This is a transcript of speech made by Mr. Eisaku Sato, a former governor of Fukushima prefecture, at The Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan press conference, April 18, 2011. The original speech was made in Japanese, but it was translated to English and I appreciated the work and its quality.
He shared his opinion about series of incidents in Fukushima nuclear plants, and his opinion of Japan'e future with energy.
My name is Sato Eisaku, I was previously the governor of Fukushima prefecture.
This year marks the 40th anniversary since the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant was built.
For about half of that time - 18 years - I dealt as governor with all manner of problems arising from the nuclear plant.
I believe that this current disaster was one waiting to happen.
It was not at all beyond expectations. This was no "black swan" event.
Today I would like to explain why such a disaster could not be prevented.
I would also like to say what policies Japan ought to have down the road, as regards nuclear power generation.
I will be brief so as to be able to field as many questions from the floor as possible.
Let me say, however, that today I will only speak about the nuclear plant issue.
There are many other things I would like to share with you, but that would probably take at least 3 hours and a half.
For those of you who are interested, I have brought copies of my book, so you are most welcome to purchase and read later.
Let us get into the heart of the matter. Why do I believe this current disaster could have been averted?
My first reason is based on an accident which occurred last year, June of 2010. In fact this particular accident is nearly identical to that which has occurred in Fukushima Daiichi this last March.
It was on June 17, 2010 that the incident occurred.
For some reason, the electricity supply failed in the second reactor at Fukushima Daiichi, and the pumps stopped sending water into the reactor. As the cooling system stopped, the water within the reactor began to evaporate. As happened this time. There was a risk that, left unattended, the fuel rods would become exposed and collapse from heat, leading to the worst possible scenario.
According to Tepco, the emergency diesel generators started and operators were able to manually restart the pumps and cooling system.
Less than a year ago, Tepco had experienced a test run, unintended though, of what would happen during an electric blackout. This was a malfunction which should have led them to naturally worry about what could happen if the emergency diesel generators had also failed.
It was possible to learn even from this single experience and plan for a more secure, safer, electricity supply.
This is my first reason to say that this current disaster could have been averted.
The second reason is that Japan's nuclear power policy has for long underestimated the risk posed by earthquakes.
I will not go into detail, but specialists such as Ishibashi Katsuhiko - professor emeritus of Kobe University - have repeatedly warned that the earthquake-resistance standards were far too lax, considering recent advances in seismology.
The nuclear reactors automatically stopped during the earthquake on March 11. The power plant buildings themselves stood intact at least at the outset - leading some to say this is proof that Japanese plants are earthquake-resistant. But professor Ishibashi had warned over and over that when large earthquakes happen, all sorts of things can go wrong. These damages accumulate and snowball into an uncontrollable situation.
As we know, in the current disaster, the nuclear plants lost their supply of electricity altogether. This resulted in hydrogen explosions which made it exceedingly difficult to contain and control the situation. To point out that the plants withstood the initial shock of the earthquake is cold comfort.
Five years ago, Professor Ishibashi acted as a member of a government committee to revise the earthquake-resistance standards of nuclear plants in Japan. He soon learned that, although the government talked of implementing "stricter standards", they were not to be set so high as to stop the operations of existing plants. He quit the committee in an act of protest.
In other words, those responsible had brushed off the many real risks posed by earthquakes, particularly large ones. Furthermore, Tepco had been given a chance to learn about the terror which could follow when electricity supply fails in the accident last June.
Just considering these two facts leads me to say that the Fukushima Daiichi disaster could have been prevented. Simply transferring the emergency generators to a place safe from Tsunami's way would have been enough to stop all this.
Why, then, have the government and utilities not adequately prepared against these risks?
Simply put, they had not taken measures on the premise that "things might not be safe".
If one wants to take advantage of such a horrendously dangerous thing as nuclear power, it is only natural to prepare to the fullest for every possible risk.
But even to indicate that there might be risks was made a taboo. Such was the prevailing tendency.
Japan's nuclear energy policy followed from a different set of premises. Their logic was as follows:
Nuclear power generation is absolutely necessary.
So nuclear power generation must be seen as being absolutely safe.
Everybody criticizes Tepco as having covered up many faults.
The question is whether things would improve by replacing all the company's top managers.
There are also others who say that the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency should not be under the control of METI (Ministry of Economy Trade and Industry). The agency should be made autonomous. But will the situation improve by splitting apart the agency?
In my view, those will improve nothing.
Consider this: many malfunctions and cracks had been found in the Fukushima Daiichi and Daini reactors in the past. But records of these inspections were falsified and made as if they never occurred.
That cover-up was made public in August of 2002.
At the time, Tepco's then president and chairman, vice president in charge, and two former presidents, then advisors - these 5 individuals resigned to take responsibility.
One of these advisors was former chairman of the Keidanren, a giant in Japan's business world. If you say they should replace the management, Tepco has already done something of the sort. And yet today's disaster has occurred.
"Japan absolutely needs nuclear power to supply electricity for its economy.
If Japan stores too much plutonium, generated from burning nuclear fuel, there would be concern from abroad. Japan must therefore re-cycle its nuclear fuel."
In other words, there is this inflexible mindset of one absolute following another, carried onto its extreme consequences.
Those who say that nuclear power is dangerous, like myself, are then treated as state enemies.
This is a truly terrifying logic, is it not? Whoever it maybe, be it a Diet member or governor, no one has been able to fight such logic thus far.
When an absolute logic which brooks no criticism is created, attempts to reasonably measure and deal with risk are crushed.
Even worse, a delusion emerges where people believe it is something like a cause, a righteous thing to hide facts and pretend as if nothing is wrong. Because promoting nuclear power is for the interest of the nation as a whole.
In such a situation, however much data is provided or how often we are reassured about safety, we will not feel safe. For the feeling of safety is not a science.
Feeling safe is all about trust - am I not right?
If the public cannot trust those responsible for the power plants, there is no sense of safety.
I am not saying that we must stop all existing power plants.
But now that public trust in nuclear power has been reduced to rubble, it is not possible to continue nuclear energy policy as before.
I would like to end by stating how I believe nuclear power policy should be changed for the future.
There is an organization called the Nuclear Safety Commission which determines the framework of how nuclear power plants operate.
Their powers, as written on paper, are considerable.
But in fact, the committee does little serious work and is essentially an empty shell.
The first step is to make the committee a completely independent organization and committee members directly elected by the public.
In that case I am happy to offer myself as a candidate for the committee.
When nuclear power plant policy is made in Germany and France, years and years of debate takes place. In every stage of the process, there are measures to reflect the public will.
The government and utilities are likely to respond by saying that Japan's economy can't wait for such a slow process. This is precisely the kind of attitude - "nuclear energy is absolutely necessary and so nuclear plants are absolutely safe" - which leads to this nuclear absolutism which I have pointed out today.
What is needed now is to create a sense of safety based on trust. A sense of safety not based on simply data and sheets of paper, but built up after a long and thorough process engaging all possible methods with the public.
This is a test for Japanese democracy.
We must make a flawless framework for operating Japan's nuclear power plants, one that the people of the world can feel safe about. If not - and I say this emphatically - foreigners and foreign money will no longer come to Japan. Japan will destroy its own economy only to save its current nuclear power plants.
I ask: is this the way to show our respect to the thousands who died in the Tsunami, tens and hundreds of thousands who have lost their homes? Those engaged in nuclear power policy should keep this question close to their hearts.
That is all for my statement.