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Sunday, April 24, 2011

Will postquake recovery lead to a new Japan?


The March 11 Great Eastern Japan Earthquake and tsunami left some 27,000 people dead or missing and caused an estimated ¥25 trillion in economic devastation along the northeastern Pacific coastal areas. And the accidents at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant caused radiation leaks and a power supply shortage, adding up to a complex catastrophe with no precedent.

While stricken areas lay in shambles and people remain in misery, the exhausting operation to control the crippled power station has assumed the proportions of a perilous battle that may drag on for many years to come.

Despite this national crisis, some calm has returned to the affected areas after government and nongovernment search, relief and recovery activities gathered momentum. Meanwhile, encouraging messages and support offers have poured in from around the world together. The expectation has risen that people in Japan will surely overcome their hardships and move toward national reconstruction.

As in the proverb "Bad luck often brings good luck," we should learn lessons from the multiple disasters to step up various reforms aimed at creating a New Japan. With this in mind, I recommend that four tasks be carried out:

Reconstruct the nation's crisis management system.

Over the years, Japanese people have often suffered natural and other disasters and taken precautions to cope with new ones. Nuclear power plants have been designed with considerable security measures based on the experiences of other countries. But the scale of this quake and tsunami far exceeded projections.

So, it is necessary for us to review our conventional disaster prediction system by giving more consideration to the accumulated knowledge and findings of scientists as well as technical experts in and out of Japan, and re-examine our mechanism of coping with disasters.

The nation's governance system to deal with disasters are also in need of urgent review. To ensure sound national crisis management, it is mandatory that the commanding headquarters make a comprehensive judgment, that a clear chain of command be firmly established, that the staff on the scene take specific steps as quickly as possible on their own responsibility and that relevant information be made public timely and appropriately. Critics point to some inadequacies in the coordination among the government, bureaucrats and business enterprises concerned.

So, it is advisable to review whether their coordination system has been working effectively and, if necessary, reconstruct the system so that it will function better.

Promote a comprehensive rehabilitation program for disaster areas.

After the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake, the then Cabinet's newly created Bureau for Reconstruction of the Imperial Capital worked out a well-coordinated reconstruction program for Tokyo. This time as well, it is necessary for the Government to draw up a wide-ranging overall development program through effective coordination among the government, bureaucracy and the private sector with a long-range perspective, instead of merely accelerating efforts to restore the former state of the devastated communities.

The Tohoku region has a rich and beautiful natural environment and traditional culture. It is advisable to consolidate its tourist industry by utilizing its resources and to create regional communities resilient against natural disasters and with high-energy efficiency.

The region is also a major producer of farm produce such as high-grade rice, fruit and vegetables with rich fishery resources. Therefore, it should aspire to become a model region for internationally competitive agriculture, forestry and fisheries. And it is a principal supply area of parts and components for advanced industrial products. So, it needs to develop manufacturers capable of making products with high added value by improving technological skills and power through enhancement of academy-industry collaboration.

Reorganize the national energy policy.

The nuclear plant disaster has spread apprehensions throughout the world about the peaceful use of atomic power. Germany lost no time to announce its decision to do a comprehensive review of its atomic power development program. China and India have begun reviewing their own nuclear power generation programs. Under the circumstances, it may take Japan at least several to 10 years to regain people's sufficient support for atomic energy development.

Considering the limited oil supply, political unrest in oil-producing countries and the problem of global warming, we can hardly give up on the peaceful use of nuclear energy. For the time being, it is essential to make public detailed information inside and outside Japan on what actually happened at the Fukushima power plant, and the responses of the government and the plant's operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co. and discuss future countermeasures by gathering relevant domestic and foreign knowledge and wisdom, including those of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

For the time being, this country should step up the saving of electricity use and enhance efficiency in energy use so that its production systems will be restored. It may be advisable to promote the daylight savings time. For the long term, too, it will be necessary to facilitate the use of new energies such as solar energy and the development of fuel batteries and the digitalized smart grid network for power transmission and distribution.

Link reconstruction from the disasters to long-term structural reform programs for this country.

It will be necessary to prepare financial outlays of ¥10 trillion to ¥15 trillion to implement the reconstruction projects. The financing mechanism for these projects should be so devised as to avoid a drastic deterioration of the nation's financial structure, now in the worst condition among the world's advanced countries, and also to prevent rampant activities by wicked professional speculators.

In view of the Japanese economy's declining growth power, it is necessary at this juncture for us to develop a group of industries with low rates of reliance on natural resources and high rates of intellectual creativity. People's responses to the complex disasters this time have served to prove that the respect for order and the spirit of mutual help widely exist in Japan.

It is hoped that a national economic system of high-quality will be established in Japan by making much use of such social traits and by reorganizing the coordination framework between the public and private sectors.

Shinji Fukukawa, former vice minister of the Ministry of International Trade and Industry and president of Dentsu Research Institute, is now chairman of the Machine Industry Memorial Foundation.


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