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Please begin with an informative title:

Yesterday, I wrote a Sunday essay entitled Japan, nuclear industry and risk communication: unfinished business, which was about the risk communication issues Japan is falling short on.

Now, Reuters is asking:

Where is Japan's nuclear power CEO?

The head of the Japanese power company at the center of one of the world's worst nuclear disasters has all but vanished from the public eye.

And many Japanese, on a knife edge waiting to see if the nuclear power plant and radiation leaks can be brought under control, are beginning to ask where he is and questioning how much he is in control of the crisis.

Masataka Shimizu, chief executive of Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO), has not made a public appearance in a week.

There's a lot he's responsible for, including overseeing the nuclear accident and taking care of the heroic workers trying to prevent a meltdown.

Reuters has some choice quotes:

"He's making the low-ranking people do all the hard work," said Satomi Aihara, a 46-year-old Tokyo resident. "I wonder where he's hiding -- it makes me mad."

Taro Kono, a prominent member of parliament with the Liberal Democratic Party and an opponent of nuclear power, was more blunt about TEPCO officials: "They don't tell the truth ... It's in their DNA."

Even Prime Minister Naoto Kan has been unable to hide his frustration. "What the hell is going on?" he was overheard telling TEPCO executives on Tuesday.

TEPCO officials say their boss is, understandably, busy.

I can't help but think there's a lot of people in Japan besides the news media that have even choicer quotes, including local farmers whose milk and vegetables are now contamined.

From the WSJ:

The search is being hampered by a shortage of equipment and facilities necessary for accurately measuring radioactivity in food. Also slowing the process is the absence of a central authority that can oversee the wide-reaching investigation and decide what steps should be taken.

The samples are too low to have a health impact, Japanese officials said. But they represent another blow to another part of Japan's economy resulting from the March 11 earthquake and tsunami and the resulting crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi plant

They also represent another blow to official credibility, one that cannot be ignored. The technical and health aspects of this are one thing. But this is no time for the head of the responsible company to be MIA or to cease explaining to the public where things stand. And I shudder to think what "absence of a central authority that can oversee" and make decisions means.

From National Journal's Michael Hirsh, the distrust is clear:

Tokyo is almost certainly not telling us the full truth, which has been getting more and more embarrassing. And despite the outside sources of monitoring available, the truth may be far worse than we are being told, if history is any measure.

It was especially noteworthy when, at a State Department briefing on Wednesday night, spokesman Mark Toner admitted that Washington was no longer following the guidance of its close East Asian ally. The U.S. government is now telling American citizens who live within 80 kilometers of the badly damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant to evacuate the area—the Japanese government is only asking people within 20 kilometers to leave. Previously, the United States had aligned itself with the Japanese recommendations. What led to that change? Toner was asked. “Well, I mean, obviously, it’s a very fluid situation,” he said.

Hirsh talks a bit about cultural differences between Japan and the west (shame v guilt), but arguably the big cultural divide is between the nuclear power officials' lack of transparency and the journalists. So, the situation may be fluid, and we just don't know about the final outcome, but we do know about TEPCO's track record (see headline graphic prepared from Japan Times online archives—the red circle is today's front page.)

From the WSJ:

The Journal has reported that, in the early hours of the crisis, Tepco hesitated in its decision to use seawater to cool its reactors because it worried doing so could destroy a multi-billion-dollar plant at a time when it already was short of generating capacity. Eventually, officials were forced to resort to dumping seawater on the exposed rods using helicopters and fire trucks. Temperatures also rose in the pools at Nos. 5 and 6, though Tepco got those under control without explosions or fire.

Well before the one-two punch of this month's quake and tsunami, the Fukushima Daiichi ranked among Japan's most troubled nuclear plants, regulatory documents from the Japan Nuclear Energy Safety Organization indicate.

From the Washington Post:
Kan waited four days into the nuclear emergency at Fukushima Daiichi before creating a joint headquarters for the government and Tepco, bringing the utility company under de facto national control. By then several reactors had already sustained their worst damage, prompting fiery exchanges between Kan and Tepco officials, particularly when Tepco debated a 100 percent withdrawal of all employees from the plant, according to several reports in the Japanese media.

There was a challenge for sharing information,” a Kan administration official said, requesting anonymity so he could share his views freely. “Tepco was focused on its own situation and not so much on government relations. . . . And when you are struggling to explain something, it is going to look like you are hiding something.”

This is not going to end well for TEPCO.
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