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Japan nuclear crisis: Why even the emperor speaks out

The Japan nuclear crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant points to a need to rethink safety design for such technology. Now, with a possible meltdown, Japan, like many countries, faces a crisis of confidence.

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Two things could not be more rare in Japan: The emperor speaking directly to the people in a broadcast and the Japanese openly challenging their government’s dogged commitment to nuclear energy.

But the threat of a meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi atomic power plant following the March 11 earthquake and tsunami has now triggered both events. Together, they reveal a crisis of confidence for the Japanese as severe as the nation’s defeat in World War II – even as the world shows its concern for the Japanese victims.

Emperor Akihito spoke Wednesday on live television about the unpredictability of the escalating nuclear crisis and the uncertainty about the number of people lost in the tsunami.

“I sincerely hope that we can keep the situation from getting worse,” the emperor said. He even offered a prayer for the people’s safety.

His speech was an echo of his father’s radio broadcast in 1945 after Japan surrendered as a result of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

“We have resolved to endure the unendurable and suffer what is insufferable,” Emperor Hirohito said.

Endurance is a trait much admired by the Japanese, but the country may be at a breaking point in putting up with its troubled nuclear industry.

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