Thursday, April 23, 2015

CNRS Journal- "At Fukushima, the population is in an inextricable situation"

Four years after the explosion of a nuclear power plant in Fukushima, the fate of the victims is far from settled. Researcher Cécile Asanuma-Brice decrypts the policy that encourages these people to resettle into contaminated areas.Residing in Japan for nearly fifteen years, Cecile Asanuma-Brice is working at the CNRS office in Tokyo and is a researcher associate at the research center of the Maison Franco-Japonaise of Tokyo and the International Associated Laboratory of “Human protection and disaster response” (HPDR), created by the CNRS and other French and Japanese institutions, following the Fukushima disaster on March 11th 2011, when an earthquake and tsunami caused the explosion of a nuclear power plant in the region, the following day.


You condemn the abuse of the concept of resilience – as you mentioned – to confine the population into “house arrest”.

C. A.-B. : To convince people to return, governments rely heavily on this concept of resilience which, in this case, underlines an exploitation of an epistemological abuse. Intertwining psychological, environmental and urban resiliencies motivate residents to abandon any impulses of escaping – for those still following their primal instinct of anxiety in face of danger! To communicate on risks is important for this concept of resilience to thrive. We have to accept that we now live in a “risk society”, to quote a book title wherein Ulrich Beck theorized that idea. The risk society, according to him, is “a society where exceptional conditions threaten to become the norm”. In this case, protection standards are tampered with, to contain the spread of the zones to be evacuated and to nourish the illusion of an eventual return to normalcy.
Thus, levels of radioactivity in the air and on the ground in certain areas exceed 10 to 20 times the 1 mSv/year international standard of contamination allowed for the civilian population. By April 2011, authorities raised the standard to 20 mSv/year around the most contaminated areas and it is currently being pushed to 100 mSv/year! Same levels are implemented for food, for which the maximum standards also vary. This communication strategy was enforced in 2014 with a budget of over 2 million Euros, for the purpose of, dare I say, “educating” about health risks with hopes to restore confidence. For example, they organize workshops with topics on radiation and cancer for primary school children in Fukushima, distributing textbooks, teaching them how to adapt to their new contaminated environment. All this is made possible with the push of television campaigning for the safety of fresh products from contaminated areas, consequently touting the effectiveness of decontamination – which still has not been proven to this day.