Ethical Aspects of Fukushima Nuclear Accident

On December 26, 2004, an earthquake of 9.2 magnitude occurred in the seafloor off the coast of Indonesia. The earthquake caused the most destructive tsunami in recorded history across the Indian Ocean. Mills (2014) of Earth Magazine describes the tsunami: “A wall of water and debris slammed the shores of South Asia; some witnesses described it as sounding like a freight train. Tourists and locals alike scrambled to safety inland and atop tall hotels, recording videos of the surging water that inundated their communities. Many were unable to reach higher ground” (Mills, 2014). The tsunami hit 11 countries that border the Indian Ocean including Indonesia, India and Somalia. In the low-lying coastal regions, the wave caused damage hundreds of meters inland and damaged thousands of miles of coastline. Nearly 230,000 people lost their lives. In some countries like Thailand, many tourists lost their lives, but the majority of the dead were people who worked and lived in the tsunami destruction area. Beyond the human toll, there was devastation to infrastructure such as the roads, electrical and communications. Drinking water was also contaminated. Approximately 1.7 million people were displaced by the tsunami. They lived in temporary refugee camps, in some cases for years. Many lost their means of making a living leaving them poverty stricken also (Mills, 2014). The 2004 tsunami was one of the worst disasters in recorded history, but the aftermath, while not demonstrating ethics across the board, was far more positive than it was negative.

Response to the Tsunami

The world rallied immediately and began sending aid to the tsunami affected areas that included donations of material goods such as clean water, clothing, food supplies, construction materials and other supplies that were needed. The UN was involved. So was the World Bank and many other large international organizations Private citizens around the world contributed money to the tsunami relief efforts. In the United States, tax payers were able to donate to the relief area after January 1, 2005 and still deduct the donation on their 2004 taxes, which encouraged many people to donate. According to The Guardian (2014), private donations reached $3.129 billion. Japan gave the most aid ($502 million) and the United Kingdom gave the next most with $471 million. The United States gave $137 million to the relief efforts (The Guardian, 2014). Many countries and the European Union gave more than the United States did.

One of the ethical issues was whether to give those affected by the tsunami cash to use as they see fit. Some argued that some of the affected people had been poor before the tsunami and may squander the relief money because they did not know how to spend large amounts of money. These people thought it best to give material goods rather than cash. However, as The Guardian (2014) reports, “One of the lessons that came out of trialling cash [transfers] was just how efficient it was – it enabled people to source what they needed locally instead of receiving supplies they didn’t need or that arrived too late” (The Guardian, 2014). The ethical lesson learned is that poor people can manage cash especially when they have been affected by a disaster.

Strategies for Sending Aid to the Region

Some of the strategies behind the aid that was sent was not well thought out, and, therefore, not really ethical. For instance, one form of “aid” that was sent to the tsunami region included a container full of teddy bears. Someone probably thought that some children who had been affected needed something to cuddle, but the teddy bears did not buy people food, clothes or shelter. They were really a useless waste of effort and resources. What really helped people was cash because they could source their needs from merchants who may not have been affected as much by the tsunami, but who also would need help in rebuilding their business. Being able to sell people goods with donated cash was useful to the recovery both economically and spiritually. Many businesses around the world helped by donating goods and creating partnerships with the many international agencies that were helping in the recovery. This demonstrated these businesses integrity, but also their responsibility to existing in the world and helping others. Business ethics also say that when a business demonstrates social responsibility, consumers respond.

The United Nations (UN) (2009) reports that the largest emergency relief response in history was prompted by the 2004 tsunami. The total amount according to the UN (2009) was $14 billion in overall emergency relief and recovery operations. Many of the communities that were destroyed were rebuilt in better shape than they were before the tsunami. Better access to healthcare, better schools, better water and sanitation systems and a better security system to areas vulnerable to natural disaster were created (UN, 2009). This includes a regional tsunami warning system created by placing early detection buoys in the Indian Ocean.

Other good things resulted from the tsunami rebuilding efforts too such as peace. “The unparalleled international response to the tsunami created a unique opportunity to bolster the peace process between the Government of Indonesia and the separatist Free Aceh Movement which resulted in the signing of a peace agreement in 2005 after 70 years of conflict” (UN, 2009). Maybe one of the best results was that many different governments and international agencies worked together to help the survivors to reclaim their lives. Often governments do not work together so well especially if there is conflict among them, but in this case, the conflict was put aside and everybody just helped in the best way they could.

Effects of Tsunami on United States

Since the United States is considered the wealthiest nation on the planet, or at least they were in 2004, they should have given the most in aid to the tsunami affected countries. They were way down on the list, and that is shameful. This is why many people who live in other countries dislike Americans. They find them selfish and greedy, and that was demonstrated by the low amount of aid they gave to the tsunami affected region. Just 3 years prior to the tsunami, the United States was devastated by the 9/11 tragedy. Other countries rushed to send money and comfort in any way they could, but that was not returned by the U.S. government in 2004. However, much of the private donations that went to the tsunami region came from businesses and individuals in the United States. It is the U.S. government that should be ashamed.

One thing that the 2004 tsunami, and the one a little over 6 years later in Japan taught Americans is that they need a tsunami warning system especially along the West Coast, which is part of the “Ring of Fire.” A national tsunami warning system was established in 1949; however, according to Bernard and Titov (2015) of Philosophical Transactions “Because the earthquake information was only a crude estimator of a tsunami’s strength, there was little effort to predict the tsunami’s impact on the coastline. Coastal communities were faced with the daunting task of deciding on tsunami evacuations in the face of great uncertainty. . . . Predictably, this practice led to many false alarms and unnecessary evacuations” (Bernard & Titov, 2015, p. 5). The effect of the 2004 tsunami made detection of these devastating events a worldwide effort. Countries prone to tsunamis including the United States have upgraded their technology to systems that use buoys and underwater cables to detect earthquake activity and more accurately predict a tsunami. Along the West Coast, there are early warning system complete with signs directing people where to evacuate to in the event of a tsunami. This is predicted to save many lives. On the business end of it, new technology created new products that spawned new businesses who produce and monitor the tsunami equipment. Many peripheral businesses have also appeared as a result of the 2004 tsunami.


The 2004 tsunami was one of the most devastating human tragedies of all time. However, some good came out of it in the form of peace in one region that was greatly affected, and better homes, healthcare and education in regions that were poverty-stricken before the tsunami. Also, an international tsunami warning system was established that requires nations to work together to prevent the devastation from occurring again.


Bernard, E., & Titov, V. (2015). Evolution of tsunami warning systems and products. Philosophical Transactions., 375(2053), 1-14. Retrieved from

Mills, A. (2014, December 26). Benchmarks: December 26, 2004: Indian Ocean tsunami strikes. Retrieved from Earth Magazine:

The Guardian. (2014, December 25). Where did the Indian Ocean tsunami aid money go? Retrieved from The Guardian:

UN. (2009, December 29). Five years after Indian Ocean tsunami, affected nations rebuilding better – UN. Retrieved from United Nations: