Newspapers, Readings

#064

JAPAN COPES WITH CALAMITY, T. GILL, B. STEGER, D.H. SLATER

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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.

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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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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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Newspapers, Thoughts

#051

DE L’ENTÊTEMENT NUCLÉAIRE.

L’autre jour, je suis allée à un picnic avec des amis et leurs amis. Nous avons décidé de nous poser au jardin/parc (je ne sais toujours pas quel est le qualificatif exact de cet espace) de Vincennes, pour déguster des spécialités cambodgiennes et profiter des rares rayons de soleil perçant à travers les nuages humides. L’un des amis d’amis m’a expliqué qu’il travaillait auparavant dans le secteur du nucléaire et, après quelques discussions, finit par conclure : “De toute manière, le nucléaire reste la solution énergétique la moins chère”.

Pour être franche, je commence à être doucement fatiguée par cet argument. Au départ, je pensais que c’était vrai. Après tout, on a déjà 30 centrales en marche, qui ne demandent qu’à être alimentées en uranium. Elles ne produisent que très peu de CO2 ou autres rejets, tandis qu’elles permettent la production massive à moindre coût d’électricité. Le seul hic dans cette histoire, c’est que ce prix ne prend JAMAIS en compte le coût du démantèlement d’une centrale, du retraitement des déchets ainsi que le possible coût d’une catastrophe. Aujourd’hui, les centrales nucléaires semblent fonctionner dans un monde parallèle, où la question du future est une hérésie. Pourquoi réfléchir à ce qui pourrait arriver (et ce qui arrivera, quand on parle de démantèlement et de retraitement) quand on peut simplement fermer les yeux et continuer à produire comme on l’a toujours fait ? Ce serait vraiment trop idiot !

Quand on voit ce que coûte la catastrophe de Fukushima, il y a de quoi s’interroger. Il faut prendre en compte les dédommagements des individus à titre personnel, les dédommagements professionnels, la prise en charge des personnes évacuées et de leurs soins, le processus de décontamination, le stockage des déchets ramassés, les travaux à la centrale, les dommages économiques et agricoles quasi irréversibles, etc. Et c’est sans parler de la destruction de la confiance et du lien social au sein des populations concernées. En 2014, le gouvernement japonais estimait à près de 35 milliards d’euros les coûts découlant de l’accident de 2011. Et on peut très raisonnablement estimer que les coûts réels dépasseront de loin ces prévisions. C’est une aberration économique, un gouffre financier et un enfer social. Et pourtant, on continue de tourner le regard, en estimant que seuls les coûts réels actuels doivent être pris en compte.

Arrêtons de tenter de trouver des excuses à ce qu’on a construit et commençons à réfléchir aux conséquences… et aux possibles solutions ! Je ne dis pas que la France sortira du nucléaire dans l’année qui vient. Quand on repose à 75% sur l’énergie nucléaire pour fonctionner, ce serait utopique (ou simplement irréaliste) d’imaginer la fin de la filière dans les prochaines années. Cependant, il serait peut-être de bon ton de commencer par arrêter de construire de nouvelles installations (et oui EDF, ça compte aussi pour les horreurs que tu construis à l’étranger !) et de réfléchir à long terme sur ce qu’on pourrait faire pour produire plus durablement et aussi pour consommer moins. En effet, aux personnes qui me disent “mais comment produire autant d’électricité avec du solaire ?”, je réponds souvent “Eh bien on peut aussi considérer consommer moins”, solution généralement repoussée avec dédain. Ah, vous, les écolos ! (Alors que du point de vue d’un “écolo”, je suis certainement l’archétype de la bobo qui consomme sans réfléchir et se dit inquiète pour le sort de la planète – ce en quoi il n’aurait pas si tort que ça, finalement…)

Bref, ce fut mon instant STOP de la semaine. J’en ai assez d’entendre les mêmes réponses remâchées et dénuées de sens. Il est temps d’utiliser les cerveaux surdéveloppés de nos ingénieurs, mais aussi nos propres cerveaux, pour discuter des questions de production, mais également de consommation et de distribution de l’énergie. Peut-être que quelqu’un aurait la réponse sur la place de la République ?

Edit : petit article intéressant sur la filière nucléaire française.

La technologie nucléaire française est-elle remarquable ? Oui. Elle est même exceptionnelle du point de vue comptable. Sa principale caractéristique sociotechnique est de reporter les coûts dans un avenir tellement lointain et incertain qu’ils ne sont pas inscrits dans les comptes ce qui permet, à court terme, de faire de belles promesses, de pratiquer des tarifs compétitifs, d’offrir des conditions de travail confortable au personnel et de verser des gros dividendes à l’État actionnaire. Gare au mistigri !

