Masuzoe Yōichi, a national legislator and scholar of international politics, considers the economic fallout from the slow response to the nuclear accident in Fukushima, which has become a matter of worldwide concern, and also touches on two key problems highlighting the Kan administration’s mishandling of the crisis.
Fukushima Crisis Lingers
The scope of the disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station resulting from the March 11 earthquake and tsunami is not limited to Japan; the problem has become a matter of worldwide concern. Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) has drawn up a timetable for the work aimed at bringing the situation under control, declaring that it intends to complete this work in a period of six to nine months. However, the power company has not yet fully grasped the actual situation within the nuclear power station, and some experts believe the announced schedule is too optimistic.
Twenty-five years have passed since the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, but the area is still suffering from the aftereffects. Given this experience, there is strong worldwide concern about the impact of the Fukushima Daiichi disaster. This has damaged the reputation of Japanese agricultural and industrial products, acting as a brake on our country’s exports. Our economy has also suffered a heavy blow from the plunge in the number of overseas tourists visiting Japan. Furthermore, large numbers of foreign workers from China and other countries returned home after the earthquake, resulting in a noticeable labor shortage among a range of industries.
Japanese people have been unimpressed by the administration of Prime Minister Kan Naoto, particularly its handling of the nuclear disaster in Fukushima. They have seen how slow the government has been to respond to the crisis and its tendency to adopt improper measures when it does act. Frustration among the victims of the disaster has boiled over as a result. In contrast, the private sector has been responding in a way that is prompt and to the point.
Voters critical of the current administration’s stance chose to back politicians running against Democratic Party of Japan candidates in the recent nationwide local elections, contributing to the DPJ’s defeat. A “dump Kan” mood may also soon sweep the political world, as both DPJ and opposition-party politicians call for the prime minister to step down.
The problem with the Kan administration is twofold: First of all, the government has failed to disclose information thoroughly and, secondly, it has created a confusing array of committees and organizations.
With respect to information disclosure, the government has stoked confusion with its abrupt announcements. The schedule for rolling blackouts, for example, was announced on the evening of March 13, just one day before the blackouts began. On April 4, radioactive water was released into the ocean without prior notification of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries. And on April 12, the government announced suddenly that the rating of the severity of the Fukushima nuclear disaster had been raised to level 7, even though the situation had been at that level since mid-March.
As for the second problem, the Kan administration has brought utter confusion to the chain of command by creating so many new committees and organizations. This has deflated the morale of some outstanding Japanese bureaucrats. If the leaders of an organization are incompetent, there is simply no way for it to function well. The reason that the current government has become so dysfunctional is that the prime minister and the members of his cabinet have proved incapable of putting government officials to work in an effective way. (Written on April 26, 2011.)
In This Series
A Prime Minister on Life Support (June 28)
Kan Survives Vote of No-Confidence, but the Chaos Continues (June 5)
A Dangerous Approach to Crisis Management (May 11)
The Kan Administration Reveals Its Incompetence (April 26)
Doubts About Japan’s Crisis Management (April 12)
Facing Up to a National Crisis (March 29)
Graduated from the University of Tokyo, where he majored in political science. Has been a research fellow at the University of Paris and the University of Geneva and an associated professor at the University of Tokyo. A member of the House of Councillors since 2001. Minister of Health, Labor, and Welfare 2007–2009. Is now head of the New Renaissance Party.