Japan's nuke industry cover-ups exposed

Media article excerpts

Feature story - 8 October, 2002
In late August, news started to come out of Japan that TEPCO (Japan’s largest nuclear utility and the second largest in the world) had been cheating on reactor inspections for years. This brings them in line with their colleagues in the USA, Europe, Russia, etc. - whose problems with honesty and openness are already well known.

Nuclear site in Takahama, Japan, under heavy guard for loading of rejected plutonium MOX fuel, which is being returned to the UK by ship.

By contrast, the nuclear industry in Japan enjoyed a modicum of public trust (despite previous accidents and scandals), but it looks like now their disreputable past is catching up to them.

As the recent scandals began to unfold, Japan's controversial plutonium MOX programme quickly ran into trouble - when asked about its future a TEPCO official replied, "Soredokoro ja nai" ["We have far worse problems / crises than that"]. Facing strong opposition by community activists, and trouble with their suppliers, plutonium MOX programmes across the country are now in serious trouble.

The likely indefinite postponement of Japan's plutonium MOX programme was a big victory for Greenpeace and other environmentalists. More importantly, it signalled the severity of the coming scandals, which quickly spread to the rest of Japan's nuclear industry and, as the New York Times put it, become "an industry nightmare".

Why has this situation come to pass? Maybe because Japan's Ministry of Economy and Trade Industry (METI) both regulates and promotes nuclear power in Japan - a basic conflict of interest. Maybe because the nuclear industry is incompetent; maybe because it is dangerously arrogant and just maybe because the industry worries more about its bottom line than public safety (hey, here at Greenpeace we call them as we see them).

The industry response: Public apologies and a few high profile resignations while at the same time pushing for lower standards. That's right lowered standards. Their selling point is that they'll be able to be able to actually meet the more relaxed standards (which the industry claims are still perfectly adequate) instead of just covering up the problems.

The response from the Japanese government: They knew about the problems, thanks to a whistleblower. But instead of acting, the government first gave up the name of the whistleblower to TEPCO, then sat on what they knew and let the reactors in question keep on running. Only now, years later, is the government taking action - mainly by caving to industry demands for lowered standards, and not prosecuting anyone for the cover-ups. Way to put public safety first!

All this sounds to crazy to be true? Think we're exaggerating? Here are some of the headlines and article excerpts of the unfolding scandals...

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