Observing Fukushima: A Case Study of Japanese Nuclear Policy through Luhmann's Social Systems Theory

Thursday, July 17, 2014: 5:45 PM
Room: Booth 47
Oral Presentation
Andrew MITCHELL , University of Kumamoto, Japan
Since the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster three years ago there has been much debate regarding Japan’s nuclear policy. These debates usually focus solely on the technological, economic or strategic issues at hand, or on the dwindling public support for a nuclear Japan. Whilst all of these arguments have their own strengths, they discuss specific points regarding nuclear policy with little regard to the wider picture. They all also describe what the political system should do to resolve the issues they raise rather than considering how the political system rationalises nuclear policy and the associated risks. By utilising Luhmann’s Social Systems Theory, this paper proposes to frame the different views on the nuclear issue as a problem of observation by different observers within a functionally differentiated society. The paper shall discuss the technological, economic and public opinion issues surrounding Japanese nuclear power, demonstrate how these are first-order observations of different observing social systems, and how Japan’s political system acts as a second-order observer of these observations. By understanding politics as the social system which acts to manage system expectation by introducing binding resolutions upon society (and thus deals in risky decision-making), the limits of Japanese political action when faced with technological risks on one hand and the desire to maintain Japan’s economic and strategic position on the other will be illustrated. This paper concludes that despite the risks of and public hostility towards nuclear power, the rationale of Abenomics and emerging strategic threats in East Asia leave Japan with little choice but to restart its reactors, a conclusion which is consistent with current Japanese nuclear policy.