Who takes responsibility of nuclear disaster?

by josie on October 6, 2017 - 8:36pm

Nuclear energy is known as a clean energy without greenhouse gas emissions. Some people even consider if the only energy source capable of solving climate change. However, this environmentally-friendly energy has a huge risk for people’s lives and the environment in surrounding areas if an accident happens. An example from Japan shows how problems regarding a nuclear disaster are complicated and difficult to solve.

In March 2011, three nuclear power plants at the Fukushima Nuclear Power Station melted down after great east Japan earthquake and tsunami. This nuclear disaster had great environmental impacts and led many residents who lived in Fukushima to evacuate to various places in the country. Six years after the disaster, evacuees have still not returned to their home due to severe environmental impacts. For example, the amount of radioactive waste and contaminated water is increasing and the government has not figured out what to do with the waste. In this situation, there is a conflict between evacuees, and the both the Japanese central government and the Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), who is the operator of the nuclear power plants in Fukushima. Evacuated residents have sued the government and TEPCO for compensation.

While the government and TEPCO argue that the earthquake and tsunami were unpredictable, in March 2017, one court determined that the two groups could have been aware of the possibility of a massive tsunami and the risk of nuclear disaster nine years before the great earthquake. In 2002, the government estimated a magnitude eight in the Japan Trench would create a tsunami with a maximum height of 15.7 meters. However, TEPCO used a flawed estimate which says the height of a tsunami to be only 6.1 meters. The 2011 earthquake resulted in a 15.5-meter tsunami, which caused the gigantic nuclear disaster in Fukushima. The height of the tsunami was not uncertain but was instead a clear risk for nuclear disaster. The court also remarked about government responsibility. The government has promoted the use of nuclear energy, so the government had to know that TEPCO was ignoring the risk of a tsunami, and should have to order TEPCO to implement for anti-tsunami measures. This court decision matches the evacuee’s claim that the disaster was the fault of government and TEPCO; therefore, this cognitive conflict moved toward resolution. 

There is also a value conflict in the aftermath of this disaster. While evacuees are just hoping to go back to Fukushima, the government and TEPCO have looked for economic benefit from nuclear energy. It is ironic that nuclear energy was promoted for economic benefits because the cost of the clean-up alone the nuclear disaster in Fukushima is estimated to be $188.6 billion.

This conflict is at the stage of “realizing the cost of significant progress.” However, it seems the next stage of “gradual decline of public interest” is a long way off because of many ongoing lawsuits. This conflict between evacuees and both the government and TEPCO has arisen because of conflicting information about the tsunami’s risk and different viewpoints among actors. When an energy source is a high risk, using estimates of the worst case scenario is important for preventing disasters. For future risk management, the court decisions were lead other nuclear plants in Japan to have better protection against tsunamis. Hopefully, the government and TEPCO fulfill their responsibilities regarding this issue and evacuees one day will be able to go back to their home without any environmental concerns. 



Gov't and TEPCO put money before safety at Fukushima nuclear plant: court ruling (2017, March 18) Retrieved October 6, 2017, from https://mainichi.jp/english/articles/20170318/p2a/00m/0na/009000c

Mitchell, B. (2015). Resource and environmental management in Canada (5th edition). Don Mills, Ontario, Canada: Oxford University Press.

Rich, M. (2017, March 11) Struggling With Japan’s Nuclear Waste, Six Years After Disaster. Retrieved October 6, 2017, from https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/11/world/asia/struggling-with-japans-nuc...


Photo credit: Ko Sasaki