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Essay: Decision making during the Fukushima disaster

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  • Subject area(s): Politics essays
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  • Published: 11 July 2022*
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  • Words: 1,952 (approx)
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  • Tags: Nuclear energy

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On March 11, 2011 a tsunami struck the east coast of Japan, which resulted in a disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. During the day commencing the natural disaster many decisions were made with regards to managing the crisis. This paper will examine these decisions made during the crisis. The Governmental Politics Model, a model designed by Allison and Zelikow (1999), will be adopted to analyse the events. Therefore, the research question of this paper is: To what extent does the Governmental Politics Model explain the decisions made during the Fukushima disaster.

First, this paper will lay the theoretical basis for an analysis. The Governmental Politics Model and all crucial concepts within it are discussed. Then a conscription of the Fukushima case will follow. Since the reader is expected to already have general knowledge regarding the Fukushima Nuclear disaster the case description will be very brief. With the theoretical framework and case study a basis for the analysis is laid. The analysis will look into the decisions government and Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) officials made during the crisis.


Allison and Zelikow designed three theories to understand the outcomes of bureaucracies and decision making in the aftermath of the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. The first theory to be designed was the Rational Actor Model. This model focusses on the ‘logic of consequences’ and has a basic assumption of rational actions of a unitary actor. The second theory designed by Allison and Zelikow is the Organizational Behavioural Model. This model focusses on the ‘logic of appropriateness’ and has a main assumption of loosely connected allied organizations (Broekema, 2019).

The third model thought of by Allison and Zelikow is the Governmental Politics Model (GPM). This model reviews the importance of power in decision-making. According to the GPM decision making has not to do with rational/unitary actors or organizational output but everything with a bargaining game. This means that governments make decisions in other ways, according to the GPM there are four aspects to this. These aspects are: the choices of one, the results of minor games and of central games and foul-ups (Allison & Zelikow, 1999).

The following concepts are essential in the GPM. First, it is important to note that power in government is shared. Different institutions have independent bases and, therefore, power is shared. Second, persuasion is an important factor in the GPM. The power to persuade differentiates power from authority. Third, bargaining according to the process is identified, this means there is a structure in the bargaining processes. Fourth, power equals impact on outcome is mentioned in the Essence of Decision making. This means that there is a difference between what can be done and what is actually done, and what is actually done has to do with the power involved in the process. Lastly, intranational and international relations are of great importance to the GPM. These relations are intertwined and involve a vast set if international and domestic actors (Allison & Zelikow, 1999).

Not only the five previous concepts are relevant for the GPM. The GPM is inherently based on group decisions, in this type of decision making Allison and Zelikow identify seven factors. The first factor is a positive one, group decisions, when met by certain requirements create better decisions. Secondly, the agency problem is identified, this problem includes information asymmetric and the fact that actors are competing over different goals. Third, it is important to identify the actors in the ‘game’. This means that one has to find out who participates in the bargaining process. Fourth, problems with different types of decisions are outlined. Fifth, framing issues and agenda setting is an important factor in the GPM. Sixth, group decisions are not necessarily positive, they can lead to groupthink easily. This is a negative consequence and means that no other opinions are considered. Last, the difficulties in collective actions is outlined by Allison and Zelikow. This has to do with the fact that the GPM does not consider unitary actors but different organizations (Allison & Zelikow, 1999).

Besides the concepts mentioned above the GPM consists of a concise paradigm too. This paradigm is essential for the analysis of the Fukushima case. The paradigm exists of six main points. The first main point is the fact that decisions are the result of politics, this is the GPM and once again stresses the fact that decisions are the result of bargaining. Second, as said before, it is important to identify the players of the political ‘game’. Furthermore, one has to identify their preferences and goals and what kind of impact they can have on the final decision. Once this is analysed, one has to look at what the actual game is that is played. The action channels and rules of the game can be determined. Third, the ‘dominant inference pattern’ once again goes back to the fact that the decisions are the result of bargaining, but this point makes clear that differences and misunderstandings have to be taken into account. Fourth, Allison and Zelikow identify ‘general propositions’ this term includes all concepts examined in the second paragraph of the theory section of this paper. Fifth, specific propositions are looked at, these specify to decisions on the use of force and military action. Last, is the importance of evidence. When examining crisis decision making documented timelines and for example, minutes or other account are of great importance (Allison & Zelikow, 1999).


In the definition of Prins and Van den Berg (2018) the Fukushima Daiichi disaster can be regarded as a safety case, this is because it was an unintentional event that caused harm to humans.

The crisis was initiated by an earthquake of 9.0 on the Richter scale which was followed by a tsunami, which waves reached a height of 10 meters. Due to the earthquake all external power lines, which are needed for cooling the fuel rods, were disconnected. Countermeasures for this issue were in place, however, the water walls were unable to protect the nuclear plant from flooding. This caused the countermeasures, the diesel generators, to be inadequate (Kushida, 2016).

