What caused Japan’s triple nuclear meltdown? One unprecedented committee may find the answers.
The first anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake is approaching and the fall-out from the triple nuclear meltdown it created continues to plague the country. The spectre of of Fukushima and Japan’s corrupt, criminal and inept nuclear industry continues to cast a dark shadow over Japanese society. Recently a number of committees have been created to exorcise these ghosts, determine what really went wrong at the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) run Fukushima Nuclear Plant and figure out whether Japan should continue to rely on nuclear energy.
The Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission (NAIIC) held their fifth meeting at the National Diet of Japan on February 27th. This committee, which has the power of subpoena, will probably produce the most thorough investigation of the matter by the time it is done. It is headed by Mr. Kiyoshi Kurokawa, an iconoclast in the Japanese political sphere and an advisor to several prime ministers in the past.
The NAIIC did not start work until nine month after the accident. The commission’s mission is to “first carry out an accident investigation on behalf of the people; secondly to make proposals for the future; and thirdly to carry out Japan’s responsibility as a member of the world community,” the chairman of the Commission, Mr. Kiyoshi Kurokawa said in an interview.
The nuclear accident is not a problem for Fukushima prefecture alone, but for all of Japan. The commission has started its work by visiting the Fukushima area, where the damage was incurred and responses have been implemented, to hear the opinion of the local residents. The commission intends to pursue its investigation “by the people, from the people’s perspective and together with the people”.
Whatever response is taken to this nuclear accident, it will affect Japan and the world for several decades to come. The investigation has to clarify where responsibility lies and has to prevent such an accident from occurring a second time. For this purpose, the Commission “intends to make use of its legally constituted investigative authority as the National Diet’s designated accident investigation commission to sincerely and objectively pursue the facts and make proposals for the future.”
It would not be too much to say that the nuclear accident has destroyed trust in Japan around the world. Restoring that trust will require an independent, objective investigation conducted by an organization without ties to any of the parties involved.
A commission such as this is the first kind in the history of Japan’s constitutional government. Independent, third party accident investigation commissions have been established in a number of foreign countries in response to serious accidents, but never in Japan. In the USA, the Kemeny Commission that investigated the nuclear accident at Three Mile Island is well-known.
The world expects Japan and this commission to play in sharing the lessons learned from the investigation of this accident, to bring together the wisdom with respect to prevention of and response to this kind of accident. Accident investigations related to the Fukushima nuclear power plants are being conducted in various formats, through the NAIIC effort at the National Diet, through the government and elsewhere.
The Commission has ten participants, each of whom “brings an individual perspective to the investigation,” and the investigation conducted is based on “fairness and transparency.” Each member of the Commission was “appointed to the investigation on the presumption of independent action and neutrality from the government, industry and politics.”
The chairman of the Commission, Mr. Kiyoshi Kurokawa said that the Commission was aware that the issue goes “beyond TEPCO, since it also entails a drastic loss of trust in government and the nation after the accident,” and “in related policies of the past.”
Finally, the Commission is also directing its perspective to the development of new laws “for Japan’s next generation and Japan’s future.”
Dr. Richard A. Meserve was a guest speaker at the Commission meeting of the NAIIC on February 27th, in the discussion on “how the nuclear regulatory organizations should be” as well as “the importance of the independent commission”. Dr. Meserve is currently the president of Carnegie Institution. He became the ninth president of the Carnegie Institution in April 2003, after stepping down as Chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC).As Chairman of the NRC, Meserve served as the principal executive officer of the federal agency with responsibility for ensuring the public health and safety in the operation of nuclear power plants and in the usage of nuclear materials.
Dr. Meserve said he was “surprised that such a Diet Commission was the first to be created in the history of the Diet”, because “this is not at all unusual from the perspective of the United States”. The Fukushima event itself has reflected the creation of similar groups by the US Congress. “The Congress has directed the National Academy of Sciences, which is an independent entity that provides advices to the government, to undertake a study to the Fukushima accident and what its implication might mean for nuclear safety in the United States,” he said. This study will be on going for the next two years. Meserve was also involved in “The Blue Ribbon Commission”, which was established by the secretary of Energy at the direction of the President, and as this commission was half way through its work, the Fukushima accident occurred, and the Blue Ribbon Commission was “chartered for the purpose of examining the disposition of spent fuel in the US.” The issue of spent fuel in Fukushima is of enormous interest. The report has been issued and is currently available on the Internet. Such activity, funded by the Congress, although chartered by the Executive Branch, is extremely common in the US.
In Japan, this commission may mark a major change in the role the Japanese Diet plays in governing the nation and how the nation itself functions.