Nuclear Defamation Fracas Going Down In Japan

A Japanese defamation lawsuit involving the 2011 earthquake and tsunami is making headlines in Japan.
A defamation lawsuit involving the 2011 earthquake and tsunami is making headlines in Japan.

A high-profile defamation case, with strong political undertones, is rocking Japan. Former Prime Minister, Naoto Kan, filed a libel lawsuit against current Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe. At the center of the controversy is the now defunct Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear power plant.

Disaster Struck in 2011, Which Made Nuclear Energy A Political Hot Topic In Japan

On March 11, 2011 a 9.0 magnitude earthquake shook Japan. Soon after, 14-meter tsunami waves crashed into the island nation’s shores, causing the Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear power plant to suffer severe damage.

During and after the crisis, Kan was credited with providing strong leadership that helped mitigate negative effects of the power plant disaster. Specifically, it was Kan who insisted that employees of the Tokyo Electric Power remain on post – a decision which is widely believed to have curtailed damage. Moreover, Kan is said to have been instrumental in developing and implementing the idea to use seawater as a reactor coolant.

Abe Criticized Kan, Which Resulted In A Defamation Lawsuit

Shinzo Abe, however, never believed Kan deserved credit for his role in the Fukushima-Daiichi disaster. In fact, Abe penned a critical essay about the incident – which specifically questioned Kan’s leadership during the crisis – and posted it on his website. Apparently, Kan is most perturbed over that Abe’s accusation that Kan stopped the seawater cooling initiative before consulting experts and allowing it to continue. (Basically, it sounds like a “she was for the bridge before she was against the bridge” issue.)

Why Is This Even Considered Defamation? Isn’t Abe Just Exercising Free Speech Rights?

The definition of defamation is very different in the United States than it is in Japan. In the U.S., a plaintiff must prove that the defendant purposefully or negligently made a false statement of fact to inflict harm. In Japan, however, a statement doesn’t necessarily have to be false to be considered defamatory, because it’s all about honor in Japan, which is made clear in Kan’s claim. “The content is based on totally false information,” Kan asserted at a parliament news conference where he announced his suit. “The article has severely damaged my honor,” he finished.

It will be interesting to see how this defamation lawsuit out of Japan turns out.

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