Friday, October 12, 2012

The Economist: Japan's nuclear disaster - Meet the Fukushima 50? No, you can’t

The Economist writer, writing from Iwaki City in southern Fukushima, sounds rather exasperated or sarcastic (or both) in the opening sentence of his article:

IT HAS taken the Japanese government more than 18 months to pay tribute to a group of brave men, once known as the “Fukushima 50”, who risked their lives to prevent meltdowns at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant from spiralling out of control.

The article ends with:

The media attention is always focused on those in power, who typically do nothing to merit the recognition. The multitudes on the frontline, who put their heads down and do all the hard work are treated as faceless, nameless and ultimately forgotten.

with the writer calling it "one of the tragic flaws of modern Japan".

I seem to be already hearing an "It is the same everywhere in the world, not just Japan" chorus, but as the writer points out in the article, it may be only in Japan where these workers themselves and their families are bullied by people around them for having tried their best to contain the nuclear disaster in Fukushima. For the case of TEPCO workers at the plant, see my post from February this year. The article in that post was written by a reporter from Germany's Spiegel.

I think hardly anyone in Japan paid any attention to the Spiegel article. It will be the same with The Economist's article. It doesn't occur to many that the workers have been treated poorly, not only by TEPCO and by the government but also by ordinary people like them. See no evil, hear no evil.

From The Economist (10/8/2012; emphasis is mine):

Japan's nuclear disaster
Meet the Fukushima 50? No, you can’t

Oct 8th 2012, 4:28 by H.T. | IWAKI

IT HAS taken the Japanese government more than 18 months to pay tribute to a group of brave men, once known as the “Fukushima 50”, who risked their lives to prevent meltdowns at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant from spiralling out of control. But when the prime minister, Yoshihiko Noda, belatedly offered official thanks to them on October 7th something strange was afoot: six of the eight men he addressed had their backs to the television cameras, refused to be photographed and did not introduce themselves by name, not even to Mr Noda (see the image below).

The reason: officials from the government and from Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco) quietly admitted that the men wanted to keep their identities secret because they were scared of stigmatisation for being involved in the disaster, such as might lead to the bullying of their children and grandchildren. But Tepco is also muzzling them, presumably for fear that what they say will further discredit the now nationalised company. When I asked if I could at least hand my business card to them to see if they wanted to tell their side of the story, an irate Tepco spokesman answered bluntly: “Impossible.”

There are numerous ways that this incident reflects badly on both Tepco’s and the government’s handling of the situation. Firstly, there is the contrast between the frontline worker’s behaviour and the brazen hypocrisy of Tepco’s management after the accident. I remember Tepco’s then-chairman, Tsunehisa Katsumata (now thankfully retired), nonchalantly blaming everyone but himself when giving testimony to a Diet commission earlier this year.

Meanwhile, the men who worked loyally for him, risking their lives on behalf of his company, still hide their heads in shame.

The government, for its part, has done these men a huge disservice by not acting more quickly to differentiate their heroism from the craven self-interest of the company’s bosses. In the eyes of the public there ought to be no confusion between the two. In Chile, it was easy to see how the country made heroes of the 33 trapped mine workers in 2010, while making villains of their bosses. Nothing like that has happened in Japan. As one government official noted, if this were America, the “Fukushima 50” would have been invited to the Rose Garden for presidential recognition.

Yet even after Mr Noda’s visit, the men do not get the recognition they deserve. Kyodo, a news agency, relegates any mention of them to the bottom of a boring story about decontamination.

An English-language paper, the Japan Times, today at least tells part of their harrowing story, though it doesn’t mention the refusal of all but two of them to be identified. They did not depict themselves as heroes, as they recounted their experiences to Mr Noda. They mostly sounded plain scared. One said he thought “it was all over” after the tsunami of March 11th, 2011 knocked out all the power. Another told of how he sent his staff out into the dark, where they faced the danger of electrocution, to restore the power to a nuclear reactor on the verge of melting down. He was asked by his men whether he thought they would come back alive. They went on regardless.

But the headlines, ultimately, refer back to Mr Noda, not to the Fukushima 50. He gets more of the credit than they do, despite his wooden acknowledgement to the men, that “Thanks to your dedication, we have managed to preserve Japan.” This is one of the tragic flaws of modern Japan. The media attention is always focused on those in power, who typically do nothing to merit the recognition. The multitudes on the frontline, who put their heads down and do all the hard work are treated as faceless, nameless and ultimately forgotten.

