William Pesek: A year after the nuclear disaster, let's see somebody being held accountable


A year after an earthquake in Japan touched off the worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl, here's the question on my mind: Who's going to jail?

The news media are asking the obvious and safe questions: How well did the Government respond? Whither the devastated northeast? What's the economic effect? When might the 52 of 54 nuclear reactors mothballed since then reopen?

This barrage of "anniversary" articles misses the point. Anniversaries commemorate events in the past, ones for which there is a modicum of closure.

Radiation is still venting into the air around Fukushima. Makeshift equipment is keeping vital reactor systems operating.

What the first anniversary of the disaster requires is a dose of accountability. We need a few good perp walks by current and past Tokyo Electric Power Co executives, whose arrogance, negligence and corruption sent radiation clouds Tokyo's way. Next on the docket should be the government officials who enabled what more closely resembles an organised crime syndicate than an energy sector.

For years, this crowd ignored warnings of a catastrophe. When it occurred, they claimed the tsunami was beyond anything anyone ever imagined. We Tokyoites must demand that some high-ranking indictments fly because Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda won't.

Last weekend, Noda said no individual could be held responsible for the nuclear fallout and that everyone should "share the pain".

It was a jawdropping comment, one that explains why, six months into the job, Noda's days are numbered.

Voters aren't just experiencing buyer's remorse, but sacker's remorse, too. Low approval rates nudged Noda's predecessor, Naoto Kan, from office after 14 months. Never mind that Kan saved my life, and those of my fellow Tokyoites.

In the darkest moments of the Fukushima meltdown, Japan considered evacuating Tokyo's 13.1 million people.

Kan wasn't having it. In the days after the magnitude-9.0 earthquake, he got wind that Tepco wanted to evacuate all workers from Fukushima.

That would've ensured apocalyptic radiation leaks from more than 10,000 spent fuel rods, which the Einsteins at Tepco stored in pools near the reactors.

Kan stormed into Tepco's headquarters on March 15 and demanded that its engineers stay on and handle the crisis.

It was a very un-Japanese thing to do in a culture programmed for propriety. Yet desperate times call for culturally questionable measures, and Kan saved Tokyo.

But was his overall leadership state of the art? No. He failed to offer the transparency the citizens of any democracy deserve.

Yet a year on, the Fukushima whitewash is in high gear. Noda's first act as Prime Minister was to reverse Kan's most important policy shift: reining in the nuclear industry and finding energy alternatives in one of the most seismically active nations.

Kan was a goner the second he took on the alliance of politicians, bureaucrats and power companies promoting reactors. His move to halt plans for 14 new reactors shook the nuclear-industrial complex to its core and the knives came out for him.

Noda made life safe again for the nuclear mob. He's giving them a get-out-of-jail-free card that ensures Japan will learn little from the disaster.

But no worries. We're going to share the pain. Why should the nuclear industry and its shareholders pay the bill when Japanese taxpayers can?

People go to jail in Japan for cooking the books. Why is no one in handcuffs for cooking northeastern Japan?

- Bloomberg

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