After Fukushima.

It seems like, once the reactors were stabilized, the Fukushima disaster faded from the public eye almost instantaneously. I couldn’t remember the last time I had thought about it, until I came across Evan Osnos’ excellent article (subscription required) on the disaster and its aftermath in the October 17 issue of the New Yorker.

Among other things, the article highlights the regulatory dysfunction that catastrophically crippled Japan’s nuclear safety regime. It seems that regulatory capture is at least as much a problem in Japan as it is here in the United States, if not more so. I was also struck by how egregiously Japan’s government appears to have mishandled the situation; its lack of transparency seems only to have bred deep distrust of the government among the people.

I am less of a nuclear energy skeptic than your average environmentalist — my dad and several relations and family friends worked as nuclear plant engineers when I was growing up, I visited nuclear plants as a kid, and my uncle continues to work at Indian Point. I always thought that, at least on the medium time scale, nuclear could be done safely. But Fukushima and its aftermath make me wonder if, regardless of the capabilities of science and engineering, politics and the profit motive make safe nuclear energy an impossibility.

Osnos’ article quotes a compelling speech made by the novelist Haruki Murakami in June, criticizing Japan’s nuclear policy in context of the country’s history:

This is a historic experience for us Japanese: our second massive nuclear disaster. But this time no one dropped a bomb on us. We set the stage, we committed the crime with our own hands, we are destroying our own lands, and we are destroying our own lives. …While we are the victims, we are also the perpetrators. We must fix our eyes on this fact. If we fail to do so, we will inevitably repeat the same mistake again, somewhere else.

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