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What marks would you like?

April 12, 2012


Yoroku: Marking the government's handling of nuclear reactor assessments



It's said that the character Yamaarashi in Soseki Natsume's famous novel "Botchan" was modeled on the late mathematician Aritaka Kumamoto, who served as an instructor at the University of Tokyo. Kumamoto, it was said, would give students 125 marks out of 100 when he liked their answers, but minus 25 points for poor answers. The poet and literary critic Shiki Masaoka was among those who failed under him.

Around the same time, the educator Raphael von Koeber, who was from Russia, was teaching philosophy at the university. He would ask students who were unable to provide answers in oral tests how many marks they wanted, and give them that score. When he was criticized by fellow philosopher Tetsujiro Inoue over his handouts of full marks, he paid no heed, asking if he should instead give a uniform grade of 30 percent the following year.

Now, some students may get away with submitting weak reports. The teachers who generously hand out marks to students when they assemble lines of text into reports are popular. Taking a look at society today, it would seem that similar practices have emerged in connection with the government's moves toward restarting Japan's nuclear reactors.

The government is expected to make a decision on restarting the No. 3 and 4 reactors at the Oi Nuclear Power Plant in Fukui Prefecture as early as this week. It has already judged that most of the safety measures presented by plant operator Kansai Electric Power Co. deserve a passing grade. But the standard for getting a passing grade is simply a matter of including venting devices, quake proof office facilities, and so on in future design plans.

However, this is not just a matter of whether a student advances to the next grade or not; we are talking about the safety of nuclear power plants. Surely there are some who harbor concerns about the way safety measures are simply being listed in reports rather than actually being implemented.

The public harbor mistrust toward conventional nuclear power safety administration methods which one could liken to asking power companies how many marks they want and then giving them that score. It is only natural for people to suspect that passing grades are being dished out easily.

When the government makes its decision, the need to restart nuclear reactors based on electricity supply and demand will be balanced against risks associated with restarting the reactors. The government needs to explain the issues clearly so that people can see it is not deducting a few marks off one issue or adding a few more to another. ("Yoroku," a front-page column in the Mainichi Shimbun)

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