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H-JAPAN July 31, 2011 Online Editor: David Wittner <email@example.com> Date: Sun, 31 Jul 2011 07:59:34 -1000 From: Daniel Aldrich <firstname.lastname@example.org> Subject: New Essay on Tohoku Disaster The March 2011 Earthquake, Tsunami, and Nuclear Crisis in Japan: A Political-Economy Perspective by Daniel P. Aldrich [corrected version from The Political Economist] The 11 March 2011 earthquake off Japan's coast registered a 9.0 on the Richter scale and literally altered the earth$B(Bs spin, creating a measurable bulge in the continental plates on the opposite site of the world. But the trembler off Japan's coast also triggered a series of events which ended in an ongoing nuclear crisis involving both partial and full fuel meltdowns at the Fukushima Dai-ichi reactor complex, roughly 140 miles northeast of Tokyo. Authorities have rated the event as a 7 ("major accident") on the International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale (INES). Only the 1986 Chernobyl core meltdown has received a similar INES rating, a fact which has raised anxiety levels both in Japan and abroad, changing the long term energy plans for some nations and reinforcing concerns for anti-nuclear groups. While many social scientists recognize that the intensity and frequency of natural disasters have been increasing over the past two decades, few social scientists have had a chance to reflect on the relevant political and political-economic issues relevant to these catastrophes. In this brief article I will touch on four disaster-focused issues relevant to social science. Glimpses of the Future: Compound Disasters and Cascading Failures Japan's current crisis epitomizes what researchers call a "compounded disaster" - a situation which by itself may not end in wide-scale fatalities, property damage, or catastrophe, but combines with other existing vulnerabilities such as coastal or below-sea level habitation, poverty, political instability, corruption, low levels of trust, and technological failure, to create a far worse sociotechnical outcome. We have turned what some have deemed as "natural disasters" into man-made (or at least man-facilitated) ones. For example, the late August 2005 crisis in New Orleans was not primarily due to Hurricane Katrina, which was only a category three storm when it made landfall on the 29th of the month. Instead, the structural failure of the levees designed by the Army Corps of Engineers, poor responses from disaster managers at all levels, widespread poverty and institutional racism, the failure of the pumps to operate properly, and, over the long term, low levels of linking social capital in many of the flooded neighborhoods, compounded the effects of the storm. As a result, some neighborhoods in the Big Easy remain at one-third of their pre-storm population levels, and recovery has been at best uneven across the city. Similarly, in Haiti, the January 2010 7.0 earthquake interacted with a failed state, underdevelopment, low-quality building materials, lack of enforcement for building standards, and an extended history of civil conflict, to create a long term humanitarian crisis. In Japan's case the earthquake interacted with under-preparation for large scale tsunami, low levels of transportation infrastructure, and vulnerable and often low-mobility elderly populations. The consequence was a high death toll, difficulty in delivering supplies along north-south roads, and extended stays in temporary shelters for residents affected both by the tsunami and the radioactive contamination of parts of Fukushima prefecture. More specifically, the quake off Japan$B(Bs coast by itself did relatively little damage and caused few direct fatalities; rather, the resulting tsunami wiped out many coastal communities located immediately next to the ocean and swamped down the poorly-placed multiple backup systems for the many nuclear plant complexes located directly along the coast. As a result, Japan is still struggling to deal with the full and partial melt down of the fuel rods in reactors 1 through 4 of the Fukushima Dai-ichi complex, the consequences of venting the plant into the atmosphere (voluntarily through controlled releases to lower the pressure inside the reactor cores and involuntarily due to the cracks in reactor number 1), and the discharge of tens of thousands of gallons of contaminated water into the ocean. Academics and decision makers alike must recognize that the crises in New Orleans, Haiti, and Fukushima are exemplars of the trends of interdependence and complexity which will continue into the future - rarely will communities and responders have simple, single-shot crises to handle. Instead, as Charles Perrow has underscored in recent work The Next Catastrophe, developers and bureaucrats alike continue to make decisions which increase the power of disasters and magnify their effects, whether through putting our energy "eggs" in one basket, relying on just-in-time manufacturing processes, depending on single suppliers for critical goods, or placing humans in harm$B(Bs way through building at or below sea level. The question which few are prepared to answer is what we can expect from crisis and disaster management officials under such complex conditions. It is easy to find failure but much harder to formulate standards under such complicated crises. The Transboundary Nature of Crisis As political scientists are all too aware, while governments regularly divide their personnel into functional units (such as the regional and technical bureaus within the State Department) and organizations seeking to allocate resources and responsibilities among their divisions, disasters rarely create problems which can be categorized in a single box. Rather, the disasters create transboundary problems which ripple out beyond geographically-, administratively-, and politically-defined boundaries and therefore beyond the ability of any single firm, government bureau or NGO to manage them independently. Following the 2011 quake in Japan, this was perhaps most obvious in the field of automobile manufacturing, an area in which the widely adopted and economically efficient practice of "just in time production" has created deep vulnerabilities. While the state of Indiana, home to Purdue University and a number of production facilities, sits far from the epicenter of the quake, and few of its local residents imagine themselves as dependent on the events abroad, car and auto part manufacturers cut all overtime shifts and shut down car and truck lines because they lacked parts normally produced in affected areas of Japan. Honda - based in Japan- has told its American distributors that car production levels will not return to pre-quake levels until August or September of this year. More broadly, recent disasters such as the crisis in Fukushima rarely affect a single neighborhood or city, and such events push decision makers to think beyond their own local jurisdictions. While few residents of the coastal city of Ohkuma in Fukushima Prefecture were directly affected by either the quake or the tsunami, the entire village had to be evacuated when it became clear that the nuclear power plants in their backyard were undergoing meltdown. (The government has offered a time table of at least 9 months before residents will be allowed back to their homes and properties; many observers