How to Make a Dramatic Exit: Japan’s Nuke Advisor Quits

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Like apologies, resignations are a delicate art in Japan. But the leave-taking of scientist Toshiso Kosako made waves not so much for its skilful dodging as for its remarkable bluntness. The University of Tokyo professor had been employed since mid-March as a nuclear advisor to the government of Prime Minister Naoto Kan, who is still battling the fallout from the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. In his April 29 resignation, Kosako blinked back tears and accused the Japanese leadership of ignoring his advice on how to handle the nuclear crisis, particularly the setting of radiation limits for schools. Kosako even charged that the government had not fully complied with the law in its response to the nuclear disaster. “There is no point for me to be here,” Kosako said in a tense press conference.

Kosako’s resignation puts further pressure on Kan, who has been struggling politically since the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. Although the Japanese people have pulled together with uncommon resilience, the Japanese P.M. is facing mounting calls to resign for his handling of both the natural and manmade crises. A poll conducted by Kyodo News found that 76% of Japanese are underwhelmed with Kan’s leadership. Government spokesman Yukio Edano, however, countered some of Kosako’s claims, saying that the university professor had misunderstood Japan’s actual guidelines for maximum radiation exposure in schools.

On Saturday, Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), the Fukushima Daiichi plant operator, admitted that two more of its workers had suffered dangerous levels of radiation exposure. The week before, TEPCO confessed that a female worker had also been exposed to radiation far above legal limits. The electricity operator duly apologized for these worker-safety lapses. But unlike Kosako’s resignation, TEPCO’s performance sounded a lot like an artful dodge.