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Session 1: “The Disaster Itself: Victims, Investigations, Blame”

Everyone is encouraged to post a comment at the end of each manuscript. You may also post a comment on the papers and substance of an entire session by posting a comment at the bottom of this page.


“Made in Japan” Fukushima Nuclear Accident: A Critical Review for Accident Investigation Activities in Japan
Kohta Juraku (Tokyo Denki University)

It is common understanding that deliberate, comprehensive and careful investigation for terrible accident is essentially important and must be done officially. For example, the major two accident investigation in the USA; the President’s Commission on the Accident at Three Miles Island (so-called Kemeny Commission) and the Presidential Commission on the Space Shuttle Challenger Accident are often acknowledged as the milestones of the accident investigation activity and its report.

This understanding seems to be well-shared in Japan, too. Already around the end of March 2011, the discussion about the establishment had been started in Japan, as Yoichi Funabashi, who became the chair of the Independent Investigation Commission of the Fukushima Nuclear Accident (hereafter referred to as Independent Commission), mentioned his message included in their accident report….[Read More]


Investigating 3.11: Disaster and the Politics of Expert Inquiry
Scott Gabriel Knowles (Department of History and Politics, Drexel University)

Drawing on the emerging “disaster STS” synthesis, this paper reviews the key foundational concepts of disaster STS as they apply to the study of post-disaster technical investigations.  The paper suggests areas for further research in the form of seven trends critical to analyzing more recent disaster investigations.  These seven trends reflect emerging currents in disaster STS scholarship, and/or opportunities for historical revision: 1) a crisis in assessing regulatory effectiveness amidst the trend towards deregulation, 2) the “discovery” of vulnerable populations, 3) the struggle over defining the appropriate and authoritative investigative body, 4) the widespread use of the Internet and social media as tools of citizen dissent, 5) the rise of “sustainability” as an organizing principle for technological change, 6) the struggle over risk modeling as a method applicable to risk regulation, 7) the struggle over defining the “dominant” disaster in multi-causal disaster episodes.  The paper elaborates on these themes with comparative case studies of the Fukushima investigations and the World Trade Center investigations…[Read More]


How resilient is Japan? Response and Recovery Lessons from the 2011 Tohoku Disasters
Norio Maki (Research Center for Disaster Reduction Systems, Disaster Prevention Research Institute, Kyoto University)

On March 11, 2011, the eastern part of Japan suffered from devastating damage due to an M9.0 earthquake and an induced tsunami. The tsunami was especially devastating to three prefectures near the epicenter — Iwate, Miyagi, and Fukushima. An important factor on disaster response of this disaster was that three prefectures were simultaneously impacted. Until the Tohoku earthquake, Japan had not experienced a multiple prefecture disaster since the Disaster Countermeasure Basic Act was established in 1962. Even the Kobe (1995) and Niigata (2004) earthquakes only affected one prefecture, the Hyogo and Niigata prefectures, respectively. Due to the large-scale nature, disaster response coordination among the affected prefectures was crucial, and the role of the national government became more important… [Read More]


Fukushima, Shame, and the “Accidental” Public
Jen Schneider (Colorado School of Mines)

Thomas B. Farrell and Thomas Goodnight begin their classic 1981 essay on the Three Mile Island nuclear accident by arguing that “the inadequacies of accidental rhetoric at Three Mile Island point to a failure larger than the technical breakdown of 1979:  the failure of technical reason itself to offer communication practices capable of mastering the problems of our age” (Farrell and Goodnight, 1981, p. 271).  Technical reason, according to Farrell and Goodnight, asserts “visions of public competence and conduct” whose limits are exposed by the specter of nuclear disaster.  In this paper, I provide a preliminary analysis of the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster, from a communication studies perspective, in order to ask whether and how technical regimes defend their “competence and conduct” through new media outlets.  In particular, this study compares the rhetoric of the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), a non-profit organization whose aim is to serve as a nuclear “watchdog,” with the rhetoric of the Nuclear Engineering Institute (NEI), a nuclear industry-funded group.  This short paper focuses its analysis on each group’s extensive blog posting in the three weeks following the disaster…[Read More]


