Today, a nuclear reactor in Ohi, western Japan, came back online - the first reactor to return to service in the country after last year's nuclear crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant. At the same time, Fukushima has been called a "man-made disaster", in a new report by an independent panel. The report suggests that the facility's operator colluded with regulators and the government in failing to put proper safety regulations in place. But the report goes further than just blaming the plant's operators and the government: it also blames Japanese culture for the fundamental causes of the disaster.
Kiyoshi Kurokawa, chairman of the Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission, maintains that "this was a disaster 'Made in Japan,'". Speaking at a press conference, he said "its fundamental causes are to be found in the ingrained conventions of Japanese culture: our reflexive obedience; our reluctance to question authority; our devotion to 'sticking with the program;' our groupism; and our insularity". Another member of the commission, Shuya Nomura, said the report is intended to "shed light on Japan's wider structural problems".
The report challenges many of the storylines that the government and the plant operator put forward to explain what went wrong, both before the earthquake and tsunami and in the hours, days, and weeks that followed. The Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), the company that ran the plant, is criticized for being too quick to dismiss earthquake damage as a cause of the fuel meltdowns at three of the plant's six reactors.
The possibility of serious reactor damage from earthquakes - which occur regularly in Japan - contradicts TEPCO's version of events, which is that the tsunami, an unforeseeable event, was responsible for the majority of the disaster. If the plant was damaged primarily by the earthquake, it might have worrying implications for other nuclear plants in the country.
In Fukushima prefecture, the human cost of the disaster is clear: tens of thousands of evacuees are still unable to return to their homes near the plant, and some of them may not be able to go back for decades due to the dangers of radiation in the area.
Related stories on Strombo.com: