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Friday, July 8, 2011

An Ethical Meltdown in Japan: On the Toxicity of Tepco's Nuclear Power

According to The Wall Street Journal, Japan’s largest power provider, Tokyo Electric Power Co. (Tepco), faced the biggest challenge of its 50-year-history in "recovering from the damage done to its nuclear facilities and power systems by a devastating earthquake and tsunami." The New York Times reported on March 17, 2011, that "foreign nuclear experts, the Japanese press and an increasingly angry and rattled Japanese public are frustrated by government and power company officials’ failure to communicate clearly and promptly about the nuclear crisis. Pointing to conflicting reports, ambiguous language and a constant refusal to confirm the most basic facts, they suspect officials of withholding or fudging crucial information about the risks posed by the ravaged Daiichi plant."

According to The Wall Street Journal, when Tepco said early in the morning of March 16th "that a fire had broken out at the Daiichi plant’s No. 4 reactor, a reporter naturally asked how the fire had begun, given that just the day before the company had reported putting out a fire at that same reactor. The executive’s answer: ‘We’ll check. . . . We don’t have information here,’ he explained. After about two hours, the Tepco representative had the information: Turned out the smoke was coming not from reactor No. 4, but from reactor No. 3. If Tepco’s information had been delayed and vague, the reporters’ response was quick and direct. ‘You guys have been saying something different each time!’ one shouted. ‘Don’t tell us things from your impression or thoughts, just tell us what’s going on. Your unclear answers are really confusing!’"



                Tepco executives leave one of the many press conferences held during the disaster in 2011

The Wall Street Journal reported that "the fire confusion followed Tepco’s failure to confirm that the water level in at least one of its fuel-rod storage pools had plummeted, which the media had started reporting citing government sources. Only after several hours, by which point it had started pumping in new water, did the company finally confirm that the level was low. . . . (W)hen the company changed its explanation of conditions at the reactor, one frustrated reporter said, ‘You guys think we’re ignorant [about nuclear operations] so you can make your explanation very vague, but we are not!’ The government may not be any more satisfied than the press is with Tepco’s disclosure practices. Local media reports say the prime minister scolded the company’s executives for not calling him after an explosion at the plant. He had to learn about it from the TV.” On March 20th, The New York Times reported that questions had arisen on whether Tepco executives had "waited too long before pumping seawater into the plant, a measure that would ruin a valuable investment."

Analysis at: "An Ethical Meltdown"