25 Mai 2012
A device that spat out chocolate if someone deposited 100 yen into a coin slot could fit the definition of what is known in science and engineering as a "black box" -- a system whose inputs and outputs are visible, but not its inner workings. Inside the facade may be your standard vending machine, a magical contraption that transforms metals into chocolate, or even a human being.
A couple of months ago, Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), operator of the stricken Fukushima nuclear power station, announced that the water level in the No. 2 reactor containment vessel was only 60 centimeters deep. What's going on inside the crippled reactors remains unknown for the most part. In other words, the nuclear disaster has created its own "black boxes" whose input is cooling water and whose output is highly radioactive water.
Japan's nuclear safety administration, which downplayed the risks of a serious nuclear disaster and failed to take measures against a massive tsunami and loss of power, is responsible for bringing these troublesome black boxes into existence. It's only natural that the nuclear policymaking process dominated by the "nuclear village" -- the name given to the nation's pro-nuclear collection of politicians, bureaucrats, academics, and utilities -- has come to be looked upon with great suspicion.
Now, another black-box scandal in nuclear policymaking has emerged.
It was recently reported that the Japan Atomic Energy Commission (JAEC) held a secret meeting on April 24, before a JAEC subcommittee compiled and submitted a report on the country's policy of reprocessing spent nuclear fuel to the "council of new national energy policy" on May 23. The discussion, dubbed a "study meeting," took place behind closed doors, with only pro-nuclear parties from government and power industry bodies invited to attend. The chief of the JAEC subcommittee was also in attendance.
If the JAEC merely needed to hear the opinions of power companies, they could have held a public hearing. News of what could be seen as further collusive activity by the "nuclear village" -- and what could be interpreted as the "village" flaunting its indifference to the fact that it is already the target of widespread distrust -- is maddening the public.
It is said that the black boxes at the Fukushima plant will take decades to decommission. But the black box that spawned the nation's nuclear policy can be dismantled today. ("Yoroku," a front-page column in the Mainichi Shimbun)