Visiting Megastructures: the Hamaoka Nuclear Reactor and Kimitsu


On the 11th of December (Sunday), three friends of mine and I were invited to a day-long tour of the Hamaoka nuclear reactor owned by Chubu Electric Company.

We had been invited to look at the upgrades made to the facility in light of the Fukushima nuclear disaster. These changes included installation on five new generators, a wall to protect against tsunamis , and the elevation of several critical pieces of equipments and facilities, and generator-trucks along with fire-engines.

With reactors 1 and 2 slated for decommissioning and reactors 3, 4 and 5 slated for restarting, these preparations are being carried out with the utmost care. We went inside the reactors 3 and 4, and immediately we noticed the extensive reinforcement to the buildings. I noticed the structures that had been added on to aid complex repairs. We traipsed up and then down again along very narrow stairways, with various pipes running along the walls and then off in different directions. It was all extremely complex. While gazing down at the pool that held the spent fuel rods, I asked them for an explanation as to why a similar cooling pool at the Fukushima Daini Plant had lost a significant amount of water during a low activity seismic event.

Having seen for myself the intricate maze created by the criss-crossing pipes, wiring and equipment, I could not but help think of what would happen in less-than optimal situations, like when there are power cuts, earthquakes, fires, tsunamis, thunderstorms, cyclones, or even when it is dark outside. I wonder how the people tasked with maintaining this behemoth would be able to work in cooperation with each other on this complex yet delicate machinery. My intuition keeps me pessimistic.

Human beings have always sought to create megastructures to astound people, and more importantly, to establish authority to govern. The Pyramids of Egypt, the Great Wall of China, the temple at Todaiji housing the immense bronze statue of Buddha, the Versailles Palace, the Forbidden City all bear testament to this idea. But the nuclear reactor may be a different thing altogether. It is a megastructure, but also has complex and intricate innards. The awe and sheer scale stuns and astounds. And the inevitable question comes to mind: can we humans control and safely harness this power? I shared these thoughts on my Facebook post. Will we be able to maintain control over the Promethean creation that we are unleashing?

On the 13th (Tuesday), I spent a day in Kimitsu City, Chiba Prefecture, with The UAE ambassador to Japan His Excellency Mr. Khaled Omran Sqait Alameri and his entourage touring the Nippon Steel Sumitomo Metal Company (NSSMC) Works and TEPCO Power Plant. These were both megastructures as well.

Interesting fact: Ambassador Alameri studied as an undergraduate, electrical engineering at Tokai University’s School of Engineering during the time that I was dean of the School of Medicine there. It’s nice to be connected in such a way!


The Fukushima Nuclear Disaster, The Earthquake and the Tsunami Revisited: What Have We Learnt?


Early on the 22nd of November, a magnitude 7.4 earthquake struck off the eastern coast of Japan, causing tsunami waves reaching 1.4 meters in places. It brought back memories of the terrible Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant Disaster that happened five-and-a-half years ago.

Thankfully, the damage this time round was far less, although there was an accident at the Fukushima Daini nuclear power plant. At the no.3 reactor, the flow of the water cooling nearly 2,500 spent fuel rods was stopped for nearly 100 minutes. Although this incident was barely reported in the media, I do not think we can afford to take this incident lightly, because of several reasons I explain below.

First, we must keep in mind that Japan is a country prone to earthquakes. 20% of all M6+ earthquakes occur in Japan. ‘Earthquakes, lightening, fire and fathers,’ were the fearful things of Japan in old legend. Earthquakes are least predictable and yet they will unleash their wrath. After a large seismic event like the 3.11 earthquake, the crust becomes highly unstable, leading to even more heightened seismic and volcanic activity, which in turn calls for more awareness.

Apparently the government is preparing for imminent earthquakes along the Nankai Trough as part of this ‘preparedness’.

Another example is the designation of the 5th of November as World Tsunami Awareness Day, and on the 26th of November, Kuroshio town in Kochi hosted an event related to tsunami awareness, where 360 young people from 30 countries came together to learn about the dangers of tsunamis (in Japanese). Which makes it even more pitiful that the incident at Fukushima Daini happened followed by an earthquake and tsunami.

Second, Japan still has 50 nuclear reactors, most of which have the spent nuclear fuel rods stored in onsite pools filled with cooling water. Luckily for us, the fuel rods at Fukushima Daini were already being cooled for five years, meaning that the temperatures did not rise to a dangerous level. As you may recall, the U.S expressed urgent concern over the loss of cooling capability for the spent fuel rods stored at the no.4 reactor of Fukushima Daiichi.

Third, the ground movement on Nov 22 was reported as being below 100 Gal units. Japanese nuclear reactors are supposed to be built to withstand such shocks, and indeed ground movements of more than 400 to 600 Gal units, with backfitting to the main structure to ensure that the reactors are able to adhere to the higher requirements in light of new information. But what are these requirements, and are the changes adequate? Might they have forgotten to include spent fuel rods in new plans that meet these stringent requirements? Surely not, I hope. And yet… why do they, for example, persist in putting the spent fuel rods at the top of reactor buildings, a design that probably magnifies the movement in comparison to what it would have been at ground level? And what about the water coolant for these fuel rods?

Even when focusing just on the things that went wrong at Fukushima Daiichi, how have the lessons of thevhistorical disaster of Fukushima Daiichi been reflected in the current nuclear reactors of Japan? At the Sendai reactor? At the other reactors scheduled for re-start? The answers are not clear, leaving me very worried.

I have not heard an awful lot, and even if answers are attempted, they include jargon like ‘dry cask storage’ and are mentioned without conviction, without explanation, or any concrete examples. Discussion for discussion’s sake won’t take us very far, I’m afraid, yet it seems that it is exactly the case. Despite making ‘confident’ statements about resumption of operations at several nuclear power plants, it seems that the safety measures are sorely lacking. And this ‘small’ incident has laid bare the inadequacy of the Japanese response for all the world to see.

In my closing statement for the NAIIC report, I remark (in Japanese only).

” We are not without precedent with regards to disasters. The 2004 December Earthquake of magnitude 9.1, with massive tsunami, now known as the Sumatra-Andaman earthquake, was followed by an earthquake in 2005 with magnitude 8.6, and even this year (this statement was published in July, 2012) an M8.6 quake has struck the vicinity. There is nothing that allows us to assume that this will not happen in the case of the 2011 earthquake off the Pacific Coast of Tohoku. The Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant has already been shown to be vulnerable, and as for the other nuclear power facilities in Japan, for which safety standards remain questionable, I am afraid we are in a race against time”.

A part of my comments have also appeared in an article on the recent earthquake in the New York Times. Japan is in quite a sorry state at the moment. I hear about the status of the safety of nuclear power plants and I am often asked for my views from outside world….

Several Invitations, Talks and Discussions



These days, I have been lucky to be invited to attend several unique parties, receptions and dinners. Barring a few, most were public events, and some were organized by embassies.

Just to give you a general idea, I attended the following events:

Birdlife International’s annual fundraising gala, (the honorary president, Princess Takamado, was unable to attend owing to the mourning for Prince Mikasa’s passing), the commemoration of the creation of the Pasteur Japan Foundation through the collaboration of Institut Pasteur, Tokyo University and Kyoto University, The official unveiling ceremony of the Intilaq Tohoku Innovation Center (in Japanese) by the Qatar Friendship Fund, The Norwegian embassy’s reception for the visit of Norway’s foreign minister, and other events organized by the French embassy, the Swiss embassy, the Dutch embassy, and the British embassy.

At one embassy, I was invited to a small lunch that would be attended by ‘around 10 people’. Turned out that I was the only Japanese invitee, the rest being Minister and the entourage of 5, and the ambassador and his  staff. After some small talk, the conversation turned to the current situation in Fukushima after the nuclear disaster, as the Minister sought to learn more. Ever since I headed the NAIIC, I have found myself in similar situations more than few times.

