The Fukushima nuclear disaster posed food safety risks on an unprecedented scale in Japan. In its immediate aftermath, information on the scale and the extent of the contamination of the food chain was scarce. Facing an anxious public, the government was tasked with defining and ensuring food safety amidst uncertainty. Via three case studies spanning from 2011 to 2020, this article draws on risk communication theory to analyze the Japanese government’s response to food safety risks after Fukushima and its development over time. It finds that initial responses did not take the food-related risks facing consumers seriously. Instead, the response was aimed at mitigating the economic risks faced by producers. This increased both public confusion and uncertainty, and consumer avoidance. Over time, the government’s response has improved, and elements of the policy have shifted towards more inclusive and interactive practices. Still, the article finds that ten years after Fukushima, the governmental risk communication is primarily aimed at correcting and dismissing consumer concerns while expressing certain fatigue with ongoing consumer avoidance. The article shows how the goal of risk communication changes from reassuring to correcting, and finally to closure. While the risk communication’s main message remains consistent and simple – local produce is safe, eat local produce -, its target audience also differs. The article demonstrates that on top of ongoing shortcomings in terms of participation, the actual content of the government’s risk communication also fails to assist in informed decision-making. Instead, the government makes the decision for the citizen.
Bibliographical notePublished online: 15 March 2022.
- Risk communication
- Food safety
- Fukushima triple disaster