully clear in this accident. Nuclear accidents have occurred in the past around the world. In the United States, after the Three Mile accident, an independent investigation report led by Dr Kemeny was released with specific recommendations similar to that of our report. What occurred thirty years ago in the U.S. repeated itself in this country. Japan knew about the Three Mile accident. Even if it did not know, Japan is a highly developed country that is even trying to export nuclear power technology. Knowing about it but not doing little by those responsible positions cannot be called anything other than a man-made disaster.”

–Why did this situation come about?

“During the period when energy shortages were a serious problem, developing nuclear power became a national policy of high priority. However, the bureaucracy only kept pushing the development forward, and there was no effective governance capability to put on the brakes when Japan needed it.”

–Does the problem lie within Japanese society?

“Both major private companies and the bureaucracy in Japan follow the seniority system within the same organization as a life-time employment. Since people are not necessarily chosen for their abilities, the problem arises that people at the higher posts can be incompetent. TEPCO is a company that has a monopoly of energy production and distribution in each regional areas. In such cases, energy companies become easily involved in regional elections and thus, in politics. Collusion became prominent as the direction shifted to everyone promoting nuclear power.”

–Does this mean that politicians are also responsible?

“In Japan, there is no mechanism to keep the Administrative branch of the government in check. The bureaucracy makes and implements almost all of the policies in Japan. So long as the bureaucracy is allowed to create the policies, they will continue to protect their interests and there will be no reason to change. NAIIC is probably the first time that the Legislative branch has functioned successfully.”

Thinking in Black and White Will Not Lead to The Answer

–Can Japanese society and politics change?

“If Japan does not use this commission report and this mechanism as an opportunity to change the governance of the Government, Japan will continue to sink. There is a need to reject the people at the top of public offices and public organizations who are incompetent thus irresponsible. The inclusion of more women, young people, and foreigners will bring about different ways of thinking and governance. Older generations will not produce different ideas and even if they do, they will tend to dismiss the new ideas.”

–The Establishment of the New Nuclear Regulatory Authority

“In our commission’s report, we recommended that regulatory bodies should adhere to the “no return rule” (officials are not allowed to return to their previous governmental agency) and that members should be individuals who intend to make nuclear regulation their careers. More Japanese should undergo training programs abroad. After ten years, they will have an international career and will be respected globally.”

–Should Japan continue to keep its nuclear power plants?

“It is necessary to think critically and to be aware of the changes in the world. Choosing between black or white, yes or no, is not the solution. We must take into account the history of the Three Power Source Development Laws (Dengen-Sanpo; the granting of subsidies to municipalities that allow the building of nuclear power plant sites). Change may not occur immediately, and there needs to be more discussion.”

Profile: Kiyoshi Kurokawa. Professor at the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies. Born September 11, 1936. After graduating from the University of Tokyo Faculty of Medicine, he moved to the United States in 1969 and was a research assistant at the Department of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. In 1979, he became professor of Medicine at Department of Medicine, University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) School of Medicine. Returning to Japan in 1983, he became professor at University of Tokyo Faculty of Medicine in 1989, and later Dean of Tokai University School of Medicine, president of the Science Council of Japan, as well as Science Advisor for the Cabinet of Japan under former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in 2006. This year, he was chair of the National Diet of Japan Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission, which investigated the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant and submitted its report to the National Diet in July, calling the accident “man-made.”