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After Fukushima: Winning the Battle for Hearts and Minds in Britain and Japan via Japan Focus

David McNeill
With no end in sight to the world’s worst atomic power crisis in a quarter of a century, collusion between Japan’s nuclear industry and its supposedly neutral government watchdogs is, perhaps for the first time, under serious scrutiny. In May, inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency singled out the lack of independence between regulators and the industry during a trip to Japan, noting that the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) simultaneously promotes nuclear power and oversees it. Prime Minister Kan Naoto has since ordered a government committee to probe that relationship, though puzzlingly, committee head Hatamura Yotaro has said that it “will not aim to clarify” who is responsible for the accident.

Such blurring of the public and private has long been seen as a peculiar feature of Japan’s political and economic architecture, so it might come as a surprise to some to discover that Britain is not immune to similar collusion. The Guardian newspaper (link) reports that officials from the UK government’s Department for Business, Innovation and Skills covertly reached out to British, French and US nuclear companies in the days after the Fukushima crisis erupted. According to the daily, the officials fretted that anti-nuclear activists would “waste no time blurring this all into Chernobyl” and urged close industry-government cooperation. “We need to all be working from the same material to get the message through to the media and the public,” said one. A few weeks after the memos were written, Japan’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency raised the rating of the disaster to 7, putting it on a par with the Chernobyl meltdown of 1986.

Behind the collusion is simple calculation. Britain’s government has committed the country to building eight new nuclear power stations, which it says are the cheapest low-carbon options available to the country. The US successfully ordered its last new plant in 1973 but now plans to build at least another four. And France, which generates about 80 percent of its electric power from nuclear plants, is a leading exporter of nuclear technology to China and other developing economies. Fuelled by the demand for carbon-cutting energy strategies, the industry only recently emerged from the pall cast by the Chernobyl disaster and was preparing to build up to 150 new plants over the next two decades. Then came Fukushima.
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