By Jacquelyn Wong
The severity of Japan’s nuclear crisis leaves victims and the world wondering to where the country’s leadership has disappeared. Even after the devastating earthquake and tsunami struck Japan, the shaky condition of the Fukushima nuclear reactors still looms large. However, when reading the newspaper or turning on the news, the reactors rarely take center stage; instead, what viewers see are throngs of people bundled in heavy layers lining up for food and water, dark, lifeless, and almost-haunted cities with no electricity, and overflowing shelters and school gyms filled with now-homeless individuals. While the situation as a whole is not as tense as before, it should be questioned why Japan’s leaders were so slow to react immediately after the crisis. Eleven days after the earthquake and tsunami hit, Prime Minister Naoto Kan planned a visit to the ravaged Fukushima area, only to turn back due to bad weather. It is no wonder that countless Japanese are beginning to criticize their government for its immobility and lack of leadership after the crisis. As one of the world’s most affluent and resourceful countries, Japan has left many wondering when they will actually receive enough food, shelter, and electricity to take a small step closer to their lives before the earthquake.
The Japanese government’s lackluster response to the crisis has not only disappointed many of its own citizens, but has also left several foreign countries in disbelief. In contrast to Japan’s earthquake and tsunami crisis, the 1979 Three Mile Island nuclear accident in Pennsylvania was met with much faster and decisive action; immediately following the catastrophe, federal and state government agencies began their investigation of the accident, sending President Carter to the site only two days after the crisis. In response, the committee produced a final report in the following months analyzing the root causes of the accident and denouncing the facility’s operations company for poor management and safety. More importantly, the Three Mile Island accident was a critical juncture in the development of future nuclear power plants. Reactor construction significantly declined following the crisis, ensuring that future advancement in nuclear power would be met with greater caution, security, and safety.
While the situation in Japan has improved since the first few days of the catastrophe, many still wonder when the country’s social and economic situation will improve, and who will be the first to lead the way. Many Japanese, such as Masayoshi Funabasama, a civil engineer interviewed by The Washington Post, rise at daybreak to hunt for gasoline—even when they live far from the tsunami-affected areas. Funabasama states that while “things may look normal…nothing is normal,” as “[they] have no fuel, no water, no food, and children to take care of.” Japan’s Prime Minister Naoto Kan has received greater criticism from Japanese media, which accuses the leader of acting too slowly and failing to demonstrate its responsibility of ensuring the safety of the people. Furthermore, the Emperor’s calm, “deep concern” for the tragedy has invoked more unease, anger, and annoyance from the Japanese people, who first-handedly experienced the three-day disaster and are continuing to endure days with minimal food, water, and daily necessities.
Although Japan’s current unfortunate state was mostly brought upon by the unexpected, tragic earthquake, the government is not free from blame. In contrast to the instant resolve and determination of the Three Mile Crisis and even other events such as Chernobyl, Japan’s leaders are failing to give its citizens the necessary hope and willpower to start anew. As Japan stood on the sidelines and watched private donors and volunteers from America and China provide the majority of food and other necessities, the island nation lacked a figurehead to take a dominant stance on recovery from the inception of the crisis. What should have been done was to declare a state of emergency from the onset, thus allocating resources to provide for its citizens for the following weeks to come. Japan’s crisis is a situation that no country wants to experience, but if anything, it is an event from which each nation can learn.