- After the Great East Japan Earthquake: Political and Policy Change in Post-Fukushima Japan Edited by Dominic Al-Badri and Gijs Berends
There is a burgeoning literature on 3.11 Japan from a range of scholarly disciplines, but here we encounter Japan-based diplomats’ perspectives. One problem in focusing on changes in politics, energy, food safety, and economic policies in the aftermath of the tsunami and nuclear meltdowns, as this volume does, is that the authors are chasing a moving target. It is not denigrating their contribution to note that the policy and political landscape is evolving and the return of Abe Shinzō as prime minister has unleashed its own policy tremors in the form of Abenomics and his pro-nuclear energy policy.
Perhaps a bigger problem is the competition. Richard Samuels’s masterful 3.11: Disaster and Change in Japan (Cornell University Press, 2013) casts a long shadow over the book under review because Samuels also assesses postdisaster policymaking and politics, bringing decades of research and scholarly depth to the subject. Samuels focuses on three policy areas—national security, energy, and local government—and analyzes the competing narratives that emerged as policymakers hijacked the crisis to bolster their preferred longstanding agendas, meaning the opportunity for bold new reforms slipped away.
Prime Minister Abe’s aggressive efforts promoting Japan’s nuclear power exports are an unexpected post-3.11 development, especially given the ongoing decommissioning problems at Fukushima. In November 2013 popular former premier Koizumi Jun’ichirō (2001–6) called on Abe to show real leadership on nuclear energy by pulling the plug, drawing attention to the absence of a plan to deal with accumulating radioactive waste. But Abe [End Page 514] remains a staunch advocate of nuclear energy despite overwhelming public opposition.1
This book includes nine chapters by five members of Tokyo’s foreign diplomatic community and a Japanese employee of the EU who were in Japan during the crisis. The stated intention is “to analyze whether policies have been modified in the wake of the crisis or whether deeper systemic changes have taken place, whereby new structures or institutions have been created or competences rearranged” (p. x). Overall, the authors, like Samuels, find more continuity than transformation.
The opening chapter provides a brief overview of Japan on the eve of the cataclysm including fun facts such as the nation’s six-million-plus vending machines consume an amount of electricity equivalent to that produced by Belgium’s renewable energy sources in 2010. While acknowledging what Japan has achieved in terms of industrial energy efficiency, editors Dominic Al-Badri and Gijs Berends, diplomats with the EU mission, point out that “it has been slower on the uptake regarding more modern or innovative ways to fight climate change such as green procurement, emissions trading, carbon taxes, feed-in tariffs, and energy efficient housing” (p. 8).
Mari Koseki, chief press officer at the Delegation of the European Union to Japan, has written a very useful chronology of the unfolding triple disaster (earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear meltdowns). In doing so, she presents Prime Minister Kan Naoto in a more flattering light than is usually the case in Japan where he has been relentlessly scapegoated to deflect attention away from the paralyzed and incompetent responses of Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco) and government bureaucrats.2 There are three infamous incidents in which Kan has been unfairly vilified: venting of the reactors, pumping in seawater to cool the reactors, and evacuation of Tepco employees from the Fukushima Daiichi Plant where the meltdowns and hydrogen explosions occurred in the early days of the nuclear accident. Koseki makes it clear that the delays in venting the reactors to prevent hydrogen explosions had nothing to do with Kan and were due to Tepco’s failure to activate automated systems due to a station blackout and a slow evacuation of local residents.
Tepco also tried to blame Kan for the cessation of seawater...