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Friday, 1 August 2014

EDITORIAL: Public demands the truth about Fukushima accident


What is the whole truth about the nuclear disaster that hit this nation three years ago? We have yet to hear a satisfactory answer to this question.

Public discontent about this fact was clearly reflected in a recent decision by an independent judicial panel of citizens concerning the criminal liability of three former executives of Tokyo Electric Power Co. for the accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

The Tokyo No. 5 Committee for the Inquest of Prosecution said July 31 that the three should be indicted over the 2011 disaster, rejecting a decision by prosecutors against prosecuting them.

The panel’s action forces the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office to reconsider its decision to drop the case against the three former executives of the electric utility, which operates the stricken nuclear power plant.

Regardless of whether the three are actually indicted, there is no doubt that the panel’s call is a sign of public exasperation about the lack of serious efforts to get to the bottom of the nuclear disaster on the part of the government, the Diet and the utility.

Both the government and the Diet have the power and ability to gather huge amounts of information about the accident and glean lessons from what happened. The authority is vested in the two institutions by the people.

But both the government and the Diet have failed to make a serious response to the people’s calls for a clarification of the causes of the accident.

This discontent has also been indicated by a recent opinion poll.
In a national poll conducted by The Asahi Shimbun in July, 59 percent of the respondents voiced opposition to the plan to restart reactors at Kyushu Electric Power Co.’s Sendai nuclear power plant in Kagoshima Prefecture, against 23 percent who supported it.

When asked whether they thought that the lessons from the Fukushima accident had been incorporated into Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s energy policies, only 19 percent of the respondents said “yes,” while 61 percent answered negatively.

The committees set up separately by the government and the Diet to investigate the accident both ended their inquiries after about one year of work. Both panels called for continued efforts to reveal the whole truth about the triple meltdown at the Fukushima plant. But virtually no specific step has been taken to do so.

Given the scale and severity of the accident, it is obvious that the hasty investigations conducted by the two panels are far from sufficient. The records of testimonies and the massive materials produced by their inquiries have not been made available for wide use.

A full-scale probe into the accident should be resumed to make clear the lessons that should be learned before the relevant memories of people involved begin to fade.

The three former executives at TEPCO are facing possible charges of professional negligence resulting in death and injury. Legal action has been taken against them by survivors of the accident in Fukushima Prefecture and others. The plaintiffs are seeking to hold the three liable for damage caused by the disaster, such as the deaths of hospitalized patients and the exposure of local residents to radiation during evacuations.

Important for proving their criminal liability are issues like whether the possibility of a powerful earthquake and huge tsunami triggering such a severe accident could be foreseen.

But efforts to draw lessons from the accident should not be focused only on such judicial viewpoints. The probe should be done from a broader perspective.

Whether local residents can be safely evacuated in nuclear emergencies is one of the key questions for the decision on whether to restart an idled nuclear power plant. But the criteria for deciding on whether to bring a reactor back online do not include the existence of an effective and workable evacuation plan.

What happened to local residents during the nuclear crisis? How did the electric utility respond to the crisis?

In order to answer these and other key questions, it is vital to examine afresh the accident in an exhaustive manner from all possible angles.
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