06 July 2012

Fukushima—Japan's remarkable mea culpa

There are mea culpas and there are mea culpas. The report by an independent commission on the nuclear disaster at Japan's Fukushima nuclear plant is a dandy. In the preface to the report the commission chairman, Kiyoshi Kurokawa, a medical doctor and professor emeritus at Tokyo University, laid it on without mercy. "Its fundamental causes," he wrote, "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."

He went on to summarize: "What must be admitted—very painfully—is that this was a disaster 'Made in Japan.'"

The report described how the "conventions of Japanese culture" manifested themselves, sparing none of the agencies involved: "The Fukushima nuclear power plant accident was the result of collusion between the government, the regulators and Tepco, and the lack of governance by said parties." It accused Tepco, the plant owner, and regulators at the nuclear and industrial safety agency of failing to adequately account for the area's susceptibility to earthquakes and tsunamis.

I stand in awe of the good doctor and his commission. How rare for someone in a position of authority to blame their own culture for a national tragedy. No scapegoats, he is saying, we have seen the enemy and it is us. Extraordinary ... and immensely commendable.

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