by Jessica M. Morrison / via Slate / January 31, 2013 /


In October 2011, the Science Council of Japan organized a committee to rethink reconstruction with an eye toward the social responsibility of science and scientists. Little more than a year later, I visited Tokyo for a conference on the impact of Fukushima on the ocean and the future of nuclear power in Japan.

“Science and technology enable us to make more use of the natural environment,” said Takashi Onishi, a professor of engineering and current president of the Science Council of Japan. “Then, we have been bringing people closer to the danger that a natural disaster may cause.”

Standing before a conference room filled with jet-lagged international scientists and reporters, Onishi explained that seawalls intended to protect against tsunamis gave residents a false sense of security. In another time, would people have lived so close?

Some people have said that Japan should have known better. The earthquake and tsunami were unprecedented, but they weren’t out of the question. Others have accused the nuclear industry of being too friendly with their regulators.

There is a myth in Japan that nuclear power plants are so safe that to suggest safety improvements would be illogical, said Onishi. “[The accident] showed that nuclear power plants are not safe, although the myth of absolute safety of nuclear power plants has been dominating the policies of this country.”



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