社説:視点・震災後 少数派にこそ耳傾けよ

(Mainichi Japan) May 16, 2011
Nuclear power plant disaster highlights importance of diverse safety measures
社説:視点・震災後 少数派にこそ耳傾けよ

After the crisis emerged at the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant, I heard experts lamenting that Japan had multiple safety measures in place but lacked an important factor: diversity.

Take, for example, the power generators at the plant. Altogether there were 13 diesel-powered generators designed to start up in the event of a power cut. Even if some failed, there would be spares.

But almost all of these generators were set up in the same way, below ground level, and when a giant tsunami struck the plant on March 11, 12 of them were rendered useless.

If the plant had adopted a diverse safety plan and placed some of the generators on higher ground, the situation may have been different.

Of course it may not have been the perfect solution, but it seems like the obvious thing to do.

Researchers have in the past warned of the possibility of multiple facilities being crippled by a single cause -- such dangers were pointed out in a lawsuit aiming to halt operations at the Hamaoka Nuclear Power Plant.

But why didn't officials count this as a real risk at Fukushima?

One possible underlying cause is that the group promoting nuclear power plants in Japan lacks diversity itself, and is exclusive.

In Japan, nuclear power plants have been promoted by a group comprising the government, electric power companies, manufacturers and universities.

It is a body propped up by the official stance that Japan's nuclear power plants will not succumb to a major disaster.

In the past, when the minority warned of the dangers, this body branded them "anti-nuclear" and dismissed their opinions as "extreme arguments."

But the safety of nuclear power plants is a scientific issue dealing with risks, not a matter of ideology.  原発の安全性はリスクを扱う科学の問題であり、イデオロギーの問題ではない。

Scientifically, "absolute safety" is not possible.

However, with the forming of groups of nuclear "proponents" and "opponents," the voices of those who do not belong to either side have faded, and scientific debate has been shelved.

One could argue that this is the reason rational safety measures have been ignored.

Japan needs to drastically review its nuclear power policies and incorporate diverse opinions when judging the level of danger of its nuclear power plants.

When doing so, it should review the Japanese-style decision-making process which tends to rule out minority opinions and is easily swayed by the mainstream.

When advisory panels are formed in the United States, the selection of members and methods of operation are said to be strictly regulated, and there seems to be a custom of including the views of minorities in reports.

In Britain, there is also a system under which the government creates policies then solicits the opinions of all the parties involved and carefully considers them before a final decision is made.

Japan needs to take such approaches into consideration and change its mechanism of securing safety and forming policy.

One approach would be to have decisions verified internationally.

To avoid another accident like the one at Fukushima, we must pay attention to the threat of a single factor causing multiple failures within an organization.

(By Yuri Aono, Editorial Writer)

毎日新聞 2011年5月16日 2時30分

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