Company's Handling Of Nuclear Crisis Sparks Anger
Emergency workers rushed to restore electricity to Japan's stricken nuclear power plant Monday, raising hopes that pumps may once again send cooling water to the badly damaged reactors and spent fuel rods.
But the crisis is far from over. In fact, workers had to evacuate for the day when smoke started to rise from the power plant. And nuclear contamination continues to spread. Produce and milk from at least two provinces near the plant have been restricted by the government. The plant's owner, Tokyo Electric Power Co., or TEPCO, faces growing criticism, even from within.
Junichi Moshitate grew up in the town of Minamisoma near the Fukushima nuclear plant and worked faithfully for TEPCO for 18 years as a security guard.
On March 11, he was on duty when the earthquake shook the plant so badly that he fell to the floor on his knees. He just made it out before the tsunami hit. As he has watched the drama at the power plant unfold in the last 10 days, he has become more and more concerned with the way TEPCO has handled it.
"Now I just feel hatred towards TEPCO," he says. "It is very difficult for me to say this since I have worked for them for 18 years. But I just think they should come clean with all the information they have."
Frustration And Apologies
Right from the start of the crisis, there was frustration with how slow TEPCO was to reveal crucial information. It already had a track record in past years of falsifying and covering up maintenance and repair data.
Though the company apologized last week for its handling of this disaster, a series of badly handled press briefings added to the problem — culminating with Prime Minister Naoto Kan himself berating the company.
Mochitate, the TEPCO worker, has now evacuated from his home near the plant, but he says he feels angry at the government, too.
"Japanese people are not the type of people who rise up and stage a coup d'etat," he says. "They just keep quiet and die. People in my town just outside the exclusion zone are being told to stay inside. That doesn't make sense. How many people do they want to kill?"
Though many Japanese can sympathize with Mochitate's highly unusual criticism of his company and his government, scientists still say that radiation levels outside the 12-mile evacuation area are not yet a cause for concern.
Analysts like Jeff Kingston of Temple University in Tokyo say what is a cause for concern is the ongoing closeness of the relationship between government and private industry in Japan.
"The government relies on TEPCO for information and advice, but TEPCO obviously is a vested interest," he says. That's different from the United States, for example — "when they have a problem like this, they call in the NRC."
That's the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, an independent body that oversees U.S. nuclear plants.
Calls For Change
Kingston says there clearly is also a cultural problem throughout corporate Japan.
"There is a tendency to avoid giving bad information upwards. And so, the people who are [in a] decision-making capacity don't sometimes get the information they need," Kingston says.
If you're working for a company selling refrigerators or televisions, that may not be quite so serious. But when it's the health of the nation, as TEPCO has discovered, it's a different matter altogether.
It has taken coming to the brink of catastrophe to make that clear, and now the clamor for more monitoring and accountability of TEPCO and other large companies is growing too loud to ignore. Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.