The Nation.com: But even as Japan was reeling from the disaster’s death toll—which is expected to surpass 20,000—and growing increasingly frightened by the crisis at Tokyo Electric Power Company’s nuclear reactor complex, there was growing unease at the lack of straight information from both the government and Tepco, a utility with a troubled history of lies, cover-ups and obfuscation dating back to the late 1960s.
The information gap became an international issue on March 16, when US Nuclear Regulatory Commission chair Gregory Jaczko openly contradicted the Japanese government by declaring that water in one of Tepco’s reactors had boiled away, raising radiation in the area to “extremely high levels.” He recommended evacuation to any Americans within fifty miles of the site—nearly double the evacuation zone announced by the Japanese government (which immediately denied Jaczko’s assertions). TheNew York Times piled on the next day with a major article that pilloried the Kan government. “Never has postwar Japan needed strong, assertive leadership more—and never has its weak, rudderless system of governing been so clearly exposed,” the reporters declared.
To be sure, Tokyo’s response to the disaster has been erratic, and the paucity of information about Fukushima was one of the first complaints I heard about the situation from my friends in Japan. But much of the criticism poured on Japan has obscured the many ways its political system has shifted since a 2009 political earthquake, when the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) was swept out of power for the first time in fifty years. The changes, particularly to people who remember the government’s pathetic response to the 1995 earthquake in Kobe, which killed nearly 6,500, have been striking.