The Fukushima Nuclear Disaster: Leadership in Crisis

The Fukushima Nuclear Disaster: Leadership in Crisis

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This case describes the events and conditions surrounding a critical decision that Masao Yoshida, the plant manager of Tokyo Electric Power Company’s (TEPCO’s) Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant, must make on March 12, 2011. A day earlier, a massive 9.0 magnitude earthquake hit the region where the power plant was located. This caused significant damage to the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant, disabling both the regular and backup power supply. Without cooling, the nuclear reactors’ temperatures would steadily rise, ultimately leading to a meltdown of the reactor core.

Yoshida decides to inject fresh water into the reactors using fire engines — a procedure that has never been tried before. He soon recognises that the limited fresh water supply will run out and so decides to replace it with seawater. Less than twenty minutes after the seawater injection has started, Yoshida receives orders from senior management to stop the injection. What should he do?

The key learning outcomes of the case are for students to become familiar with the basic aspects and structure of a decision: alternatives, uncertainties, outcomes, and consequences. They will recognise that the same ‘objective’ decision problem can be framed in a variety of perspectives and that there is not necessarily one best, or ‘correct’, way to do so. They will also understand the important role of ethics in a crisis decision, and how ethical issues can often not be separated from ‘business’ decisions. And finally, they will appreciate the possible cultural influences on decision-making.

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