The Fukushima nuclear disaster: Leadership in crisis

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This case describes the events and conditions surrounding the decision that Masao Yoshida, the plant manager of TEPCO’s (Tokyo Electric Power Company’s) Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant, has to make on March 12, 2011. A day earlier the region in which the power plant was located, was hit by a massive 9.0 magnitude earthquake. The earthquake, and the tsunamis that followed in its wake, inundated vast areas of northeastern Japan’s coastal region, taking the lives of about 20,000 people and destroying billions of dollars in property and infrastructure. The combined earthquake/tsunamis also caused significant damage to the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant where it disabled 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, which could trigger explosions and the emission of huge quantities of radioactivity.

As cooling the reactors was crucial, Yoshida decided to inject fresh water into the reactors using fire engines – a procedure that had never been tried before. But he soon recognized that the limited fresh water supply would quickly run out and decided to replace the fresh water with seawater. However, less than twenty minutes after the seawater injection had started, Yoshida received orders from TEPCO senior management to stop the injection. He now had to decide whether he should follow orders, or continue to inject the seawater.

This case enables a discussion on several issues surrounding (crisis) decision making, leadership, culture, and ethics. Through discussion, students can become familiar with the basic aspects and structure of a decision, understand the important role of ethics in a crisis decision such as the one described in this case, discuss the meaning of leadership in a crisis situation such as this, and discuss possible cultural influences on decision making. Depending on interest and purpose, a facilitator may select and adapt learning objectives and discussion topics, or may even discuss entirely different topics, such as communication, or public policy on nuclear energy.


Fukushima, Decision Making, Crisis Management, Ethics, Cultural Influences, Leadership, Nuclear Disaster, Groupthink, Japan, TEPCO


Business Administration, Management, and Operations | Business and Corporate Communications | Business Law, Public Responsibility, and Ethics | Critical and Cultural Studies | Human Resources Management | International and Intercultural Communication | Organizational Behavior and Theory | Strategic Management Policy

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Education Level

Executive Education; Postgraduate; Undergraduate


Singapore Management University

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