Reflections on the Antecedents to the Fukushima Disaster in 2011

The Fukoshima “triple disaster” in 2011 was caused by an earthquake that triggered a tsunami, which then hit nuclear power stations situated on the East Coast of Japan. This resulted in large quantities of radioactivity released into the natural environment, and more than 300,000 residents evacuated as well as a cleanup operation that may take decades and cost hundreds of billions of dollars. (Reconstruction Unit Secretariat, 2012). Prior to the disaster, post-WW2, Japan had pushed to become energy independent, rather than historically reliant on energy imports, particularly from the Middle East (World Nuclear Association, 2023). This resulted in great political and commercial pressure to fund and build nuclear plants, further enhanced by the 1992 Kyoto protocol to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.


In 2007, Katsuhiko Ishibashi wrote an article titled “Why Worry? Japan’s Nuclear Plants at Grave Risk From Quake Damage”, highlighting the damage caused to the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa Nuclear Power plant operated by Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) as a result of an earthquake. Ishibashi even included a map, showing the two Fukushima plants and highlighting their vulnerability, positioned in areas of seismic instability: “…the guidelines should require that a nuclear power plant, no matter where it is located, should be designed to withstand at least the ground acceleration caused by an earthquake of about a 7.3 magnitude, roughly 1000 gal. In fact, however, the new guidelines require only about 450 gal.” (Ishibashi, 2007) The Chairman of Japan’s nuclear Safety Commission at the time, Haruki Madarame, dismissed Ishibashi’s claims because he was a “nobody”. (Clenfield, 2011)

Map showing location of the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant. Ishibashi, 2011.

The Fukushima disaster could have been prevented. Ishibashi was acting as a people-centred Early Warning System, and yet, due to political pressures plus a fracture between academia, and industry and government, (Edmondson, 2018) he was dismissed as a “nobody” and his early warnings of a major disaster were not heeded.


The same dynamics unfold in the case of the flash floods that occurred in Chamoli District in India in February 2021, which Chandi Prasad Bhatt had warned of in essays written over the 1980’s, 1990’s, and 2000s (Guha, 2021). As Guha points out, decisions regarding where, what, and how to build infrastructure and housing should “involve the best scientists in the country” and be decoupled from political pressures and incentives that can hamper decision making.




Clenfield, J. 2011. Nuclear Regulator Dismissed Seismologist on Japan Quake Threat

Available at: (Accessed: 27 February 2023).


Edmondson, Amy C. The Fearless Organization: Creating Psychological Safety in the Workplace for Learning, Innovation, and Growth. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2018.


Guha, R. 2021. 6 lessons from a Himalayan tragedy. (Accessed: 27 February 2023).


Ishibashi, K., 2007. Why Worry? Japan’s Nuclear Plants at Grave Risk From Quake Damage. International Herald Tribune, 11.


Nuclear Power in Japan | Japanese Nuclear Energy – World Nuclear Association . (2023). Retrieved 27 February 2023, from

Reconstruction Unit Secretariat, “Report on the Number of Evacuees Across the Country, Prefectural and Other Refugees,” February 1, 2012, (2023). Retrieved 27 February 2023, from

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