Japan’s nuclear disaster Toxic legacy


Sep 5th 2014

IN THE pantheon of Fukushima heroes, Masao Yoshida (pictured) is a key figure. As the manager of the crippled Daiichi plant in 2011, Mr Yoshida was the captain of a nuclear Titanic, ready to go down with his ship rather than let it spin totally out of control. He later gave the most complete account from the cockpit of the world’s worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl. Inevitably, perhaps, his account is now at the centre of a toxic row over the legacy of nuclear power.

The transcript, recorded in 13 interviews from July to November 2011 as part of the lengthy government probe into the Fukushima crisis, was kept secret—at the request of Mr Yoshida. But after gathering dust for over two years it was partially leaked this year, first by the Asahi, Japan’s liberal flagship newspaper, then by its bitter conservative rival, the Sankei. Each has strikingly different interpretations of its contents.

The Asahi, which is critical of attempts to restart the nation’s 50 idling reactors, found evidence of terrifying bungling by Tokyo Electric Power (TEPCO), the operator of the plant. In May it released extracts apparently showing that 650 of the 720 workers at the plant disobeyed Mr Yoshida’s orders and fled during the height of the crisis, when radiation spiked after a series of explosions. TEPCO failed to mention these orders in its official accounts of what occurred, said the paper.

But the Sankei mined the same extract and found confusion, not insubordination. Mr Yoshida’s orders were not properly conveyed, and in any case he later agreed with the workers’ decision to evacuate to the Daini plant about 10km away, it said. The newspaper accused the Asahi of “twisting” Mr Yoshida’s account to further the anti-nuclear cause.  
 
Arguments over what took place have simmered for over three years and both sides have well-entrenched positions: one seeking to highlight the managerial and political fault-lines of the nuclear industry, the other trying to shift blame elsewhere, particularly on to Naoto Kan, who was Japan’s prime minister in 2011.

Now a leading anti-nuclear campaigner, Mr Kan is credited by many with having faced down TEPCO to stop it abandoning the plant’s six reactors and seven lethal nuclear fuel pools. He later said he feared much of Japan’s densely populated eastern seaboard could have been left uninhabitable. TEPCO denies any plan to abandon the Daiichi plant.

The Sankei has picked on Mr Yoshida’s taped criticism of Mr Kan to reinforce its case that he worsened the crisis by overstepping the limits of his authority. It is clear from the transcript that Mr Yoshida is no fan of the former prime minister. But he also criticises his boss, Masataka Shimizu, the disgraced TEPCO president who disappeared from public view during the disaster.

Under pressure, the government has agreed to release most of Mr Yoshida’s transcribed testimony this month. Speaking last week, Mr Kan said he was “confident” that the transcript would support his version of events. All sides at least agree on one point: Mr Yoshida, a heavy smoker who died of esophageal cancer last year, was made of tough stuff. After his death, Mr Kan tweeted: “I bow in respect for his leadership and decision-making.”

Source: The Economist
 http://www.economist.com/blogs/banyan/2014/09/japans-nuclear-disaster?fsrc=scn/tw_ec/toxic_legacy

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