By Thierry Ribault
Analyzing how the unfinishable Fukushima disaster was managed, we present the seven principles on which national-nuclearism is based. This marks a new phase in the march towards morbidity.
First principle – Making all risks acceptable
The disaster’s managers have stopped at nothing in their bid to subject the public to the unacceptable. They cite “the mental stress from long stays away from their native towns” to explain the 100 suicides associated with the nuclear disaster in the Prefectures of Fukushima, Iwate and Miyagi among individuals in temporary accommodation between June 2011 and August 2013. Awaiting the lifting of the evacuation ban in order to return to their “native town” and reduced to depression, inhabitants should be relieved to be able to call on support centers against suicide. Following the wave of high aspirations that follow disasters, these have pompously been named “Centers for Disaster mental health care”.
According to a minister who participated in the preliminary meetings at the time, a threshold dose of 5 millisieverts – which prevailed at Chernobyl – would have entailed the evacuation of a large proportion of two of the largest towns of the department: Fukushima and Koriyama. Both these towns have over 300 000 inhabitants, “making the running of the Prefecture impossible”, not to mention “the concerns involving additional compensation” .
This confirms what the Chernobyl disaster had already established: all the risks are acceptable when we ensure that those who take these risks cannot refuse them.
Second principle – Denial of radiation health effects
To deny the actual impact of radiation on life forms – and especially those of so-called “low” doses – scientific advances that had established a relationship between radiation and cancer have been dismissed, raising doubt where there had been certitude.
In line with this production of ignorance, “international experts” anxious to erase traces of destruction delivered the following scientific message at a conference in Fukushima : the effect of low radiation levels on physical health are inexistent or negligible; the only problems are those that arise from the excessive fear of radioactivity; only the adaptation of populations and effective communication by experts can offset the psychiatric risks linked to the misunderstanding of the situation.
A group of WHO experts notably including the regrettable academician of the sciences, Maurice Tubiana, had already proffered a similar phrase: “From a mental health perspective, the best solution for the future of the peaceful use of atomic energy is to see the emergence of a new generation which has learnt to come to terms with ignorance and uncertainty” .
Third principle – putting science at the service of false consciousness
Indeed, the example of the now renowned Professor Yamashita (an ardent advocate of the safety of radiation below 100 millisierverts and a doctor promptly appointed “risk advisor” to the Prefecture of Fukushima from March 19, 2011, then director of the “Fukushima health management survey” conducted by Fukushima Medical University on May 27, 2011,) who advised everybody to “smile to avoid radiation”, shows how some scientists expediently implement the rule of cascading uncertainty according to which we are constantly in uncertain situations in a world where information is always considered as incomplete while scientific careers are fully guaranteed.
Delivering the survey’s results even before conducting the research, the particularity of such a science is also to avoid surprises. The above-mentioned survey therefore primarily sought to “calm the anxiety of the population” and convince those with doubts that “the health impact of the nuclear accident of Fukushima can be assumed to be very minor”, a difficult starting point for a scientific investigation.
In October 2013 at the College of France, Steven Chu, Nobel laureate physicist and former United States Secretary of Energy dazzled a prestigious audience with similar radionegationist divinatory statements: “In Fukushima we can estimate that there will be approximately one hundred cancer cases caused by this accident. It seems tragic and it was not necessary, but the majority of these cases will be benign and will be cured” .
Fourth principle – Make all individuals co-managers in the administration of the disaster and responsible for their own destruction
At Fukushima, experts have called on all individuals to take part in a “practical radiological culture” and be involved in their own protection.
Involvement in risk management is also sought by the Ethos in Fukushima “citizen” initiative which, under the International Commission on Radiological Protection (ICRP) and its “Dialogues”, and in the pact of ignorance that it intends to make on behalf of the primacy of “everyday life”, calls on individuals to become “stakeholders” of their irradiation; this it does within a populist impulse grounded in “accountability” and “empowerment”.
This program’s liturgy is based on several key ideas already addressed in Chernobyl. “It is indispensable to optimize doses” says Jacques Lochard, one of Ethos’s chief priests, member of the ICRP. He adds: “We will not evacuate hundreds of thousands of people against their will to protect them from minimal risk (…). This does not mean that everybody will be exposed to an average of 20mSv (…) Only a few will exceed this figure.” It is up to each individual to recite the right prayers to avoid falling among the “few” in question.
