Research, Thoughts

#074 When Google search gives you a reality check

I haven’t written in a long time. I am now back in the field, writing my first ever book chapter. The whole process is quite overwhelming and I am trying to produce a piece that would bring new knowledge to potential readers. I want it to be nicely written, to tell a story, and convey feelings.

As I am entering the last stage of my first draft, I started checking a few facts and adding footnotes. This afternoon, I wanted to make sure that I did not miss anything about public support provided for  self-evacuees. I typed “self-evacuation” (自主避難) on my browser and was shocked by the words that appeared. It started really normally by “self-evacuee” (自主避難者) but quickly moved onto “self-evacuees whining” (自主避難者 わがまま) and “self-evacuation dependence” (自主避難 甘え).

 Capture d’écran 2018-04-14 à 15.01.32.png

In my mind, I had never connected those words together, simply because I have talked to many self-evacuees and I know that they receive only limited support and work hard to make ends meet. They have evacuated because they are worried about potential health repercussions on their children’s health. From my interviews, I also knew that many people were afraid of being stigmatized as “from Fukushima” or as “receiving loads of money”, because it was a reality: hateful comments were made out of pure jealousy, all over the country. In her heartbreaking book “Report: boshi-hinan (ルポ 母子避難), Yoshida Chia wrote about the stories of women who had evacuated with their children, leaving their husbands back in Fukushima prefecture. It was actually a very common form of evacuation, men staying behind because, as breadwinners, they had to resume working shortly after the accident. I cannot forget the story of one self-evacuee who had a really hard time and who felt extremely depressed. She had decided to buy new curtains to lighten up the mood in her old and tiny flat, where she was living with her two children. She bought flowery curtains, thinking that it might help her feel a little better. She later ran into one of her neighbors, who shamelessly told her: “You have changed your curtains? It’s nice to receive so much money from the state.” The mother was terribly hurt by this comment and fell a little deeper into depression.

The compensation and reparation system has created a lot of jealousy within the population. In a way, I understand the tensions between people who receive and people who do not receive compensation within the same municipality, also because radioactive contamination did not stop at the end of the evacuation zone. But when I hear stories about people making such horrible comments further away, I cannot help but feel angry. People who evacuated are not gold digger. They fled from a risk they perceived as real, for the sake of their children. I do not see why they should be criticized for that, especially when they receive so little support. They are basically bearing the burden of evacuation on their own shoulders, financially, socially, emotionally. Isn’t that enough suffering?

Advertisements
Standard
Research

#073 Human rights & children’s thyroid cancer

I am currently writing a few summaries of my last fieldwork, and I just read a memo on a middle-aged man making an odd point on the link between thyroid cancer monitoring and human rights in post-Fukushima Japan. It all started when I asked him what he thought about the sudden increase in thyroid cancers among children in Fukushima prefecture (185 cases in February 2017). He tells me that it’s basically not relevant because it’s a result of the screening effect (you find cancers because you actively look for them). And in any way, the results are not helpful because there is no monitoring in other prefectures to offer a comparison. Well, yes, that is very true. And that is a huge issue that should be tackled, for sure. I nod, inviting him to tell me more (or, as professionals would say, probing with some more body language).

“Well, you see, the problem is that it infringes children’s human rights.” I stop taking notes, frowning. I turn to him and he looks at me, very seriously. If you force children to take the test and a benign tumor is detected, the child has to live with this horrible fact for the rest of his/her life. Maybe the child will need surgery for a tumor that no one would have found otherwise and that would not have required surgery. And then the child has to take medicine for the rest of his/her life. That goes against the child’s human rights.

At that point, I had stopped taking notes, stubbornly. I simply could not. I could not even look at his face. I was happy to have found a foundation with good coverage, because my face was on fire underneath. I was boiling with rage. I ended up writing a few words, to make him believe that I was taking notes on his diatribe. Instead, I wrote “So, the human rights of the children in Fukushima prefecture do not matter? I don’t understand his viewpoint, at all. There are a sharp increase of cancers on one side, but we should sacrifice their rights to let others alone?” Thinking about it, that also sounds selfish. But I’ve met children impacted directly by the accident, talked with them, played with them. I’ve talked with their parents and listened to their concerns. I’ve heard them whispering words about the increase of cancers, letting their fear fall into silence. Shutting down.

