On March 11, 2011, at 2:46 in the afternoon, the Pacific coast area of northeastern Japan was hit by an earthquake measuring 9.0. This was the largest earthquake ever recorded in Japan. On March 12, 2011, a day after the earthquake and tsunamis that struck in seven waves, a hydrogen explosion destroyed the Unit 1 nuclear reactor at the Fukushima Nuclear Power Station. In all six units the external power supply was lost. Five operators were injured. Unit 3 also had an explosion, forcing most operators to seek refuge. Eleven more people were injured. On March 15 there was a hydrogen explosion in Unit 4. By March 23 some of the Units recovered lighting and power supply.
The Japanese Prime Minister’s team felt distrust toward the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) by the evening of March 11. The PM’s office did not receive an explanation from TEPCO as to why the power station’s power supply continued to be cut, even though power-generating vehicles were in preparation. At 1:30 a.m. a vent was approved that was considered to diminish the danger but TEPCO did not act on the approval. By 7 a.m. officials were forced to carry out this action. The PM had been assured by March 12 that a hydrogen explosion could not occur. In fact it did occur on that day and this caused the PM to further distrust TEPCO’s information and decisions.
Multiple hierarchical and communication layers generated distrust and confusion. Orders issued from the PM’s office differed from the Emergency Response Manual. The PM’s office was far removed from the power station and communication routes were complex. There was a delay in gathering data and distrust ensued. Prime Minister Kan personally flew to the site on March 12 and was highly involved in the response to the disaster.
• What can we learn from the Fukushima nuclear power disaster?
• How was communication relevant to the handling of the crises?
• How did the interaction between the government and the people at the site impact the decision-making and outcomes? How did conflict impact these?
• What were the cultural influences within and outside the organization?
• What were possible short term and long-term strategies for the site, industry, and government?
• What do you think of the response to these unexpected events?
• What biases affected all parties in the crisis?