Thursday, March 31, 2011

IAEA to Reuters to Edano to a Japanese Reporter to TEPCO's Muto

You whisper something to a person next to you and tell that person to whisper the same thing to the person sitting next to the person next you. On and on, and after many "next" persons, your initial whisper is probably no longer recognizable.

I observed something similar yesterday, over the IAEA's recommendation that the Japanese government consider expanding the 20-kilometer radius evacuation zone in light of the radiation level in Iidate Village.

This is what IAEA's Denis Flory said in the briefing in Vienna on March 30:

We informed the counter-party, and the counter-party have indicated that it is already under assessment.

This is what Reuters' Sylvia Westall and Fredrik Dahl wrote on the subject:

"We have advised (Japan) to carefully assess the situation and they have indicated that it is already under assessment," he told a news conference.

This was preceded by this, two paragraphs prior:

Criticised for weak leadership during Japan's worst crisis since World War Two, Prime Minister Naoto Kan has said he is considering enlarging the evacuation area to force 130,000 people to move, in addition to 70,000 already displaced.

Put two and two together, the reader gets the impression that Prime Minister Kan has already agreed to IAEA's recommendation and about to implement a wider evacuation zone.

Then, this is what Chief Cabinet Secretary Edano said when asked about IAEA's advice (from my yesterday's post):

the current level is not a dangerous level to the health, and "Not of nature to consider such thing (as expanding the evacuation zone)."

Having said that, Edano added, "If this goes on for a long time, there is a possibility of those radioactive materials accumulating in the body and affecting the health, so we have to consider carefully. We will try not to be late (in issuing an evacuation order).

Then, a reporter at a TEPCO's conference in the evening of March 31 (I watched it live) asked TEPCO's Vice President Muto:

IAEA is recommending a wider evacuation zone. If we don't follow their advice, Japan may be considered as a pariah state like North Korea and shunned from the international community. What do you think the Japanese government should do, to not become like North Korea?

Muto's answer:

I cannot comment.

So, IAEA's suggestion on one village in Fukushima Prefecture became the fear of being treated like North Korea in the international community and a puzzled VP at TEPCO.

Not to mention that "under assessment" as understood by IAEA (or Reuters) may be quite different from the Japanese government's "assessment" or consideration.

In a long tradition of elite bureaucrats as observed in Japan and UK (possibly France, but I don't personally know), you say you will "consider" when you don't want to give an answer right away or you don't know the answer. You will "consider carefully" when you want to stall further. You will "have it referred to a committee" if the counter-party is persistent, and you will "have it referred to a committee to assess whether it is appropriate to consider the subject and will get back" to the counter-party in "due course", instead of saying "No" flat out.

IAEA should know that well. After all, it is made up of bureaucrats, and the secretary general is a career diplomat from Japan.


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