Without a comparison with other prefectures, there will be no way to prove the link. Sure, I get the point. Even though, I somehow feel that it is the only disease that has been recognized as being a consequence of the Chernobyl accident, and I would love to simply use that fact to make sure that at least children with thyroid cancer will be taken care of in Japan. Because it will be even more difficult to prove any other type of disease, for reasons that I unfortunately understand way too well now. Victims will be forgotten; they are forgotten already. No one will take responsibility and they will have to deal with the sanitary (and social) consequences of a disastrous energy policy. National policy.

The whole situation is against their human rights. Responsibility issues, socially destructive policies, disgusting silences, crumbling memories. So when I am told that “Well… there is nothing that can be done”, I can’t help but want to scream. Please think about something that can be done, instead of giving up so easily. Please.

Standard
Thoughts

#072 Letting go of anger?

Recently, I feel strangled by my own feelings. And apparently, one way to sort them is to write. So…

***

Coming back from a month of fieldwork, I’m trying to settle at my desk in Berlin, once again. I came back with a few books on my topic. Not really academic ones, but the ones that tell the stories of everyday life. The stories that many of us (unfortunately) never hear. I’ve just started reading 「ここの除染」という虚構ー除染先進都市はなぜ除染をやめたのか (which would translate into “The fiction of ‘Decontaminating souls’ – Why the leading city on decontamination has stopped decontaminating” by Shoko Kurokawa. I have merely read 50 pages and I am already outraged. The introduction deals with the description of Date, a city located some 50km away from the sadly famous Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, and stories told by women living there at the time and raising children. 50 pages, anger, helplessness and tears.

Date is a city known for having quickly handled decontamination after the accident. I’ve also started reading a book that praises the municipality for taking action right after the unfortunate disaster. But I had read and heard about concerns related to the way it was done. The city was divided into 3 zones (A, B, C) according to the level of contamination, with the most contaminated parts decontaminated first. In the end, the last zone was not touched, because below the newly established 20mSv/year threshold (the threshold before the accident was 1 mSv/year, a limit recommended for laypeople by the International Commission on Radiological Protection, ICRP). One of my interviews had told me that her property being under that threshold, she had to pay a private company to decontaminate her garden, so that her children could play outside. In the end, she was still wary of contamination and I doubt that they were able to play out there. I was shocked to hear her story, but I did not have much time to really look into the case of this municipality. I just kept in mind that the mayor did not seem to worried about the possible future consequences of exposure to low-level contamination. But what I read in this book is horrifying.

The policy can be summarized by the following quote:

Quickly, the mayor of Date city himself has advocated for “decontaminating souls*”. Rather than taking away radioactive material, the decontamination process should focus on the feeling of concern related to radioactive contamination or exposure to radioactivity – “baseless” feelings. (p.11)

This led to incredible situations. Measurements were done at first without communication. In April, as the new academic year started, the municipality explained to the residents that children could resume school without worries. But a few days later, some mothers were facing a disturbing situation:

On April 20, the school transmitted to the parents the “environmental radioactivity measurement results” related to Oguni primary school, published on the website of the municipality.
“Site of the measurements: school yard. 1 meter away from the ground.”
On April 10: 5,58 μSv/h;  April 11: 5,77 μSv/h… and the following days to, the report indicated figures exceeding 5 μSv. Even though the children were not playing outside, they were going to school everyday. (p.47)

Why is it disturbing? Because the newly established threshold is 20 mSv/year, meaning approximately 3μSv/h. 3, not 5. Some might say that it’s alright, because children are not staying on the school yard the whole day and that contamination is below that level inside the buildings. Sure. But does that mean that it is okay for children to walk around those grounds? Is it alright to have them breathe contaminated dust, dust that settles into their clothes and hair? I don’t think so. This is not a place they commuted to once every now and then. It was school. A school that, according to the newspaper Fukushima Minpo, was the most contaminated of all schools outside the restriction zone.

