FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Five Years of Forgetting: The Fukushima Disaster and Nuclear Amnesia

by

“People’s understanding of disasters will continue to be constructed by media. How media members frame the presence of risk and the nature of disasters matters.”

-Celine Marie Pascale, American University, Mar 10, 2015

Fearing radiation; terrified by the nuclear option. Perfectly sensible instincts that never seem to convince establishments and those who have long ceased to loathe nuclear power and its various dangerous by-products. Each nuclear disaster, such as the meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi plants five years ago, come with its treasure of apologetics and justifications. The reason is always the same: nuclear energy is safe and we cannot really do without it.

To that end, the emergence of “radiophobia” is a designation that dismisses as much as it supposedly diagnoses. It pokes fun at those ninnies who think that they are about to perish because of the effects of nuclear catastrophe and radiation contamination. Risk, according to this philosophy of concerted denial, is always exaggerated.

Shunichi Yamashita, a proclaimed expert on the effects of radioactivity, was invited by the Fukushima prefecture in the aftermath of the meltdown to reassure rather than investigate. “The effects of radiation,” he claimed, “do not come to people who are happy and laughing, they come to people who are weak-minded.”

This Dr. Strangelove dismissiveness is as much an advertisement for the virtues of doom as it is about the brutal consequences, real and imaginary, of radiation poisoning. Radiation is the invisible killer that stalks the earth, but for many, it is hardly worth a thought. For one, it suggests a simple calculation in environments that are not, supposedly, that dangerous. “With low radiation doses,” argued this doctor of nuclear apologetics, “the people have to decide for themselves whether to stay or to leave.”

Despite this bubbling confidence on the part of his colleagues, Japanese American physicist Michio Kaku had little time for such views as Yamashita’s. In an interview soon after the meltdown, Kaku claimed that, “The slightest disturbance could set off a full-scale meltdown at three nuclear power stations, far beyond what we saw at Chernobyl.”

Smile with upbeat confidence, and the problem goes away. If people are depressed before radiation, suggests Yamashita, they will succumb as the negative dramatists they are. “Stress is not good at all for people who are subjected to radiation.” Then again, stress could hardly be deemed good for anybody in particular, irrespective of radiation.

Such fabulously misguided nonsense is central to the amnesiac context of Fukushima. Makiko Segawa put it rather poignantly in his contribution in the Asia-Pacific Journal: initial enthusiastic snaps and coverage by the press corps, an insatiable lust for disaster imagery, quietened in due course. Writing a year after the disaster, Segawa noted how “the journalists have packed up and gone and by accident of design Japan’s government seems to be mobilizing its agenda, aware that it is under less scrutiny.”

Robert Jacobs similar notes that Fukushima conforms to that litany of disasters that has afflicted the human experience, a matter of rejection and experience rather than learning and adapting. “Fukushima is taking its place alongside the many forgotten nuclear disasters of the last 70 years.”

Sociologist Celine Marie Pascale of the American University, on scouring some 2,100 news stories from four media outlets (The New York Times, Washington Post, The Huffington Post and Politico) came to the conclusion that a strategy of minimisation was underway. The implications of such an event had to be downplayed, de-emphasising the risk of massive contamination and environmental disaster. A mere 6 percent of the articles examined the health implications of the event. “We see articles in prestigious news outlets claiming that radioactivity from cosmic rays and rocks is more dangerous than the radiation emanating from the collapsing Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.”

A necessary process of mendacity has to come into play. The Tokyo Electric Power Plant (TEPCO), Japan’s largest power company and owner of the affected power plants, initially denied the existence of meltdowns when it knew three had taken place. It was a process of deception that continued for three months after the event, a situation made even more absurd for the fact that hundreds of thousands were evacuated in the vicinity. It is a disaster episode that keeps on giving.

Even in March 2015, their reassurances seemed less than comforting. Chief Decommissioning Officer Naohiro Masuda would claim rather blandly that, “Even if some contaminated water remains, I feel that we can reduce a substantial amount of risk.”

