Saturday, July 30, 2011

Power Company Power

A total of seven power utilities in Japan have ordered their employees to attend public nuclear power-related hearings and symposia and pose as private citizens in favour of nuclear power, some of them even asking questions prepared in advance by the utilities.

Good thing Japan has a nuclear safety agency right? One that has oversight over power companies; an agency that is ready and willing to come down hard on this kind of manipulation? Not quite. At least two of the power companies now say the safety agency asked them to subvert these hearings. The nuclear safety agency is all about the safety of the nuclear power generation business, not about the safety for the people living near the power plants.

It's a perfect example of what I've been harping about here lately: government agencies and ministries see themselves as protecting industry from the public, not protecting the public from industry.

Now imagine the same kind of behaviour in other fields: a food safety agency that protects the food and agriculture industry from the effect of tainted foods; an environmental agency that ensures environmental concerns won't stop industrial development or waste dumping; a drug safety agency that keeps local drug companies safe from competition at the expense of effective, inexpensive treatments available elsewhere; police and prosecutors that are willing to plant evidence and send innocents to prison in order to protect a corrupt colleague, or simply to further their own careers.

Every country, every society, has its share of problems. The unchecked, unaccountable power wielded — sometimes abusively, sometimes wisely, but always without oversight — by public ministries and industrial groups is one of the main problems in Japan today.

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