I felt anger overflowing reading those lines. And I cannot even think about what those mothers have felt. The policy is that people can live in areas contaminated below the newly set 20 mSv/year threshold, but that the long term goal is to go as close as possible to the former 1 mSv/year limit. Date city simply decided that conforming to 20 mSv/year was enough. The rest will go down on its own (which is true). I felt so uncomfortable that I had a look at the decontamination report uploaded by the municipality on Fukushima Prefecture’s website. It plainly states that decontamination has been conducted, with a marvelous “100%” completion. Comprising forests. I tilted my head, rubbing my eyes, over and over. How could a 100% completion rate be possible? How can you say that you have decontaminated an entire mountain? Are they mad? Delusional? Cynical? A fine brew of the three?

But again, I feel so helpless. What can I do against this situation? Can I really go around telling people “can you believe that your children have been exposed to higher doses of radiation that what they should have”? No, off course. I just sit in living rooms, with a cup of tea, and I look at the children play. I nod at their parents’ narratives, encourage them to let everything out. Sadness, fatigue, anger, disillusion, sometimes hope. I embrace their feelings, feed on them, as an academic vulture I am. But I have digestion issues, it seems. I remember their expressions, their gestures, their intonations; but now I can’t handle the weight on my shoulders. I want to do something, I want to help. But I can’t tell them half of what is on my mind, because I go home to a place where I can eat, drink and breathe without worrying to much, while they have to continue caring for everyday life details. Sometimes, I feel like an impostor, lying by hiding bits of knowledge I’ve gathered- even if sometimes I wonder how valuable those bits are.

I am still trying to make sense of my position as a researcher, but also as a person that they welcomed into their lives: “You know, sometimes I think that even though the accident was a real disaster, I got to make incredible encounters thanks to what happened.” When one of my interviewees told me this a month ago, I was torn between the warmth of her words and guilt. I was terribly happy to have met her and her wonderful family, thankful for all the homemade meals and gifts, but I could not help thinking that their lives would have been much simpler without this horrendous event. They would not have to engage in lawsuits. They would not have to spend so much money to make sure their children were eating the “right” food, sleeping in the “right” house, walking the “right” streets. And, mostly, they would not have to agonize about what that “right” is.

But one thing is for sure: Date city has neglected the health of its inhabitants, and especially the one of young ones. And that should not be forgotten, not forgiven. I will have to find my own way to give space to those stories, so that more and more people hear about what happened at a micro-level. I will have to work on the form and the content, agonizing about telling one story rather than another one. But all those narratives have to be out. They deserve to be out. And they have to be heard.

*「心」(kokoro) is a tricky term to translate. It refers to the mind, the heart, the spirit.

Standard
Thoughts

#071 Constitutional Law & Civil Society

Going to a summer school in Korea, I heard a lot about the social movement in Korea that brought to the impeachment of former president Park Geun-Hye. After news outlets reported on the particular relationship the president had with one of her close friends, Choi Soon-Sil, people started protesting on the streets, calling for the president to step down. A few months later, the National Assembly send a motion of impeachment to the Constitutional Court, which, in the end, agreed on one issue and impeached the president. 60 days later, Korea had a new president.

There were many issues behind Park Geun-Hye’s impeachment: sharing classified information with a non-official, not reacting to a ferry sinking, etc. I would like to say that what is going in Japan right now might be far worse. I only know part of the stories because I did not take the time to look at everything. Here are 2 important cases:

  • Obstruction of justice: a young female reporter was raped by a senior journalist. She mustered courage, went to the police station, filed a complaint, even though the police officer told her “Are you sure you want to do that? It could ruin your life” (hello sexist society). In the end, the Police gathered evidence. There were medical evidence, surveillance camera recordings, the taxi driver’s deposition, etc. Police officers finally got a mandate to arrest the journalist. They decided to arrest him at the airport, as he was coming back to Japan. But at the last minute, the officers got a call: stop everything. The call came from above. Interests were at stake. They had to step down. The victim ended up organizing a press conference, showing her face to the nation, and explaining what happened. For the moment, nothing has happened. Why? Because the incriminated journalist has direct links with powerful people, among whom very possibly the Prime Minister, our beloved Abe.
  • Corruption, conflict of interests: there are now 2 schools under scrutiny in Japan. One is a primary school (Moritomo Gakuen) and a university (Kake Gakuen). Both of them are under suspicion of having benefited from special treatment from the current government. Telling the whole story would be long. In three words: money, power and friendships. The two stories brought many things to the surface. One of them is the implication of the Ministry of Education and its bureaucrats in the process, with pressure coming from the Cabinet. One bureaucrat has stepped down and is now talking freely in media outlets. I hope he won’t “commit suicide” in the upcoming months. Things happen, right?

And all of this is without talking about the influence of a far-right (cultish) group called Nippon Kaigi, the former Defense Minister saying that the Self-Defense Forces (SDF) were supporting the majority, eroding freedom of press, expression and association, remilitarization (even though the majority of the population is against it), etc. There must be some articles in English out there, I will try to find a few links. But those stories, which are just the emerged part of the iceberg (as we say in French), show that the Prime Minister and its party are using personal power, money and networks to govern. It is simply not acceptable.

Nevertheless, Japan (as Korea, from what I understood) has powerful conservative mass media. The national broadcasting station NHK is informing citizens about what the government deem important or right. You have a sensitive discussion at the Parliament and don’t want your constituents to know about it? Broadcast sumo instead, should be fine. You have a former official who spills important information showing the government is shady? Ask a conservative newspaper to discredit him. You have massive demonstration against your policies? Let media outlet know that they should cover the issue in a favorable manner. If they don’t want to: call them, pressure them, threaten them. It simple and efficient.

If you look at what is happening in front of the Parliament and on social media, you would be able to see how civil society is trying to organize itself to criticize and counter the government. Lawyers, professors, experts, students are active. Normal citizens are going out and protest with creative signs. But they are simply ignored, also because mass media let them be ignored. Many of my Japanese friends don’t have an opinion about those issues because they don’t even know. It was shocking to me, but it seems to be a pretty normal pattern. Politics is not something that people talk about casually. If you talk about it, you look like a political fanatic or a scary “leftist”. There is no space for debate, somehow. And the government is smartly using this social situation to advance its agenda without being hindered. How nice is that, right? Recent polls have shown that Japanese people’s understanding of democracy is about output (social welfare, fairness…) more than input (freedom of speech, elections, etc.). Most people are certainly concerned about their everyday lives and how to improve it. Political freedom and agency? Not that important. It is really reminding me of Freedom for Sale, a terrifying book written by Kampfner, showing that economic growth and material comfort is often more important than freedom and democracy. This case is sadly illustrating his thesis.

Now that I look at how Korean people were able to take down the president in a strong presidential system, I wonder even more about why Japanese people don’t seem to be able to get rid of their Prime Minister. PMs can be replaced and should be replaced when their support rate declines. Abe doesn’t even have 50% of support in the polls held by the conservative Yomiuri newspaper. But he’s not stepping down. People are on the street. But he’s not stepping down. And these days I am really curious to know why it’s not happening, when it should be much easier than in the Korean context. If anyone has a good explanation, please let me know. Until then, I will try to avoid falling in despair and attempt to find some hope, somewhere, somehow.

Standard
Thoughts

#070 French Elections I: Overseeing The Presidential Elections.

OVERSEEING THE FRENCH ELECTIONS

Note: This article reflects my personal opinions related to French politics and the elections.

