Friday, March 18, 2011

Japan's information blackout and the revolution to come

Japanese tomatoes will resemble basketballs before anyone in a position of authority admits how bad things are.  

I lived in Japan for several years, studied the history, and speak the language.   That's why, six days ago, my first reaction to news of serious problems at the Fukushima nuclear plant was to tweet:

I am not the least bit surprised by everything that has happened so far, including statements by the US government that totally contradict reassurances given by the Japanese authorities.  

I came across a video in which a Frenchman holding out in a Tokyo apartment explains the extent to which the Japanese government is not keeping the people informed about the situation.  

"We don't want the fucking TV show with people smiling and laughing. We don't want the TV show, we want the truth here in Japan. We want to know the risk," he says.

The Frenchman who made the video and anyone else in the vicinity should either prepare to hunker down in a basement or pick up and leave.  The Japanese authorities are not about to change their tune.  Japanese tomatoes will be the size of basketballs and Tokyo cats will glow before anyone in a position of authority admits how bad things are.  

Furthermore, anyone on the Japanese island of Honshu -- foreigners and Japanese alike -- would be well advised to rely on international monitors for information about radiation risk.   It's incumbent upon American scientists and the military to make every effort distribute their own data and help the general public interpret it.   They have made a good start, but their information must flow.  Likewise the governments of Europe, Russia, China, and South Korea need to share whatever data they are collecting.  

Although it may seem early to raise this subject, I think we should recognize that events in Japan will likely have profound geopolitical consequences.  In the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami, the  Japanese people have been characterized in the media as patient, mild-mannered, and accepting of their fate.

But this calm will not last.   It cannot last.

A Bloomberg article explains the context of the nuclear plant disaster.  Politically explosive facts are  coming to light: 
The unfolding disaster at the Fukushima nuclear plant follows decades of falsified safety reports, fatal accidents and underestimated earthquake risk in Japan’s atomic power industry.... 

Nuclear engineers and academics who have worked in Japan’s atomic power industry spoke in interviews of a history of accidents, faked reports and inaction by a succession of Liberal Democratic Party governments that ran Japan for nearly all of the postwar period.

Katsuhiko Ishibashi, a seismology professor at Kobe University, has said Japan’s history of nuclear accidents stems from an overconfidence in plant engineering. In 2006, he resigned from a government panel on reactor safety, saying the review process was rigged and “unscientific.” 

... Tokyo Electric in 2002 admitted it had falsified repair reports at nuclear plants for more than two decades. Chairman Hiroshi Araki and President Nobuyama Minami resigned to take responsibility for hundred of occasions on which the company had submitted false data to the regulator.

Then in 2007, the utility said it hadn’t come entirely clean five years earlier. It had concealed at least six emergency stoppages at its Fukushima Dai-Ichi power station and a “critical” reaction at the plant’s No. 3 unit that lasted for seven hours.
Japanese history provides some indication of what lies ahead.  The Japanese establishment's present attempts to conceal the facts about the radiation leaks, its cover-ups, point to a political firestorm not unlike something the Japanese have experienced before.  

From the 1960s to the 1970s the Japanese government was caught attempting to cover-up the environmental poisoning of the town of Minamata in Kumamoto Prefecture.  A mine released mercury into the food chain which poisoned thousands of Japanese.  It was caused by the release of methylmercury in the industrial wastewater of a chemical factory from 1932 to 1968.  The surrounding sea was poisoned by the highly toxic chemical, resulting in the deadly accumulation of poison in the bodies of people and animals.   Wikipedia:
 According to Timothy S. George, the environmental protests that surrounded the disease appeared to aid in the democratization of Japan. When the first cases were reported and subsequently suppressed, the rights of the victims were not recognised, and they were given no compensation. Instead, the afflicted were ostracised from their community due to ignorance about the disease, as people were afraid that it was contagious.   The people directly impacted by the pollution of Minamata Bay were not originally allowed to participate in actions that would affect their future. Disease victims, fishing families, and company employees were excluded from the debate.. Progress occurred when Minamata victims were finally allowed to come to a meeting to discuss the issue.  As a result, postwar Japan took a small step towards democracy.  Through the evolution of public sentiments, the victims and environmental protesters were able to acquire standing and proceed more effectively in their cause. The involvement of the press also aided the process of democratization because it caused more people to become aware of the facts of Minamata disease and the pollution that caused it.

Although the environmental protests did result in Japan becoming more democratized, it did not completely rid Japan of the system that first suppressed the fishermen and victims of Minamata disease.
The protest movement that followed disease outbreak at Minamata contributed significantly to the democratization of Japan.

Will the present crisis lead to reforms that finally rid the Japanese of the corrupt and undemocratic system that the Minamata crisis first exposed?   We should hope so.  A democratic awakening in Japan could have significant implications for China, other countries of Asia, and the West. 

As the full extent of the corruption and lies of the Japanese establishment become more widely known,  major street demonstrations are inevitable.  Any and every manifestation of significant political upheaval is likely.   Protests may well shake the Japanese state to its foundations in the months ahead.  As I tweeted today: expect the Japanese to resemble Egyptians--only angrier.

Following the example of the Frenchman who made the above video, we must stand shoulder to shoulder with the people of Japan in their fight for transparency and openness. 

1 comment:

  1. Any of the possible outcomes are just a little part of the nightmare: Once this stuff reaches an underground aquifer, it will mean Japan's water will be poisoned for good. The soil is poisoned already. This means poison in the water, the food, the air. It's the last nail in the coffin for Japan... we haven't seen anything yet. A new explosion cannot be ruled out, and the latter could make Nagasaki and Hiroshima look like a day at the park.


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