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Listening to: 거미 (Gummy) – 태양의 후예 OST Part.4 (KBS2 수목드라마)

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Research, Thoughts

#050

UNTIL THE APPLES ROT

I am currently in the Netherlands to meet with children coming from Fukushima, my quasi eternal obsession, and my host gave me a very interesting book to read: リンゴが腐るまで (Until the apples rot), by 笹子美奈子 (Sasako Minako), a journalist at the Yomiuri Journal. It is pretty surprising that a journalist of a right-wing, conservative newspaper writes about what happened in Fukushima, with a critical viewpoint, but il faut de tout pour faire un monde, as we say in French.
I am only at the 54th page (I read so slowly in Japanese that it’s crazily frustrating, even for me), but some pieces of information have already caught my eyes. In this article, I’ll be talking about the issue of financial compensations that were implemented after 3.11 and how it created huge disparities and social conflicts in Fukushima.

The issue of financial compensation in the aftermath of 3.11 is a real issue. First, there is a need to explain on what compensations are based and how they differ from one person to another. What you have to remember first is that 3.11 is basically 3 events combined in one: earthquake, tsunami, nuclear accident. The earthquake did not kill many people (for some people, it is actually difficult to say if they were killed by the earthquake or if they were killed in the tsunami), but it provoked huge infrastructure damages, also in inner lands of Tōhoku. Then the tsunami submerged the coast, killing close to 20.000 people. At last, explosions happened at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, projecting radioactive particles in the air and contaminating the prefecture partially. Therefore, people get different types of compensations, depending on the part of the catastrophe that affects them.
The second level of differentiation is related to “how much” you were touched by the disaster. In the case of people struck by the earthquake or the tsunami, someone (experts? insurance companies? municipalities?) will come to see how damaged your house is and then put you in one of these cases: totally destroyed, partially destroyed, damaged. Of course, the amount of money you will be receiving will depend on this expertise. In Fukushima, the level of compensation depends on where you come from and what status your hometown has. Again, you have 3 types of evacuation zones: the zone where resettlement will be difficult (帰還困難区域, <50 mSv/year), the zone where you can spend a limited amount of time – meaning you cannot spend the night there – (居住制限区域, between 20 and 50 mSv/year) and the zone where resettlement will be possible after decontamination (避難指示解除準備区域, <20 mSv/year). To give an example presented in the book, concerning buildings you own, you will get the following compensations, according to your status:
– Zone where resettlement will be difficult: 9.370.000 yen (approximately 73.000€)
– Zone where you can spend a limited amount of time: 7.810.000 yen (approximately 61.000€)
– Zone where resettlement will be possible after decontamination: 4.690.000 yen (approximately 37.000€)
Well, people could say it’s normal to mark differences between people because they did not suffer from the same damages. That might be true. But here is an example of what I heard while conducting a fieldwork:

“Well, some people have their houses categorized as ‘partially destroyed’ or even ‘damaged’, but sometimes it means that they cannot live there anymore. I mean, if your house was strongly shaken up by the earthquake, it might not be as stable as before. Some of those houses are dangerous, with walls falling apart. But the houses are still standing, so they are ‘damaged’ or ‘partially destroyed’. Their owners cannot live in them anymore, but they won’t get full compensations either, so they might not have the means to have them repaired or to reconstruct a house. Some people just live in dilapidated houses and do not dare try to get a temporary housing, because they would get criticized by other people.”

In Fukushima prefecture, you have the same issue. Some municipalities, such as Minamisōma (南相馬市) were divided in 3 zones. Therefore, inhabitants from the same city receive different amounts of money. How do you explain to a person that his/her direct neighbor receives more money than him/her because he simply lives on the other side of the street, side that is comprised in the no-resettlement zone? The movie “Land of Hope“, the arbitrary line put in place by the government shows the absurdity of the situation: “Sorry, the limit is at 20km, and you’re outside of that circle.” Are you supposed to believe that you will be able to live free from radioactivity just because your house is after the barricade? I don’t think so. And in the case of Minamisōma, I think it’s even worse, since part of the city must not even be considered an evacuation zone, meaning that some people are living “normally” there, without receiving any compensation, while residents from other districts are being evacuated (sometimes to the Northern part of the same city!) and compensated. Here is a map of evacuation zones in Fukushima prefecture. You can clearly see Minamisōma city (North-East) and how it’s divided in different zones:

figure05_PtD

The very simple consequence of those differences of treatment is that inhabitants start criticizing each other: “Did you know that blabla got full compensation for his/her house? I can’t believe he/she has it and I don’t!!” This horrible administrative puzzle is destroying communities and social networks. Families are driven apart, while old friends stop gathering. Rumors start spreading, accusing evacuees from living off compensation, buying expensive cars, gambling and drinking, all of this without working a single hour. There is no cohesion possible. People fight each other, instead of attacking TEPCO and the state. And those conflicts are poisoning a possible social reconstruction, outside the evacuation zones, preventing solidarity from arising.

I think it’s an issue we should think about before anything terrible happens in Europe. I don’t want to be too pessimistic, nor too optimistic, but I don’t trust French nuclear plants that much, especially looking at recently released information. If something were to happen, we need to think about evacuation issues in advance, instead of breaking up communities like it happened (and happens) in Japan.

