Daily Asahi Shimbun retracts faulty Fukushima story, sacks top editor


Staff Writer

The Asahi Shimbun on Friday carried front page articles and an apology concerning an erroneous article that alleged workers fled the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant during the meltdown crisis in March 2011, retracting the scoop story that drew strong criticism from the public, lawmakers and government officials.

On Friday, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga urged the country’s leading liberal daily to recover the tarnished honor of parties involved, apparently referring to plant workers at Tokyo Electric Power Co.

The front page apology followed Thursday’s news conference in which Asahi retracted a story on the Fukushima nuclear crisis and sacked Executive Editor Nobuyuki Sugiura after acknowledging the article contained a serious error — the latest to rock the major left-leaning daily.

Aside from Sugiura, who remains an executive director, Asahi President Tadakazu Kimura said he will consider whether to step down after investigating the mistake and overseeing future reforms.

The story in question stated that about 90 percent of the employees at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant defied an order from the plant’s late boss, Masao Yoshida, and fled to the nearby Fukushima No. 2 plant as the triple meltdown was unfolding.

The story, published in May, was a scoop based on leaked transcripts of confidential interviews that the government conducted with Yoshida, who gave dozens of hours of testimony to the state investigation panel in 2011.

Based on the transcripts, which at that time had only been obtained by the Asahi, and other materials, the newspaper reported that about 650 workers defied Yoshida’s order to evacuate to safer spots on the premises of the No. 1 plant and instead fled to the second plant about 10 km south to avoid the radiation.

After competing newspapers obtained the “secret” transcripts, however, reports began to emerge quoting Yoshida as saying he felt he was misunderstood, rather than disobeyed. This cast doubt on the credibility of the Asahi’s reports and sparked an internal probe.

On Thursday, Asahi officials admitted that they couldn’t find any plant worker who had heard the order given by Yoshida in March 2011 and fled to Fukushima No. 2 anyway.

The Asahi thus belatedly concluded that Yoshida’s order had not been properly delivered and that the employees did not intentionally violate it. According to the story, the workers returned hours later the same day.”We gave (readers) the impression that plant workers ran away (from the plant). We judged this to be an erroneous article,” Kimura said at a news conference at the daily’s head office in Tokyo. “We deeply apologize to readers and the people at Tokyo Electric Power Co.,” Kimura said.

The scoop shocked people around the world because it shattered the story line for the “Fukushima Fifty,” the crew that resolutely stayed behind to tame the crisis in the face of grave danger.

Rival newspapers and magazines such as the conservative Sankei Shimbun bashed the Asahi Shimbun for tarnishing the workers’ image.

None of the Asahi’s other groundbreaking stories based on Yoshida’s transcripts have yet to be called into question.

In August, the Asahi retracted 16 articles quoting Seiji Yoshida, a man who claimed to have abducted hundreds of Korean women from a Korean island and forced them into Japan’s military brothels during World War II. After in-depth checking of his accounts, historians now agree they were false.

But in August’s fact-checking articles, Asahi didn’t clearly apologize for its erroneous reports quoting Seiji Yoshida, drawing much public criticism.

During Thursday’s news conference, Kimura apologized for carrying the stories, while emphasizing, aside from Yoshida’s false accounts, many women were actually forced to work in the brothels run by the Japanese military.

“We’d like to apologize to our readers for carrying erroneous articles on Mr. Yoshida, and being so late in correcting them,” Kimura said.

Asahi officials, however, said the company has not yet punished anyone for publishing the erroneous stories quoting Seiji Yoshida.

Asahi plans to set up a third-party investigation panel on Asahi’s coverage of the comfort women issue. It will make a decision after receiving a report from that panel, Kimura said.

  • I remember right after March 11, 2011 a lot of bowing and apologizing. But that bowing and apologizing was for the destruction of dozens or maybe hundreds of square miles of prime agricultural land, the partial destruction of vastly more land, the permanent displacement of hundreds of thousands of people, the financial permanent loss of six (or, hopefully, permanently ALL) of Japan’s reactors, and the poisoning of the planet with radioisotopes with half-lives from minutes and hours to many lifetimes, and now, a few years later, every human being — every single person on earth — breaths in and ingests some particles from Fukushima in every breath and bite, from the day they are born to their last.

    This is what they were bowing and apologizing for after the meltdowns.

    As the investigations proceeded, the truth became both more obvious, and less obvious. We know we had been lied to about the fact that the reactors had melted down, despite the obvious evidence. The entire world divided, apparently permanently, into two houses: First, there are those who cannot see harm in nuclear poison: who cannot believe that mistakes will keep happening: who believe that if you dilute the poisons enough, the become good for you anyway, so who cares? Second, those who understand the danger this failed technology poses to humanity and every living thing.

    Other than the (horrific, admittedly) immediate deaths and destruction, the earthquake and tsunami would have done no permanent damage to Japan. Recovery and rebuilding would have begun immediately everywhere where it not for the events at Fukushima Daichi Nuclear Power Plant. There has been no recovery from that and it is an ongoing poison-spewing death machine.

    Whales, porpoises, dolphins, tuna… none can read the signs and stay away from the waters of Fukushima. So instead TEPCO and the Japanese government lie to the people of the world and the people of Japan about how bad things really are — and how little is being done to solve the problem.

    Every Japanese able-bodied (poor and unemployed) person is being called upon to do the duty to clean up Fukushima. Poor people from all over the world are being recruited, and then there are stories (verified over and over…) about the various ways those workers defeat their dosimeters so that they can stay and make the (relatively) high wages to be had from doing cleanup work at the plant.

