Fukushima nuclear accident sees Japan’s rigid profile

Before the Fukushima nuclear accident in 2011, the slogan of the Japanese government to promote nuclear energy in the country was “100% safety.”

This does not mean that the people inside Japan’s nuclear energy propaganda system believe so. It is impossible for nuclear energy to be 100% safe, and the danger can only be controlled within an acceptable range. However, people in the industry are silent.

Before the accident, the nuclear technology industry asked Japan to further improve the safety of nuclear energy, and Japanese power companies turned a deaf ear to it. Because they believe that a “100% safe” system has no room for improvement. If they respond and take corresponding measures, it is an indirect admission that “100% safe” is a lie.

Japan’s Atomic Energy Safety and Security Agency has issued an oral version of the “Guidelines for Improving the Safety of Nuclear Energy” but refused to write it in writing. The organization also does not require Japan Electric Power Company to respond to the guidelines, but only in the form of recommendations, in order to maintain the face of the “100% safe” slogan.

The radioactive material released by the Fukushima nuclear accident was 1/10 of the Chernobyl accident, ranking second in the history of the world. 1/10 of Fukushima Prefecture is polluted. In 2015, Japanese health professor Toshihide Tsuda stated that the high incidence of thyroid cancer in children in the Fukushima area is 20 to 50 times the national average in Japan, which is exactly the same as the situation four years after the Chernobyl nuclear accident.

Dai Nippon Co., Ltd.
Japan’s bureaucratic inertia is deeply ingrained. Before the incident, the Japanese Nuclear Energy and Nuclear Safety Advisory Group was appointed by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry of Japan and other agencies.

Although they hire people who are proficient in nuclear technology, the members of the advisory group are very clear that separate dissent is useless. They need to be consistent with others; if they question the government’s decision, they may lose their advisory qualifications.

On September 26, 2020, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga inspected the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant

Moreover, most of the consultants are from Japanese power companies, so they will not question their own companies. The agency that appoints the advisory group is also responsible for promoting nuclear energy. The slogan for promoting nuclear energy is “100% safety.”

The key positions of the Japan Atomic Energy Safety and Security Agency are all held by senior officials from the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, and the term of office is two years on average. They are not experts in nuclear energy and related industries. And after the two-year term ends, they will be appointed elsewhere, so there is no incentive to examine the nuclear energy industry in detail.

Around 2010, Japan’s non-performing debt accounted for more than 200% of GDP, which is equivalent to Europe’s Greece.

They follow the principle of keeping a low profile and avoiding trouble. After the “September 11” incident, the US Nuclear Energy Regulatory Commission recommended that the Security Institute make necessary preparations for possible terrorist attacks. Officials of the organization considered the proposal, but blocked the information with a small group of people in the organization because they did not want to interfere with the existing order of Japan’s nuclear energy industry.

This is just a microcosm of the structure of the relationship between the government and enterprises in Japan.

In 1950, the Japanese Ministry of International Trade and Industry implemented policies to stimulate the development of steel, aluminum, petrochemical, and digital industries, while reducing loan interest rates and corporate tax rates.

Since then, the Japanese government and Japanese companies have joined hands to promote the development of enterprises with the national machinery. This model is called Japan inc, which has been translated as “Dainippon Corporation” by Chinese netizens, that is, Japan is a large-scale enterprise-working in a Japanese company. Everyone is very familiar with this concept.

Externally, this structure is for international competition; internally, the government and consortia jointly rule the people. Japan’s 20-year economic stagnation (“lost 20 years”) from 1990 to 2010 is also related to this.

There are many problems in Japanese society. The aging population, non-performing loans, and the mess of high debt fall on the younger generation. There are also deflation, maladaptation to the loss of global advantages, employment problems, the gap between the rich and the poor… The root cause of the problem that cannot be resolved is this system of collusion between politics and business.

Japan’s non-performing loan ratio reached its peak in 2002 at 8.42%. In contrast, the average non-performing loan rate in the United States in the past 40 years was only 2.6%. Around 2010, Japan’s non-performing debt accounted for more than 200% of GDP, which is equivalent to Europe’s Greece.

Japan broke out the problem of non-performing loans in the 1990s. After years of delay, it has not been resolved, but has worsened. Japan is a creditor country, and it is almost impossible for foreign investors to force Japan to deal with bad debts.

Unable to solve the problem of non-performing loans, but also because of the information blockade of the Japanese government and consortium. In Japanese financial institutions, those who know the inside story are all stakeholders. The government and the consortium joined forces and refused to disclose details to the outside world.

Japan’s Ministry of Finance is responsible for supervising banks, and it has established a close economic community with large private banks to escort the substantive interests of the consortium. With the assistance of the government, Japan’s major banks have made consistent steps and are not allowed to go bankrupt. It is difficult for external factors to play a role in such alliances.

There are still many unspoken rules within the organization, which make the outside world look at it. Therefore, the seriousness of non-performing loans has been covered up for more than a decade. It was not until 2005 that the issue of non-performing loans was fully dealt with by the cabinet of Junichiro Koizumi.

The opaque information in Japanese society also breeds corruption. In 2003, some scholars claimed that Japan’s political corruption was structural. Corruption within the consortium is not uncommon. Among consortia and citizens, the Japanese government has chosen consortium interests.

