Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

There are only a few days left in our critical Mid-Year Campaign and we truly might not make it without your help.
Please join us. If you rely on independent media, support Common Dreams today. This is crunch time. We need you now.

Join the small group of generous readers who donate, keeping Common Dreams free for millions of people each year. Without your help, we won’t survive.

The Fukushima Secrecy Syndrome – From Japan to America

Ralph Nader

Last month, the ruling Japanese coalition parties quickly rammed through Parliament a state secrets law. We Americans better take notice.

Under its provisions the government alone decides what are state secrets and any civil servants who divulge any “secrets” can be jailed for up to 10 years. Journalists caught in the web of this vaguely defined law can be jailed for up to 5 years.

Government officials have been upset at the constant disclosures of their laxity by regulatory officials before and after the Fukushima nuclear power disaster in 2011, operated by Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO).

"The Obama administration must become more alert to authoritarian trends in Japan that its policies have been either encouraging or knowingly ignoring – often behind the curtains of our own chronic secrecy."

Week after week, reports appear in the press revealing the seriousness of the contaminated water flow, the inaccessible radioactive material deep inside these reactors and the need to stop these leaking sites from further poisoning the land, food and ocean. Officials now estimate that it could take up to 40 years to clean up and decommission the reactors.

Other factors are also feeding this sure sign of a democratic setback. Militarism is raising its democracy-menacing head, prompted by friction with China over the South China Sea. Dismayingly, U.S. militarists are pushing for a larger Japanese military budget. China is the latest national security justification for our “pivot to East Asia” provoked in part by our military-industrial complex.

Draconian secrecy in government and fast-tracking bills through legislative bodies are bad omens for freedom of the Japanese press and freedom to dissent by the Japanese people. Freedom of information and robust debate (the latter cut off sharply by Japan’s parliament in December 5, 2013) are the currencies of democracy.

There is good reason why the New York Times continues to cover the deteriorating conditions in the desolate, evacuated Fukushima area. Our country has licensed many reactors here with the same designs and many of the same inadequate safety and inspection standards. Some reactors here are near earthquake faults with surrounding populations which cannot be safely evacuated in case of serious damage to the electric plant. The two Indian Point reactors that are 30 miles north of New York City are a case in point.

The less we are able to know about the past and present conditions of Fukushima, the less we will learn about atomic reactors in our own country.

Fortunately many of Japan’s most famous scientists, including Nobel laureates, Toshihide Maskawa and Hideki Shirakawa, have led the opposition against this new state secrecy legislation with 3,000 academics signing a public letter of protest. These scientists and academics declared the government’s secrecy law a threat to “the pacifist principles and fundamental human rights established by the constitution and should be rejected immediately.”

Following this statement, the Japan Scientists’ Association, Japan’s mass media companies, citizens associations, lawyers’ organizations and some regional legislatures opposed the legislation. Polls show the public also opposes this attack on democracy. The present ruling parties remain adamant. They cite as reasons for state secrecy “national security and fighting terrorism.” Sound familiar?

History is always present in the minds of many Japanese people. They know what happened in Japan when the unchallenged slide toward militarization of Japanese society led to the intimidating tyranny that drove the invasion of China, Korea and Southeast Asia before and after Pearl Harbor. By 1945, Japan was in ruins, ending with Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The American people have to be alert to our government’s needless military and political provocations of China, which is worried about encirclement by surrounding U.S.-allied nations and U.S. air and sea power. Washington might better turn immediate attention to U.S. trade policies that have facilitated U.S. companies shipping American jobs and whole industries to China.

The Obama administration must become more alert to authoritarian trends in Japan that its policies have been either encouraging or knowingly ignoring – often behind the curtains of our own chronic secrecy.

The lessons of history beckon.


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.
Ralph Nader

Ralph Nader

Ralph Nader is a consumer advocate and the author of "The Seventeen Solutions: Bold Ideas for Our American Future" (2012). His new book is, "Wrecking America: How Trump’s Lies and Lawbreaking Betray All(2020, co-authored with Mark Green).

Just a few days left in our crucial Mid-Year Campaign and we might not make it without your help.
Who funds our independent journalism? Readers like you who believe in our mission: To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. No corporate advertisers. No billionaire founder. Our non-partisan, nonprofit media model has only one source of revenue: The people who read and value this work and our mission. That's it.
And the model is simple: If everyone just gives whatever amount they can afford and think is reasonable—$3, $9, $29, or more—we can continue. If not enough do, we go dark.

All the small gifts add up to something otherwise impossible. Please join us today. Donate to Common Dreams. This is crunch time. We need you now.

Progressive Delia Ramirez Defeats Billionaire PAC Money to Win Illinois Primary

"Billionaires and their super PACs are spending millions to defeat progressive candidates," said Sen. Bernie Sanders, who endorsed Ramirez. "They have the money, but we've got the people."

Jake Johnson ·


'Witness Intimidation. Clear as Day': Jan. 6 Panel Teases Evidence of Cover-Up Effort

"Add witness tampering to the laundry list of crimes Trump and his allies must be charged with," said professor Robert Reich.

Jessica Corbett ·


'Bombshell After Bombshell' Dropped as Jan. 6 Testimony Homes In On Trump Guilt

"Hutchinson's testimony of the deeply detailed plans of January 6 and the inaction of those in the White House in response to the violence show just how close we came to a coup," said one pro-democracy organizer.

Brett Wilkins ·


Mark Meadows 'Did Seek That Pardon, Yes Ma'am,' Hutchinson Testifies

The former aide confirmed that attorney Rudy Giuliani also sought a presidential pardon related to the January 6 attack.

Jessica Corbett ·


UN Chief Warns of 'Ocean Emergency' as Leaders Confront Biodiversity Loss, Pollution

"We must turn the tide," said Secretary-General António Guterres. "A healthy and productive ocean is vital to our shared future."

Julia Conley ·

Common Dreams Logo