AP Report Highlights Corruption in Japan’s Nuclear Industry

AP has an excellent article up detailing the incestuous relationship between Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) and the government regulators that were supposed to be keeping a watchful eye on the industry.

Revolving door connects Japanese nuke industry, sympathetic government regulators

An Associated Press review of Japan’s approach to nuclear plant safety shows how closely intertwined relationships between government regulators and industry have allowed a culture of complacency to prevail.

Regulators simply didn’t see it as their role to pick apart the utility’s raw data and computer modeling to judge for themselves whether the plant was sufficiently protected from tsunami. The policy amounted to this: Trust plant operator TEPCO — and don’t worry about verifying its math or its logic.

This kind of wilful ignorance was not unique within a sympathetic bureaucracy at the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry. The agency has multiple functions — some that can easily be viewed as having conflicting goals. The ministry is charged with touting the benefits of nuclear energy, selling Japanese technology to other countries — and regulating domestic nuclear plant safety.


In a practice known in Japanese as amakudari, which translates as “descent from heaven,” top government officials nearing the end of their careers land plum jobs within the industries they regulated, giving Japan’s utilities intimate familiarity with their overseers. Meanwhile, top industry officials are appointed to positions on policy-shaping government advisory panels. Pre-tsunami promises to crack down on amakudari have yet to be fulfilled.


AP examined the business and institutional ties of 95 people currently at three main nuclear regulatory bodies, either as bureaucrats or members of policy-setting advisory panels. Overall, 26 of them have been affiliated either with the industry or groups that promote nuclear power, typically with government funding. AP also came across 24 people with prior positions at those three regulatory bodies — one-third of whom had connections to industry or pro-nuclear groups.


In 2002, after TEPCO was found to be misrepresenting inspection videotape and other records, the maximum that companies could be fined for a false report was raised to 100 million yen ($1.2 million). No utility has received that penalty and TEPCO has never paid any fines related to falsifying records.

What TEPCO did do in 2002 was clean house — at least symbolically — by firing its leadership. But in what the Japanese call “the nuclear village,” people take care of their own. Three top executives who departed the utility in disgrace found their way back. Currently advising TEPCO are Nobuya Minami, Hiroshi Araki and Toshiaki Enomoto — the former president, chairman and vice-president who resigned amid the scandal.

And if that doesn’t sufficiently piss you off, check out this write up on the US report on human rights in Japan. Corruption for everyone!

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