Newspapers

#063

10% RETURN TO FUKUSHIMA TOWN SINCE EVACUATION ORDER LIFTED IN ’15

Asahi, English edition (16.09.05)

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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.

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Research, Thoughts

#062

STAYING CALM, WHATEVER WHAT HAPPENS

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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.

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Listening to: BOBBY – 꽐라(HOLUP!)

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Readings

#061

SPREADING CONTAMINATION

 

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.

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Listening to: BLACKPINK – 휘파람 (WHISTLE)

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Research, Thoughts

#060

WHAT IS RIGHT, WHAT IS WRONG? 

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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.

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Listening to: Kelly Clarkson – Because of You

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Newspapers, Thoughts

#059

DANS LA “GUERRE CONTRE LE CRIME” DES PHILIPPINES
(AFP, 5 August 2016)

Cette supplique nous fait à tous l’effet d’un coup de poing dans l’estomac. Certains obtempèrent, s’arrêtent de photographier. Nous sommes nombreux à nous demander tout à coup pourquoi nous sommes là, pourquoi nous faisons ça. Nous nous sentons comme des vautours. Aucun d’entre nous ne sera capable de dîner plus tard ce soir-là. Dans la voiture qui nous ramène en ville, pour une fois, personne ne parle. Nous nous sentons tous coupables, nous nous en voulons d’avoir été incapables d’aider cette femme et son conjoint. Quelques jours plus tard, j’apprends qu’un photographes d’un journal local qui a assisté à la scène avec moi a décidé d’arrêter définitivement de couvrir les affaires criminelles la nuit.

I just read this article and realized it’s basically the same for me: am I doing the right thing by asking people to remember one of the most painful moments in their lives, in order to use it as data and have it published? I feel like a crow, a vulture looking for a small, trembling prey in the middle of Japan. My goal is to have evacuees’ stories delivered to as many people as possible, but in order to achieve that, I have to dig into their lives, take out the pain and the anger, feeding my research with human emotions.

Sometimes, in the middle of an interview, I would wonder: why am I doing this? When I feel my interviewee pause, emotions coming out on her or his face, I can’t help asking myself if it is okay for me to make them think about their difficult and complicated last 5 years. I know it is necessary, from a scientific point of view, and from a more social point of view, but they are somehow sacrificed on the way. Where does duty stop, when does morality fight back?

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Listening to: Sade – Kingdom of Sorrow

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Thoughts

#058

LET’S BUY AN APARTMENT IN BERLIN

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I don’t know why but I suddenly thought about my friends talking about buying an apartment in Berlin. They are still young, but as the German housing market is still affordable, they were thinking about getting a property in Berlin, where prices are very likely to rise during the next decade.

I remember them telling me: “Well, we can buy a flat and lend it to you while you’re there!” with a big smile and I could not help feeling very uncomfortable. I just could not figure out why. Well, there is certainly the idea that they were talking about making money out of friendship, but I might be over sensitive. I think the point is different. Those young French people are trying to invest in a market that is not as saturated as the French one (at least, in Paris) in order to make interesting profits and earn money. But what they do is, in a word, speculation on the back of German people. “You know, German people don’t have the culture of youhavetobuyyourhouse, as we do. So they rent apartments, and if you feel like buying, prices are much more affordable than in France. So we’re thinking of investing there and renting the place for a good price.” I can totally picture people investing massively in the German housing market, making prices explode and creating a small gentrification bubble. Berlin, the capital of hipster people in Europe, will see rents and house prices go up, creating the same segregation problem as in many major cities: only privileged people will be able to afford living in central Berlin, while poor people will be pushed away, further and further away. They’ll face losing their neighborhood and longer commute hours, while youngsters will be investing their old environment.

I wish I had thought about this earlier and asked them a very simple: do you actually think about the social consequences of your actions? Maybe we should ask ourselves this question more often. Maybe it would help creating a world that is a little less cruel, a little less cold. When I look at Paris, I see how the municipality tries to renovate and give a new vibe to poor neighborhood. But the result is generally the same: old neighbors move out of the area because rents go up and they can’t afford it anymore. New types of population move in and gentrification is on the way. As a result, you get in a first period very multicultural, trendy neighborhood that will, eventually, become hipsters’ HQ. I’m not saying that I want the city to be left alone and that trying to create a better environment for poorer population is bad, on the contrary. But it does have deep social consequences that are often overlooked. We do not live in a world of pink poneys and rainbows. Let’s simply look a little further and stop focusing on our own selfish interests.

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Listening to: JUNG JOON YOUNG(정준영) – Where Are U(내가 너에게 가든 네가 나에게 오든) (W OST)

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Thoughts

#057

BACK TO FUKUSHIMA

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Yesterday evening, I arrived in Fukushima City, 9 months after my last interviews. It is strange how all the research I’ve been doing about the issue has made me feel more at ease somehow. The first time I came, I was very anxious about radioactivity and contamination levels, especially since I had met people who evacuated from the city. I remember fleeing to Tokyo on days I didn’t have interviews, trying to stay as little outdoor as possible.

I’m not saying that I’m not anxious at all this year, but I’ve seen so many contamination maps that I start understanding which part of the city should be avoided. I also have a broader knowledge of what kind of places and materials are more contaminated, where I should not walk, what I shouldn’t eat. I’m able to manage risks at a certain point and it definitely shapes and transforms my experience of “being-in-a-contaminated-area”.

I am still very critical of the way the municipality runs the decontamination process. I can’t believe they still have contaminated soil and dirt stored/buried in people’s yards. This “temporary” situation has been lasting for the last 3 to 4 years and we still don’t know when the transitional storage facility will be ready (who knows when and at what costs…). We had this very interesting discussion with my clients about “temporary” being a way of making people accept the situation as it is. The administration asks local residents to be patient and understanding while it tries to find a definitive solution. People have to accept, somehow, to store wastes on their land (or there is no decontamination), waiting for it to be removed. All is temporary. It’s a 仮・生活, a peculiar place in space and time, a place that keeps stretching its wings, invading people’s lives. I think I need to have a more constructive reflection about this issue and I’ll write again later. I really believe there is something interesting in the use of the word temporary in post-nuclear accident Japan, and especially in Fukushima prefecture…

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Listening to: Lee Hi & (AKMU) Suhyun – I’m Different Feat. (iKON) Bobby

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