2012/11/01

What has happened to Japan's radioactive cars?

In order to assure consumers, a local used car dealer in my hometown  in Japan tests all cars before purchase, then posts the radiation level found on each car. Of course,
cars above natural background level are not sold in Japan. They get sent elsewhere.
(see also the updates at the bottom of this page)

When the nuclear reactors in Fukushima exploded in 2011, approximately 8,000 square kilometers were heavily contaminated with fallout and residents were forced to evacuate, probably for the rest of their lives. This news has been widely reported, but another aspect of the contamination received almost no coverage. It took a while for authorities to lock down the evacuation zones, and in those first few weeks there appeared to be no awareness of the need to control the movement of contaminated property out of the zone. People's clothes and belongings, even their cash, were likely covered in radioactive dust, but the objects of most obvious concern should have been vehicles.
Because the government failed to quickly control the movement of vehicles and guarantee fair compensation to owners, people stuck with a "hot car" had to choose between taking a total loss on an expensive and essential personal asset, or selling it as soon as possible before the market woke up to the risk and valued these cars at zero. Within a few months there were reports of radioactive cars showing up in used car lots far from Fukushima. It seems to have not occurred to any journalists writing about this problem that TEPCO and the Japanese government had a moral obligation to compensate car owners whose vehicles were ruined by radiation. People wring their hands about what can be done to stop these sales, but they fail to see that the only question is whether the guilty parties, and/or insurance companies, are going to offer the fair value that these vehicles had on March 10, 2011.
Dealers recognized that there was going to be a lot of trouble from shifting radioactive cars around domestically, so they also turned to the export market. There were reports of hundreds of Japanese used cars being turned away at ports in Russia and Australia. Then the Japanese government cracked down, as much as they could (always reactive rather than proactive – a day late and a dollar short), so more radioactive cars started showing up at domestic dealers. But dealers and consumers got wise and bought dosimeters to make sure that they didn't get stuck with a worthless car. Still, unscrupulous exporters had enough control over some ports to get some cars out, and they turned to countries that were least likely to be checking. In the fall of 2012 reports came out of African nations telling of radioactive Japanese imports showing up there. Apparently, they are not all as easy to fool as the Japanese exporters believed. Some countries, lacking the instruments to check every used car imported from Japan, have entirely banned them. African policy specialist and journalist, Chika Ezeanya, reported from Nigeria:

Cars having up to twenty times the permissible level of radiation have found their way to African countries where several governments are clueless or unconcerned about such health risks. Governments of Kenya and Tanzania however, are among the few African countries, who, unable to afford the high cost of testing all incoming vehicles, have expressly banned the importation of cars from Japan into their markets. The Kenyan government went as far as destroying some cars after it hired independent firms to test for radiation levels.” 

Sadly, this is just one more example of how Japan deliberately and/or neglectfully blunders through international soft diplomacy and tarnishes its own image. It is incredible that Toyota, Nissan, Mazda, Honda and Suzuki don’t care more about what radioactive car exports could do to their brands. If they cared, they would pressure the government to assert control over used car exports. Whether it’s a First World, valuable market or a Third World nation that buys mostly used cars, these struggling Japanese brands cannot afford to be complacent.
Furthermore, it’s bad enough that Japan has bungled territorial disputes with Russia, South Korea and China, thereby shooting its own economy in the foot, but they keep digging themselves deeper. They have tarnished their image in Africa at a time when they need all the friends they can get. In addition, as I write this, fishermen in Taiji, Japan are corralling hundreds of dolphins into a cove in order to carry out the traditional slaughter and sale of mercury-tainted meat. This tradition makes a good pair along with the annual whale hunt in the Antarctic seas. Whatever the rights and wrongs are, the rest of the world has lost its taste for this slaughter that isn't even economically rational. The meat is mercury-laden, with a market value that doesn't cover the cost of the hunt. The continuation of these quaint traditions has severely set back Japan’s international image and its efforts at soft power diplomacy.
    Overall, Japan gives the impression to the outside world that it just doesn't care what the outside world thinks. It is oblivious or indifferent the consequences that arise, and it seems to even lack an ability to anticipate them or the feelings they will arouse in others. Apologies have been mouthed, but the impacts on other nations seem to be an afterthought. National policy seems to be blind to the mental and emotional life of people in neighboring countries.

Updates:

July 2014:

Jay Ramey. "Radioactive cars from Japan keep turning up in Central Asia." Autoweek. July 11, 2014. 
This report states that persistent exporters are finding ways to get through strict controls at major ports. Radioactive used cars are now coming to market in Central Asia through minor road border crossings. A director of the Disease Prevention Department in Bishkek, Kyrgisztan said the cars can't be sent back, so they might turn them into scrap. I'm not sure how they think that is a solution because scrapping means recycling the material into other consumer goods.
If the Japanese car industry were being managed intelligently, the major manufacturers would have long ago set up a buy-back program for radioactive cars, just as they can afford to do with recalls on other defective products. It would save their brand reputation overseas. It's shameful that they so badly disregarded the safety of consumers in the the developing world and underestimated their ability to detect radioactive cars.

January 2014:


Livern Barett. “Radiation Alert - Harmful Elements Detected At Ports In Shipments From Japan.” The Gleaner, Jamaica, January 10, 2014.

“It could be that there is a weakness in the inspection process…”
More than 130 radioactive cars from Japan seized by Russia in 2013.

September 2013:

Chinese Customs Seize Radioactive Scrap Metal from Japan

ABOUT COMMENTS: AUTO DEALERS, PLEASE DO NOT POST COMMENTS WHICH ARE REALLY ADVERTISEMENTS FOR YOUR DEALERSHIPS. EVEN IF THE COMMENTS INCLUDE REMARKS RELEVANT TO THIS TOPIC, THOSE WHICH INCLUDE PROMOTIONS OF YOUR CARS WILL NOT BE POSTED.

6 comments:

  1. I was thinking on why they have built this vehicle? We all know the problem regarding the pollution I don’t think that radioactive cars will be contributed for a healthy environment. Does the used cars in japan are safe?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. No company actually made radioactive cars. The cars became radioactive after they were bought by private owners. Nuclear fallout from the Fukushima disaster landed on these cars. It was more common for radioactive used cars to be exported because Japanese consumers became aware of the danger. Car dealers quickly started checking all cars before they bought them.

      Delete
  2. I'm gone to tell my little brother, that hhe shouuld also payy a
    visit this webkog on regular basis to take updated from most recent news.


    my web blog: car reepair - -

    ReplyDelete
  3. I am now not sure where you are getting your info, however great topic.
    I must spend some time learning more or understanding more.
    Thanks for wonderful information I was in search of this info for my
    mission.

    Feel free to surf to my blog post - this domain

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for reading. I get most of my information from the links and sources indicated.

      Delete
  4. Very important topic. One can't take anything for granted.

    ReplyDelete