Research, Thoughts



Yesterday, I went to a conference on food education, co-organized by my graduate school. I was mainly interested by a professor who came all the way from Hawaii and who wrote one of my seminal books (dealing with scientific knowledge, postfeminism, neoliberalism in the aftermath of 3.11). I was excited to listen to what she had to say about food education in Japan and its implication on gender roles within the family, class, and race. The conference was interesting, even though I thought that it went somehow too smoothly, as very little people addressed frontally the system as it is.

And then, in the afternoon, the horror. A consultant in risk communication started talking about risk/hazard and how people were not able to make the difference. Her job was to explain people that hazard is qualitative, while risk is quantitative: an increasing amount of hazard makes risk. And to go on with the situation in Fukushima. She had been a contamination advisor in Iitate, Fukushima Prefecture, explaining the population what radioactivity is, how it interacts with the human body and what are the hazards linked to it. She had this very infuriating way of saying that lay-person knowledge is biased, irrational and non-scientific, while well… science is science.

I am sure she is a very smart lady. But it does not require to be particularly educated in radioactivity related matters to see that NO, science is not neutral. The government and TEPCO did not communicate transparently after the accident, creating a trust crisis and a knowledge void the population had to deal with. Currently, there is no study that says that long-term exposure to low-level radiations causes cancer. But there is no study that proves the contrary: that it does NOT cause cancer. However, the government decided to put the now famous “precaution principle” aside, asking people to live in areas  more than 20 times more contaminated than where they used to live. Children were supposed to go to schools with contamination going up to 20 mSv/year, a threshold that applies to workers of the nuclear industry (mainly men in their 40s, weighting 70kg, not 10 year-old 30kg kids). Psychologists were sent to the region to advise the residents: “Do you know that worrying causes more harm to your body than radioactivity?”

The presenter was talking about risk communication. I went to an event at the UNU in Tokyo in November 2015, focusing on this topic. It was dry, dehumanized, uninteresting. Researchers talk about this top-down relationship between the administration and the population, without understand what communication really means. I guess it comes from this “positivist idea of science” (science as a neutral, universal truth) that science is something that “normal” people cannot understand and that has to be explained to them. Layperson knowledge is discarded, disregarded, looked down upon. But communication means “to put in common” in latin. Communication is not a one-way relationship, it’s about exchange, discussion, debate. Why calling risk communication something that is simply produced and distributed by one side? Why should that type of communication be legitimized, and lay-person knowledge thrown away?

If you go to Fukushima Prefecture, and more generally talk to evacuees from the region, you will be surprised as how much knowledge they have gathered. I am not saying that all people have the same level of knowledge and care the same way. After all, if you cannot evacuate (for 1000 different reasons), you might prefer burying your worries if you want to stay sane… But the people I met through my two fieldworks taught me a lot about radioactivity, its effects, how to measure it and how to counter it. I received pamphlets, was advised to read certain books and newspaper articles, was invited to accompany them to make measurements on the streets and to see how certain NPOs measure contamination in food. It was striking to see how layperson knowledge was developing, spreading, evolving, in parallel to official knowledge. The reality is really far from “objective science & irrational, emotional people”. It takes a few hours to realize that. You just need to push a few doors, walk down a few streets and open your eyes and ears. I am a baby researcher, at the beginning of my study. I only have been on the field for a total of two months. But it was enough to show me that science is not a unified, unbiased entity. It is always situated in political, social, economical and cultural settings, which shape the way it is interpreted, but also done. It would be good if advisors and professionals going to “reassure” people in Fukushima knew about this, instead of shaming people who think differently through the use of words such as fūhyōhigai or shinkeishitsu.





Sometimes, I lose hope in humanity. I watched a TED video last night explaining why currently developed new nuclear generators will save the environment – and more generally the planet – by providing safe and cheap energy to India and China (ok, the explanation is more complex than this, but still) without talking about the issue of overconsumption at all. The “free-world” (I hate this expression) is now shaking, looking at the stupidity of Trump, without even understanding how he got elected (yes, there are desperate people out there, and maybe it would be a good idea to start listening to them!). Myself, I ignored two men distributing pamphlets on the street today, without even returning a smile, as I was too busy holding a warm cup of coffee (I eventually got one and it was about a Muslim group militating for peace and freedom in Germany). As I was walking down the street, I saw so many men (only men today) sitting on the floor, holding placards, wearing light jackets (it’s 1°C in Berlin right now), while we were passing by, blinded by our own issues. When I entered a bank to withdraw money for this afternoon, a man opened the door for me with a large smile, selling newspapers for pocket money. I looked at my wallet and didn’t know if he would be upset at my pathetic 0,80€.