(Picture credit: The Economist)

The Economist writer is highly critical of the TEPCO top management, rightly so. But even there, having watched TEPCO's press conference in March last year almost every night and having watched some of the teleconference video TEPCO finally released, I cannot make a sweeping criticism.

(H/T reader 'female faust' for the link)


Anonymous said...

Yep only in Japan does this warped mentality of bullying their own saviours exist.... oh and a little off topic check out this Independent UK article on Japans addiction to kiddie porn , very fucking sick society it seems...


Anonymous said...

It should, first of all, have been TEPCO to honor these 50 men. It was their job to keep the plant safe, hence the employer should reward them first of all for the extraordinary work they have done.

Sure, we all have to be grateful that they did what they did but, nonetheless, we should also remember that it was their JOB. They deserve honor and recognition, imho, not for doing their job, but for doing it DESPITE the abysmal conditions re. food, shelter, equipment, etc. TEPCO left them in.

Atomfritz said...

By the way, Tepco finally admitted that they "feared that if tsunami risk studies were disclosed that it would lead to immediate plant shutdown."

"There was concern of litigation risks if giving
admission that severe accident measures were

And, "there was concern that if new severe accident measures were implemented, it could spread concern in the siting community that there is a problem with the safety of current plants."

"There was a latent fear that plant shutdown would be
required until severe accident measures were put in

So, "after completing severe accident measures in 2002 including containment venting and power supply cross-ties between units, no further measures for severe accidents were taken."

See page 10-12 of this yesterday-released document that has also much interesting information about the safety enhancements which they are currently constructing at Kashiwazaki-Kariwa:

Anonymous said...

The plant manager, the one who went against TEPCO guidance to use sea water to cool the reactors, saved us from some of the worse results. He was exposed to radiation, as were all the workers (Fukushima 50). Now disabled with cancer, this gentleman is even denied "workmans compensation"--the cancer "was not caused by his work conditions". He was cleared as OKAY before going to work at the plant shortly before the accident...a TEPCO doctors checkup of course. So the Fukushima 50--its scary what they will face as well...the potential of no medical care, no work and more due to discrimination.

Anonymous said...

Very small minded people the Japs if they are discriminating against these heroes... i heard a lot about how the Japs live in denial too...

Anonymous said...

Barring the workers from talking is all part of the plan to limit future financial liability. Many of these people don't even know their actual exposure levels because they shared dosimeters or their supervisors just guessed in the early days. Add to that the fact TEPCO couldn't supply radiation detectors that could even read the full levels they were being exposed to and you can see why TEPCO isn't eager to hear their stories told.

Anonymous said...

Primavera-san, some individuals might be ok, or even heroes, but Tepco, as a company, deserves plenty of criticism. Atomfritz and 10:06 are recalling some of the reasons for such criticism -- and there are many others, including falsifying maintenance records, inflating costs, using so many layers of subcontracting, charging record high rates to its household customers etc.

By the way, like Primavera-san, I also believe the term "Jap" is offensive and I do not like seeing it in this blog (I am not Japanese). Similarly, I do not like an entire nation being bashed.

arevamirpal::laprimavera said...

Thanks Beppe. Please do not use the term "Jap", which I personally find offensive. Criticize all you want, without using that word. This is my personal blog, and that's my rule. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

A Special Warm Place

Yoichi Shimatsu, a man of sharp wit and former editor of the Japan Times Weekly, sardonically informed me about the absurdity of the Fukushima Folly:

“The Japanese have a penchant for misinterpreting, falsifying and mythologizing history, while confusing all that is good for bad and vice versa. Within a decade, you will be seeing NHK TV dramas about the ‘stoic patriotic Tepco executives, under the strategic leadership of Heroic Leader Shimizu, who defied the panicked liberal government, bravely fought the mob violence by the anti-nuclear traitors, rescued Japan's nuclear industry and finally, after heroic self-sacrifice, created the Japanese A-bomb just in time to avert a foreign invasion from Red China and United Korea.’

We are so grateful to TEPCO!

In Japan, shrines are erected for mass murderers while the humanitarian heroes who saved the country from itself are relegated to the footnotes or treated as ill-mannered scoundrels. Evil has a special warm place in the Japanese heart.”

Anonymous said...

Why cannot ExSKF make a sweeping criticism of Tepco? That is a ridiculous mischaracterization of the contents of the article, and very very odd indeed given ExSKF does not clarify exactly WHY she can't make such a claim!


