Institutionalized inaction by compliance: from the Great Kanto Earthquake to the nuclear village

This chapter illustrates the sociological implications of structural disaster through unfolding the social background of institutionalized inaction as exemplified by the prediction made by SPEEDI that was never released to the general public, including people concerned with Fukushima at the critical moment of evacuation. A particular focus is placed on the actual workings of institutionalized inaction that pervades different individual behaviors. For example, as discussed in Chapter 1, the Nuclear Safety Commission’s Guideline for Monitoring Environmental Radiation that stipulated most details about the utilization of SPEEDI included no stipulation on “protecting the health and safety” of inhabitants around nuclear power stations in emergency situations. Thus, secrecy, coupled with the inaction that resulted from institutional design itself, made real the extent of suffering that resulted from the Fukushima accident. Suffering was brought on by the disaster not by rule-breaking but rather by rigid compliance with a particular institutional design.

This chapter extends these insights across different cases in different time periods in Japan and, in doing so, presents a broader perspective to trace the genealogy of structural disaster and generalizes its sociological implications over a longer time span. First, institutionalized inaction as a cardinal implication of structural disaster should be reconfirmed by independent cases within the same context as the Fukushima accident to set the basis for analyzing the genealogy of structural disaster and generalizing its sociological implications. Three independent cases will be discussed in this chapter: the dual organizational structure of the Governmental Investigation Committee on the Fukushima accident; METI’s Report on Severe Accidents in 1992 and its connection with policy measures to deal with the post-Fukushima situation; and procedural legitimation of siting nuclear power stations based on existing power source siting laws.

Additional evidence to illustrate the implications of structural disaster in the context of institutionalized inaction by these independent cases will provide important clues to elaborating the two different types of institutionalized inaction. First, institutionalized inaction can allow the nuclear village to save face in the public sphere by blurring the responsibility of stakeholders;1 second, institutionalized inaction can use extreme events to enable stakeholders to utilize something that is unusual to gain in a normal state. In either case, institutionalized inaction serves as a tool to realize pay-off, be it face-saving or material gain, at the cost of endangering public interest (including the safety of society). While it can be argued that the devastation of society is too high of a price for the pay-off of local stakeholders, the genealogy of structural disasters reveals that institutionalized inaction can manifest itself at the cost of public interest by taking advantage of extreme events, expected or real, depending on situations.2

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