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Fukushima Daiichi: The Path to Nuclear Meltdown


Fukushima Daiichi: The Path to Nuclear Meltdown

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Course Information


As one of the efforts in promoting learning of best practices in disaster response, the Hong Kong Jockey Club Disaster Preparedness and Response Institute partnered with the FXB Center for Health and Human Rights at Harvard University (Harvard FXB Centre) to develop case studies based on real situations of past disaster and situations with emerging disaster risks.  

Our case studies are presented in various forms: study papers, interactive modules and videos

Apart from the case study papers and knowledge assessment put in the website, teaching materials for tertiary level or professional learning such as in medical or public health schools and training courses for disaster practitioners, NGOs, policy makers, etc, are available upon request. Please contact [email protected] for details.

About this case

On March 11, 2011, Japan suffered an unprecedented triple disaster. A 9.0 M earthquake occurred off the northeastern coast of Japan, triggering a large tsunami that rose to a height of over 30 meters, and traveled as far as 10 kilometers inland. The earthquake and tsunami damaged Japan’s oldest nuclear power plant, setting off a chain of events culminating in a nuclear accident.

The triple disaster resulted in over 15,000 deaths, explosions at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station (NPS), expulsion of radioactive material into the air, and release of contaminated water into the ocean. The investigations that followed unearthed regulatory lapses, counter-productive decision-making hierarchies, and a culture of complacence and collusion.


The video is divided into different sessions, including the background, description of the nuclear reactors, early warning systems, evacuation strategies, policy recommendations as well as the long term effects and global impact of the disaster. You will be asked to evaluate the current level of safety and nuclear disaster contingency plans for citizens of Hong Kong in the last session of the video.

Case Document
The document highlighted:

1) Importance of clear, consistent communication from the government to the public

2) The importance of disaster drills at all levels: schools, communities, institutions, and even within and across government agencies.

  • Use the tendenko philosophy to talk about school preparedness. Use it as an opportunity to discuss cultural norms.
  • Compare and contrast with other flood affected regions in Asia like the west coast of India, and Bangladesh
  • Draw parallels with the Indonesian Tsunami Discuss the importance of multiple back-up systems. Compare the failure at Fukushima to the destruction of the Office of Emergency Management facilities when the World Trade Towers collapsed in New York City.
  • Use SPEEDI as a prompt to facilitate class discussion on inter-agency communication failures. Transition the discussion to Incident Command Systems and the need to step away from social norms and bureaucracies into a standard clear structure for unambiguous communications, assignments, and orders.

3) Post disaster care: physical and mental health; livelihoods regeneration.



Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this case study are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Hong Kong Jockey Club Disaster Preparedness and Response Institute.

Risk communication; Disaster preparedness; Post disaster care
HKJCDPRI/Harvard FXB/Harvard HHI

Dr. Satchit Balsari

Dr.Lindsey Garrison

Prof. Jennifer Leaning