Credibility Questions on Fukushima
By THE EDITORIAL BOARDMAY 21, 2014
At the most dire moment of the crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant three years ago, nine-tenths of the employees, including executives, panicked and fled the plant following an explosion.
So reports one of Japan’s most prestigious newspapers, The Asahi Shimbun. This report, based on previously undisclosed testimony by the plant manager, Masao Yoshida, is in direct conflict with the official account of that fateful day provided by the plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power Company, or Tepco. It calls into question the truthfulness of both the company and, indeed, the government, which even now is trying to persuade the public to go along with the reopening of 48 nuclear reactors shut down after the accident, which traumatized the country.
The official version of events is that workers left the plant in a disciplined manner and retreated to another facility a few miles away — leaving behind a small band of intrepid workers who risked their lives to prevent the crisis from getting worse. According to the newspaper, Mr. Yoshida told investigators that he and 68 other employees had remained behind but that the flight of the others had been anything but orderly, contrary to company propaganda. Tepco’s official report states that Mr. Yoshida had ordered an evacuation to the undamaged Fukushima Daini plant about 6 miles away, but the newly revealed testimony indicated that he gave no such order and that the workers fled on their own. Mr. Yoshida died of cancer last year.
Japan’s nuclear industry has always acted under a veil of secrecy. One obvious imperative after the Fukushima disaster was for the government and the nuclear industry to be more transparent. But, even now, transparency seems to be elusive. And without it, ordinary citizens can hardly be expected to support the government’s plans. This latest revelation should jolt the Japanese public out of its creeping complacency about nuclear safety and demand proof from the government that it is proceeding with the utmost caution.
A version of this editorial appears in print on May 22, 2014, in The International New York Times.