In the past months, populism has been at its best: between the Brexit in the UK and the election of Trump in the US, fear started filling minds. As the French elections were coming closer, my German landlords started expressing what they ironically coined at “German Angst”, a mix of fear and anxiety. They were startled by the high scores of Marine Lepen in the polls and started believing that France was next. I sat for hours in the kitchen, trying to explain the French election system and its differences with the American one, while they would remind of the Weimar Republic. “France cannot tilt. If France does, then the EU is done.”, the wife would tell me, telling me that we had to be “responsible” for the rest of Europe. It became difficult for me to face the topic, as I felt that she was not listening to my explanations. “What good is there studying in an Institute for Political Science if, in the end, everyone has a strong opinion about politics and your knowledge about the political system and its leverage goes down the drain?”, I wondered, a bit annoyed, frustrated and hurt that she would ignore my prognostics.

And what were my prognostics?

  • The Socialist Party was done: Manuel Valls had decided not to respect the results of the primaries and did not endorse Benoît Hamon. The latter embodied the left-side of the Socialist Party, proposing important reforms (universal income, shut down of nuclear power plants and investment in green energies, etc.), but I felt that, in a way, it was too early to make such propositions. People did not feel that his Keynesian measures would be implemented, as they required an incredible financial effort. To which we would add fight against the nuclear village, fight against neoliberal international institutions and corporations, etc. He was not on the right track to begin with, even though he was endorsed by our current superstar, the economist Thomas Piketty. So, no Socialist Party.
  • The Conservative Party (Les Républicains) was caught up in a scandal thanks to its leader, François Fillon, the herald of the Christian (anti-gay rights/anti-abortion)  community, known as the “Manif pour tous” (Demonstration for All, an obviously misleading name). So, no Républicains.
  • Jean-Luc Mélenchon: originally part of the Socialist Party, he left a few years ago to join the Front de Gauche (Leftist Front) and presented himself in 2017 as an independent candidate. Many of his ideas were closed to the Socialist Party’s and some hoped for the two candidates to join forces, in order to block the road to the right wing parties, and especially to Marine Lepen. Certainly because of a reluctance to hold the Socialist Party’s hand, he refused to accept the offer from Benoît Hamon. He ended up with a fair score, but no Jean-Luc Mélenchon.

During the first round of the elections, the candidates above were eliminated, as two other candidates arrived first and second:

  • Le Front National : the now sadly famous party led by Marine Lepen is a legacy from her (racist/sexist/antisemitic) father, Jean-Marie Lepen. She kicked her father out of the party a few years ago, as he was voicing negationist ideas. She then became the head of the party and, thanks to her oratory skills and her image (relatively young, feminine, etc.) she helped normalize her xenophobe party.
  • En Marche ! : Technically, En Marche! is not a party, but a “movement”, which refuses the label of being “leftist” or “rightist”. Its founder, Emmanuel Macron, is a young (39) man who went through the royal path to power: degree of philosophy, Sciences Po, ENA, Inspection générale des finances, Rotschild, Ministry of Economy. A brilliant citizen.

Now, since Sunday evening, my landlords’ fears are put to rest: Emmanuel Macron has been elected President, with more than 60% of the votes. If you count abstention and blank ballots, it’s more 45%, but who cares, he will be in office. We escaped the Lepen dynasty and will still enjoy 5 years of relative peace. Maybe.

What I find interesting is that by looking at newspaper covers outside of France, the world seems euphoric. France did not give up and, as John Oliver hoped, it proved itself superior to the UK and US. Nevertheless, I believe that difficulties lie ahead of us. The reason why Lepen has still gathered more than 30% is alarming: 30% of people who expressed clearly their opinion decided to vote for a lady who wants to “make France great again” by expulsing migrants, refusing to welcome refugees, denigrating freedom of religion, etc. Moreover, an important number of people decided not to vote, either by not going at all or by casting a blank ballot (16 million people). To put it simply, 1 French person out of 4 decided to not go, at all. And among those people, I believe many felt that the 2 candidates were not representing their opinion/wishes, and they did not want to cast a vote for the “less worse” (we call it “vote utile”) as they did not endorse neither candidate. One of my landlords told me it was irresponsible, as everything should be done to avoid having Marine Lepen in office. I replied, trying to stay calm: “This is a real decision they make. They are expressing a profound discontent against the current political system. It is the proof of the existence of a deep political crisis, not irresponsibility.”

