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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: The Catastrophe at Fukushima: TEPCO Begins its Confession

by Lina Sankari

The Catastrophe at Fukushima: TEPCO Begins its Confession

Translated Thursday 3 March 2016, by Henry Crapo

The operator of the Fukushima nuclear plant has confessed to having downplayed the seriousness of the situation after the tsunami in 2011.

Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) management had all the necessary information even during the first days after the damage occurred.

Yesterday, nearly five years after the tsunami caused by a violent 9.0-magnitude earthquake, which resulted in the death of 18,000 people and the flight of 120,000 refugees, Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) admitted to having minimized the seriousness of the situation by concealing the melt-down of three reactors. "We deeply apologize for claiming erroneously that there was no basis to determine that a melt-down at the heart of the reactor was underway." It actually took two months for the operator to begin using the term "fusion". Their degree of irresponsibility is such that even the company’s own crisis management manuals would have permitted the operators of the plant to know that power cuts and the shutdown of the cooling systems of nuclear fuel would result in fusion. Worse, the company management had in hand all the essential information even in the first days. "If the damage to a reactor heart exceeds 5%, it can be deduced that the fusion of the heart is underway," explain the manuals. In its statement, TEPCO goes further: "We also analyzed other information transmitted immediately after the accident, and it turns out that we could have communicated earlier on various points." In total, the company took three months to recover control, and six months to stabilize the situation; the total dismantling of the plant itself is expected to continue for forty years.

If there are no more Japanese left in doubt as to the responsibility of TEPCO, with its successive lies, will these excuses renew confidence between the population and its economic and political leaders? After the disaster, the archipelago has undoubtedly entered a new political era of regeneration through citizen movements and with the recent electoral successes of the Japanese Communist Party (JCP), the only opponent of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) of the current Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, in power almost continuously since 1955. For several consecutive months, tens of thousands of Japanese have demonstrated for truth about the nuclear accident and for the abandonment of this source of energy, which had been placed under the leadership of the private sector. These gatherings, the largest since the 1970s, also denounced the collusion between politicians and private interests. The Fukushima disaster has also enabled Japan’s ills to come to light: social injustice, impoverishment of the middle class, and insecurity. Precarious youth and members of civil society who assist the elderly, or take action in the affected areas, have no intention of letting the business community manage public affairs all by itself. A democratic revival continues, launched during the struggles of last summer against the reinterpretation of Article 9 of the pacifist constitution, an article which stipulated that Japan would renounce war forever. The Japanese are also at a boiling point ever since antinuclear protesters were prosecuted for having installed their camps in front of the Ministry of Economy.

Defiance is on the increase with each announcement. Recently, TEPCO unveiled its intention to evaporate the radioactive water by releasing it as steam at a temperature of 1000 degrees, without no guarantee of destruction of radioactivity. Another issue at the heart of the issues raised by the Japanese: where to store radioactive waste, which amounted, already in September, to 9 million bags distributed over 114,700 provisional sites. TEPCO speaks of mixing the waste with building materials, leaving intact its potential for contamination. Japan is walking on its head; the company recently confessed that, due to the lack of a containment wall built on shore, 400 tons of contaminated water flowed daily into the ocean. Out of patience, the director of the Fukushima plant, Naohiro Masuda, evokes a "war zone."

The credibility of TEPCO is definitively damaged since the discovery of an internal company document, last summer, revealing warnings dated 2008 concerning the need to improve the anti-tsunami security installations. No work was ever undertaken. Today, TEPCO orchestrates its mea culpa and three officials, including the former CEO, accused of not having done everything possible to avoid the catastrophe, are being prosecuted. This first victory will be but symbolic, because it will, in a second step, be difficult to prove that radiation from Fukushima is responsible for the first cases of cancer diagnosed in the northeast of Japan.

Will the confessions of TEPCO put an end to the culturalist explanations of the presupposed "obedience" of the Japanese, of their "resilience" and "reluctance to question authority"? A year after 11 March 2011, the professor of medicine and chairman of the commission of inquiry into the disaster of Fukushima Daiichi, Kiyoshi Kurokawa, placed the responsibility on the Japanese culture, as such, for the worst crisis Japan has had to endure since the Pacific war and the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. A way to evacuate, with a wave of the hand, the responsibility of the managers of TEPCO, the operating company of the Fukushima nuclear plant.

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