"Nuclear dictatorship" in Japan?

The Fukushima nuclear disaster has almost completely gone off the world media's radar screen—despite the fact that it isn't over yet. It won brief coverage, at least, when the US National Academy of Sciences revealed last month that radiation from Fukushima had been detected in bluefin tuna caught off the California coast. "The levels of radioactive cesium were 10 times higher than the amount measured in tuna off the California coast in previous years," according to AP on May 30, while reassuring: "But even so, that's still far below safe-to-eat limits set by the US and Japanese governments." The perhaps more alarming news a few weeks earlier failed to win as much coverage—technicians have detected a leak the Reactor No. 1 containment vessel, with radioactive water almost certainly escaping into the environment. Reuters less than comfortingly tells us that plant operator TEPCO "may have to build a concrete wall around the unit because of the breach, and that this could now take years."

The good news is that the disaster has sparked a reckoning within the highest levels of Japan's political class—and not just of the health and ecological implications of nuclear power but also the (related) political implications. From a truly amazing May 28 Voice of America account:

Former Japanese prime minister Naoto Kan has told the Japanese parliament to abandon nuclear power, and says he was partly responsible, as the head of government, for the nuclear disaster triggered by last year's devastating earthquake and tsunami.

Mr. Kan spoke Monday to lawmakers, criticizing the role of the Tokyo Electrical Power Company and decades of lobbying by the nuclear power industry.

"TEPCO and the Electric Power Companies of Japan have dominated the nuclear power industry for the last 40 years. Through this nuclear clique and the rules they created, they expelled and isolated industry experts, politicians and bureaucrats who were critical, while the rest just looked on because of self-protection and an attitude of peace-at-any-cost. I'm saying this because I feel partly responsible."

...Mr. Kan compared the influence of the pre-disaster nuclear lobby to that of the World War Two-era military hold on Japanese society.

"This nuclear clique, which has been created by the vested interest, is similar to the former Imperial Japanese military. We have to totally destroy and eradicate the organizational structure of the vested interests and (the) influence it has on the public. I think this should be the first step in reforming the nuclear industry."

This actually recalls the critique made by German scholar Robert Jungk in his 1978 book The Nuclear State, which warned of the inherently anti-democratic nature of atomic power—and which some astute commentators have invoked regarding Japan since the Fukushima accident. We don't know if Kan has read Jungk, but we applaud his courage—even if we fear that this kind of dissent can be safely tolerated—and ignored—when it comes from a former prime minister. We are also disconcerted by his reference to "reforming the nuclear industry," which is out of step with the spirit of the rest of his remarks.

A Daily Kos blogger, "Charles II," notes Kan's comments and adds: "Comparing the nuclear industry to the Imperial Japanese military is to call that industry a fascist state." Well, a fascistic institution, in any case, which holds the potential to become a fascist state. If Kan seems hesitant to face the ultimate implications of his own critique, we needn't be. Japan is now nuclear-free for the first time in nearly two generations, and has the opportunity to make a real statement to the world—that the abolition of the nuclear industry is possible.

See our last posts on Japan and the nuclear threat.

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