Economic pressure calls for “inflation”
Today, nearly 10 years after the Fukushima nuclear accident, the Japanese government insists on dumping contaminated water from the Fukushima nuclear power plant into the sea because it saves trouble and money.

Before the Fukushima nuclear accident, Japan experienced 20 years of economic stagnation. The Fukushima nuclear accident undoubtedly caused a heavy blow to Japan’s economy.

On November 9, 2020, in Seoul, South Korea, people protested against Japan’s plan to discharge wastewater from the Fukushima nuclear power plant into the sea.

Since the stock avalanche in 1990 and the collapse of the real estate market in 1991, Japan’s GDP growth rate has been below 1% for most of the past 30 years. 37% of the population are temporary workers, and the youth unemployment rate is high.

In recent years, the problems of poverty in the elderly and youth have emerged for the first time in Japan, which is known as “the whole country has entered the middle class” and has reached the level of “equal wealth”.

Before 2010, although the Japanese government adopted some economic stimulus policies, such as reducing corporate loan interest rates to zero, there were still not many companies willing to borrow. Money is getting more valuable, real estate is depreciating, and Japanese companies are not inclined to invest. They prefer to use “cash as the king” to recruit more temporary workers instead of permanent employees, leading to an increase in the unemployment rate of the younger generation.

As of 2012, the profitability of non-financial companies in Japan accounted for 60% of Japan’s GDP. The situation in other countries is just the opposite-the real economy has relatively low profitability and relatively high return on investment. Maintaining inflation at 1% to 2% is beneficial. In the past few decades, Japan’s annual inflation has never exceeded 1%, and wage increases have not exceeded 2%.

Not only the Japanese government and companies are conservative, but Japanese people are also conservative. Even if the government has policies to stimulate consumption, the Japanese habit of spending money cautiously is difficult to change, and the country’s economic recovery policy often fails.

Ten years after the economic bubble burst, that is, in 2001, Japan began to implement quantitative easing (the policy was Japan’s first). Correspondingly, after the US subprime mortgage crisis in 2008, the Fed took only one year to start quantitative easing.

As of 2014, the Associated Press has conducted 3 rounds of this policy. The Bank of England and the European Central Bank have also implemented quantitative easing, and both are more radical than Japan’s previous measures.

The real recovery of Japan’s economic growth will have to wait until the birth of Shinzo Abe’s “Abenomics” in 2012. This is still an upgraded version after referring to the precedents in the United States and Europe.

At the time, Bank of Japan president Haruhiko Kuroda said that the inflation target was reached at all costs. This sentence, Japan has waited for 20 years, because Kuroda’s three predecessors are very conservative. Japan has set its inflation target at 2%.

During Abe’s tenure, Japan added 5.5 million jobs, despite the continued decline and aging of the Japanese population.

“Don’t be Japan”
Regarding the economic disaster that occurred in 1990, Japan only found the possibility of a solution in 2012. This is related to the extreme conservatism of the Japanese government and enterprises. During the 20-year period of economic stagnation, the outside world constantly criticized the Bank of Japan and the government for taking countermeasures too slowly and not radical enough.

Elderly workers everywhere in Tokyo

During Abe’s tenure, Japan added 5.5 million jobs, despite the continued decline and aging of the Japanese population.

However, the pace of reform in Japan is still gentle, with a closed organizational structure and opaque information. Scholars studying the Japanese economy believe that to solve economic problems, Japan should increase the consumption tax to 20%. Japan’s current consumption tax is only 10%. In 1997, Japan’s consumption tax was 5%.

But this is not enough. Japan also needs to reduce pension and medical expenditures. In the context of economic constraints, there is a precedent for local governments to cut off pensions. For example, China’s Taiwan region has cut 20%-40% of pensions for military personnel, civil servants, and teachers in recent years because of financial constraints.

There are also reasons for Japan’s refusal to sacrifice its national interests drastically today.

Under the modern Japanese education system established in the early Meiji period, the cultivation of talents is for the well-being of the country, not for the happiness of the individual. The Japanese who are retiring or about to retire, the education they received from an early age is how to be a qualified citizen and make sacrifices for it.

Adult men should put the company’s interests above the individual, emphasizing perseverance rather than other personal strengths. Women have to train the next generation of successors for the country. For this reason, Japan has formed a cautious, closed, and conservative national character.

Critics both inside and outside Japan believe that such an education system makes Japanese people pay too much. Japan is preparing to discharge nuclear waste water to the Pacific Ocean in 2022. It is not only to save money, but also to choose nationals among Japanese nationals and the interests of the world, because if it wants to spend more capital for the Fukushima nuclear accident, Japanese nationals will also pay for it.

After the Japanese economy has stagnated for 20 years, there is a popular saying in Western countries: “Don’t become Japan (that way).” The Economist on July 30, 2011 featured a cartoon of Obama and Merkel wearing kimonos as the cover. The theme of the current issue is “Becoming Japan”, which represents a warning: After the subprime mortgage crisis, the United States and Europe may follow in Japan’s footsteps.

But “Don’t be Japan” seems to have more meaning beyond economics in today’s view.