Thursday, July 4, 2013

Japan's Nuclear Regulatory Authority Is Displeased with Governor of Niigata for His Criticizm of NRA, Calls Him "Unique"

Calling someone "unique" is not a compliment in Japan. It is a severe criticism.

Governor of Niigata Prefecture, Hirohiko Izumida, is a former elite career bureaucrat from the Ministry of Economy. But unlike his peers (there are many among governors and mayors in Japan) he has been quite vocal in opposing the national government when it comes to nuclear power plants (Niigata has TEPCO's Kashiwazaki-Kariwa, for which TEPCO is going to submit an application for restart) and burning disaster debris in municipalities within Niigata Prefecture known for excellent sake and rice because of its pristine water.

Alas, the governor technically has no say in either, according to the existing rules and regulations, no matter how valid his criticisms are. It's solely up to the municipalities to decide whether they want nuclear power plants in their municipalities to restart, or whether they want to burn disaster debris in their municipalities.

Nuclear Regulatory Authority, unfortunately revealing itself to be just another enabler of the central government and the nuclear industry under the LDP administration, is not happy with Izumida's criticism, and the chairman of NRA openly showed his displeasure in a press conference, which is unusual.

From Kyodo News (7/3/2013):

新潟知事の規制委批判に不快感 「個性的」と委員長

Displeased with criticism of NRA by Governor of Niigata, NRA chairman calls him "unique"


During the press conference on July 3, Chairman Shunichi Tanaka of Nuclear Regulatory Authority referred to Governor of Niigata Hirohiko Izumida, who has been criticizing NRA repeatedly over the new regulatory standards for nuclear power plants and the disaster prevention plans, and said, "Most heads of the local governments understand [the position of NRA]. I think his remarks are rather unique", indicating his displeasure with the governor.


Mr. Izumida has criticized NRA, saying "New regulatory standards only focus on hardware", "Evacuation plan effectively ignores the suggestions from the local municipalities". When he visited NRA in April this year and asked to see Mr. Tanaka, he was instead met by the director general of Nuclear Regulatory Agency, which is the secretariat of Nuclear Regulatory Authority, in accordance with the custom. Mr. Izumida was not too happy with this treatment.

When I read the news first at Yomiuri Shinbun, I thought it was some kind of compliment to call someone "unique", as Yomiuri's article had no mention of "displeasure". Clearly, it was self-evident to Yomiuri and its readers that Chairman Tanaka's remark was meant as criticism, and so the paper didn't elaborate.

Yes, I completely forgot this was Japan, still not a very good place for people to be "unique". A twitter reader reminded me that the word "individualism" is equal to "egoism" in Japan, and it is something to be looked down on and discouraged.

As to the governor unable to meet the chairman because it was out of the long-standing protocol, what can I say? That's like Tokugawa era, from about 1600 to 1868. Here I was, thinking it was 21st century even in Japan.

But then it does makes sense, as I read more articles and tweets in Japan criticizing the oust of the elected president of Egypt. Doing something out of established protocols is what most Japanese are very bad at (and therefore they criticize heavily), and that was so apparent during the early days of the Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant accident (batteries couldn't be transported over the highway without necessary permits, for example). Seeing that happen, even in a foreign country, must be a horror to them.

So what do they do to deal with the news out of Egypt? Blame the US, of course, for supporting the demonstrators. I don't know where they get that idea, but it doesn't matter. To deal with something horrible as things happening out of order, they have to have some divine or devilish intervention totally out of their control. The US fits the bill.


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Anonymous said...

個性的 means more "personal, individual" than "unique".

Kyodo is saying, in between the lines but not too much, that the governor has an odd opinion because he is the only one thinking like that. Asking for a "special treatment", like meeting Tanaka in person, is like saying that he wants to stick out, that he is odd.

Being different from the others is bad in Japan. As a foreigner in Japan I do not think so, of course. When people point to me that everybody else does otherwise I point out that I do not care and that they are dealing with me, not "the others".

Izumida is doing his job, protecting his people and their assets.. He also appears to be passionate about this. He is really unique. 偉い. Bravo.


Anonymous said...

The way I (as a European/American) understand "... his remarks are rather unique ..." is that "unique" (or personal/individual) refers to what he said, not to him as a person. To me, this looks more like an effort to invalidate Izumida's critical thinking by implying no one else sees things his way than insulting him personally. Although, of course, in Japanese culture, ultimately this may very well be the same thing - I wouldn't know.

In any case, I couldn't agree more with Beppe's last paragraph. You go, Izumida!

Anonymous said...

Hm, in a US corporate environment this "個性的" might be rendered as "not a team player", though obviously Tanaka and Izumi are in a different team, since the former does not care to talk directly to the latter...

In Japan sticking with your own view against the group, asking to bypass the hierarchical levels in order to forward your views is typically frowned upon as it damages the harmony of the group and creates a conflict that annoys the others... except when you get it your way and benefit the group at the price of exposing yourself, then you gain prestige.

But then again all this is just form: Tanaka is part of the nuclear village while Izumi apparently is not and this is where the real problem is.

Also, it is interesting that the prefecture governor has not legal veto power on the restarts while the head of the village that hosts the npp (and is awash is nuclear subsidies) has such power -- in spite of the fact that the Fukushima nuclear accident affected an area roughly the size of a prefecture, not a village. I wonder who devised such a law...


Anonymous said...

According to Reuters UK, the NRA head, Tanaka Shunichi, declared that it will take a "long time" for the utilities to change their safety culture.

Hopefully this kind of remark will be "unique" (not repeated in the future) and "personal" (i.e. not expressed in his role of NRA head).


arevamirpal::laprimavera said...

During the presser on July 4, AP reporter (I think, could be another foreign news agency) asked Tanaka about TEPCO's "nature to keep things secret" and wondered how trusted TEPCO could be in the future given that nature observed so frequently in the past [2 years, no doubt that's what was meant by the reporter]. Tanaka's answer was stunning. He said "I take it that your reference to that nature of TEPCO to keep things secret" was from TEPCO more than 10 years ago."

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