Due to the lack of electricity, the nuclear fuel rods were not cooled, therefore, a ‘race for electricity’ started. Eventually the essential decision to inject sea water was made. Moreover, the situation inside the reactors was unknown. Meltdowns in reactors 1 and 2 already occurred. Because of explosions risks the decision to vent the reactors was made. However, hydrogen explosions materialized in reactors 1,2 and 4. This in turn led to the exposure of radiation to the environment. To counter the disperse of radiation the decision to inject sea water to the reactors was made (Kushida, 2016).


This analysis will look into the decision or decisions to inject seawater in the damaged reactors. First, a timeline of the decisions will be outlined to further build on the case study above. Then the events and decisions made will be paralleled to the GPM paradigm with the six main points as described in the theory.

The need to inject sea water arose after the first stages as described in the case study passed. According to Kushida government officials and political leaders began voicing the necessity of injecting the water at 6:00 p.m., the day after the earthquake, on March 12. It would according to these officials have one very positive outcome, namely, the cooling of the reactors and the fuel pool. However, the use of sea water might have negative consequences too. It would ruin the reactors because of the salt in the sea water and it would produce vast amounts of contaminated water which would be hard to contain (Kushida, 2016). TEPCO experienced many difficulties with cooling the reactors, as is described in the case study, because of the lack of electricity. However, they were averse to injecting sea water into the reactors since this would ruin them. Still, after the first hydrogen explosion occurred in reactor one TEPCO plant workers started the injection of sea water in this specific reactor (Holt et al., 2012). A day later, on March 13, sea water injection started in reactor 3. On the 14th of March, seawater injection started in reactor 2 (Holt et al., 2012).

When looking at the decisions made by the government or TEPCO plant workers it is crucial to consider the chain of decision making by TEPCO leadership too. TEPCO leadership was in the first instance not very positive towards injecting seawater because of the earlier mentioned disadvantages, the plant would become unusable in the future and vast amounts of contaminated water would be created. Therefore, the government had to issue an order to TEPCO to start injecting seawater. They did so at 8:00 p.m. on 12 March. However, Yoshida, the Fukushima Daiichi Plant Manager already started injecting seawater at 7:00 p.m. (Kushida, 2016).

As one can already see different interests were at play and the outcome of the eventual decision can well be a political resultant. Therefore, it is crucial to examine the chain of decisions through the GPM paradigm. The first factor of this paradigm concerns decisions as a result of bargaining, this can clearly be seen in the decision to inject seawater. TEPCO leadership initially was not a proponent of this method, however, after government officials ordered them to execute the injection they had no choice. Second, according to the theory, it is important to identify the players of the ‘game’ and their goals. In this instance these divisions are easily identifiable, three different players can be pointed out. The different players are the government, TEPCO leadership and Yoshida, the plant manager. The Government has as a goal to keep their citizens safe during the crisis, TEPCO wanted to maintain the reactor as long as possible, whereas, Yoshida wanted to contain the crisis. This shows there were conflicting goals in that sense.

To further apply the GPM to the decision to inject seawater one can review the comprehensive ‘general proposition’. In this part miscommunication is a very relevant factor. Miscommunication was certainly a big issue in the decision to inject seawater. As said before Yoshida, already started injecting seawater before he received approval from his chiefs. One might even wonder whether or not there was a misunderstanding of the crisis by TEPCO leadership because of the fact that they hesitated to inject seawater necessary to cool the reactors. It can be argued that this hesitation constitutes a great deal of misunderstanding of the crisis since there was no plant to be saved anymore at the time the decision was made.

The fifth and sixth aspect of the GPM paradigm are less relevant to the decisions made. This is because ‘specific proposition’ refers to the use of force, which was not an option in dealing with the Fukushima crisis. The Japanese Self-Defence forces were dispatched to the plant; however, this was to provide electricity (Kushida, 2016). Furthermore, the sixth aspect, evidence is not as important in this case since many scholars, researchers and investigators have written to a great extent about what happened during the Fukushima crisis, more than sufficient information is available.

The political and bargaining game in the decision to inject seawater into the reactors is clearly visible. The different actors in the game had different goals, however, eventually the government won this game and the decision to inject seawater was made. Even before that the plant manager already to inject seawater because the situation was too dire.


This essay reviewed decision making during the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant disaster on the 11th of March 2011. More specifically the decision to inject seawater into the reactors to cool them was scrutinized. This was done by using the Governmental Politics Model. The decision to inject seawater into the reactors was a result of a bargaining game and different actors with different objectives played the decision-making ‘game’.


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