Indeed, I recall that I was once specifically asked for by a visiting foreign dignitary, who was tired of receiving incomprehensible and non-committal replies when he had asked government officials and representatives of Japan about the kind of response Japan was planning in the aftermath of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Disaster. Even taking into account the fact that there may be some errors arising due to translation, the policies of the Japanese government post-Fukushima requires some truly mind-bending and convoluted logic. It is really difficult to explain it in simple terms, probably because there is dissonance between the observations and conclusions. No wonder the hapless government officials were unable to provide reasonable answers. It is disturbing that, although the Fukushima Daiichi disaster ranks right up there as one of the worst nuclear disasters the world has seen, the response cannot be explained to a global audience.

I have written extensively about this worrying issue in the book ‘Regulatory Capture’ (in Japanese), released in March this year. It is not a trifling matter; for it deals with the trust that lies at the heart of national governance.

The Brilliance of Masayoshi Son, and the 5th Year of His Initiative for Renewable Energy


In the aftermath of the Great East Japan Earthquake, Masayoshi Son laid out a new energy plan for the future, setting up a foundation to conduct research into renewables, and at the same time expanding the boundaries of his corporation to the global scale.

It is hard to find anyone in business circles in Japan, and indeed in the world, who are as capable of generating a buzz and garnering interest as Mr. Son. It is easy to criticize and be a naysayer, but I wonder how those same critics will fare in the face of similarly fierce put-downs.

Son-san has not taken long in acting to make his new energy plan, a response to the Fukushima Daichi Nuclear Accident, a reality.

On 9th September, I was invited to take part in a panel discussion as part of a conference organized by his foundation. You can view the panel discussion through this link to the foundation’s website, as well as comment or ask questions.

The speeches of Kåberger, Dr. Lovins (at around 14 min) and Son (at around 43 min, as well as from the beginning in the second video) were all wonderful, inspring and informative. I was particularly impressed by the comprehensiveness of Son’s vision, his thoughts and views, and his ability to translate thought into action, as well as the structure of his talk. His answers to questions were also very good.

If you see his video, you will be able to understand the precarious position that Japan is in, as it is left behind in the wake of of world-movers like the US and China who change the world that we live in through their decisions and the policies that they make.

It really saddens me that the people who are in charge of energy policy in Japan, and are therefore responsible for the future of Japan, are too small-minded to participate in global debates, content instead with just looking as the rest of the world seeks change.

There is a lot of potential for new enrgineering and technologies within Japan, but so long as they are not utilized and, they will remain as they are, only potential dreams.

The Fukushima Daichi Nuclear Disaster is an accident of proportions that will remain for centuries, yet there appears to be little desire to learn from it, no major movement or indication that a definitive master-plan will be in sight.

It seems we will only be getting more of opportunistic politicians and media belonging to the ‘ruling elites and establishments’, and the researchers who support on-going agenda. Perhaps this is all part of the mindset of a ‘remote and isolated Japan’ ?

It appears that Japan’s energy policy will remain under Regulatory Capture for the foreseeable future. I had requested my publishers to prepare some copies of my book ‘Regulatory Capture’ to sell here just in front  of  the cofenerce hall, but the demand was beyond expectations and the book copies were sold out very quickly (in Japanese) thanks to an eager audience.

To Norway: the Territory on the 78th Parallel North


After the dinner with DUJAT (Dutch & Japanese Trade Federation), I departed from Schiphol Airport, landed in Oslo 90 minutes later and stayed for one night. The next morning, I boarded a charter flight with about 140 people, which flew north for three hours and landed in Longyearbyen. It is located on the 78th parallel north.

This small village is the center of the Svalbard Islands and is located on Spitzberg Island. Due to the historical background, the governance is conducted collectively by Norway, Russia and the United States. In recent years, how to tackle the issues in the arctic has become one of the world’s challenges.

The Aurora Borealis Foundation (1) hosted this gathering. It was organised mainly by Bo Ekman of the Tallberg Foundation.

I attended a conference by Tallberg in 2013 when I visited Stockholm for a conference by invitation of Vattenfall power company due to my position as the Chairman of the National Diet of Japan Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission.

