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Aftershock: The Continuing Effects of Japan's March 11, 2011 Earthquake

(Released February 2012)

podcast link 
  by Kathryn Mori & Carolyn Scearce  


Key Citations







In the days immediately following the earthquake, the impact of the earthquake, tsunami, and the nuclear disaster were initially assumed to be unforeseeable. The early response from the scientific community indicated that geological activity and resulting tsunami were beyond the scope of anything that could have been expected for the region based on previous data (Newman). Generally speaking, Japan's level of earthquake preparedness is very high. They had built extensive seawalls to shield the coast from tsunamis. They were assumed to be sufficient for the range of earthquakes anticipated for the area, so little work had been focused on building structures that could withstand tsunami waters. The tsunami was read as a wake-up call, not only for Japan, but for all coastal communities in areas prone to seismic activity that might lead to similar tsunamis (Dengler). Consequently, it was assumed that Fukushima's nuclear meltdowns were the result of the unanticipated tsunami. However, as the story continued to unfold, more and more evidence accumulated indicating that regulation of the Fukushima facility had been far too lax. Prior to the earthquake, Fukushima had a history of accidents and mismanagement that had been largely concealed from the public, and experts were already aware of the vulnerability of the plant to a major earthquake years before the March 11, 2011 disaster (Nakamura and Kikuchi). 

In the wake of Fukushima's nuclear disaster, Japan faces the question of what role nuclear power will continue to play in Japan's future. In June, 2011 Prime Minister Naoto Kan announced a plan to phase out the use of nuclear power plants in Japan altogether. Fourteen of Japan's nuclear reactors were shut down due to damage during the earthquake, and by May, 2011 a total of 33 of Japan's 54 nuclear reactors had been shut down (Takubo). By the end of August, over three quarters of the nuclear reactors had been shut down, but the new Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda has already delayed the time-line for phasing out reliance on nuclear energy to 40 years (Diggs). There is still significant political inertia regarding the reliance on nuclear facilities, and as administrations change and time distances the memory of disaster, it is uncertain if commitment to a nuclear free future will persist.

Anti-nuclear rally in Japan
Anti-Nuclear Power Plant Rally on 19 September 2011 at Meiji Shrine Outer Garden

It is puzzling how Japan, as the only country to have faced the consequences of nuclear war, could have developed such lax policies toward nuclear regulation (Nakamura and Kikuchi). Alex Kerr, a long time foreign resident of Japan, suggested that Japan's lax nuclear policies have been indicative of a larger environmental policy that persistently pushes toward technological progress at any price. He further points out a tendency for the Japanese government and media to promote tatemae, an official stated position that is intent on promoting social harmony. In order to maintain harmony, the government frequently downplays bad news (Kerr). In the face of the Fukushima, it seems that the Japanese government may have pushed the policy too far to maintain a sense of public trust. Many Japanese citizens no longer feel that they can believe what they are told, at least regarding nuclear issues.

The future is always an unknown. But the sense of uncertainty is further compounded when people are left with the feeling that they cannot even decipher the present. For many, life has resumed a sense of normality, however, the earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear meltdowns have shaken an elemental sense of security in Japan. Whether the Japanese public responds to this uncertainty constructively or not is yet to be seen.

© 2012, ProQuest LLC. All rights reserved.

List of Visuals

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