WASHINGTON — The head of a hard-hitting panel that blamed cultural factors for the Fukushima nuclear disaster voiced hope Tuesday that the tragedy would help open up Japan’s system of government.
The independent commission issued a damning report in July that blamed the world’s worst nuclear accident in a generation in part on Japan’s “reflexive obedience” and ingrained collusion among industry, government and regulators.
Kiyoshi Kurokawa, a professor who headed the panel, visited Washington to present an English-language translation of the report, saying that he wanted to be transparent and to encourage change inside his country.
“Japan has been doing reasonably okay, but I think not really adapting to the changing, uncertain times of this global world,” Kurokawa said at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a think tank.
“I think we need all of the pressure for the Japanese establishment to change and adapt,” he said.
“I think it will be very difficult for Japan to change,” he said, while adding that he hoped “in retrospect, maybe 10 years from now” that the panel would be seen as a sign of change in how Japan is governed.
Kurokawa said that Japan had inadequate checks and balances for a democracy, with entrenched bureaucrats dictating policy despite changes on the outside.
The academic said he took pains to ensure the openness of his probe, which he described as the first independent commission in Japan’s history. Such panels are frequent in the United States.
The panel was not tasked to take up the divisive issue of whether to maintain nuclear power in energy-hungry Japan. But it challenged central assertions of the Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) which operated the Fukushima Daiichi plant.
The nuclear power station went into meltdown after the massive 9.0-magnitude earthquake on March 11, 2011, sending out clouds of radiation and forcing tens of thousands of people to flee their homes — perhaps forever.
TEPCO all but cleared itself of responsibility in its own report, saying that the size of the earthquake and tsunami went beyond all expectations.
The independent panel did not rule out the possibility that the crisis was triggered by the earthquake itself and not by the tsunami, as asserted by TEPCO.
Around 19,000 people died in Japan’s worst post-World War II disaster, although none from the nuclear meltdown.
Kurokawa said that the panel hoped to challenge the prevailing emphasis just on safety and instead to present strategies on managing risks.
“The public is not stupid,” he said. “Accidents happen, machines break and humans make errors. So we have to learn this and minimize risks, or at least become resilient.”