believe this to be optimistic.) These internally displaced people have joined hundreds of thousands of others (some of whom lost their houses to the tsunami) who are being placed into temporary shelters, school auditoriums, and civic halls throughout Japan. Megacatastrophes force local governments, central governments, and even neighboring states to overcome collective action problems and work together to solve pressing problems. Nations may have created elaborate precautions for potential crises in their own nations, but few are truly prepared for wide scale, cross-national problems. South Korea and China have watched uneasily as plumes of radioactivity and water-borne contamination have been detected following the melt-downs at Fukushima; few countries have thought through the consequences of their neighbors' problems. The European Union, for example, is only now taking initial steps to manage these boundary-crossing phenomenon, whether the spread of BSE (mad cow disease), acts of terrorism, or outbreaks of pandemics (see, for example, the 2008 article by Boin and Rhinard in International Studies Review on this topic). Japan's disaster has created simultaneous wicked problems for the Japanese government, which must grapple with radioactive contamination, tens of thousands of casualties, hundreds of thousands of evacuees, and the crippling of critical infrastructure necessary for the delivery of food, water, medicine, and other critical supplies. Finally, disaster mitigation and recovery are events which almost never fall within the timeframe of a single executive administration at any level of administration. Instead, it may take several elections for recovery to be obvious, and bureaucrats and local administrators will have to push for budgetary allowances and supplies long after media attention has dissipated (though politicians no doubt will claim credit within weeks, if not days, for any signs of a rebound). Increased tensions and politicization in disaster and crisis management Despite strong connections between members of the Iron Triangle of nuclear power in Japan (made up of the private power utilities such as TEPCO, bureaucrats within the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry (formerly MITI), and powerful politicians such as the energy zoku (tribe) members), politicians and firms have rushed to frame events and push responsibility for incompetence or mishandling onto others. TEPCO recently blamed its computer analyses for underreporting levels of radioactivity around the stricken reactors; as a result, executives argued, they were unprepared for the scope of the problem and have been slow to release information. The press blamed TEPCO's managers for initially hesitating to use salt water to cool off the overheated reactors for fear of damaging the long term, high capital investments in the facilities (as salt water essentially ruins the reactor components) and for deliberately withholding information from the public. Prime Minister Naoto Kan earlier argued that there should be no limits of the damages that TEPCO has to pay, as he believes the firm discounted earlier questions about the possibility of a tsunami overtopping existing seawalls and admitted to falsifying safety records in the 1990s. And many observers have argued that the Japanese government agencies responsible for promoting nuclear power simultaneously are supposed to regulate it, a conflict of interest that North Americans should be all too aware of following the BP oil disaster (when the previously obscure U.S. Minerals Management Service made front page headlines and was soon transformed into the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement). The "blame game" following disasters is not an activity played solely by the Japanese. Following Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, the targets for criticism were many: Michael Brown and the other managers of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), New Orleans Mayor C. Ray Nagin, Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco, the New Orleans Police Department, and so on. Boin, Hart, and McConnell's 2008 book Governing after Crisis underscores the patterns in responses from regulators, bureaucrats, and elected politicians around the world as they sought to handle and spin crises. There, the authors argued that the type of "shadow" cast by the crisis (whether incomprehensible, mismanaged, or agenda-setting) interact with the norms of decision makers tasked with post-crisis reform (with approaches including just world, garbage can, and perverse effects) to set the stage for post-crisis politics. Fukushima should remind us of the broader post-disaster patterns that can be found even in crises of this magnitude. Opportunities and agendas for social scientists Tragedies such as the ongoing crisis at Fukushima reveal inherent weaknesses in administrative, social, and governmental systems and underscore the existing vulnerabilities in demographic communities. They also set up tragic "natural experiments" for social scientists interested in a broad variety of themes, ranging from the effects of policy intervention to the role of economic, demographic, and social capital factors in recovery. In the field of nuclear power, social scientists such as Etel Solingen have already undertaken creative analyses of issues such the structure of the nuclear industry while Matthew Fuhrmann and others have looked at why some countries adopt nuclear power and others do not (and Furhmann has quantitatively shown that post-disaster, countries are less likely to adopt nuclear technology, throwing some cold water on those who optimistically envision a "nuclear renaissance" arising after Fukushima). Scholars such as Jacques Hymans have tackled the question of why some nations "go nuclear" while others remain committed solely to peaceful uses of the atom (Hyman has an ongoing research project focused on the stable configuration of veto players in the domestic nuclear industry which has prevented Japan from adapting civilian technology to military use). Betsy Sinclair, Thad E. Hall, and Michael Alvarez have demonstrated the ways in which damage from post-Katrina flooding in New Orleans altered participation levels among survivors in and outside the city. All of these researchers have connected our interests in political power, civic participation, formal and informal institutions, and other cutting-edge political science themes to high salience issues of crises and nuclear power. More broadly, Peter Haas has long pushed social scientists to develop usable knowledge - knowledge that is tractable, credible, and legitimate, and this disaster and the inevitable crises provides us with a chance to build just that. The events at Fukushima should drive all of us to think through ways in which our knowledge of politics can contribute to ongoing dialogues about state - civilian interaction, international cooperation, regulatory frameworks, and benefits and costs of nuclear power. -- Check out my book SITE FIGHTS at http://www.cornellpress.cornell.edu/book/?GCOI=80140100103970 Dr. Daniel P. Aldrich Associate Professor, Political Science, Purdue University http://web.ics.purdue.edu/~daldrich/ ******************************************************** TO POST A MESSAGE TO THE H-JAPAN LIST SEND MAIL TO email@example.com ********************************************************