- This event has passed.
Disaster Discourses, Public Policy and the Politics of 3.11
- Scott Knowles (Associate Professor and Interim Department Head of the Department of History at Drexel University)
- Avik Roy
- James Simms (Forbes Contributor and freelance reporter and television and radio commentator in Tokyo)
- Hiromi Akiyama (Ph.D. candidate in political science at George Mason University and pre-doctoral fellow at Harvard Kennedy School)
- David Giles (Associate Director of the Program on Crisis Leadership (PCL) at the John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University)
- Arnold M. Howitt (Executive Director of the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation at the John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University)
Prior to the unlikely events of March 2011, Japan seemed poised to respond relatively effectively to the kinds of disasters that have periodically brought devastation upon it. But with the largest earthquake ever recorded in Japan, a tsunami that overwhelmed coastline defenses and runaway nuclear meltdowns at the Fukushima Daichi nuclear power plant, the magnitude of the combined disasters rendered local and state level institutions ineffective in dealing with the profound needs of the moment. In retrospect, both Japanese and international governments, nuclear stakeholders and local and prefectural officials have struggled to make sense of the chaotic institutional response that so often failed to address the interests of their constituents and confounded their idealized plans. This panel brings together international experts on crisis management and public policy for comparative and historically contextualized examinations of institutional response to the 2011 Fukushima disasters.
Panelist presentation Abstracts:
Arne Howitt (with David Giles and Hiromi Akiyama)
[Presentation Title] Greater Centralization or Decentralization for More Effective Disaster Response? The Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami in Perspective
In the aftermath of the Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake in 1995, Japan instituted a number of reforms in disaster response that sought to introduce a greater degree of centralization in preparedness and command of emergency actions. In the light of the response to the 3.11 Triple Disaster in 2011 – and similar experiences of “landscape scale disasters” in other countries – does that effort to enhance central control make sense? This presentation will argue that a balance must be struck between central functions in disaster response and a much greater reliance on “intelligent, decentralized adaptation” by responders at the multiple scenes of a major disaster.
[Presentation Title] The Road to Fukushima and Its Impact on Restarts
As the Japanese government aggressively pushes to restart idled nuclear reactors, Tokyo is ignoring the troubled history of atomic power in the nation and lessons of the Fukushima nuclear accident and how that affects public support for what was once a key source of carbon-free power before March 2011.
Many officials and utility executives describe the cause of the triple meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant as an unforeseen act of nature. But media and government reports say that Tokyo Electric Power and regulators had ignored the possibility of a large-scale tsunami and its potential impact. In contrast, a plant about 70 miles to the north, Onagawa Nuclear Power Plant operated by Tohoku Electric, experienced a higher tsunami and equally strong ground motion but safely shut down.
The disparate fates are due to different corporate cultures operating under the same critically flawed regulatory framework, where the oversight and promotion of nuclear power were under the same government agency. Japan borrowed that structure from the U.S. in the 1950s, when Washington was actively promoting civilian atomic power around the world. Over the past three decades, there were numerous opportunities for reform in Japan, especially after a series of accidents, falsified safety reports and cover-ups, including the deadly criticality accident at the Tokaimura nuclear-fuel facility. But the nation’s oversight structure with its inherent conflict of interest went largely unchanged and unchallenged because of the quest for energy security – at least until post-Fukushima reforms. The U.S. split oversight and promotion in the 1970s.
Japanese regulators have said that they will have the strictest safety standards in the world. That’s despite various questions about the evacuation plans for communities hosting plants, among other critical issues, in the event of an accident – and notwithstanding unresolved questions fromthe Fukushima meltdowns, namely the extent of the impact of the earthquake on safe reactor shutdowns. Equally important is the distrust engendered among the public, stemming from the history leading up to the accident, such as the officially sanctioned myth of nuclear power’s “absolutely safety,” and the subsequent handling of the aftermath of Fukushima. Before 2011, the public had overwhelmingly supported the atom. Today, the point, however, is the lack of trust in the facility operators and the regulators, rather than a lack of knowledge or political leanings.
[Presentation Title] Fukushima: The View from America
From the very beginning of the Fukushima nuclear disaster the members of the United States nuclear safety community were engaged in many of the same processes as their Japanese counterparts: trying to understand what was happening with imperfect and confusing information, trying to craft emergency management actions, and working through the diplomatic implications of a fast-moving disaster. This paper briefly analyzes the “lessons learned” from three different American expert communities: the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the engineering and science communities represented by the Union of Concerned Scientists and the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, and the environmentalist community represented by Greenpeace.