Lucid, the group of WHO experts previously mentioned had since 1957 already outlined this “risk communication” strategy, writing: “By using propaganda to restore public confidence, one is likely to encounter failure. The problem should be considered from a conditioning perspective. During the Second World War, refugee cases showed that men acquired reflexes which were then automatically triggered by symbols previously loaded with terrifying meanings. For instance, the sight of a military uniform would sometimes raise irrational fear, even when among friends. This mechanism was modified by cautiously and gradually familiarizing the refugee with the objects feared and developing in him an emotional and intellectual understanding of what these objects signified. This lesson can be applied to the implantation of atomic plants, that is, to weigh the respective advantages – from a psychological point of view – of the solution which involves setting up atomic plants in isolated regions, and of the other solution which entails familiarizing the public with atomic energy by installing plants close by.”
Fifth principle – Transform nuclear technology into a social force that is stronger than the aspiration for freedom
An amendment to the “Atomic Energy Basic Law” of 1955 that was quietly passed on June 20, 2012 states that henceforth, “the nuclear energy policy of Japan has to contribute to national security” .
For Michiji Konuma, physicist at Keio University, the notion of national security is in contradiction with the clause proclaiming the peaceful use of atomic power: “the new clause fills a hole in Japan’s constitution, which permits self-defense with weapons that remain unspecified” and from now on (June 2012) “nuclear weapons can be used to defend national security.”
Sixth principle – Work towards a major reversal of disasters into remedies
When nuclear power is no longer presented as the cause behind the disasters it generates but as their remedy, major reversal is at work. The individuals affected are expected to be contaminated but satisfied. For instance, Shinichi Niwa who heads the Psychiatric section of the Fukushima Health Management Survey points out that: “take decontamination work for example, people can feel secure if they do it themselves, rather than if they ask others to do it” .
Seventh principle – Denial of man as a human being
According to Patrick Momal, an economist at the Institute for Radiological Protection and Nuclear Safety (IRSN), disaster managers dream of “medicine that would render cancer as mild as flu”. Subsequently, “the cost of a nuclear accident would slump” because “the aversion to cancer plays a fundamental role in the magnitude of the costs”, notably because of “a deeply profound image impact” such as the “impact on tourism” or on “agricultural exports” . More delicate, Jacques Repussard, director of the same public expert body in nuclear communication, reminds us with feeling that “a nuclear disaster is not necessarily represented by the number of deaths but by the long term abandonment of lands individuals are attached to sentimentally, socially and economically”. “The loss of territory” is “one of the most unbearable characteristics of a nuclear accident” .
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Since 1994, Thierry Ribault is a research fellow at Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS). He belongs to the laboratory Centre Lillois d’Etudes et de Recherches Sociologiques et Economiques (CLERSE – UMR CNRS 8019, University of Lille 1, France).
Since 2013, he is scientific director of the CNRS-InSHS (Institute for Social and International Associated Laboratory « Human Protection and Responses to the Disaster », in collaboration with the Doshisha University Kyoto, and the University of Fukushima.
His recent books and articles include:
2012 with Nadine Ribault, Les Sanctuaires de l’abîme – Chronique du désastre de Fukushima, Editions de l’Encyclopédie des Nuisances, Paris, 144 p, 2012 (Spanish édition : Los Santuarios del abismo – Crónica de la catástrofe de Fukushima, Edición [Pepitas de calabaza ed.], sept. 2013, La Rioja. 162p, 2013).
2013 with Christine Lévy (eds), Catastrophe and Humanism – Overview of the Disaster after March 11 (震災と ヒューマニズム 3・11の破局をめ ぐって) Akashi Shoten Publishing, Tôkyô, 336 p, 2013.
2013 « Intensive Care in Industrial Societies after Fukushima », IRIDE, Filosofia e Discussione Pubblica, vol. XXVI, issue 70, September-December, Roma, pp.539-550.
2014 « Le désastre de Fukushima et les sept principes du national-nucléarisme », revue Raison Présente, Special issue « Le progrès, désirable ? », n°189, mars, Paris, pp. 51-63.
He is co-author and co-director with Alain Saulière of a documentary film about the Fukushima nuclear disaster’s survivors condition: Gambarô (Courage !), (50mn, 2014).