When I got home, I decided to look into what can be done to help those people in Berlin. My only problem is that I almost don’t speak German. Of course, people need warm clothes, warm meals, but they also need warm conversations. Giving out bread without a word is not the same thing as sitting with them with a hot tea. I really realized the importance of conversations in Fukushima, as I was conducting with people who are ignored by the government and invisible to the general public. Talking, exchanging, laughing, crying… This is also something vital that you should provide. So now, the question is: how can I help without speaking the local language?

I am looking into many websites talking about helping people around in Berlin. These days, there are many actions targeting Syrian refugees and I thought that my English language abilities might be of help. I still have to look into all of this, but I really want to do something, instead of simply thinking about the philosophical, social, economic, political and moral implications of migrations and war-time refugees dying in the Mediterranean See.

Newspapers, Readings




I couldn’t help writing a short article when I read this in Japan Copes With Calamity (p.12): 

(…) on 15 March Prime Minister Kan Naoto paid a dramatic visit to the headquarters of TEPCO at 5.30 am to order the company not to withdraw its workers from the stricken plant, which the company had spoken of doing to protect the workers’ lives. That would have left the crippled reactors unmanned, with fuel rods exposed and cooling water evaporating – pushing Japan towards an unimaginably bigger disaster. On the same day, the government ordered those in the 20 to 30 kilometer ring to stay indoors (shitsunai taihi). Meanwhile the US government urged its citizens to get a least 80 kilometers away from the plant and the French government even advised its nationals in Tokyo, 250 kilometers away, to evacuate. This made the Japanese government’s evacuation plan look very inadequate to many Japanese when they learned of the very different evacuation standards declared by other countries, although of course applying the American or French standards to Japanese nationals would have been a logistical nightmare, because of the incomparably larger numbers of people involved and the fact that, unlike most foreigners, they did not necessarily have anywhere else to go.

So, the FRENCH government asked its citizens to evacuate from Tokyo, 250 kilometers away from Fukushima Daiichi? Now, I’m curious to know what will happen when an accident happens on its own territory. Will you ask people living as far as 250 kilometers away from Fessenheim to evacuate? Or will you try to minimize the number of evacuees and to control risk perception to avoid having the whole EUROPE freaking out? I really wonder. Of course, I understand that you want to avoid having your nationals risk their health when they’re abroad, but then you should apply the same logic at home instead of being a hypocrite. I want to believe that they are looking at what is happening in Japan to avoid repeating the same mistakes but positive thinking doesn’t really help in here.




Asahi, English edition (16.09.05)


Naraha. A town that was entirely evacuated after 3.11 and that was reopened in September 2015. It became a case study, as it was the first time so many people were invited to return home, 4 years after the accident. Many issues had to find an answer. How do you re-appropriate yourself a place that has been vacant for so many years? How do you adapt to a living environment that has been profoundly changed by radioactivity, decontamination works and trucks coming in and out? How do you live in a house that has been deserted for so long?

Today, out of the 7,300 people who used to live in Naraha, 681 people are back. Half of them are elderly. What is interesting about this article is that it gently erases important information. For example, it states:

The Reconstruction Agency’s survey released in March found that more than 50 percent of Naraha evacuees are looking forward to their eventual return home.

I actually took a look at the survey. Yes, around 50% of the total population talks about going back, at some point (there are 3 answers possible: you returned to Naraha/you want to go back now or as quickly as possible/you will go back to Naraha if all the conditions for your return are met). But 1) among people aged <49, the pourcentage does not reach 30%, while it goes up to almost 60% for people aged >60. Meaning that Naraha would end up with a very old population, while children do not seem to want to go back to school in Naraha. 2) 35% of the total population is talking about going back if the conditions are met. What are those conditions? Will they really be fulfilled? Isn’t it a journalist’s job to dig deeper and look for what people actually have to say?  You found this survey. Good. You published the results. Great. And so? There is no analysis, nothing about contamination, except :

The average radiation dose in front of the Naraha town hall in July was 0.1 microsievert per hour, almost the same as the average dose near JR Fukushima Station in the prefectural capital, which is far from the crippled plant and was never issued an evacuation order.

The Naraha dose is also lower than 0.23 microsievert per hour, the long-term goal for additional radiation exposure, which excludes background radiation.

To me, this sounds like “hey guys, there is basically no danger. You guys have a contamination that is bellow the national level and your city hall is at the same level as Fukushima city, which has NOT been evacuated”. But Fukushima city SHOULD HAVE been evacuated, especially the Watari district. Also, there are no word about possible hotspot or about citizens conducting alternative measurements. Maybe they find the same figures as the government, but that would be a good thing to talk about those civil activities.

