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Workers at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant

“What must be admitted, very painfully, is that this was a disaster ‘Made in Japan.' Its fundamental causes are to be found in the ingrained conventions of Japanese culture: our reflexive obedience; our reluctance to question authority; our devotion to ‘sticking with the program;’ our groupism; and our insularity.”

-KIYOSHI KUROKAWA, the chair of the Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission, which released a report today on the causes of the nuclear meltdown that followed the tsunami on March 11, 2011. The commission concluded that the accident was a preventable one, and could have been mitigated by quicker action by the Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco), which owned and operated the Fukushima Daiichi plant. Tepco has claimed that the accident and subsequent meltdown was due to a “once-in-a-millennium” tsunami, but the commission report suggests that the initial earthquake may have caused severe damage to the plant even before the wave hit. The commission describes a breakdown in communication between the office of then Prime Minister Naoto Kan and Tepco that diverted time and attention from emergency work on the plant. Most of all, though, the report blames the culture of collusion between the company, the government and tame regulators that “betrayed the nation’s right to safety from nuclear accidents.” The problem isn’t just with Tepco or one prime minister, but with the way Japan itself is run—the suppression of dissent in favor of group harmony, no matter the cost. And as Fukushima showed, the cost can be very high.

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