RJIF Research Director Kay Kitazawa’s commentary in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists

A commentary by RJIF’s Kay Kitazawa marking five years since March 11th, 2011, was recently published

Entitled “The Mistrust Remains,” her piece examines how the response of the nuclear industry and its regulators to 3/11 failed to build public trust, and argues that this still presents a major hurdle for nuclear policy debates where Japan is faced with tough choices. Addressing these will require trust; and mistrust of the nuclear industry is deep-rooted in Japanese society.

During the 2011 crisis, the Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) did very little that would’ve swayed public opinion away from such prior suspicions about the company. But TEPCO was hardly alone in its failure to communicate. The government authorities charged with managing the official response to a nuclear accident proved incapable of assuaging public anxieties as the disaster unfolded, and their official position was so opaque that a consensus among scientists could not be reached regarding the risks of a meltdown. It should therefore be no surprise that public distrust of the industry and regulators remains.

This is making the debate over nuclear policies — from Fukushima Daiichi’s decommissioning and the decontamination of the surrounding areas, to research into the long-term health effects of low-dose radiation exposure — more complex and divisive. Proper assessments will require rebuilding a measure of confidence in Japan’s institutions; communication by business and government fosters the public trust that is indispensable to the nuclear policy-making process.