It Takes a Village

There’s a good story in today’s New York Times about the cozy relationship between nuclear regulators and utility companies in Japan, with details about the way that a whistleblower who revealed issues at Fukushima Daiichi unit 1 was punished for what turned out to be true revelations.

In Japan, the web of connections between the nuclear industry and government officials is now popularly referred to as the “nuclear power village.” The expression connotes the nontransparent, collusive interests that underlie the establishment’s push to increase nuclear power despite the discovery of active fault lines under plants, new projections about the size of tsunamis and a long history of cover-ups of safety problems.

One of the key differences between Japan’s regulator and our NRC is that Japan relies on industry experts to write nuclear regulation, in part because industry has stifled independent nuclear research at universities:

Unable to conduct research, skeptics, especially a group of six at Kyoto University, languished for decades as assistant professors.

One, Hiroaki Koide, a nuclear reactor expert who has held a position equivalent to assistant professor for 37 years at Kyoto University, said he applied unsuccessfully for research funds when he was younger.

“They’re not handed out to outsiders like me,” he said.

Japan, like the US, still has plants on fault lines without enough portable generators.

Meanwhile, back at Fukushima, TEPCO is still revising (upward) the amount of fuel damage to its reactors, and it is undertaking the risky operation of filling unit 1’s containment with water. Japan’s health ministry released results of new radiation studies showing that some areas as far away as 24 km will expose residents to almost five times the allowed yearly dose for a nuclear plant worker.

28 replies
  1. 1
    SiubhanDuinne says:

    O/T, but your education post got a nice shoutout this morning at Gin and Tacos, mistermix. Congrats!

  2. 2
    gnomedad says:

    Clearly, the answer to regulatory capture is deregulation.

  3. 3
    Chris says:

    If I recall my IR lessons, business, politics and government bureaucracy are pretty tightly weaved together in Japan (the so-called “Iron Triangle”). Not a surprise, therefore.

  4. 4
    Joseph Nobles says:

    Panetta to Defense!

    Petraeus to CIA!

    Alice to the moon!

  5. 5
    stuckinred says:

    President Barack Obama will name CIA Director Leon Panetta as his nominee to succeed Robert Gates as defense secretary, a U.S. official said Wednesday.

    An administration official said this month that Obama is considering Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, as the next possible CIA director.

  6. 6
    stuckinred says:

    @Joseph Nobles: One of these days. . .

  7. 7
    Chris says:


    Quite a shake-up.

    Any idea if Hillary’s leaving and if so who’s replacing her?

  8. 8
    stuckinred says:

    Kabul, Afghanistan (CNN) — At least six American service members were killed Wednesday when a man opened fire on troops and a “gunfight” ensued at an airport in the Afghan capital, military officials said.

  9. 9
    Xenos says:

    Petraeus at CIA? This chess game has more dimensions than the string theory.

    edit: I guess it is the only way to make Petraeus admit that there is no way to win the war in Afghanistan.

  10. 10
    Ghanima Atreides says:

    @stuckinred: coming soon to a neighborhood near Kabul…..Operation Frequent Wind Redux!

  11. 11
    Joseph Nobles says:

    @Chris: I think we got Hillary until 2012. She’s got the fabled Election Night bow-out, I’d bet.

  12. 12
    Chris says:

    @Joseph Nobles:

    Panetta to Defense!

    Petraeus to CIA!

    Alice to the moon!

    In seriousness: what do people have against the concept of giving the Pentagon to a career soldier, the State Department to a career diplomat, and the CIA to a career intelligence officer?

    Why give State to Colin Powell, why give DOD to Gates and now Panetta, why give CIA to Petraeus? I’m not saying anything against any of those guys individually, but what’s wrong with keeping them in their area of expertise and leaving other areas to people who know them better?

  13. 13
    Ghanima Atreides says:

    @gnomedad: nice. yes, the Hand giveth, and the Hand taketh away.

    President Barack Obama will name CIA Director Leon Panetta

    euwwwww. Is Obama trying to get America kicked out of A-stan like we are getting kicked out of Iraq?
    I guess that is the new exit strategy since the mini-surge failed.
    Forcible eviction.

