Thursday, July 5, 2012

Report:Fukushima disaster blamed on government's cozy relations with nuclear industry

By Mari Yamaguchi, The Associated Press, in Globe and Mail, July 5, 2012
Nuclear power returned to Japan’s energy mix for the first time in two months Thursday, hours before a parliamentary panel blamed the government’s cozy relations with the industry for the meltdowns that prompted the mass shutdown of the nation’s reactors.

Though the report echoes other investigations into last year’s disaster at the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant, it could fuel complaints that Japan is trying to restart nuclear reactors without doing enough to avoid a repeat. Thursday’s resumption of operations at a reactor in Ohi, in western Japan, already had been hotly contested....
Thursday’s report said the Fukushima disaster was “man-made” because it should have been foreseen and avoided. It said that since at least 2006, Japan’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency and plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. – or TEPCO – knew the risk of a total power outage at Fukushima Dai-ichi in case of a major tsunami. The report accused both of “intentionally” postponing safety measures to avoid reactor stoppages.

It said that the response “betrayed the nation’s right to be safe from nuclear accidents” and that collusion between the government, regulators and the utility itself had allowed lax preparation and precautions.
The 10-member commission appointed by parliament in December interviewed 1,167 people in hearings exceeding 900 hours. Members also inspected Fukushima Dai-ichi and the neighboring and less-damaged Dai-ni plant, as well as two others in nearby prefectures.
Its bulky final report urged parliament to monitor a new regulatory agency and supervise reforms in the crisis management system. It also urged the government to set clear disclosure rules about its relationship with nuclear operators, construct a cross-monitoring system and overhaul laws governing nuclear energy “to meet global standards of safety, public health and welfare.”
Commission Chairman Kiyoshi Kurokawa told a news conference that parliament and the people must keep checking the government.
“Fukushima’s nuclear crisis is not over,” Mr. Kurokawa said. “I strongly believe that taking a step forward in implementing the recommendations in the report is the necessary precondition for winning back the trust that Japan had lost from the international community due to the accident, and winning back the trust that the nation had lost from its people.”
The commission’s report could complicate government efforts to get more reactors going. Over the past month, large demonstrations against restarts have been held each week outside the prime minister’s office, reflecting deep grassroots opposition. Before the crisis, Japan got one-third of its electricity from nuclear plants.
Experts and activists have criticized Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda’s government, saying it is putting business ahead of safety by going forward with the resumption before studying the findings and recommendations in the report.
Imagine, a public utility, like the nuclear reactors that power Japan's economy, being too "cosy" with the government that is supposed to regulate that utility.
Imagine the impact on human lives when the surge for sales and profits of the nuclear company collides with the public need for safety, security and accountability and the former wins, resulting in lost lives, lost dreams, lost homes and for some, lost hope.
Was, and in the future, will the cost be worth it?
Far be it from a Canadian observer of such a distant calamity to tell the Japanese how to govern, manage and oversee their important utility. However, there is a theme in this report, that echoes around the world, and that theme is the question of the separation between the political/legislative/executive/judicial process and the private sector whose money, influence, power and even demands put pressure on the governmental branches through personal representation, through hired lobbyists, through court cases, through obstruction of assessment protocols, through campaign contributions, and through the strategic and tactical deployment of information, held securely by those private interests, in order to accomplish any of their goals dependent on public support.
It is the public that must serve as informed arbiter, mediator, even judge, through such processes as opinion polls, advertising and public relations campaigns, political contributions and even eventually in the voting booth.
In North America, there is clear evidence that resource companies, but not exclusively companies from that sector, spend millions if not billions generating often what can best be described as "mis-information" campaigns, to plant seeds of doubt, for example, about global warming and climate change, about the dangers of tobacco smoke, about the dangers of asbestos, about the safety and security of oil and gas pipelines, about the environmental impact of such pipelines, and, yes, about the relative impact both environmentally and from a national security point of view, of nuclear power. Some of these campaigns are directed at the general public, while others are specifically targetted at elected and appointed officials, whose role is specifically the protection of the public interest, even at the potential expense of the private companies bottom line. If the Fukishima nuclear disaster was, even in part, a man-made tragedy, then the relationships between the private and public sectors requires detailed examination, with a view to enhanced fire walls separating one from the other.
While this issue pertains to Japan, in the legal and governmental sense, the nuclear cloud hangs over the planet, and a disaster in one continent can, without exaggeration, severely impact all other continents, and their people.
In the industrial/manufacturing sectors, the "hybrid" has become an important new product, even service, generating both sales and economies and efficiencies never before imagined.
However, we must not permit the "hybrid" of elected, or appointed judicial or legistative representatives to be or to become also the agents of the private corporations and vice versa.
And in order to achieve that separation, for the purpose of trust in both organizations, the public has to be even more vigilant, as does the fouth estate, in holding the feet of both groups to the "fire" of public trust, without which neither group can function effectively.

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