Fukushima Minpo, local Fukushima paper, has a very interesting series on the background of the Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant accident. Looking back 10, 20 years or more, the paper tries to identify the root cause of the accident on the local level, on the prefectural level, and the national level through the eyes of the local or prefectural government.
I haven't read the whole series (9 articles so far) myself, but I want to share the snippets that are still astounding after all that has happened since March 11, 2011, and point to the mentality that may have still existed when the accident happened, which may be uniquely Japanese.
For the national government, a nuclear power plant was not supposed to have an accident and therefore an accident would never happen and there would be no need to train the residents for emergency that would never happen. For the prefectural government, there was no such word as "severe accident". If they didn't mention the word, it wouldn't happen.
Head in the sand? I would like to think of it as "kuroko" in Kabuki. "Kuroko", meaning literally "person in black", comes on the stage dressed in black to help with the changing of costumes for the actors, and operates tools for theatrical effects. He is there for anyone to see, but as an audience you are not supposed to see him even if you do see him. It is an unspoken rule that he doesn't exist, even if he does exist.
From Fukushima Minpo Series "Preparedness Turned Upside Down" No.7:
In July 1989, Takeo Niitsuma, newly appointed as the general manager of the prefecture's life and welfare department, instructed his subordinates to modify the plan for the nuclear emergency preparedness drill scheduled in November.
"The drill is meaningless without the participation of people who lives in the area where the nuclear power plant is located. Create the plan that allow the residents to practice evacuation." His department is in charge of disaster preparedness, consumer protection, welfare, and other areas that are familiar to people in the prefecture. As the general manager of the department, Niitsuma wanted the drill that would take the residents into consideration.
The staff member in the fire and emergency section that was in charge of the drill conveyed Niitsuma's thinking to the Ministry of International Trade and Industry (today's Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry) and the Science and Technology Agency (part of today's Ministry of Education and Science). But the word from the national government was totally unexpected. "It's impossible for a nuclear power plant to have an accident. There is no need to have the residents participate in the drill. That would fan unnecessary fears."
Isn't that interesting. Dr. Haruki "Detarame" (falsehood) Madarame told then-Prime Minister Naoto Kan on board the helicopter on the way to Fukushima I Nuke Plant on March 12, 2011, "Don't worry. It's impossible for the reactor to blow up. It's structurally impossible."
Another snippet from Fukushima Minpo Series "Preparedness Turned Upside Down" No.8:
"I want to have the drill that deals with a severe accident." About 10 years ago, a staff member in charge of nuclear emergency preparedness asked the major departments in the prefectural government.
But he received an unexpected answer from some departments. "There is no such word [as "severe accident"]." It was when the idea of having a severe accident was not publicly discussed in the nuclear energy administration.
The paper is a local paper in Fukushima Prefecture, so there may be a bias toward portraying the prefectural government as having tried hard to persuade the national government to do the right thing. It was unfortunate that officials in the prefectural government were the ones who deleted SPEEDI simulations that came, didn't use simulations that came from the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency and from TEPCO.