Japan’s major nuclear accident was the world’s top story Friday and reignited the debate about nuclear safety. In Japan, Asahi Shimbun painted a picture of great confusion and official incompetence, prominently reporting the government’s admission that it reacted too slowly and that there wasn’t enough staff at the site to handle the crisis. In one report, Asahi Shimbun said villagers close to the Tokaimura uranium processing plant heard on television they had been told to stay indoors when in fact they had received no instructions whatsoever. When they telephoned local government offices in a panic, asking to be checked for radiation in the homes they had been ordered not to leave, they were told the checks were being done only at the village community center.
In another story, the paper said the disaster would deal “a serious blow” to the nation’s much-criticized nuclear energy policy. It quoted officials as saying that the Tokaimura plant wasn’t equipped to handle a critical mass accident and lacked automatic controls over the flow of nuclear fuel. In an editorial, Asahi Shimbun noted that Japanese civilians had never before been exposed to such radiation from a nuclear facility. Calling for an exhaustive inquiry, the paper said, “The future of the nation’s nuclear energy program now rests in large measure on how the government responds.”
In European comment, it was often recalled that Japan is the only country to have suffered the effects of an atomic bomb. In La Repubblica of Rome, the paper’s Washington correspondent, wrote: “The Japanese century ends with the return of Hiroshima … to undermine the dominant belief of Japanese culture, the certainty that it’s enough to obey one’s mother and one’s superiors for everything to turn out all right. It crushes the heart of someone who knows Japan a little and loves it a lot to see technicians and workers from the Tokaimura plant come out of the building infected by the out-of-control chain reaction, bowing and apologizing for their betrayal of their company, like the soldiers abandoned on Pacific islands for 30 years who asked the emperor’s pardon for having lost the war.”
The 50th anniversary of the People’s Republic of China was the world’s second story Friday. In Hong Kong, the South China Morning Post said China has changed beyond recognition over the past half-century: “A backward and semi-feudal nation has been transformed into the world’s fastest-growing economy, and is well on the way to achieving superpower status.” But the paper deplored the country’s continuing “intolerance of dissent” and said that until it reverses its official verdict on the Tiananmen massacre “it will be hard for China to take its place among the ranks of the world’s great nations.” Calling for political reform and free elections, the paper said: “Standing still is not an option. China has achieved much in recent years. The challenge now for the leadership is to build on these achievements and prove that it can win a popular mandate through the ballot box.”
In Australia, the Sydney Morning Herald led Friday with the death of a 5-year-old East Timorese boy after he was hit by a U.N. food parcel. He was struck during the same emergency aid drop that caused a 3-year-old boy to have his leg amputated. Airdrops to refugees were cancelled after these incidents, and the United Nations has started taking food into remote regions by road, the paper said.
A claim by two scientists–one French and one American–to have found proof that Neanderthal man was a cannibal was fronted in Le Figaro of Paris Friday. In a cave in the Ardeche near Valence, Alban Defleur of the University of the Mediterranean in Marseilles and Tim White of the University of California at Berkeley discovered 100,000-year-old human bones mixed up with those of animals, all of them looking like the leftovers from dinner. Searching for meaning in this discovery, the Times of London concluded in an editorial that “[a]t the very least the wary Brit might understand the feral roots of French cuisine–of the steak tartare seeping blood onto the Limoges, of ortolans devoured in one bone-shattering mouthful. One might even dare at last to enter a Paris restaurant and order a waiter.”
The Independent reported the launching at Cambridge University of a student campaign to fire the duke of Edinburgh from his position as the university’s chancellor on the grounds that he is a “bigot and racist.” He caused outrage during a factory visit last August when he said that a defective fuse box “must have been installed by an Indian.” In India, the Asian Age frontedForbes magazine’s disclosure that three American entrepreneurs of Indian origin have achieved billionaire status.