This thesis is a study of the Nordic embassies in Tokyo and the different ways in which theym chose to respond to the nuclear crisis following the massive earthquake and tsunami off the Pacific coast of Tohoku, Japan, on March 11, 2011. Although the embassies technically were subject to the same level of threat, their individual crisis responses have exhibited varying levels of precaution. For example, while the Swedish and Danish embassies remained fully operational in Tokyo, the Norwegian and Finnish embassies relocated most or all of their staff to provisional operations further away from the nuclear hazard. As a researcher in the field of Science and Technology Studies (STS), the wide display of responses raises an interestingquestion concerning the basic circumstances of nuclear risk, for how can the same circumstances generate such different scientific assessments and management strategies? What underlying considerations particular to the individual embassy can explain the Nordic variation in crisis responses?
In accordance with the teachings of Dorothy Nelkin, the uncertain nature of nuclear radiation compounds the difficulties of risk assessment and leaves considerable scope for subjective factors to enter both scientific interpretations and public perceptions. With regard to the Nordic crisis responses, it becomes clear that various political, reputational, and economic interests have influenced the different outcomes. Yet, as it turns out, even coinciding interestsmay produce differing risk evaluations. By way of a methodical application of Cultural Theory (c.f. Mary Douglas et al.), this study shows how embassy diplomats with few personal ties to their Japanese communities have been more prone to opt for a higher degree of precaution, i.e. embassy relocation, than those more integrated in Japanese society.
The interesting angle of a Nordic-specific comparison (as opposed to, say, a comparison between the Norwegian and Japanese crisis responses) is the fact that it becomes hard to argue “Culture” as the main explanatory factor behind the differences. As the thesis demonstrates, concerns about risk may depend less on culture at large than on social, contextual, or political biases.