The Fukushima nuclear disaster was a critical juncture in the world’s relationship with nuclear energy, as well as Japan’s postwar political economy, society, and national psyche. The DPJ, and particularly Prime Minister Kan, were later widely criticized for mismanaging the disaster, contributing to the party’s loss of power. This paper closely examines the crisis as it unfolded, assessing the degree to which the government’s chaotic response can be attributed to the DPJ’s political leadership. It finds that the DPJ inherited a difficult hand when coming to power in 2009, with deep structural problems developed under the long LDP rule. Existing procedures and organizations were drastically inadequate, information and communications problems plagued decision-making and coordination. Kan’s leadership was, on balance, beneficial, taking control where the locus of responsibility and decision-making was ambiguous and solving several information and communication problems. This paper is one of the first readily accessible English language analyses examining this critical juncture, including a broadly readable account of primary government decision-makers as the disaster unfolded.