Among people who did not go to vote or did not cast a valid ballot, I guess we could fine many left-wing people who really believed in the social programs supported by Mélenchon and/or Hamon. They wanted a return to Keynesian policies, instead of deregulated globalization. They hoped for more state-sponsored initiatives, a better social safety net, public investments creating jobs, etc. But facing Lepen and Macron, they understood that their wishes would not be fulfilled. Lepen is promoting “national preference”, a politically correct word to talk about isolationism, while Macron is supporting more deregulation on the labor market. Both candidates have no desire to stop nuclear energy, nor to help modest families to make ends meet. Well, at least Macron did not express a will to get out of the EU. Yeah.

I personally believe that we should not express to much joy about those elections. We still need to stay focus until the end of the legislative elections, as Macron will not be able to govern without a stable majority at the Parliament. But what happens when a candidate does not belong to a party, and therefore has no clear allies in parliament? How will he organize his troops and will those be loyal? Many questions are still floating around, and we will not get an answer until June. Also, I believe that it will be important for Macron to understand that he actually gathered 43% of the votes, not 66%, meaning that he is in a delicate position. With 25% of French people who did not vote, he will have to prove that he is worthy of the task. And I do not believe that more economic deregulation, less taxes for the ones who can afford to pay them, or a more flexible labor market is the solution. French people are not like Germans, they will not quietly endure austerity, waiting for better days. Instead, they might choose to vote for Marine Lepen in five years. And then I do not believe that we will able to stop her anymore.

So, Emmanuel, good luck.

Standard
Newspapers

#069

UBER: BETWEEN LIBERALISM AND PRECARIOUSNESS

When Uber appeared in France, it was a revolution. You could have a taxi ride for a lower price, no need to have cash on you and, le must, you generally had a nice driver and bottles of water. It seemed like a dream. With Uber Pool, you could have a ride for even cheaper and, sometimes, have interesting encounters. On the other side, it was said that this new way of working would allow people to get out of poverty, to find a job by self-employing themselves, to increase their monthly income, etc. But is it really the case?

These days, I wonder if I should even take a Uber ride. I think my dilemma is similar to the one concerning children working in Bangladesh. Should we stop those children from working, and therefore put an additional strain on their families’ financial difficulties, or should we let children bring a small income home, at the price of getting no proper education. Here, the dilemma is as follow: should we get on a Uber and help those drivers making a living, or should we strongly oppose this ultra-liberal, non protective, and from my point of view exploitative form of labor? The company would say they ‘only’ take 25% out of those drivers’ income. If they make 4 000 euros a month, that is still plenty of money. But it means that the company is putting aside all the running costs, pushed onto the drivers (buying a car, taking care of it, paying for insurance, parking and gas, etc.). According to Le Monde, after paying for running costs and taxes, the drivers making 4 000 euros (gross) are left with… 600 euros (net). Is that a correct income? I don’t think so.

Moreover, those drivers have almost no safety net. As they work as entrepreneurs, they are not covered by Uber in case of an accident. They cannot rely on anyone else when they are sick. This is an example of neoliberal economy pushed to a new extreme. But we are pretty much indifferent, because ‘if they did not have Uber, they would be jobless’. Many people do not understand why Uber drivers would be on strikes in France, but if you think that after working 40h a week (the legal limit for employed people in France in 35) you have 600 euros left, I think it’s understandable to see those drivers on the streets, demanding better working conditions. Especially when you see that Uber has made more than $5 billion in 2016. Uber, an amazing ‘start-up’, praised all over the world for it’s amazing growth, but built on people’s suffering. Is this right? I don’t think so.

Standard
Thoughts

#068

WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE ‘BIASED’?

