Japan: Radiation damage to a national reputation

Japanese authorities have botched the containment effort at Fukushima and tried to hide these failures from the world.

Japan’s neighbors have had it, said The Business Times (Singapore) in an editorial. When the Fukushima nuclear plant melted down after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, the international community was instantly sympathetic. More than two years on, we’re angry. Thanks to “a mixture of incompetence and stubborn pride,” Japanese authorities have thoroughly botched the containment effort and tried to hide these failures from the world. Now it’s past time to “acknowledge the international dimension” of the ongoing crisis. Japan has admitted that “an underground lake” of highly radioactive water is forming that could further contaminate the Pacific Ocean. And any day, another earthquake could rupture the leaky tanks and unleash “a massive discharge of radioactive material.”

This danger is particularly infuriating, said the South China Morning Post, because the Japanese government and the nuclear utility TEPCO “had implied all was well.” But now the threat rating has been upgraded and “seems as serious as when the quake struck.” The almost total silence from officials and the nuclear industry is “incomprehensible.” Tokyo has to start giving out complete and timely information about the amount of leakage and the efforts to contain it. The lack of transparency is already hurting neighboring economies, said The Korea Times (South Korea). South Korea is close enough to Japan “to be severely affected by the leakage of contaminated water,” and we simply can’t understand why Japan has ignored our government’s request for information. South Korean consumers are beginning to shy away from local seafood.

The whole catastrophe is a devastating blow to Japan’s reputation, said the Mainichi Shimbun (Japan). Since taking office in December 2012, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been forcefully championing the nuclear power industry, pushing to reopen reactors here in Japan and promoting the sale of Japanese reactors overseas. But if Fukushima continues to spiral out of control, “any talk of the safety of Japanese nuclear technology will lack all credibility.” Abe’s top priority now must be to stop blaming TEPCO for its incompetence and just contain the spill. “Any delays in resolving the radioactive-water crisis citing lack of funds or human resources are unacceptable.”

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It’s going to take foreign expertise, said The Japan Times. The Russians, for example, developed new containment techniques after the 1986 Chernobyl explosion, and U.S. experts at Washington state’s Hanford site, where the plutonium for the U.S. nuclear arsenal was made and stored, “have a long history in coping with problems such as groundwater contamination.” TEPCO has rejected all foreign assistance till now out of national pride. But “nuclear accidents are not private domestic issues,” since radiation spreads easily. If turning abroad for advice puts “a crimp in the government’s plan to promote sales of nuclear power plant technology to other countries,” that is a price it clearly must bear.

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