    And the ice wall, which if was going to be done at all should have been started three years ago, is apparently not working. We could have known it wouldn’t work if they had but started it when it was first seriously proposed. But no. Three year wait to find out it won’t.

    So it is with everything nuclear: The industry thrives on the unaware public’s inability to force their elected officials to stop drinking from the nuclear trough, and the media is fooled by slick propaganda (also known as “false advertising” about the joys of nuclear power. Well maybe Japan IS burning more fossil fuels right now with all those ~50 reactors shut down, but the way out is renewables, not restarting a single one of them.

    On the other hand, this story is, at worst, a feather in a tornado, and maybe just a complete misunderstanding combined with a failure to do due-diligent research into the accuracy of their report, prior to publication.

    And speaking of due diligence, TEPCO could have known their coastal reactors were susceptible to genpatsu-shinsai since at least 1997. They could have known hydrogen buildup could be a problem since before the reactors were licensed, since whistleblowers had warned them and everyone else. And most of all, they could have known that IF there is a meltdown, they didn’t have a clue about what do to, and neither does anyone else in the world.

    Fukushima is STILL melting down. What should the world do? Sit and wait it out? Disgusting! Tepco needs to stop poisoning the planet with a billion Becquerels per day (of what? Long lived isotopes or short? When the quantities are described in Bq, it matters tremendous what the half-lives of the isotopes are).

    But all the other reactors need to shut down, too. It will only mean more meltdowns if Japan restarts its reactors, and the United States, France, England and all the rest are risking Fukushima every day as those reactors stay open.

    The Daily Asahi Shimbun messed up. But compared to what?

    • phu

      Your ridiculous false dichotomy arbitrarily ascribes some very questionable views to everyone who disagrees with your 100% polar opinion. But obviously you don’t care about logic or credibility, as you’re perfectly happy to spout hyperbole instead of trying to discuss your point of view with reason and facts.

      There are valid reasons not to use nuclear power (just as there are valid reasons not to use coal, oil, and even geothermal power), but you don’t seem to care about them, which makes nuclear power detractors who actually think about their position look bad. Since I’m not one of those people, it doesn’t matter much to me, but you might consider that your silly emotional appeals do nothing to help your “cause.”

      I guess one good thing about the Japanese government basically doing whatever the heck they want without caring about what people think is that they won’t be listening to irrationally, unthinkingly, totally anti-nuclear people like you.

      • Ah how nice! Seemingly constructive criticism of my message without actually offering a single factual correction.

        I know of a few medical uses of radiation which save lives. These are often being replaced by non-nuclear methods, as often as not to protect the workers and the public (from sewage treatment workers on up, so to speak) as to protect the patients. But in any case, by and large they are being removed, not added, and doses especially are being lowered as resolutions are being raised by scanner manufacturers. This is being done to save lives because it has been medically indicated that there is no safe dose.

        So of course it’s not a PERFECT dichotomy but by and large, is it a false one? Not at all, and which house you in particular belong in is obvious: The one with no sewage system, as a noble and honorable professor from a Japanese university famously described shortly after Fukushima first happened.

        Even dental x-rays’ dose rates are being reduced as technology gets better, that’s how dangerous radiation is. (And yes, I have my teeth x-ray regularly, and by the old equipment because I think the dentist is better than the guy with the new equipment I used to go to.)

        Yet some people still believe that a little radiation is good for you, yet none of them will ever put their finger on where the cut-off might be, and why I would prefer to get that little dose from Fukushima, or from a medical procedure I actually need.

        Maybe my message didn’t connect with you, but that’s okay. When you can offer a valid criticism instead of a rant (cloaked in your own emotional appeals) in response, we’ll have something to talk about. In the meantime, what is your proposal for preventing another Fukushima?

    • Enkidu

      Hi Ace,

      We know we had been lied to about the fact that the reactors had melted down, despite the obvious evidence.

      Can you clarify what you mean by this? Tepco admitted in a press conference as early as March 12 that a meltdown was possible and said that they believed a meltdown had occurred as of March 14.

      The entire world divided, apparently permanently, into two houses: …

      Well, no. As phu pointed out, this is a false dichotomy.

      [T]he earthquake and tsunami would have done no permanent damage to Japan.

      Wrong. Some areas are now permanently underwater as a result of the earthquake, while some entire towns (that were, admittedly, dying anyway) may never be rebuilt after being wiped off the map by the tsunami.

      And the ice wall, … is apparently not working.

      Wrong. The ice wall is still under construction and hasn’t even been turned on yet. You’re confusing the ice wall with other work.

      Can I ask where you are getting your information?

  • wada

    After fabricating comfort women’s coercive, the Yoshida protocol is shortly changed to oneself liking, and it reports as if it was true. This is not a problem of only Asahi Shimbun. Although the fellows who continue to report fabrication to be true will appear, we will take care so that it may not be deceived.

  • KenjiAd

    Interpretative and factual errors in reporting happen all the time in the media.

    Usually in America, whoever wrote the erroneous report would get revealed and blamed (fired), while the company boss would keep playing golf. If this happened in China (where I work now), well, nothing would happen.

    I find it fascinating that the executive director got sacked because of the errors committed by his subordinates and even the company president not only gave up all his salaries until the investigation is completed but is considering the resignation as well.

    There is something admirable in those guys’ attitude. Or perhaps this is what the Japanese society expects from a company boss. Fascinating.