Fukushima probe shows new openness in Japan

Much has changed in Japan since the March 11, 2011, trifecta of destruction: an earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear disaster at the Fukushima nuclear facility. As the recent independent investigation of the nuclear accident proves, some of that change is reflected in the nation’s growing capacity for open self-criticism.

The new report states simply that the events at Fukushima were “man-made” in all respects. The thorough analysis blames systemic negligence in the industry and its collusive relationship with the government. There is a high likelihood, the report indicates, that the damage to the plant came from the earthquake — something to be expected in a seismically active area — rather than the far more unusual tsunami, and that lives could have been saved if the plant’s operator Tepco had taken better security precautions. The report even argues that the initial government response only exacerbated Tepco’s incompetence and indecision.

What is equally compelling about the 600-plus page report, delivered to the Japanese parliament after more than 900 hours of interviews of 1,167 people, is how it openly speaks to the global community. Well aware that the impact of radiation knows no boundaries, and that international investments in nuclear power have declined since the incident, Kiyoshi Kurokawa, chairman of the investigating commission, declared that this disaster was “made in Japan.”


The report, he wrote, cannot “fully convey . . . the mindset that supported the negligence behind this disaster.” Citing Japan’s self-confidence in the 1980s, the cautious mindset of its bureaucracy, and the insularity and obedience of the national culture, the report urges a change in Japan’s civil society to ensure that events like this don’t happen again.

The commission recognizes that Japan owed the world an explanation. In the powerful report, it related not only how the events unfolded at Fukushima, but why.