Anonymous said...

In fact the Economist article differentiates, and this is the crucial point of the entire article, between front line workers and top brass. So this is not a sweeping generalization but a surprisingly honest and well written article that seeped out of the MSM.

Anonymous said...

Wonder if some of the missing 50 are dead or dieing?

Anonymous said...

@Anon 8:05PM
It's easy to look down upon other countries, isn't it! Heroes are always forgotten. Look at the 9/11 ground zero responders. Look at all the soldiers who went to war for each country and inevitably came back with post-traumatic stress. They were all left to suffer and die (often in the gutter), denied proper care and support.

It's... not... only... Japan.

People are in denial everywhere. Whenever I bring up facts in any conversation, people get upset and change the subject. They want to pretend everything's perfect and that we are a happy, blessed people. Being honest and/or speaking the facts on anything can get you into serious trouble. It doesn't matter where you are, or what you're talking about.

I'm also aware of how "Jap" became perceived as a racist derogatory term as a result of the world wars. It's a logical shortening, but I avoid using it in case people find it offensive.

It's similar to how "negro" became "nigger". It was not offensive until people started using it in an offensive way. Other examples of such words include "gay" and "faggot".

Anyway, I came on here to link this. Everyone's probably heard about it by now. I'd heard about it several days ago:

Vyse Legendaire said...

It's not the tragic flaw of Japan, however loudly it is on display.

It is the tragic flaw of humanity for completely abrogating personal responsibility and choosing to believe in the make-believe fairy-tale called 'the powers that be are righteous and good'.

Anonymous said...

Yeah. People just want to believe that the world is good. They go through enough daily stress that they don't want to worry about anything that isn't directly in front of them. But that's how the system is designed - to keep us busy.

I think people here are quick to blame Japan because they come here for Japanese news, so it's the only thing ontheir mind.

I was reading another site about American news of the same kind (ignorance, greed, stupidity, lack of innovation and initiative, etc) and everyone there was quick to condemn ONLY America, even if the problems weren't limited only to the U.S.

Anonymous said...

I just saw Akira Kurosawa’s 1990 movie "Dreams" and I found the segment titled "Mount Fuji in Red" was pretty wild.

Here is the segment they allow on youtube it is a background for a music video just turn off the sound and read the subtitles they get good at the 2::30 mark. Apparently there were many full versions of this clip without music but they were removed after Fukushima. Probably because it showed a nuclear executive taking responsibility and committing suicide along with other troubling dialogue between the last few survivors.

Anonymous said...

@8:52 thanks for the Japan Times link, I missed it. It seems Tepco strategy has changed: now they are saying they could have avoided the Fukushima meltdown and THEY are going to tell us BEFORE THE END OF THE YEAR what they could have done "to save us from the accident if we were able to turn back the clock".

I believe we already know what that is: first and foremost, do not build npps in the most earthquake prone country in the world.

Secondly, do not falsify maintenance records, do not regulate yourself, do what regulators tell you, do not finance politicians and scientists to support your interests, when you fix a problem (waterproof cooling pumps at Fuku2) retrofit in the same fashion older plants (Fuku1), and on and on and on...
One potential positive side effect of this policy change is that maybe it will provide material to help the prosecutors send someone from Tepco to jail. I am not too confident but I hope this will happen.

Anonymous said...

Yeah. Too little, too late.

It's still stupid to wait until shit hits the fan before doing something about it. Humans have a serious lack of foresight.

Watch, when the next disaster is something different that they failed to foresee, they'll repeat the same stupid mistake and give the same stupid excuses and reassurances.

Anonymous said...

anon @7:34PM, "Why cannot ExSKF make a sweeping criticism of Tepco?"

Because he is much smarter than you, most likely. Sweeping statements only the uneducated and ill-informed make. He stated the reason for not making sweeping statement, you clearly missed it.

As to the "Jap" as abbreviation, that's balderdash. Besides, if the site admin personally dislikes the term and has asked repeatedly not to use it, and he's nice enough to have the comment section open for anyone (unlike other sites), shouldn't you entertain his wish?

morocco tours said...

nice blog !!!

Anonymous said...

@Anon 2:13PM

Are you referring to my explaining that it's a logical abbreviation? It IS. You don't see people calling Japanese people "Pans" or "Neses", do you? Poppycock!

