Saturday, 11 March 2017

My Nuclear Nightmare by Naoto Kan

My Nuclear Nightmare: Leading Japan through the Fukushima Disaster to a Nuclear-Free Future by Naoto Kan

First published in Japanese in Japan by Gentosha Inc in 2012. English language translation by Jeffrey S Irish published in America by Cornell University Press in January 2017.

One of my WorldReads from Japan

Where to buy this book:



Amazon UK

Amazon US




The Book Depository



How I got this book:
Received a copy from the publisher via NetGalley

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

'On March 11, 2011, a massive undersea earthquake off Japan’s coast triggered devastating tsunami waves that in turn caused meltdowns at three reactors in the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. Ranked with Chernobyl as the worst nuclear disaster in history, Fukushima will have lasting consequences for generations. Until 3.11, Japan’s Prime Minister, Naoto Kan, had supported the use of nuclear power. His position would undergo a radical change, however, as Kan watched the nuclear disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 Power Plant unfold and came to understand the potential for the physical, economic, and political destruction of Japan.

In My Nuclear Nightmare, Kan offers a fascinating day-by-day account of his actions in the harrowing week after the earthquake struck. He records the anguished decisions he had to make as the scale of destruction became clear and the threat of nuclear catastrophe loomed ever larger—decisions made on the basis of information that was often unreliable. For example, frustrated by the lack of clarity from the executives at Tepco, the company that owned the power plant, Kan decided to visit Fukushima himself, despite the risks, so he could talk to the plant’s manager and find out what was really happening on the ground. As he details, a combination of extremely good fortune and hard work just barely prevented a total meltdown of all of Fukushima’s reactor units, which would have necessitated the evacuation of the thirty million residents of the greater Tokyo metropolitan area.

In the book, first published in Japan in 2012, Kan also explains his opposition to nuclear power: “I came to understand that a nuclear accident carried with it a risk so large that it could lead to the collapse of a country.” When Kan was pressured by the opposition to step down as prime minister in August 2011, he agreed to do so only after legislation had been passed to encourage investments in alternative energy. As both a document of crisis management during an almost unimaginable disaster and a cogent argument about the dangers of nuclear power, My Nuclear Nightmare is essential reading.

On Valentine's Day this year news agencies reported radiation leaks from Fukushima spiralling out of control which makes the English-language translation of Kan's memoir ominously timely. Over 18,000 people were lost in the massive earthquake and tsunami of March 2011 and six years later to the day leaks from the damaged nuclear plants have not even been successfully contained, let alone repaired. Evacuated civilians will not be allowed home for decades. The true extent of the damage caused by radioactive pollution leaking into the Pacific Ocean may not be known for millennia. In this memoir Naoto Kan recounts the extremes of confusion, corporate incompetence, and selfless bravery he encountered in the earthquake's immediate aftermath and also looks ahead to a time when all our electricity needs can be met without the threat of yet another nuclear nightmare.

This memoir covers the days and weeks immediately following March 11th 2011 and is very much Kan putting his version of events. I found some of the political posturing dry, but truly felt Kan's fear of nuclear Armageddon as the Fukushima reactors edge ever closer to complete disaster. From my armchair spectator perspective, this is a fascinating read. What would you do if your country was about to be partially obliterated, left uninhabitable for decades or maybe centuries, and the men (because everyone does seem to be male here) running the company at fault don't seem to have any idea what to do? I found this corporate ignorance one of the most frightening aspects of the story. The electric company had bought the reactors in as complete units, the first all the way from America. When disaster hit, men onsite at the plant did all they could, but managers at headquarters were more concerned with blacking out parts of the instruction manual to protect trade secrets! I protested against the new Hinkley reactor in Britain mainly on financial grounds - it's poor value for consumers even before factoring in the costs of a Fukushima-style clearup - but now I am seriously wondering at the sense of buying in a French-Chinese ready-build.

In this memoir Naoto Kan smashes the myths of 'safe' and 'cheap' nuclear power. Neither concept is based in reality and his insights into how easily it can all go horrifically wrong were chilling to read, especially when I considered that this all happened in Japan - a prosperous nation with a strong technological background. Radioactive pollution doesn't respect national borders and our worsening climate makes natural disasters all the more likely. As a result of reading this book I am now even more convinced that nuclear power plants are outdated and an unnecessary risk.

Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Naoto Kan / Biography and memoir / Books from Japan

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