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Listening to: 언터쳐블 (Untouchable) – 배인 (Vain) (Feat. Koonta Of Rude Paper)

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Thoughts

#049

CONTAMINATED LAND & RADIOACTIVE WASTE

Yesterday was the anniversary of 3.11, the terrible triple catastrophe that happened in Japan in 2011. Many articles have been published, stating how the situation is still not under control. I was shocked by this video, on NHK website, showing fields covered with radioactive waste. Is this the recovery the government is talking about?

Next year, that government will cut public housing aids, forcing part of the population to go back to Fukushima prefecture, or worse, to the former evacuation zones. Madness. Especially considering the fact that 5 years were needed after Chernobyl accident to start seeing children becoming ill. There is no guarantee that the number of cancers will stay stable. Actually, it will certainly start rising quickly, may it be in 2016 or 2017. I wonder if the government will still force people to go back. “Guys, sorry, we don’t have any money left, we invested all of it in the construction of new facilities for the Olympics! Too bad, huh?”

Then, the ETHOS project (2) will have a blast. The project was first implemented in contaminated Belorussian villages. The goal was to help people living in contaminated areas, by giving them advice aiming at avoiding too much (mainly) internal exposition. From what I’ve seen, the effects of the ETHOS project were limited, since children were still sick, very sick. But it was making big companies like EDF and AREVA feel better, since they were investing money in an experiment that would help understand what to do if anything bad was to happen in one of their nuclear plants. I still can’t believe that the European Commission was organizing this project. Well, from an external point of view, it might look like the only solution: trying to find solution to make people feel less anxiety while being exposed to radioactivity, since we don’t know how to make it disappear anyway and don’t have the money or the technical means to make those people evacuate to a safer place.

This is our sad reality. We are stuck in this “path dependency” phenomenon: now that we chose to build horrifyingly dangerous nuclear plants and that our life style depends on it, we cannot simply make them disappear. And even if we were to shut them down, we would need colossal amounts of money to dismantle them. Too bad, guys, too bad.
I remember this person I met during my interviews in Fukushima. I asked him “Who, according to you, is responsible for this nuclear accident?” and he replied “Well, TEPCO obviously, since it wasn’t able to correctly maintain the plant; the government, which has been leading Japan’s nuclear program for decades; and I guess us, since we just agreed to rely on it to sustain our life style.” It is difficult to be hold responsible for something that had been built 50 years ago, when we weren’t even born. But I think it’s our responsibility to avoid having plants flourishing in our respective countries. I wish more people would oppose the construction of the Ōma plant in Northern Japan. I wish more people would express their concerns regarding the Fessenheim plant in France. We can try to make the first step to get out of this fatalistic (but not entirely irreversible) path dependency. Let’s think together.

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Listening to: 크러쉬(Crush) – Hug Me (Acoustic Ver.)

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Research

#044

TRAVELLING THROUGH CONTAMINATED LANDS (10)

Sometimes, I wonder how researchers are supposed to protect themselves from what they see, hear and feel. I am now researching about something that is pretty human (how people reorganize their lives after a nuclear accident) and from time to time, I frankly cannot distance myself from what the interviewees tell me. Well, the only chance I have is that I am not good a crying in front of people.

The other day, I had an interview in Takasaki City, Gunma Prefecture. The woman I met told me “I am a bad mother, I can’t even take care of my own child”. The situation is as follows: her child has the Down syndrome and needs special care. But no daycare center (and now elementary school) near her new place is ready to accept her child. She therefore had to put her child in a specialized institution, which is far from her place. She can only see her child (a 7-year-old boy) once a month and feel terribly guilty about it. The word she used is a very harsh one: 母親失格. It basically means that she failed at being a mother.

As a researcher, what are you supposed to say? I couldn’t just sit there and let her blame herself for this, when she decided to leave everything behind her to protect her child from radioactivity. I told her she decided to come for her child’s sake and that was certainly a good decision, as a mother. I knew I wasn’t supposed to tell her this kind of things, but it was just too painful to hear her say that her child was suffering because of her.

It is very selfish, but I still don’t know how to distance myself from my interviewees. I hear their stories, I feel their pain and sadness and I just absorb it, like a sponge. I have been emotionally very unstable the past week because I accumulated so much pain, anger and frustration. I try to let it go by writing my blog and letters to friends, but I never feel better. When I phase out, I just think about what they told me. In one year and a half, the state will stop housing aids for so-called “self-evacuees”. What will our participants do? Will they have to go home? If they do, how are they going to cope with radioactivity? I already feel anxious, but there is no way the current government is going to move a finger, especially if people do not fight back. (Well, looking at how the government ignored people demonstrating against the reform of the constitution, fighting back might also be useless…)

If I am accepted in a PhD program, I’ll definitely have to work on my emotional issues. I cannot continue absorbing all of it if I want to be able to write a scientific paper. And if I want to stay mentally healthy. I can’t be teary for 4 years and explode every time someone says something random about Fukushima…

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Listening to: BTS – Run

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