Recently, I have strongly felt that many people will think that the research I do is “biased”: I am a left-wing, well-educated (almost) white girl from Europe, with a fair amount of social, cultural and economic capital. I write about a group of stigmatized people in Japan, coming from a region I did not even know before 3.11. I have a comfortable life, so it’s easy for me to go against the nuclear lobby, saying that their facilities are crap and that we should, as quickly as possible, shift for renewable energies. Yes, if electricity bills get a little more expensive, I will not suffer from it. Yes, I have enough spare time to think about what intensive agriculture does to our planet and the effects. Yes, I can take the time to think about why our societies are producing so many inequalities, spending hours the nose in books such as The Capital from Piketty. Yes, it’s easy to be critical when you have everything you need in life, when you do not need to worry about your next meal, and when you’re basically paid 3 years to write a thesis which will have no monetary value.

Since 3.11, I took a stronger stance against nuclear power. There is no accountability, no responsibility. In France, nuclear power plants are not entirely insured because they are not insurance-material. We have old facilities that, in case of an accident, could cause the contamination of a large part of the European continent (and of course, our neighbors can’t do a thing about it). There is no public debate, because it is too controversial. The companies invest tons of money in order to market their energy as green (at least since the 90s), as they surf on the “low-carbon” wave. Local communities? Well, they are profiting from those facilities, no? They accepted to have those facilities built there and they get money from it. So… Fukushima people are kinda responsible for what happened to them… right?

I read a lot about nuclear policies and nuclear facilities these days and I realize that what I read is mainly in accordance with my opinion, meaning that those papers and books are very critical of nuclear power in general. They generally incorporate concepts of governmentality and criticize market economy. In short, they fit very well with my worldview. So… does it mean that I am biased? Surely. And therefore it becomes difficult to have a calm, constructive discussion with people who tell me that “Fukushima people kinda deserve this, since they got money from TEPCO”.

I really have difficulties understanding this “rational-choice” vision of the world. “Fukushima people were poor. They accepted the nuclear power plants (F1 and F2) because they needed the money, and therefore they accepted the risks coming with those plants.” Is it this simple?

  1. When operators decide to construct a nuclear power plant, they first look for a very poor, countryside place, because it’s easier to make the population say yes if they are desperately in need of money. I am pretty sure that they minimize talks about risks.
  2. Operators are smart; when there is resistance, they know how to break it down. If you look at the French example, you see how operators started investing a lot of money into advertisement, communication, education, etc., in order to promote a proper understanding of radiations and nuclear power in general. This is also happening in Fukushima right now, with the publications of pamphlets and books, but also the construction of “information centers” and “radiation education” (by the State) explaining to ignorant, irrational citizens why radiation is great (again). That’s how EDF and the French state succeeded in marginalizing anti-nuclear activists in the late 70s, early 80s.
  3. Operators are rich (or at least they pretend to be); they know how to handle the media. Especially in the Japanese case, you see how TEPCO has invested an enormous amount of money in advertising in newspapers. The Yomiuri, Asahi, Mainichi, they all heavily rely on money coming from the energy industry. And then you expect a “fair” coverage of what is happening?

I am fascinated by inequalities in our societies. Someone told me: “I don’t understand the argument that inequalities are the reason why nuclear plants were built there. Those people accepted the plants!” You don’t see inequalities when you have a powerful actor constructing a (very dangerous) industrial facility in a poor region which lacks resources and state support? Really? Am I really so left-wing that I start seeing exploitation and power-relations everywhere? It seems so obvious to me that having nuclear power plants in very poor and peripheral regions is a sign that we use people’s misery to our own sake. You will never see a nuclear power plant in the middle of Paris or Tokyo. And even if they tried to build one of those, you would have intellectuals, manipulating their social, economic and cultural capital, standing in the way and, most certainly, winning. Because they have the power to do so. In Tohoku, one of the poorest region of Japan, with high levels of unemployment and suicide, people are on the other side of the power-relation. “Do you prefer staying out of employment, with basically very little money and no prospect for your children, or do you prefer that we build this (kinda risky) plant in your backyard in exchange of better local facilities, better schools and giving you pocket money on top of it?” Right now, in Aomori prefecture, they are building a very high-standard school near the very controversial Rokkasho facility. It’s trade: we give your children a great education and you shut up. This is NOT a fair exchange. And I don’t even know how people can think that this can be fair.

But again, I guess I must be terribly biased. Does this make my message less legitimate?

Standard