As engineers and scientists struggle to control six Japanese nuclear reactors, three of which are in near-meltdown status, the world watches with horror.
But even as efforts continue in earnest across Japan, the search for why this is happening has already begun.
At least one man might have some theories.
His name is Taro Kono, a liberal Democrat and member of Japan’s DIET, or parliament. Kono’s father was the president of the liberal Democrats. He’s been an outspoken critic of the country’s nuclear program, and once resigned a high-ranking post in the House of Representatives in protest of the Iraq War.
And according to a US diplomatic cable released Monday night by The Guardian, he allegedly told American diplomats about coverups carried out in Japan’s nuclear plants.
“Taro Kono, who studied and worked in the United States and speaks excellent English, is a frequent embassy contact who has interests in agriculture, nuclear, and foreign policy issues,” the US embassy document notes. “He is relatively young, and very outspoken, especially as a critic of the government’s nuclear policy. During this meeting, he voiced his strong opposition to the nuclear industry in Japan, especially nuclear fuel reprocessing, based on issues of cost, safety, and security. Kono claimed Japanese electric companies are hiding the costs and safety problems associated with nuclear energy, while successfully selling the idea of reprocessing to the Japanese public as ‘recycling uranium.'”
It goes on to say that Kono accused Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry (METI) of becoming obsessed with their old policies, such as on food safety where radiation standards had not changed since shortly after the Chernobyl incident in 1986. He also accused the METI of only providing lip service to efforts for renewable energy, instead focusing much of their resources on the development of nuclear power.
He added that the country’s major electric interests once torpedoed a series of television interviews he was filming. The companies allegedly threatened to pull their sponsorship when he began to speak frankly about the dangers and drawbacks of nuclear energy.
Japan has 54 nuclear reactors; 11 were taken offline following last week’s 9.0 earthquake and tsunami that swept across the norther portion of the country.
The cable goes on: “He also accused METI of covering up nuclear accidents, and obscuring the true costs and problems associated with the nuclear industry. He claimed MPs have a difficult time hearing the whole of the U.S. message on nuclear energy because METI picks and chooses those portions of the message that it likes. Only information in agreement with METI policies is passed through to the MPs. Elaborating on his frustrations with the ministries, Kono noted that the Diet committee staffs are made up of professional bureaucrats, and are often headed by detailees from the ministries.”
As the crisis has developed, the Tokyo Electric Power Co. (Tepco) has been rocked by criticism for its management of the nuclear facilities. The criticism has been so intense that Tepco CEO Masataka Shimizu called a press conference to apologize in public on Tuesday.
Even so, reporters did not appear to be taking his apology at face value. Some journalists on the scene were quite visibly angry with the company’s response.
The event led MSNBC host Rachel Maddow to read off a litany of scandals and coverups at Japan’s nuclear plants over the years, perpetrated by Tepco with government help. She cautioned, meanwhile, that skepticism of the official word on these reactors is appropriate.