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Fukushima disaster report: relevance of cultural traits

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(The views expressed in this column are the author’s own and do not represent those of Reuters)

The first report of the three major investigations commissioned by the Japanese government into the Fukushima nuclear disaster of March 2011 was released in Tokyo on Thursday. The findings of the investigation, chaired by Dr. Kiyoshi Kurokawa challenged the dominant assumption that this tragedy unfolded due to a confluence of natural calamities of tectonic proportion — namely a tsunami and an earthquake — and concluded that Fukushima was alas, ‘man-made’ and occurred due to “a multitude of errors and wilful negligence” that implicated the government, safety regulators and the operator of the nuclear plant.

While the Kurokawa report will no doubt be debated and contested widely within Japan and beyond, the sub-text of the findings also make reference to deeply ingrained cultural traits as being part of the causal cluster.

The observations add of the disaster: “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 programme’; our groupism; and our insularity.”

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