Ex-governor of Fukushima saw his concerns about nuclear plants tragically vindicated

There’s nothing like a major disaster to see how important whistleblowers are, and to expose the other half of the wrongdoers’ playbook.

The tsunami that caused the meltdown at the Fukushima I Nuclear Plant is just such a disaster. In the piece below, we can see how a former governor of the Fukushima Prefecture, Sato Eisaku, received many warnings from whistleblowers about the nuclear plant, and tried to have them addressed. As a result, he argues, he was wrongfully prosecuted for corruption and kicked from office. There is evidence to support his claims. He wrote a book in 2008 about his concerns; it is now a bestseller.

Whistleblowing in the nuclear industry has been met with reprisals in many countries, including the U.S. One former inspector, in fact, reported that the problem of backup generators not working is a fairly typical one which the industry has a history of ignoring. (In the Fukushima plant, the generators were in the basement so were vulnerable to flooding.)

Whistleblowers before an accident generally face a standard set of responses: denials that there is a problem, attacks on their credibility and a variety of other personal attacks.

After a crisis, it’s common for officials to argue that it was impossible to predict. There’s generally a mass scramble for cover and an effort to avoid personal liability. Many who were silent before will suddenly say that they knew there was a problem and tried to speak out.

This happened after Hurricane Katrina when inadequate levees broke, killing hundreds and flooding New Orleans (read the 2001 Scientific American article “Drowning New Orleans”). It also happened after the Deepwater Horizon explosion.

Canada needs watertight laws – and preferable with incentives – to protect whistleblowers if it is to avoid a similar fate. We’ve already had one major food safety crisis killing 22 people. What next? An airline crash? A toxic spill? Whatever it is, we’re gambling with lives.


How Japan took a calculated nuclear risk – and lost
Climate Spectator, March 30, 2011
Summary: Over the past two weeks, Japanese government officials and Tokyo Electric Power executives have repeatedly described the deadly combination of the most powerful quake in Japan’s history and the massive tsunami that followed as “soteigai,” or beyond expectations. But a review of company and regulatory records shows that Japan and its largest utility repeatedly downplayed dangers and ignored warnings — including a 2007 tsunami study from Tokyo Electric Power Co’s senior safety engineer.

Sato Eisaku’s Warning
The Asia-Pacific Journal, April 23, 2011
Summary: The worst-case scenario of Japan’s nuclear crisis has been averted. The reality though is shocking enough. The story of this epic disaster comes with a generous cast of Cassandra figures, the seismologists, conservationists and whistle-blowers ignored by the national nuclear planners. The most striking may be Eisaku Sato, who was governor of Fukushima Prefecture from 1988 – 2006.