I wasn't justifying the use of it. I was simply pointing out that most people aren't even aware it's offensive (HINT: BECAUSE MOST PEOPLE WEREN'T EVEN AROUND AT THAT TIME), and it's humans that made it offensive.

I find it sad how, like many things in life, language becomes unnecessarily distorted and turned into an attack.

Anonymous said...

Someone bilingual J/E with time and social network resources should simply adopt the heroes of Fukushima as a cause and set a new precedent for Japan. Same principle as stealing batteries: just do it. That would shame the shit out of both Tepco and the GOJ.

Anonymous said...

You can't shame people who have no shame.

Anonymous said...

It isn't just TEPCO that wants anonymity a lot of the workers don't want to be treated like modern day Hibakusha so they'll keep their problems to themselves.

Anonymous said...

Hey Arevamirpal,
no doomsady news for almost three days !
Are you sleeping at the wheel or what ?
If you're on vacation, have a nice time anyway.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Remember a while back how everyone was talking about burying radioactive waste in salt domes? Well take a look at want can happen when future man can't read the danger signs we leave.

Giant Sinkhole May Be Radioactive

Gov’t experts now admitting “crude oil” is what’s in giant sinkhole, not diesel — Oil likely coming up side of salt dome

Anonymous said...

Any truth to this story?

Video: Radioactivity of 14,600 Bq/m2 in rice paddy soil far from Fukushima plant — Crop to be sold in Japan this year

Atomfritz said...

@ anon 8:19
I hope LaPrimavera is fine.
Even an Ultraman needs a break sometimes.
And he needs donations to keep blogging instead of being forced to get another job and having less time to investigate...

@ anon 10:09
Seems realistic to me. 14,600 Bq/m2 would be a bit less than half a curie/sq. kilometer. Compared to Chernobyl's vicinity this is still quite clean.
Chernobyl caesium map:
Chernobyl strontium and plutonium map:
As long as the soil gets fertilized sufficiently, the rice probably won't suck in that much of radioactive stuff.

Anonymous said...

14,600 Bq/m2 of cesium is nothing compared to the MEXT data:

Based on those maps, Motomiya is between 100,000 Bq/m2 and 1,000,000 Bq/m2 of both Cs-134 and Cs-137 (even if Cs-134 may have decayed around 25-30% since November last year.)

Anonymous said...


By the way, I checked the video and the guy is using a Rados RDS-80, which is based on a Geiger-Muller tube, thus unable to distinguish between different isotopes. Meaning the guy is measuring the contribution from everything that emits beta and gamma, from cesium to strontium to radioactive potassium (which is naturally occurring and would be present in the fertilizer.)

Anonymous said...

Creating radioactive waste to begin with is not a particularly good long-term plan.

It's not like other waste, other waste doesn't take hundreds to billions of years to theoretically become harmless. At least, not to my knowledge. Anything that does take that long, we shouldn't be creating. The less of it, the better.

Anonymous said...

If anyone out there has a non-ex-skf connection to laprimavera, please do let us know that she hasn't become a victim of extraordinary rendition or other government abuse.

arevamirpal::laprimavera said...

I had to take care of an emergency. Sorry for no updates, but as far as I know Reactor 4 is still standing and Noda is still the prime minister. Will restart tomorrow.

Anonymous said...

laprimavera - Thanks for the update. Your blog friends were getting worried about you. Good to hear that you haven't been arrested.

Anonymous said...

I honestly don't think the chance of government hoodlums busting into laprimavera's house and silencing her(?) is that high. It's easier to dismiss everything as "baseless rumor" or "conspiracy theory".

Moreso now that they know eveyrone's eventually going to die from radiation anyway, so they don't need to lift a finger....

I didn't realise you were a she. Sorry if I've referred to you otherwise. You've taken breaks before, so I just assumed you were busy.

Anonymous said...

It's not "she". It's "it", Ultraman.

Anonymous said...

Has there even been a female Ultraman?

Anonymous said...

Hmmmm, she, he or it, (ladies first) ; read John Varley's wonderfull sci-fi, he dealt wery well with questions alike...

Anonymous said...

"Has there even been a female Ultraman?"

Of course where do you think all the baby Ultrapeople come from? Like many popular Japanese series it has a huge back story that few realize.

Female Ultras in the Ultra Series

The Ultra Series (ウルトラシリーズ Urutora Shirīzu?) is the collective name for all the shows produced by Tsuburaya Productions featuring Ultraman, his many brethren, and the myriad Ultra Monsters.

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