Northeastern student wins Fulbright Scholarship to research impact of nuclear power plants in rural Japan

Northeastern student Andrew Small poses for a portrait on the Boston Campus. Small was awarded a prestigious Fulbright Scholarship to continue his work researching disaster preparedness and resilience in Japan. Photo by Alyssa Stone/Northeastern University

Andrew Small was only 9 when the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami struck Japan, causing a nuclear disaster. The fallout of the event has stuck with him since. 

This spring, Small was awarded a prestigious Fulbright Scholarship to continue his work researching disaster preparedness and resilience in Japan. 

The Fulbright U.S. Student Program allows participants to meet, work, live and learn from the host country’s people while pursuing graduate study, conducting research or teaching English abroad.

The Fulbright Program, the flagship international academic exchange program sponsored by the U.S. government, was founded in 1946. The program annually awards about 8,000 students, scholars, teachers, artists and professionals from the United States and 160 countries. 

In the years following the nuclear disaster, Small volunteered for, studied and learned from the reconstruction and recovery processes.

An American citizen, Small was raised in Tokyo since he was 2. Since elementary school, he has made 12 trips to the disaster area to volunteer, teach English or do service work as a Boy Scout. 

Small was reintroduced to this topic in professor Daniel Aldrich’s East Asian politics class during his first year at the university in 2019. He delved into this subject further when he wrote an article on related issues for the Northeastern University Political Review. 

After struggling to find comprehensive sources beyond Aldrich’s work on the economic and political consequences for underdeveloped rural communities to host nuclear power plants, Small realized the subject has not been thoroughly studied. 

“I am not sure why the topic is so sorely under researched, but it highlights a lot of the dynamics of economic inequality in Japan given how historically it is the country’s most rural and poor communities that shoulder the burden of energy production,” Small says. “The topic offers a unique view of how rural inequality and state-local relations intersect with Japan’s energy development process.”

Small’s project will push the understanding of how Japan has managed to promote atomic energy as a pillar in its search for energy security through a program focused primarily on the rural, depopulating areas of the nation, Aldrich says. 

According to Aldrich, nuclear power plants are placed in poorer coastal communities in Japan and come with an element of risk. However, those “host communities” receive large subsidies and financial incentives to keep the nuclear plants operating.

However, “whether the host communities gain financial independence and success as a matter of allowing in atomic energy is a matter we know little about because few scholars have sought to analyze this outcome,” Aldrich says. 

“Because of Andrew’s extensive time in Japan, his fluency in Japanese and extensive research on the topic, he is the ideal candidate to carry out this project,” Aldrich says. 

Beth Treffeisen is a Northeastern Global News reporter. Email her at Follow her on Twitter @beth_treffeisen.