The legacy of Shinzo Abe in Fukushima

By Maxime Polleri

The assassination of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe shocked the world, especially in a country like Japan where firearm shootings are mostly absent. This event led many to examine the contribution of Abe, be there in terms of economic scale, international relations or geopolitical level.

Still, little was said about how Abe shaped the aftermath of one of the largest catastrophes of Japan: the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster. Since the beginning of the nuclear meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant, more than four different prime ministers ruled the country. None had a deeper impact on the long-term governance of this disaster than Abe. In a nutshell, Abe’s governance was instrumental in promoting a politics of revitalization that attempted to put the nuclear disaster behind and to rebuild the region of Fukushima, as well as Japan. Let us re-examine the major events that led to such governance.

During the initial nuclear crisis following March 11, 2011, Prime Minister Naoto Kan governed Japan under a centrist political party, called the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ). His approval tumbled amid a perceived lack of leadership, leading to his replacement by another party member, Yoshihiko Noda. Yet, the DPJ lost the 2012 general election leading Noda to announce his resignation. On December 26, 2012, Noda was replaced by Abe of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), a conservative and pro-nuclear party that held majority government uninterruptedly for almost 40 years and that remains the strongest faction in Japanese politics to this day.

While the politics of the DPJ attempted to manage the uncertainties of a nuclear disaster, Abe inherited a Japan that was already post-Fukushima and no longer in a state of initial emergency. As such, his policies shifted the governance of this disaster from a situation of crisis to a situation of revitalization. Under his management, one of the government’s top priorities became the reconstruction of Fukushima and Japan. Pragmatically speaking, the policies of Abe offered support to nuclear evacuees who wished to return to Fukushima. They also accelerated the reconstruction of the region with socioeconomic incentives attempting to restore tourism, agriculture, or employment, especially in the regions affected by radioactive contamination.

Abe, often described as a conservative politician, became well known for his Abenomics, a series of 2012 economic policies attempting to restore the competitiveness of Japanese economy after 3/11. These economic policies were inseparable from the understandings of “revitalization” in Fukushima, which were first and foremost framed in terms of the socioeconomic consequences of the accident. Abe particularly epitomized his economic enthusiasm in 2013, when he argued that the situation at Fukushima was under control during a successful pitch for Tokyo to host the 2020 Olympic Games. His comments draw critiques and discontent from part of the scientific communities. While the COVID-19 pandemic put a serious halt to the Japanese Olympics, the grand start of the Olympic torch relay nonetheless began in Fukushima on July 23, 2021. For some, it symbolized a complete revitalization of a nuclear disaster-stricken Japan.

Abe’s politics of revitalization did not necessarily make consensus within the population of the archipelago. While some citizens strongly approved of the revitalization policies, others were more critical. For instance, when I conducted research on the disaster since 2013, many citizens argued to me that Abe’s policies pushed the economic revitalization of Fukushima at the expanse of potential risks of radioactive contamination. Some lamented the fact that housing assistance for voluntary nuclear evacuees (i.e., people who fled Fukushima on their own initiative) were cut off by the government in 2017, forcing many to come back to Fukushima beyond their will. Furthermore, within a politics of revitalization officially backed up by the government it became hard to voice concerns about safety or different understandings of revitalization (such as evacuation from Fukushima). Those who did so face public backlashes, being accused of selfishness or anti-patriotism.

In the end, whether one approved or decry the governance of the nuclear disaster, Abe left am undeniable socioeconomic legacy on Fukushima that still endures to this day. He spearheaded the revitalization of Japan in a unique way that will still be debated long after his passing.

Maxime Polleri is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Anthropology at Université Laval and an Associate in the Center for International Security and Cooperation at Stanford University, where he was a MacArthur Nuclear Security Fellow. He studies the governance of disasters, with a focus on the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster.

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In the end, whether one approved or decry the governance of the nuclear disaster, Abe left am undeniable socioeconomic legacy on Fukushima that still endures to this day. He spearheaded the revitalization of Japan in a unique way that will still be debated long after his passing.

What a nothing burger of an analysis.

4 ( +11 / -7 )

what plasticmonkey said

-1 ( +7 / -8 )

What plasticmonkey said.

0 ( +7 / -7 )

Abe, often described as a conservative politician, 

Ground-breaking analysis right here.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

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