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Home arrow Environment arrow Reflections on the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Accident

Safety Culture and the Accident, by Hiroshi Madokoro, the University of Tokyo

My essay is a response to the question raised by Prof. William E. Kastenberg: Was there an adequate “safety culture” in place prior to and following the accident?

I think a “safety culture” existed before the Fukushima disaster, but not an adequate one. Most of us believed without doubt that we had done enough preparation for accidents. Some people argued that there is a certain probability for an accident to occur, but preparation was not sufficient. I wonder why people didn't do anything to prepare for a future accident. I think this has something to do with Japanese people's behavior.

Through discussions in this summer school, I found out there is something in common in Japanese people's minds. Japanese people tend to pursue comfort more than people in other countries do. We don't like to think about tiresome things. That is our usual behavior, but what was bad was that we also took such an attitude even toward safety management. This is one of the causes that worsened this accident. We avoided discussing “accidents,” because we don't like to hear words like “accidents” or “risks” and because we assumed that a terrible event never occurs.

What is important is that we have to think about normal culture and “safety culture” separately. I heard that, even in the U.S., safety culture is different from normal culture. As I wrote above, Japanese people always want to be in a comfort state and avoid thinking about troublesome matters. However, because the Fukushima accident has occurred, we'd better change our attitude. We should no longer take this attitude toward nuclear safety. People involved in safety management need to know this culture and our behavior, and take pains to think about safety management and regulations as much as they can. I insist that “safety culture” cannot be a universal law, but the idea of “safety culture” can be generalized throughout the world. When we think about “safety culture” in Japan, we should not just import the safety culture of the U.S. or other countries. It is better that we import the concept of “safety culture” from the U.S., and then adjust it to Japanese culture, as we consider our culture. Also I conceive that each culture cannot be altered. Neither can the way people at large think and act. It is the particular people who take part in nuclear programs who should change.

People engaged in safety management or regulation need to take pains for the safety of nuclear energy, even though the probability of a terrible event is very low. It is hard for them to do so because of our culture. However, it is our responsibility to make nuclear energy safer and safer.

I believe that Japan can be an exemplar of safety to developing countries that do not yet have the idea of “safety culture.” Each of the developing countries that introduce nuclear power within a few decades need to adjust the concept of “safety culture” to their country. In that process they can refer to the Japanese case.

Information Sharing at the Accident, by Haruyuki Ogino, the University of Tokyo

My essay responds to the lecture by Prof. Satoru Tanaka. I would like to describe how to improve the transmission of information by giving two illustrations of crisis communication implemented after the Fukushima nuclear accident. One is the press conference and the other is the distribution of information through the web.

With regard to the press conference, fi of all, the spokesman should be trusted by the public and should be a person who can take responsibility. In this context, he or she should be a politician. Furthermore, the information should be given not only by the spokesman but also by experts in order to deliver precise information to the public and to meet the demand of reporters. Misunderstanding due to ambiguous explanations by a non-professional can lead to harmful rumor and panic. Taking these aspects into account, the press conference after the Fukushima nuclear accident should have been given in cooperation with both the chief cabinet secretary and experts from such agencies as the Nuclear Safety Commission of Japan, at the same time and place. We discussed the above useful and transparent communication in an emergency situation, and the American students also agreed on this point in the summer school.

The next illustration is the distribution of information through the web. After the accident, a huge amount of information was distributed day by day through the web about the reactor conditions (e.g., temperature, pressure, water level) and environmental conditions (e.g., radioactivity concentration in air, dose rate, surface contamination density). In other words, the public with access to the web was exposed to this huge amount of information without explanations of how to understand and act on it. Of course it is very important to disclose all information, but the sender should always pay attention to the recipient when information is sent out. In this context, the sender should have added the essence or intelligence that summarized the huge amount of information. We should also pay attention to the problems of how to deliver the information to the public without access to the web, such as evacuees. One solution may be a newsletter to the evacuees that summarizes the current situation on reactor and environmental conditions. This information should be delivered to those who really need it for their lives near the site.

Finally, what is needed when the information can be transmitted smoothly is “public trust” over nuclear safety. The loss of public trust was widely discussed in the summer school and we know that it will be extremely difficult to restore it in a short period of time. Thus it is our responsibility as the younger generation to keep going to achieve the long-term goal.

 
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