This time, another Japanese participants was my good friend Prof Mario Tokoro of Sony, which made me feel a bit relieved. The conference was co-hosted by Christopher Chuang, who has a career in media in Taiwan, and Mr. Ekman, so there was a large group of participants from China. However, I had the impression that much of the program, lectures and remarks were rather liberal. The brainstorming sessions that took place in small groups were also very good.

Through the brainstorming session, I met Dr. Eric Rasmussen, who is a leader in the field of global health and has a very unique career path. We share some similarities and had a very productive discussion.

On the third day, there were a several optional activities and I went to Barentsburg via a boat ride that was approximately two hours one-way. I enjoyed the outing there.

There was one man from the group from China who was wearing a very peculiar hat and had a unique appearance. I got the feeling that I had seen him somewhere before and it turned out that he was thinking the same thing.

He is a renowned designer and we had seen each other numerous times at the venue and hotel of the Nobel Prize award ceremony, which took place last December. It turned out that he was the stylist of Youyou Tu, who was awarded the Nobel Prize together with Dr. Omura. He brought his apprentice on the trip as well. I look forward to running into him again someday.

On the way back, I stopped by the Global Seed Vault. It seems that there are many people who stay at Oslo and the charter flight was delayed. From Oslo Airport, I made it just in time for my connecting flight in Paris and made it to Haneda.

My luggage was left at Oslo but it arrived three days later in Tokyo.

March 11; Five Years from the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant Accident; My New Book, “Regulatory Capture”; At Cornell University in Ithaca


Five years have passed since the terrible tragedy of the Great East Japan Earthquake and the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant Accident. How much progress has really been made in the reconstruction efforts? It is a difficult issue.

A few nuclear power plants have been restarted in Japan but it seems that accidents and problems are occurring rather frequently.

Dealing with the aftermath of the Fukushima nuclear power plant accident will likely take many more decades. We are faced with many major challenges and obstacles now and in the future, with no idea of how long we must cope with them.

Having served as the Chairman of the first independent investigative commission under the National Diet in Japan, the National Diet of Japan Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission (NAIIC), I decided to publish my book, “Regulatory Capture: When Groupthink Can Kill” at this time. It can be found in bookstores or ordered online on Amazon. It is my sincere hope that many people will read it. If Japan remains in its current situation, the future does not look promising.

As part of the book launch, I held press conferences at the Japan National Press Club and the Foreign Correspondents Club of Japan. The conferences can be viewed on YouTube.

This was my fifth time speaking at the Japan National Press Club regarding the Fukushima nuclear power plant accident. Each time, my message has been fundamentally the same: the world is changing but will Japan change?

Right after the press conference, I traveled to Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. The Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies, directed by Professor Hirokazu Miyazaki, invited me to speak at the roundtable discussion, “Nuclear Power Roundtable: Five Years after Fukushima.”

The panelists were Professor Charles Perrow of Princeton University and Professor Sonja Schmid of Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. I always enjoy taking part in such discussions. After the roundtable, we attended the reception and dinner.

The next day, I had breakfast with professors and students from Japan. In the evening, I invited two post-docs from Japan and China to join me for dinner and we chatted about various topics.

The subject of conversation that came up often during my visit was how few Japanese students and professors there were over here.

The world is filled with possibilities and I encourage young people to challenge themselves more. The world is waiting for you.

My New Book on Regulatory Capture, Now Available


Five years have passed since the March 11, 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and the unprecedented Fukushima nuclear power plant accident.

Three months before the earthquake and nuclear power plant disaster, the Arab Spring had begun in Tunisia.

The Arab Spring quickly spread to North Africa, the Middle East and now the region is experiencing a crisis that was unimaginable a few years ago, with a massive outpouring of refugees from North Africa and Syria to the EU.

In the midst of all of these major changes that have occurred throughout the world over the past five years, how has Japan changed?

With this question in mind, I focused on the lack of change in Japan in my new book on regulatory capture, through the lens of my experience as the Chairman of the National Diet of Japan Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission (NAIIC) , the first independent investigation commission in Japanese constitutional democratic history.

