Nuclear lobby blamed for Japanese disaster

Tue, May 29, 2012, 01:00

JAPAN’S FORMER prime minister has admitted his office was “overwhelmed” during last year’s Fukushima nuclear meltdown and has advised the country to scrap all its reactors to avoid a repeat.

However in remarkable testimony yesterday, Naoto Kan told a parliamentary committee that the bulk of the blame lay with Japan’s nuclear lobby, which he said had acted like the nation’s out of-control military during the second World War.

“Before the war, the military came to have a grip on actual political power. Similarly, plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co (and other power companies) held sway over the nation’s nuclear administration over the past 40 years,” Mr Kan said.

Anti-nuclear activists in Japan have long highlighted what they call the “nuclear village”, an alliance of politicians, bureaucrats and power companies who they say worked with the media to sideline critics.

Mr Kan, who led the country last year through its worst disaster since the war, said those critical of nuclear energy were “ousted” from the mainstream to “maintain the status quo”.

Much of the media and a string of politicians have sharply criticised how Mr Kan handled the disaster, including his decision to downplay the seriousness of the situation at the Fukushima Daiichi plant.

Earlier this year, a panel of experts singled out what it called his attempt to “micro-manage” the crisis, particularly his decision to visit the plant on March 12th, the day after it was struck by a huge earthquake and tsunami.

Mr Kan insisted he had no choice because Tepco kept his office in the dark about what was happening. “We could hardly get information. We couldn’t do anything,” he told the hearing. “It was like a battle against an invisible enemy.”

The turning point came, he said, after he stormed into Tepco’s headquarters on March 15th and demanded that its workers stay at their posts in the Daiichi plant. The government and the utility then decided to form a joint task force to contain the crisis.

Tepco has denied allegations it was planning to abandon the plant in the first week after the triple meltdown, a decision that could have forced Tokyo’s evacuation.

Most of the key ministers have testified, however, that it was their understanding that Tepco was preparing to do precisely that. Former industry minister Banri Kaieda said it was his “clear understanding” the utility was about to completely evacuate its 700 staff.