Gerilee Wohlschlegel Bennett
Nana korobi ya oki—Fall seven times, stand up eight.
Four years later, Japan is still struggling to recover from the triple disaster of
earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear plant meltdown that struck March 11, 2011. Any one of
these disasters would have challenged seasoned leaders with a well-designed disaster
management system. The disruption and uncertainty unleashed by the widespread
releases of significant radiological contamination from the Fukushima Daiichi plant has
added layers of complexity few leaders are prepared to navigate. Fukushima Prefecture
estimates nearly 46,000 residents are still living in other prefectures and at least 73,000
are in temporary accommodations elsewhere in Fukushima. The villages of Okuma,
Futuba, and Namie stand virtually empty and may remain off limits for a decade or more.
The United States is home to 100 licensed nuclear power plants and numerous
active fault lines. What if there were a major accident at one of those plants with
significant offsite impacts? What if there were a terrorist attack using an improvised
nuclear device or a radiological dispersal device that resulted in widespread
contamination? Are we prepared to manage the abrupt displacement of hundreds of
thousands of people who will not be able to return for years or decades?
U.S. plans and exercises for nuclear/radiological disasters are all based on
theoretical scenarios with very little recent practical experience to support them. The
potential lessons for the U.S. in examining Japan’s progress of ensuring the health and
livelihoods of its residents, cleaning up the contamination, reversing the blow to its
already dragging economy, rebuilding, and resettling are innumerable. Most scholarly
articles and books published thus far about Japan’s nuclear disaster focus primarily on
early decision making, noting the difficulties the government had reacting to the extreme
challenges of the situation, but not yet assessing decisions and outcomes beyond the first
This study examines the progress of recovery in the first four years and the
management practices and decisions related to the relocation and resettlement of the most
contaminated Fukushima communities.
- RESEARCH QUESTION
The objective of this thesis is to address the following primary research question:
what lessons can the U.S. incorporate into its disaster management plans from Japan’s
experience managing the relocation of communities due to the widespread contamination
from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant? The Fukushima disaster offers an unusual
opportunity to examine and learn from the experience of Japan, Fukushima Prefecture,
and the affected municipalities. The Japan disaster is a useful comparative study since
Japan is similar to the U.S. in key ways: it is a modern, developed country; it has a
sophisticated building code and disaster management system; and its governmental
structure is democratic and includes executive and legislative branches (parliamentary)
with responsibilities divided between national, prefectural, and municipal levels.
This comparative analysis of the Fukushima case approaches the challenge of
planning for recovery after a nuclear/radiological disaster from the perspective of
managers with limited if any health physics or other radiation management expertise. It
synthesizes aspects of nuclear/radiological preparedness and disaster recovery planning
and management that are typically addressed separately.
To compile the case, the author collected and reviewed over 400 source
documents available from the Japanese central government, Fukushima Prefecture, the
affected municipalities, Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), nongovernmental
organizations, and the media. In addition, the author reviewed numerous scholarly
articles and books published regarding the 2011 disaster as well as the Three Mile Island
and Chernobyl nuclear accidents. The author compared lessons derived from the case to
the disaster management policies, plans, and experience in the United States in order to
assess potential effectiveness and applicability and to make recommendations.
- FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
A surprising finding is that although an official recommendation to financially
assist property owners to permanently move out of “difficult to return” zones was made
in early 2012, it took over a year before implementation began and even longer for the
central government to fully and publicly embrace such a policy. It is clear that local and
state officials in the U.S. will also not be eager to assist taxpaying residents move
elsewhere and give up on the community’s future. This is a heart wrenching situation for
which there are no easy solutions.
The study concludes with a set of planning recommendations for U.S.
nuclear/radiological disaster recovery managers and five topics to highlight for future
research. Leaders and planners will be able to apply the recommendations in the final
chapter to enhance efforts to prepare for the intermediate and late phase recovery from
The primary recommendation is that guidance and tools for states and
communities to use both to prepare for and as post incident job aids for managing disaster
recovery after major radiological incidents is lacking and necessary. Managing public
information and stakeholder involvement is the most critical capability to develop
because it affects all other aspects of recovery and is the best tool for empowering
survivors. Guidance and job aids for the intermediate and late phase (recovery) are all the
more critical since community preparedness in advance is likely to be limited. Local and
state governments will be at the center of the maelstrom if a significant radiological
disaster happens here. They will be managing the recovery—and they will need help.
Additionally, the federal government and Congress should review the
mechanisms available to support communities, individuals, and businesses in such a
situation. Particularly for nuclear power plant accidents governed by the Price-Anderson
Act, the compensation system, which requires first court intervention and then
congressional intervention almost guarantees delayed assistance and aggravation for
Now is the moment for us to stand up the eighth time.