A Tale of Two Evacuations: Contrasted Patterns of Displacement following the Tohoku Tsunami and the Fukushima-Daiichi Accident
François Gemenne and Reiko Hasegawa (Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations)

The 11 March disaster induced two kinds of displacement: first, the residents of coastal areas in Tohoku had to evacuate as the M9 earthquake struck and a gigantic tsunami engulfed their towns. Then, because of the damage to the Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear power plant, residents living in a radius of 20 km of the plant, and later expanded to the area detected with high radiation level, were evacuated by the Japanese authorities. In September 2012, 18 months after the disaster, 330,000 persons were still displaced in temporary shelters, nearly half of which are the evacuees from the Fukushima prefecture (i.e. displaced by the nuclear accident).

This paper seeks to analyse and compare the different patterns of displacement that followed the disasters, and the perspectives of return and reconstruction.  It seeks to understand how the evacuation was processed, which information the displacees were provided with, what caused their decisions to accept the evacuation, and assess the likelihood of a return of the population. The paper is particularly interested in the extent to which social and cultural context affected to the process. In addition, it also seeks to model the medium to long term impact of such a massive population displacement, both with regard to the region of origin and to the host communities. [Read More]


Variety of Gaps: The Case of the 3.11 Japanese Triple Disasters
Ryuma Shineha (The Graduate University for Advanced Studies)

On March 11th in 2011, a huge earthquake and tsunami struck Japan and had many victims. In addition, the earthquake and tsunami caused a severe accident of the Fukushima first and second nuclear power plants (NPPs). The impacts and damages of these triple disasters, so called “Higashi-Nihon-Daishinsai” or “3.11” have continued.

Keeping in mind a variety of continued issues, we should start to consider problems of social structure behind 3.11 from various viewpoints. Huge amounts of information and discourses concerning 3.11 have persisted, and it seems that confusion in understanding ecological information after 3.11 has developed.

In disaster studies, disaster is regarded as an opportunity in which social vulnerability comes up to the surface. Thus, when we think disaster and its hazard, we also have to think about the social structure and vulnerability behind disaster. From Wisner and his colleagues, the process of progression of social vulnerability is shown…[Read More]


One Comment
  1. Tamiyo Kondo permalink

    I am 2nd respondent for your manuscript. The following is my comments for it.
    I will speak this in oral today, but leave is also as a text here.

    1. The gap of assistance is formed by the gap of interest and information
    I think it important to acknowledge that the gap of information and interst forms the gap of assitance which would be important human and knowledge (experience) resources, knowledge ,human and financial resources,for promoting local recovery planning.
    One of the difficulities for Tohoku region in order to work on recovery process is that they lack outside assitance by experts and consultant to prepare community-based recovery plan.
    Of course, local government are trying to involve local residents in the process of developing community-based recovery plan,however,the shortage of local government officials made this difficult.

    2. Obeservational-approach or Action-oriented Research?
    In general, I agree that it is important to clarify the relationship between social vurnerability and reponse/recovery for disaster studies.
    The recovery process and mechanism is not as same as every disaster, because social culture, vurnerability and polical condition are quite different. That is why important to examine vunerability.
    However, my question is that is it good or ideal attitude,especially for Japanese experts, just observing this relationship?
    I think the action-oriented reseach is more important for disaster recovery studies along with ongoing process of recovery in the real world.
    If we find the mechanism and factor that is obstacle for recovery process, we should make some action with local stakeholders to solve it, then, evaluate and analyze whether the action worked well or not.
    It is difficult for international scholars to act this way, but I think Japanese has to provide enough English written information so that they could understand the situation in Japan, then, could give us quick recommendation for us. I guess that Nuclear issues are more written by Japanese and international media, but not tsunami-devasted area( except Fukushima prefecture).
    The quick response, action and evaluation circulation is needed for post-disaster recovery planning.
    This may work to correction of assitance gap, which I stated above.

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