The way to manage a crisis is to be transparent. Transparency builds trust. Yet it is trust that is becoming harder and harder to find as each day passes here in Japan.
The latest came yesterday when a Japanese friend sent me a YouTube video from May 19th showing an exchange between Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) member Mizuho Fukushima and members of Japan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA). In the video, Ms. Fukushima presses MOFA on an extraordinary issue -- why are 40,000 dosimeters sitting in a warehouse at Narita airport and have not been distributed to people living near the Daiichi nuclear plant? Why indeed.
No one here to my knowledge has been able to confirm the details of this story. This includes the Japanese media who have for some reason elected not to write about it.
So, 40,000 dosimeters sent by nations including the United States, France and Canada, are sitting in a warehouse in Tokyo and people living near the Fukushima nuclear plant who could be using them must try to get Geiger counters on their own. This is what really puzzles me. Anyone here in Japan can still buy a dosimeter (if they can find one) or order it from overseas. So it is not like Geiger counters are banned. But why haven't they been distributed? It boggles the mind. Is it an attempt to limit people's access to the extent of the radiation leaks or it is mere incompetence?
This issue comes on the heels of revelations by Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) that all three nuclear reactors at the Daiichi Fukushima nuclear plant experienced a meltdown within days of the March 11th earthquake and tsunami in Japan. TEPCO said last week that repaired water gauges showed that fuel rods in Units 1, 2 and 3 at the plant had "mostly melted" and fallen into a lump at the bottom of the pressure vessels after the complex's cooling system was knocked out by the tsunami.
So here is the question: Did TEPCO know much earlier that there had been a meltdown and did not make it public, or did they wait until they could confirm the meltdown had occurred by finally gaining access to instruments that could confirm it inside the reactor buildings? To TEPCO's credit, they have been talking about "partial meltdown" for weeks. The types and amounts of radiation coming from the plant told us that a partial meltdown had indeed occurred. On May 23rd, TEPCO said containers holding radioactive water pumped from the reactors are almost full. While there is a plan to reprocess the water for reuse in the reactors, the system will not be up and running for weeks. This increases the likelihood that water could overflow and leak into the sea again.
So, again, the question of who knew what when and why arises. Who knew a meltdown had occurred and when? And why are 40,000 dosimeters sitting in a warehouse at Narita? If there is one piece of good news from all this, it is that Mizuho Fukushima is on the side of the people who live in Japan. She is a star.
David Wagner is Director of Crisis Communications for Country Risk Solutions, a political risk consulting firm based in Connecticut. He has lived and worked in Japan for 25 years.