It’s Time for Japan to Punish Tepco via BloombergView

Fishermen trawling the waters off Japan’s eastern coast have been alleging for a while that radioactive water was again spilling into the Pacific from the Fukushima power plant that melted down after a massive earthquake in 2011. On Feb. 24, Tokyo Electric Power Co., which is responsible for the site, admitted those suspicions were justified. And it turns out that Tepco knew about this latest radioactive leak since last May — and the giant utility said nothing for almost a year.

In the 15 days since Tepco finally confessed, have investigators raided its Tokyo headquarters? Have regulators demanded that heads roll? Has Prime Minister Shinzo Abe used his bully pulpit to demand accountability from the company that gave the world its worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl? In any other major democracy, those steps would have been obvious. But none have occurred in Japan. And that raises troubling questions not just about Tepco’s corporate governance, but the rampant cronyism enabling it.

When he took office in December 2012, Abe pledged to make corporate executives more accountable to international codes of conduct. In August 2013, he had a perfect chance to show his mettle. At the time, Tepco was still the butt of international criticism for its handling of the aftermath at Fukushima. Abe — concerned that the bad press would affect Tokyo’s campaign to host the 2020 Olympics — declared his government would push Tepco aside and handle the cleanup efforts directly.

It was all for show. Abe’s government never intervened, and Tepco stayed in charge. Four years to the day since the earthquake, Fukushima is still leaking; 120,000 people remain displaced; and Tepco’s opacity and incompetence are unchanged.


How does Tepco get away with it? It’s protected from on high by the “nuclear village,” Tokyo’s answer to the military-industrial complex that is said to hold sway in Washington. This alliance of pro-nuclear politicians, bureaucrats and power companies promotes reactors over safer forms of energy like solar, wind or geothermal, and works to shield utilities from competition and global standards. (That’s how Tepco got away with consistently doctoring its maintenance reports for Fukushima and putting all of its backup generators underground in a tsunami-prone area.) Even after the Fukushima disaster, national nuclear regulators seemed more concerned about restarting Japan’s 48 remaining reactors (all of which have been shut down in the interim) than neutralizing the one contaminating the northeast of the country.

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