by Jeff Kingston / Japan Times / April 5, 2014 /
Kyle Cleveland, my colleague at Temple University Japan, recently published a report in the online Asia-Pacific Journal, “Mobilizing Nuclear Bias: The Fukushima Nuclear Crisis and the Politics of Uncertainty” that has drawn widespread media attention. Based on numerous interviews with government officials, military officers and nuclear energy experts, along with documents obtained through Freedom of Information requests to U.S. government agencies, Cleveland has pieced together a critical, but nuanced picture of a crisis that was closer to careening out of control than is generally acknowledged. There was a great deal of confusion in the early weeks of the crisis as different actors had different information and made varied assessments about what the information indicated.
Cleveland elucidates the yawning chasm between the minimizing and downplaying efforts of Tokyo Electric Power Co. and the U.S. government’s assessments of the nuclear crisis. Because the Japanese government was reliant on Tepco for information this also created a gulf of perceptions between the two governments.
The USS Ronald Reagan, a nuclear powered aircraft carrier, arrived off the tsunami stricken coast of Tohoku on March 13, 2011, to provide rescue and relief assistance. Naval officers, according to Freedom of Information Act documents scrutinized by Cleveland, discovered the level of radiation was far worse than they anticipated. Radiation gauges on the ship measured levels of radiation at 100 nautical miles off the coast that were 30 times greater than normal. Aircrews that ventured closer to the stricken plant were found to have high levels of radiation on their shoes and clothing. Tepco’s downplaying of the crisis and misleading information is at issue in a lawsuit filed by sailors from the U.S.S Reagan, who claim that they have had significant health problems due to exposure to radiation during their rescue efforts. Had Tepco acted responsibly by clarifying the scale of the crisis, the plaintiffs assert, they would not be suffering various cancers they attribute to exposure to high doses of radiation.