Dear journalists, stop trying to reassure the population with empty words and start doing your job. Talk about the fears, about the anxiety, about the anger. Write about determination and disillusion, dreams and nightmares. I’m not asking you to take sides, I’m just asking you to do your job, by letting all actors’ voices be heard.

Research, Thoughts




Recently, I met one of my friends and colleges, who works with me on a research project. We were supposed to have lunch together and ended up with the members of the seminar she attended in the morning. I got to meet one of the researchers working on a very interesting projects conducted in Paris, looking at the trust crisis in Fukushima. We did not get to speak much about that project, as I was basically bombing my friends with comments and questions concerning the fieldwork I had just done, but we slightly talked about it after lunch.

The researcher then said something that strongly struck me. “I don’t understand why people evacuated from Tokyo. I mean, now, they have no reason to continue living like evacuees anymore. The radiation levels are totally fine, they’re lower than in Paris!” And then I realized that all people do not share my viewpoint on the issue. Well, of course, Tokyo was far less contaminated than places like Fukushima city or even Iwaki. The levels are low, 5 years after the accident, and people there live in total ignorance of the contamination they were facing in 2011. But some people still think that the levels being higher than before 2011, they should stay away from it. If you have very young children and the economic/social means to stay away, why would you come back?

I realized that as my friend and I have been doing interviews for the past 2 to 3 years, we are pretty aware of what can be found on the field. We’re still far from having a correct overview, but I do believe we have interesting data and correct intuitions about a few topics. But that researcher had less idea of what could be found on the field and as she is mainly dealing with people from the evacuation zone (compared to us, working with self-evacuees), she has very different ways of seeing the same data. For her, Tokyo is a safe place. That’s all. As if there was no room for discussion. But is that ok, when you haven’t been on the field yet?

I think the main lesson those 2 fieldworks taught me is simple: keep an open mind. You never know what you will find once you’re in front of your interviewees. And you should not judge them for having a different opinion than you, even if sometimes they say shocking things. Because this is simply a proof that humanity is diverse and that your research is rich.





Yesterday, I was reading a small brochure that a NPO member gave me in Sapporo, Hokkaidō. The brochure is really well done, with interviews and an interesting overview of contamination over the years. I was going through it as I had one hour and a half train journey between Asahikawa and Sapporo, and found something very upsetting.

The interviewee was explaining how the Japanese state changed contamination maximum levels after the accident and how it was impacting victims’ daily lives. Basically, if you live outside of Fukushima Prefecture (and more generally out of the contaminated area), the normal threshold for radioactivity is 1 mSv/year. This becomes a little technical, but I won’t enter the scientific details, as I don’t master all of them (let’s be honest). This threshold has been shared among many countries and is recognized by international institutions and regulation authorities. After the accident in 2011, the government realized that if it was to respect the limit of 1 mSv/year, many places would need to be evacuated. It was for example the case of the three biggest cities in Fukushima Prefecture: Fukushima (city), Kōriyama and Iwaki. Those three cities represent around 1 000 000 people, meaning half of the population of the prefecture. How to evacuate all of them, when they were still tens of thousands of people moving out of the vicinities of the nuclear plant? It was technically, politically and economically difficult. So there was another solution: raising the threshold. Asking experts to testify that there was no danger for people (as a matter of fact, there are no studies conducted to prove that an exposition to less than 100 mSv/year can be harmful, as such a study would require to check the health of a sample of 200 000 people to be accurate), the government rose the threshold to… 20 mSv/year. This level is actually applied to people who are professionally exposed to radioactivity, such as nuclear plant workers and medical personnel in radiology services. After the accident, children were told that it was safe to go to schools that were contaminated to that extent, even though it is pretty clear that the effect on radioactivity on fully developed adults (who are, or at least should be, aware of the risks) is different than the exposure the one of young children.

This was already quite shocking to me. But in the booklet, I found something that made me feel even more uncomfortable. I already wrote an article about the issue of radioactive waste storage issues. As the Japanese government has agreed on the possibility of incinerating contaminated waste (under 8 000 bq/kg) as normal waste, radioactive ashes are piling up in storage spaces. What could be done with those? Well, recycle them! The government has given a green light for the cement industry to mix those radioactive ashes to their cement and to use it for construction works. By mixing it with cement, it is possible to lower the concentration of radioactivity. It is simple: you just spread radioactivity around the country, like jam on a toast, hoping that diluting it will cancel its effects. Who is the genius who thought about this? And I recently was told that cement from Hokkaido is actually exported. So what you say is that it is not enough to spread radioactivity around Japan, it should be shared with the rest of the world? This is all crazy. And what is even crazier is that people don’t seem to know about this. I’ve been reading a lot of articles recently, going back to 2011 and checking what has been happening during those five and a half years. The issue of cement was not mentioned. I have to look for it in more details, but this is extremely scary. There is no mobilization against the crazy laws and rules the government is implementing, simply because people are not aware of them. By controlling media and creating a law forbidding journalists to talk about certain (secret) issues, the ruling party is creating an environment of fear and self-censorship. The minority of people who raise their voices are treated as marginal lunatics, while hate speeches become more and more common. As I was reading comments on SNS after the Senate elections in Japan, I could see all the hatred and disdain some had for the student group SEALDs, which goal was to make Japanese aware of the threat the current government is to freedom and democracy: “You guys are such morons, no wonder you lost”, “Serve you right, Okuda (the leader of SEALDs)”, etc. My personal thought was that all of those hateful comments were built on a lack of knowledge (yes, the current government is threatening democracy), a fear of what is awaiting Japan (and more precisely the daily lives of its inhabitants), and a fascination for the reassuring (deceiving) discourse of our beloved Abe. By marginalizing people who oppose the government, the latter made any discourse that goes against its own line lose credibility. And by controlling what is in the media, it has made sure that no one would contradict it.

