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Nuclear Power and the Mob: Extortion and Social Capital in Japan

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If you have a question about this talk, please contact Julius Weitzdörfer.

This talk treats the surprising role of organized crime groups (yakuza) in the development of nuclear power stations in Japan:

Nuclear reactors entail massive non-transferrable site-specific investments. The resulting appropriable quasi-rents offer the mob the ideal target. In exchange for large fees, it can either promise to “protect” the utility (and silence the reactor’s local opponents) or “extort” from it (and desist from inciting local opponents). Using municipality-level (1742 cities, towns, villages) and prefecture-level (47) Japanese panel data covering the years from 1980 to 2010, I find exactly this phenomenon: when a utility announces plans to build a reactor, the level of extortion climbs. Reactors have broad-ranging effects on social capital as well. In general, the perceived health costs to nuclear power are highest for young families. As a result, if a utility announces plans for a new reactor, these families disappear. Yet these are the men and women who invest most heavily in the social capital that keeps communities intact. When they disappear, reliance on government subsidies increases, and divorce rates rise. Firms stay away, and unemployment climbs.


J. Mark Ramseyer is the Mitsubishi Professor of Japanese Legal Studies at Harvard Law School. This public lecture is followed by the expert workshop ‘Fukushima Five Years on: Legal Fallout in Japan, Lessons for the EU’ on 5 March, convened by Julius Weitzdörfer (JRF, Faculty of Law, Cambridge); Prof Moritz Bälz (Japanese Law and Culture, Interdisciplinary Center of East Asian Studies, Frankfurt) and Dr Ludo Veuchelen (Rotterdam Institute of Law and Economics; former President, Safety and Regulation, International Nuclear Law Association).

Both events are jointly hosted by: - The Centre for the Study of Existential Risk (CSER), Cambridge - The Faculty of Law, University of Cambridge - Darwin College, Cambridge - The Interdisciplinary Centre for East Asian Studies, Frankfurt

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