Fukushima Investigator Kiyoshi Kurokawa Wins AAAS Scientific Freedom and Responsibility Award

Dr. Kiyoshi Kurokawa, M.D., chairman of the Health and Global Policy Institute, academic fellow of National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies, professor emeritus of the University of Tokyo, and former president of the Science Council of Japan, has been named to receive the 2012 AAAS Scientific Freedom and Responsibility Award.

Kurokawa was honored by AAAS “for his contribution to society by his remarkable stewardship of an independent investigation into the causes of the Fukushima nuclear catastrophe” and “for his courage in challenging some of the most ingrained conventions of Japanese governance and society.”

His award-winning service followed the 11 March 2011 earthquake that triggered a devastating tsunami. The ensuing crisis included the full meltdown of three reactors at the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant as well as several hydrogen-air chemical explosions and releases of radioactive materials into the atmosphere, AAAS noted. As public fears and confusion escalated, the Japanese Parliament appointed an independent commission, directed by Kurokawa, to investigate the causes of the accident.

During 900 hours of hearings, the commission conducted 1167 interviews with sources, including Naoto Kan, who served as Japan’s prime minister at the time of the disaster. The hearings were streamed live over the Internet, and presentations were archived online in Japanese and English. Kurokawa also used town hall meetings and social media to engage the public, generating more than 1700 online comments.


Kiyoshi Kurokawa

The commission’s report “was frank in its condemnation of the negligence leading to the accident, the many errors committed following the first signs of trouble at the plants, and the failure to take a range of protective steps at a nuclear facility with known risk factors,” AAAS said. The report identified failures resulting from decisions made by the power plant operator (TEPCO), the government, the regulators, and even Japanese society at large. A cultural tendency to dismiss non-Japanese technology contributed to Japan’s failure to adopt international safety standards, the commission concluded. In July 2012, the Commission’s conclusions were presented to both houses of Parliament.

On 5 July 2012, Kurokawa told a New York Times reporter: “It was a profoundly man-made disaster—that could and should have been foreseen and prevented … And its effects could have been mitigated by a more effective human response.” According to a report published in the journal Science, the commission exposed “the dangers of ‘regulatory capture,’ in which an agency acts on behalf of the industry it oversees instead of representing the public interest.” The investigation revealed that the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency had allowed TEPCO to ignore problems and delay improvements.

Richard A. Meserve, president of the Carnegie Institution of Washington and former chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, described the commission’s report as “nothing short of remarkable.” Meserve noted in particular the courage that Kurokawa demonstrated in revealing cultural factors in Japanese society that he concluded had contributed to an array of errors.

Sunil Chacko, an adjunct professor at the University of Alberta, Edmonton, and the Indira Gandhi National University of New Delhi, said: “Such courage with caring scientific accountability had hitherto never been witnessed from anyone of similar stature in Japan, and it has already ensured a safety-first standard for the worldwide nuclear sector. Truly, scientific freedom and responsibility personified.”

Kurokawa is a professor emeritus with the University of Tokyo School of Medicine, where he earned his medical degree. He also is the chairman of the Health and Global Policy Institute and former president of the Science Council of Japan. He has also held positions at the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Southern California, and the University of California at Los Angeles. He is an academic fellow of National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies. He was a special advisor to the Japanese Cabinet and commissioner on the World Health Organization’s Commission for Social Determinants of Health.

His awards have included the Order of the Purple and the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold and Silver Star from the Japanese government; the Order Legion de Honour of the French government; the Person of the Year 2010 Award of the American Chamber of Commerce of Japan; and the 100 Top Global Thinkers 2012 by Foreign Policy magazine.

The Scientific Freedom and Responsibility Award is presented annually by AAAS to honor individual scientists and engineers or their organizations for exemplary actions that help foster scientific freedom and responsibility. The award recognizes outstanding efforts to protect the public’s health, safety, or welfare; to focus public attention on potential impacts of science and technology; to establish new precedents in carrying out social responsibilities; or to defend the professional freedom of scientists and engineers. The award was established in 1980 and is approved by the AAAS Board of Directors.

The AAAS Scientific Freedom and Responsibility Award will be given to Kurokawa during the 179th AAAS Annual Meeting in Boston, Massachusetts, 14-18 February 2013. A ceremony and reception will be held in the Republic Ballroom of the Sheraton Boston Hotel on Friday, 15 February at 6:30 p.m.


Learn more about the annual AAAS Scientific Freedom and Responsibility Award.

Learn more about the 2013 AAAS Annual Meeting, 14-18 February in Boston.