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?

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

Newspapers, Thoughts



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 !