I personally believe that the state is fully responsible for the mishandling of the 3.11 accident and its aftermath. It was a criminal decision to let children be exposed to so much radioactivity and it is criminal to start spreading the radiations all around the country. I believe it is written in the Japanese constitution that people have the right to be healthy and I believe that it would be possible to sue the state for not protecting its citizens, although I doubt that any Japanese court would agree with me. Actually, I doubt many Japanese people in general would understand what I’m talking about right now. As many think that radioactivity is just an old nightmare and that everything is fine now (thank you mass media for spreading the word), who would care about a few hundred thousand people who might be sick in 5, 10 or 30 years? The state will not be held responsible, at least not as long as the number of sick people will not be impressive enough. And even if people fall ill, there will always be a way to escape: “we didn’t know”, “we did all we could with the knowledge we had”, “there is no scientific proof that it is directly linked to the accident”, etc. It is unfair but it is sadly true.


Listening to: BLACKPINK – 휘파람 (WHISTLE)

Research, Thoughts




Yesterday, I went for dinner with a friend I haven’t seen for 2 years. She asked me what I was doing these days and I told her about my research concerning Fukushima nuclear accident and evacuees. She then had a very common but very annoying reaction:

Well, you know, those people received a lot of money from TEPCO before the accident, because they were hosting the plant.

That is true. People living in the vicinity of the nuclear plants received money personally (something around 100$/year per person) and their municipalities had important subsidies from the company (and maybe the state?). But there is one thing that is for sure: you never receive money because a company is generous. That never happens. Why did all those people receive special treatment? Because they agreed (or had to) to host a nuclear plant (= a HUGE risk) producing electricity for Tokyo. Yes, it is important to say that people in Fukushima did NOT use the electricity produced by TEPCO, since, as the name of the company indicates (Tokyo Electric Power Company), all the energy was sent straight to the capital city. People in Tokyo believe that Fukushima residents were using the same plants and therefore had to share the risks. Nothing out of this is true.

There is a very simple truth about nuclear power plants, and risky industries in general. They are always constructed in poor areas, where people have little to fight back and are attracted by the possibility of receiving more subsidies and of creating new jobs. In Fukushima Prefecture, agriculture was a big deal. But as Japanese agriculture is suffering from a so-called lack of productivity (from a big business point of view) and farmers struggle to make a living, those farmers needed to find extra jobs to pay the bills. A great number of them went to Tokyo half of the year, as seasonal workers, in order to earn enough to survive.

When TEPCO arrived in Fukushima, some people tried to resist. They were convinced that the risks were too high, since nuclear plants are not 100% sure. As farmers, they knew that if something was to happen at the plant, their environment would be contaminated and they would have to leave the lands their inherited from their ancestors. But the big business was stronger than rationality. Economy is first. There was so much that could be built, renovated or maintained thanks to subsidies. I am not condemning them from accepting the nuclear plant. I think it is pretty understandable, even if I do believe that those plants should disappear from the surface of this planet.

But I cannot help be angry at Tokyo residents pointing their fingers at those victims, saying “well, they should have known better”. Well, you guys knew better and had your power plant constructed in a remote, vulnerable, poor area. And then you forgot about it. “Where do you think the electricity consumed in Tokyo is produced?” Who does know the answer to this question? And is this situation morally acceptable? There is a real need to communicate about this, because it shows how dirty the whole system is. Victims of the accident (even though most people use the same word as “victims of a natural disaster” – 被災者 – in Japan) are condemned for draining money from taxes, as they try to survive away from home. They are “gamblers, drunkards, jobless, useless people”. After 5 years, sympathy and empathy are gone. Are left bitterness and a clear lack of knowledge.


Listening to: Kelly Clarkson – Because of You