It will be available in stores on March 10th and can be ordered on Amazon.

Today, I held a press conference at the National Press Club of Japan, where I introduced the book and spoke about these issues.

I would be honored if you would read it.

Happy News – 2


He had come to discuss his talk “Resilience and the Unimaginable; Technology and Risk: Lessons from Japan” as part of the Carnegie Council’s centenary program, ‘Ethics for a Connected World’.

By the next morning, at around 10 a.m, he had sent me an email thanking me for our discussion along with with his speech text he was thinking of delivering.

Amazing. His intellectual and social prowess is evident from the way in which he integrated the latest literature and the NAAIC report in his talk, and his firm grasp of the arguments and nuances therein. It is an embodiment of his first-rate education, his career path as an acclaimed author, a competent academic in the field of history, and as a politician. You can find his talk here. Please take a look through it; I am sure it will be worth your time.

A few days later (8th-10th), I was in The Hague to attend the World Dementia Council. On the morning of the 10th, before my flight home, I went to the Mauritshuis Museum. Here I happened to meet David Malone, the Rector of the United Nations University, who used to work for the Canadian foreign ministry and knew Dr. Ignatieff well. He told me that Dr. Ignatieff’s talk was excellent, and that he touched a few times upon the findings of the NAAIC report.

I was heartened to hear this. It really makes your day, these kind of things.


Encouraging Message


In this Internet-era, more often surprises may come at you. Sometimes, I receive emails from this website of my blog and this time I got one from US Naval officer, Mr John Zimmerman, Manager Submarine Combat and Weapon Control. He told me that he was very impressed by the Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission Report by the National Diet ( chaired by me and he posted in his LinkedIn his comment with a title ‘The Most Honorable Act.’ Thank you, Mr Zimmerman for your encouraging note. I read his message and posted my response to his LinkedIn. His message is shown below for your reading. Thank you, Mr Zimmerman for your encouraging note.

The Most Honorable Act
May 17, 2015

On 11 March 2011 a magnitude 9.0 earthquake occurred off the eastern coast of Japan. The resulting tsunami killed over 15,000 people and destroyed over 400,000 homes and buildings. Fifty minutes after the earthquake struck a tsunami measuring over 40 feet high overflowed the seawall at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. While the plant’s nuclear reactors had already been shutdown in response to the earthquake, the flooding resulted in a loss of power to pumps that were needed to cool the nuclear power plants’ reactors. In the days to come reactor core damage and hydrogen explosions would cause substantial radioactivity to be released to the environment.

In response to the disaster Japan’s government set up an independent commission to investigate what had occurred. The report can be found on the internet – Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission.

If the commission wanted to find excuses for this tragedy it would not have been difficult to do given the natural disaster that had occurred. Yet it is clear to me that this commission wasn’t looking for excuses. It was looking for the truth. What struck me very hard in the beginning of the report was Kiyoshi Kurokawa’s ‘Message from the Chairman’.

“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.”…

“The consequences of negligence at Fukushima stand out as catastrophic, but the mindset that supported it can be found across Japan. In recognizing that fact, each of us should reflect on our responsibility as individuals in a democratic society.” …

With all of Japan and the world watching the commission’s main message was – this horrible tragedy was of our own making.

How often do you confront issues that you don’t address because you are worried about what might occur, people or organizations that could be embarrassed, retribution that might occur? Today we seek leaders and organizations we can trust. Honor, Courage, and Commitment are our Navy’s core values. We want people who have the courage to confront real problems and ‘tell it like it is’. Only through courage and commitment can the most challenging issues be addressed.

Some may have thought the commission’s report brought dishonor on Japan. To me Chairman Kurokawa’s Message and the report’s honesty, integrity, and transparency was – The Most Honorable Act, befitting the very best traditions of a great country and people.

“Having chosen our course, without guile and with pure purpose, let us renew our trust in God, and go forward without fear and with manly hearts”  Abraham Lincoln