On February 1, 2023 the Mansfield Foundation convened a roundtable discussion with Dr. Jennifer Sklarew (Assistant Professor, Energy and Sustainability Policy, George Mason University) who spoke on the research behind her recently published book, Building Resilient Energy Systems: Lessons from Japan.
Dr. Sklarew, a Mansfield Fellow from 2003-05, began the discussion by looking at why Japan did not divest from nuclear energy following the 2011 Fukushima disaster, and how lessons learned from the incident can be applied to the broader global context. She explained that the relationships, and the resilience priorities of different groups within Japan, influence the effects of catastrophic events on energy transitions. For instance, the conflict between the safety priorities of regulators, economic priorities of bureaucrats and politicians, and engineering priorities of utility companies led to the nuclear accidents and data falsification scandals in the 1990s and 2000s. As nuclear energy plays a major role in Japan’s plan to decarbonize, these groups must align their resilience priorities to avoid future disasters.
To do so, Dr. Sklarew recommended the adoption of a holistic approach when creating resilience goals. Rather than simply complying to regulations, groups must identify vulnerabilities in the energy system by critically examining policy and communicating with one another before a disaster occurs. She also emphasized the need to transparently communicate risk, as it will lead to innovative policies that will minimize shocks to the energy system, and garner public trust.
During the Q&A section of the event, Dr. Sklarew elaborated on the role of media, foreign, and commercial actors. She explained that she needed to narrow down her study to make an effective framework, but that these groups nevertheless play a prominent role. For example, the United States has in the past assisted the Japanese government in gaining public support on energy policies. In a discussion of effective risk communication in Japan, she explained that there are difficulties due in large part to the low risk tolerance of the Japanese public.