An Emerging Culture Of Dialogue In Japan? Energy And Environmental Governance After Fukushima And The citizen Role

A recent Energy Policy journal article examined if a culture of dialogue could be nurtured in Japan after the Fukushima nuclear disaster in the context of energy and environmental governance. Japan has traditionally been described as a country where the state is strong and society is weak.

Citizens or individuals with body and mind are rather invisible, and the fact that only the state has the power to control physical violence — social entity — seems conspicuous. Has Fukushima changed the characteristics of the society, which has tended to lack a culture of dialogue? This paper tried to answer the question in the field of energy and environmental policy.

The Great East Japan Earthquake and the subsequent Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant accident in March 2011 triggered new attempts to increase citizen participation in the energy and environmental policy process in Japan. The Japanese government conducted a participatory consultation of innovative post-Fukushima energy and environmental strategies, including random sampling-based citizen deliberation known as a deliberative poll. Moreover, researchers and a non-governmental organization (NGO) had a deliberative poll in Kawasaki city in the Greater Tokyo region to convey the citizen voices generated from deliberation to the government. There had also been other citizen-led grass-roots activities to provide the opportunity for citizens that had various positions to learn and talk about energy and environmental issues in Nagoya and nationwide.

However, effective deliberation on sensitive and science/technology-intensive policy topics such as nuclear power requires a transformation of citizen attitude, too; citizens must desire to learn about the various issues and backgrounds of issues. Furthermore, they are also expected to discuss these issues with each other, even when their positions and value systems differ.

Nonetheless, the Japanese are said to be weak at such open communication with the presumption of conflicting positions and values. Indeed, lacking a culture of dialogue and self-constraint of positionality that hinders open dialogue in Japan has been criticized by many authors, including the Japanese themselves, and suggested by international comparative social surveys.

By employing an online social survey in a prefecture that hosts a nuclear power plant and is a large energy consumer, this paper investigates citizens’ willingness to know the issues relevant to complex energy and environmental policies, willingness to talk about such issues in a random sampling deliberation at the national and prefectural levels, and the relationship between these two levels of willingness.

The survey found that most of the respondents had a moderate or strong willingness to learn about 14 relevant topics, ranging from nuclear waste management (85%) to setting policy transition period (70%). Further, more than one-third of respondents showed a moderate or strong willingness to participate in random sampling based deliberation on energy and environmental policy both at the national and the prefecture level. Statistical analysis shows that the stronger the willingness to learn the issues is, the stronger the will to join public deliberation on the issues is.

Moreover, when the Japanese government produces and disseminates pertinent information reflecting the results of public dialogue, citizens would increase their willingness to participate in debates at the national level, particularly for those who are more willing to pay for renewable energy. The study indicates the preparedness and propensity of Japanese citizens to engage in the deliberation of energy and environmental policy.

Furthermore, female respondents and those who are more hesitant to talk about nuclear power are less willing to talk at both the national and prefectural levels. The sensitivity around discussing nuclear issues openly is a problem that needs to be managed appropriately to realize inclusive public deliberation. A safe environment with clear rules of engagement for dialogue in which citizens can speak frankly and listen carefully must be secured in post-Fukushima Japan.

Citizen deliberation presents an opportunity to encourage engagement in policy processes, especially for those who are more interested in environmental issues and are willing to bear additional costs. In addition to these environmentally conscious individuals, those who are good at information and communication technology (ICT), such as social media, and those who are engaged in intermediate community activities — either residential area-oriented or theme-oriented — are primary agents making society more empowered and strengthened.

This happens when a new mode of citizen participation in the policy process is implemented, i.e., random sampling-based citizen dialogue. New institutional development would help citizens transform their awareness and become more engaged in societal issues, while proactive citizens would nurture new institutions. Thus, empowering people, strengthening society, and changing the role of the government are anticipated through the experimental approach of citizen dialogue. The survey suggests that a culture of dialogue can be nurtured in contemporary Japan.

These findings are described in the article entitled, Willingness to Know and Talk: Citizen Attitude toward Energy and Environmental Policy Deliberation in Post-Fukushima Japan, recently published in the journal Energy PolicyThis work was conducted by Hidenori Nakamura from Toyama Prefectural University.


  • Nakamura, Hidenori. 2018. Willingness to Know and Talk: Citizen Attitude toward Energy and Environmental Policy Deliberation in Post-Fukushima Japan. Energy Policy 115. 12-22.

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  1. Question

    The Fukushima, event, which caused no deaths and is projected to have no measurable impact on public health, ever, is so “serious” that it will provoke profound changes and discussions over fundamental things like “environmental governance” and the entire “culture of dialogue”? Meanwhile, neither the earthquake and tsunami which actually did kill ~18,000 people, nor the fossil power generation in Japan that causes thousands of deaths *annually* (in addition to global warming) are “serious” enough to provoke any such thing?

    And the results of these attitudes and public deliberations are utterly indefensible decisions such as using expensive, dirty, imported fossil fuels (even coal) in place of nuclear, even though the science and statistics are clear that fossil generation is thousands of times more dangerous and harmful than nuclear?

    The very premise of this article shows the extent of the baseless prejudice against nuclear power, not only in Japan but all around the world. Why does Fukushima receive so much attention while orders of magnitude larger environmental problems and public health risks are hardly discussed. For example, the effects of fossil power generation which cause more harm *every day* than the Fukushima event did (deaths PER DAY from the pollution from worldwide fossil power generation exceed the most pessimistic estimates for Fukushima, by a factor of 10). Ongoing releases (pollution) from Fukushima are probably no worse than those of a single normally-operating coal plant. Another example, most of the world’s large cities (e.g., Beijing) are a far less healthy place to live than ANY locations around the Fukushima plant (including those still deemed “uninhabitable”.

    James Hopf

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