Given the scale of devastation suffered by Japan as a result of last year’s earthquake and tsunami and of the concern caused by the subsequent near meltdown of the Fukushima power plant, it is not surprising that the official report into the category 7 nuclear incident breaks new ground in the area of accident investigation.
Like recent reports into the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, BP Texas City and Buncefield, here in the UK, the Japanese government’s report pulls no punches in identifying people and organisations found to have contributed to the accident, and in recommending ways forward.
But the Fukushima report goes beyond that by linking the causes of the incident to Japan’s social and cultural characteristics: suggesting that the disastrous outcome at Fukushima would have been the same even if other Japanese people had been in charge.
As Kiyoshi Kurokawa, chairman of the Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission, commented: “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.”
But these conclusions also raise questions around the regulation of nuclear and other high-hazard industries in other countries.
While the UK, for example, probably scores more highly than Japan in terms of questioning of authority, there are, perhaps, other aspects of business and governance here that could potentially undermine seemingly sound policies to safeguard the public from major industrial accidents.