When Hungary suffered a red sludge flood Oct. 4, its government acted decisively. Not content to let Magyar Aluminium, Zrt. guide the clean-up, the government nationalized the plant.
In Japan, Tokyo Electric Power Company remains in charge of Fukushima Daiichi nuclear complex, damaged in March 11’s earthquake. TEPCO repeatedly minimized the radiation threat, refused independent verification of radioactive releases, and even delayed notifying the prime minister of the third reactor explosion. TEPCO also admitted to covering-up earlier radioactive breaches.
Could Hungary’s disaster-handling blueprint benefit Japan?
Here’s a glimpse of key differences in each government’s handling of its respective disaster:
Speed of Evacuation
In Japan, the government evacuated a 3 kilometer zone March 11 after the earthquake and expanded the zone to 10 kilometers, and then 20 kilometers a day later. On March 16, the U.S. government publicly discredited the 20 kilometers (12.4 miles) evacuation zone and advised U.S. citizens within 50 miles of the reactor to evacuate. As problems mounted, including fires and partial meltdowns, Japan maintained its 20 kilometer zone, advising those in the 20 kilometers to 30 kilometers range to remain indoors. On March 25, Japan encouraged voluntary evacuation of the 20 to 30 kilometer radius.
Hungary evacuated 400 people in the immediate vicinity of its damaged alumina plant Oct. 5 and declared a state of emergency in three counties. When a breach in a containment wall was discovered Oct. 9, authorities immediately evacuated everything in the path of a potential flood from the breached wall including the entire town of Kolontar, 500 Devescer residents, and residents of 16 Somlovasarhely homes.
“One consequence [of the cracked containment wall] is that human lives could be in danger,” Prime Minister Viktor Orban said. “That’s the reason why we pulled out … all human lives from that area, in order not to have more loss in human life.”
Immediately after the red sludge flood, the Hungarian government nationalized Magyar Aluminium and detained its top official for questioning.
As week three of Japan’s nuclear crisis gets underway, TEPCO continues to call the shots, ignoring advice of experts and bumbling critical responsibilities such as miscalculating the radiation level March 27. The government gives its people reassurance about their safety as radiation spreads into the water, food, and air around Fukushima Daiichi.
When the red sludge flood threatened western Hungary, the prime minister demanded public accountability. “Behind this tragedy, some human errors and mistakes must exist,” Orban said. “We will reveal all of that, and the consequences will be very serious — as much as you can imagine.”
Japan’s Prime Minister Naoto Kan has not promised to hold TEPCO responsible for the reactor breach despite unheeded warnings coming as early as two years ago that Fukushima Daiichi was vulnerable to a tsunami and despite the plant’s history of regulatory violations.
Polling by Szazadveg on Oct. 19 revealed that 86 percent of Hungarians felt their government handled the red sludge flood excellently (36 percent) or well (50 percent). Eighty-five percent agreed with the government’s decision to take control of the company’s assets. Ninety-seven percent thought it important to determine responsibility for the disaster as the government promised to do.
Kyodo News Agency polling disclosed that 58 percent of the Japanese disapprove of their government’s handling of the nuclear crisis, while 39 percent approve.