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Institute of Asian and Oriental Studies

Japan’s Nuclear Disaster and the Politics of Safety Governance


Dr. Florentine Koppenborg (TU München)

Date and Time

October 20, 2022, 2:15 - 3:45 pm


University of Zurich, Room KOL G 217, Rämistrasse 71, 8001 Zürich


The nuclear accident that assailed Fukushima, Japan, on March 11, 2011 cast a harsh spotlight on nuclear safety. It stimulated safety governance reforms that created an independent nuclear regulation agenca, the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA). At the same time, the Japanese government continued promoting nuclear power as essential for Japan's economic development, energy security, and climate friendly electricity generation. Strikingly, however, nuclear power looks set to play only a minor role in Japan's future energy supply despite apparent political and administrative support.

The presentation argues that an independent and transparent safety agency established to regain public trust and to enable nuclear reactor restarts has resulted in the exact opposite. The newly established NRA enforced safety measures that greatly increased regulatory costs. Expanded regulation and transparency practices increased public accountability and galvanized anti-nuclear protests, raising social acceptance costs. Hence, the NRA weakened the power structure, the "glue", that had buttressed nuclear power development: low costs of nuclear power, rooted in a captured safety administration, and a tightly controlled information regime that limited public scrutiny and participation. These findings about regulatory costs and social acceptance costs highlight how independent and transparent safety governance can shift in nuclear politics to the extent that previously powerful pro-nuclear actors lost policy implementation power.


Institute of Asian and Oriental Studies - Japanese Studies