  14. 14
    Ghanima Atreides says:

    @Chris: I think its part of our new exit strategy for A-stan. The Fall of Kabul and Operation Frequent Wind Redux.

  15. 15
    Joseph Nobles says:

    @Xenos: I think this is an interesting new promotion track that’s evolving in the Executive Branch. A major problem with our invading Iraq was the stovepipe of private intelligence that Rumsfeld set up to bypass the namby-pambys at the CIA. Now we’ve got the head of the CIA heading to the top job at the Pentagon, and someone who’s bound to be Defense Secretary one day heading over to build contacts and experience at the CIA. I’m not sure how I feel about it, but queasy is definitely in the mix.

  16. 16
    stuckinred says:

    @Chris: Yea, and make sure there is no jokin around about it either. . .lighten the fuck up.

  17. 17
    Xenos says:

    @Joseph Nobles: You could almost call it our own Iron Triangle.

  18. 18
    Ghanima Atreides says:

    Pakistan not fond of Panetta.
    Dem na liek him.

  19. 19
    Joseph Nobles says:

    @Chris: There’s something to be said for taking your best people and cross-training them in a different discipline.

    It also says a lot about how closely in bed the CIA and the military appear to be snuggling — and how much closer they will be getting. That’s what’s bothering me.

  20. 20
    agrippa says:

    “Forcible eviction” is, under the circumstances, the best way out of Afghanistan. Very few, in this country, will notice.

    I am not surprised at the cozy relationship between regulator and regulated. It looks like Japan abused the priveledge.

  21. 21
    Ghanima Atreides says:


    It looks like Japan abused the priveledge.

    Nah. kapitalist kost kutting in action. Just like the BP oil spill.

    Very few, in this country, will notice.

    But many in other countries will.

  22. 22
    jwb says:

    @Joseph Nobles: And here I thought the eleven-dimensional idea of appointing Petraeus to the Obama administration was to poison his future with the GOP.

  23. 23
    Sly says:

    The argument goes something like this: Because the State Department and Defense Department (and War Department prior to that) have traditionally been bureaucratic rivals, switching up the leadership removes some of the turf squabbles and perform their functions in a more collegial environment. This conflict is somewhat overstated, however. State and Defense are not like the CIA and FBI.

    Having said that, career experience within the department doesn’t necessarily lead to success, either. George Marshall, for instance, was a much, much better Secretary of State than he was Secretary of Defense.

  24. 24
    Chris says:


    Having said that, career experience within the department doesn’t necessarily lead to success, either. George Marshall, for instance, was a much, much better Secretary of State than he was Secretary of Defense.

    Did not know that. I suppose the individual’s qualifications do matter more, it just seems counterintuitive to do the leadership switch-up so often.

    I see the purpose behind it. But as you say, the State/Defense conflict isn’t as substantial as people seem to think it is. It would be quite something if there was that kind of switch-up between the CIA and FBI leadership – has that ever happened?

  25. 25
    Joseph Nobles says:

    @jwb: Poison to the GOP, yes.

    But Obama/Petreaus 2012?

  26. 26
    Ghanima Atreides says:

    @Joseph Nobles: Petraeus is field commander AfPak Theater until 2014.
    What changes that?
    Man, I’d lurve to see that tho.
    An Obama/Petreaus team would fucking kick Bibi and AIPAC to the kerb.

  27. 27
    dmbeaster says:

    Those radiation levels are pretty high (235 msv). It is 100 times the level of typical background radiation, and 250 times the level that the NRC has set for additional exposure of the public from nuclear operations. The exposure level for permitted for workers is 50 times higher than for the general populace. I wonder what the longevity is of that level of radiation output – the article is unclear. It does indicate that this is the estimated exposure level over the next year.

    This exposure level is currently higher than the typical exposure in the Chernobyl exclusion zone (now – 25 years after the accident).

    What are the Japanese going to do?

  28. 28
    Dennis Doubleday says:

    Good thing regulatory capture is not a problem here in the good ol’ USA.

    Seriously, though, the NRC does seem more independent than most of our regulatory bodies. But does anybody doubt that if they tried to decree something like “no more storage of spent fuel in pools at reactor sites” that they would be overridden by Congress or the Administration? But that exact thing was revealed by Fukushima to be a huge safety risk!

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