The Fukushima Nuclear Accident and Crisis Management

Nobumasa Akiyama, Heigo Sato, Kaoru Naito, Yosuke Naoi, Tadahiro Katsuta

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This report is the culmination of a research project titled ”Assessment: Japan-US Response to the Fukushima Crisis,” which the Sasakawa Peace Foundation launched in July 2011. The accident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant that resulted from the Great East Japan Earthquake of March 11, 2011, involved the dispersion and spread of radioactive materials, and thus from both the political and economic perspectives, the accident became not only an issue for Japan itself but also an issue requiring international crisis management. Because nuclear plants can become the target of nuclear terrorism, problems related to such facilities are directly connected to security issues. However, the policymaking of the Japanese government and Japan-US coordination in response to the Fukushima crisis was not implemented smoothly.

This research project was premised upon the belief that it is extremely important for the future of the Japan-US relationship to draw lessons from the recent crisis and use that to deepen bilateral cooperation. The objective of this project was thus to review and analyze the lessons that can be drawn from US and Japanese responses to the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, and on the basis of these assessments, to contribute to enhancing the Japan-US alliance’s nuclear crisis management capabilities, including its ability to respond to nuclear terrorism. At the same time, the project sought to offer proposals that would contribute to enhancing the capacity of the crisis management system in the Asia Pacific region in the future.

At the core of the project was a study group comprised of the five security and nuclear power experts listed below. The group met more than 10 times, and through those meetings as well as through trips to the United States and numerous interviews with relevant actors in the United States and Japan, they reviewed, assessed, and analyzed each country’s prior assumptions, preparations, and responses, as well as their policymaking mechanisms.

In carrying out this project, the research team received the unsparing cooperation and advice of many practitioners and researchers in both Japan and the United States. This was based on the shared sincere hope that the lessons of the Great East Japan Earthquake, which took so many lives, and of the subsequent accident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, would not be wasted. We would like to take this opportunity to express our deep gratitude for their kindness and cooperation. At the same time, we would like to offer our heartfelt condolences to all those who lost loved ones, and to those victims who are continuing to face significant hardships as a result of the Great East Japan Earthquake.

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