The United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and Department of Energy (DOE) had experts on the ground in Japan by March 12, 2011. Three new orders went into effect for American nuclear power plants in March of 2012, requiring new safety equipment on all reactors, and special instructions for Mark I and II reactors allowing for water level monitoring and venting systems—these orders allowed nuclear producers until the end of 2016 to be in compliance. Such moves certainly grew from the lessons of Fukushima, and yet a review of NRC’s actions by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) raised troubling questions. The UCS found that a year out from Fukushima the NRC had “decided to put this first and most important recommendation at the bottom of its priority list.” The American Society of Mechanical Engineers—representing another key perspective of technically-minded disaster experts—came to a similar conclusion in its June 2012 assessment of “lessons learned” from Fukushima. The engineers accepted the NRC’s core claim of the value of the “design basis” as a tried and true frame of reference for nuclear safety. The ASME report goes a step further, calling for a “new nuclear safety construct.” This “new construct” introduced two new concepts beyond the NRC’s thinking: the “all-risk approach” and “cliff-edge events.” The more activist environmental justice community in the United States (echoing international environmentalist perspectives on Fukushima) weighed in with a report in May of 2012. According to Greenpeace: the “standard of self-regulation by the nuclear industry can be found in many places in the world. . . . the Fukushima Daiichi disaster has demonstrated that the safety claims of the nuclear industry and its national as well as international regulators are false.” How do we account for such variability in expert opinions, and what do these variations indicate for the future of nuclear power in the United States? This presentation engages these questions and invites discussion and reflection.
Associate Professor and Interim Department Head of the Department of History at Drexel University
Scott Gabriel Knowles is Associate Professor and Interim Department Head of the Department of History at Drexel University. His work focuses on the history of disaster. His most recent book is The Disaster Experts: Mastering Risk in Modern America (2011), and he is series co-editor of “Critical Studies in Risk and Disaster” (UPenn Press). Presently he is also a faculty research fellow of the Disaster Research Center at the University of Delaware.
Knowles’ work has appeared in academic venues such as Technology and Culture, Isis, History and Technology, Annals of Science, the Journal of American History, and the Journal of the American Planning Association; and he has also written for the New York Times, The Hill, U.S. News and World Report, and the Philadelphia Inquirer, among others.
Currently he is working on two projects: a global analysis of the emerging “resilience paradigm;” and a book on disaster policy in the US titled The United States of Disaster.
Forbes Contributor and freelance reporter and television and radio commentator in Tokyo
James Simms, a Forbes Contributor and freelance reporter and television and radio commentator in Tokyo, has covered the Japanese economy and politics for two decades, including as a columnist for The Wall Street Journal. In June, he was elected as the president of the Foreign Correspondent’s Club of Japan, one of the largest and oldest press clubs in the world, with over 3,000 members, including more than 300 journalists. In 2013-2014, he was a Scripps Journalism Fellow at the University of Colorado at Boulder, where he researched energy policy, seismology, seismic engineering, and disaster and risk management. Previously, he spent 15 years at Dow Jones, including as The Wall Street Journal’s Heard on the Street columnist in Tokyo analyzing corporations, policy issues and the economies in Japan and South Korea. In 2011, he won the highest writing award at Dow Jones for a series on Japan’s budget and bureaucracy. He has conducted hundreds of interviews for print and television, including for CNBC, and covered Asia’s financial crisis and the aftermath of the Fukushima nuclear disaster. He currently is working on a book proposal on the history and lessons of the Fukushima accident.
Ph.D. candidate in political science at George Mason University and pre-doctoral fellow at Harvard Kennedy School
Hiromi Akiyama is a Ph.D. candidate in political science at George Mason University, studying comparative disaster recovery, and a pre-doctoral fellow at Harvard Kennedy School. Her doctoral research focuses on how different governments approach post-disaster recovery, with an emphasis on the role of civil society and social capital. Her research interests also include state-society interactions, Sino-Japanese relations and East Asian politics. A native of Japan, she holds a master’s degree in Asia Pacific Studies from the University of Leeds, UK, and a bachelor’s degree in International Studies from Soka University of America.
Associate Director of the Program on Crisis Leadership (PCL) at the John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University
David Giles is the Associate Director of the Program on Crisis Leadership (PCL) at the John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. In addition to playing a leadership role in the administration of the program, he also serves as Senior Research Associate and conducts research and writes on a range of issues relating to crisis events and high-risk hazards. He has co-edited Natural Disaster Management in the Asia-Pacific: Policy and Governance (Springer, 2015) and Managing Crises: Responses to Large-Scale Emergencies (CQ Press, 2009) and is the author of a number of Harvard Kennedy School case studies, including a three-part series that profiles state-level responses to the 2009 H1N1 pandemic; a case that focuses on the Obama administration’s handling of the Deepwater Horizon oil leaks; and another that explores the management of post-tsunami recovery in Aceh, Indonesia. He received his MA from the Elliott School of International Affairs at The George Washington University and his B.A. from Vassar College.
Arnold M. Howitt
Executive Director of the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation at the John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University
Arnold M. Howitt is Executive Director of the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation at the John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. He is also Faculty Co-Director of the Program on Crisis Leadership, which conducts research, executive education programs, and action projects.
Dr. Howitt has worked extensively on emergency preparedness and crisis management issues. He has recently researched lessons from the emergency response to the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, Japan’s response to and recovery from the 2011 earthquake/tsunami/nuclear accident, and China’s emergency air pollution control measures, and is developing case studies on crisis management and disaster recovery issues in the US and several other countries. Among other writing, Dr. Howitt is co-author/editor of Public Health Preparedness: Case Studies (forthcoming 2016), Natural Disaster Management in the Asia-Pacific: Policy and Governance (2015), Managing Crises: Responding to Large-Scale Emergencies (2009) and Countering Terrorism: Dimensions of Preparedness (2003).
A Harvard faculty member and administrator since 1976, Dr. Howitt received his B.A. degree from Columbia University and M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in political science from Harvard University.