The nuclear genie is a creature that encourages the lie in planning establishments. There are lies about safety; there are lies about legacies. As Jacobs suggests, the Disneyfication of disaster sites affected by the nuclear or atomic scourge is all too real. The Manhattan Project that led to the development of the atomic weapons used on Hiroshima and Nagasaki became “Disney theme parks of American exceptionalism”. The quest for the nuclear option in both the military and energy contexts saw massive environmental degradation.

Even now, the ghostly sense of Fukushima should be a reminder of errors and negligence rather than dismissal and indifference. Jacobs suggests a simple but necessary formula to combat nuclear amnesia: see the impacts of radiation exposure “before they become vaguely visible as cancers nestled in health population statistics”.

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

February 22, 2017
Mike Whitney
Liberals Beware: Lie Down With Dogs, Get Up With Fleas
John Grant
On Killers and Bullshitters*
Peter Linebaugh
Catherine Despard, Abolitionist
Patrick Cockburn
The Bitter Battle for Mosul
Ted Rall
Sue the Bastards? It’s Harder Than You Think
Yoav Litvin
The Emergence of the Just Jew
Kim Scipes
Strategic Thinking and Organizing Resistance
Norman Pollack
Mar-a-Lago, Ideological Refuge: Berchtesgaden, II
Fred Donner
Nixon and the Chennault Affair: From Vietnam to Watergate
Carl Kandutsch
Podesta vs. Trump
Ike Nahem
To the Memory of Malcolm X: Fifty Years After His Assassination
Jesse Jackson
Trump’s Tough Talk Won’t Fix Chicago
Paul Donnelly
Betsy DeVos and the War on Public Education
Ebony Slaughter-Johnson
The End of an Alliance for Police Reform
Richard Lawless
Wall Street Demanded the Nuclear Option and the Congress Delivered
Liaquat Ali Khan
Yes, Real Donald Trump is a Muslim!
Ryan LaMothe
“Fire” and Free Speech
February 21, 2017
Sharmini Peries - Michael Hudson
Finance as Warfare: the IMF Lent to Greece Knowing It Could Never Pay Back Debt
CJ Hopkins
Goose-stepping Our Way Toward Pink Revolution
John Wight
Firestarter: the Unwelcome Return of Tony Blair
Roger Harris
Lenin Wins: Pink Tide Surges in Ecuador…For Now
Shepherd Bliss
Japanese American Internment Remembered, as Trump Rounds Up Immigrants
Boris Kagarlitsky
Trump and the Contradictions of Capitalism
Robert Fisk
The Perils of Trump Addiction
Deepak Tripathi
Theresa May: Walking the Kingdom Down a Dark Alley
Sarah Anderson
To Save Main Street, Tax Wall Street
Howard Lisnoff
Those Who Plan and Enjoy Murder
Franklin Lamb
The Life and Death Struggle of the Children of Syria
Binoy Kampmark
A Tale of Two Realities: Trump and Israel
Kim C. Domenico
Body and Soul: Becoming Men & Women in a Post-Gender Age
Mel Gurtov
Trump, Europe, and Chaos
Stephen Cooper
Steinbeck’s Road Map For Resisting Donald Trump
February 20, 2017
Bruce E. Levine
Humiliation Porn: Trump’s Gift to His Faithful…and Now the Blowback
Melvin Goodman
“Wag the Dog,” Revisited
Robert Hunziker
Fukushima: a Lurking Global Catastrophe?
David Smith-Ferri
Resistance and Resolve in Russia: Memorial HRC
Kenneth Surin
Global India?
Norman Pollack
Fascistization Crashing Down: Driving the Cleaver into Social Welfare
Patrick Cockburn
Trump v. the Media: a Fight to the Death
Susan Babbitt
Shooting Arrows at Heaven: Why is There Debate About Battle Imagery in Health?
Matt Peppe
New York Times Openly Promotes Formal Apartheid Regime By Israel
David Swanson
Understanding Robert E. Lee Supporters
Michael Brenner
The Narcissism of Donald Trump
Martin Billheimer
Capital of Pain
Thomas Knapp
Florida’s Shenanigans Make a Great Case for (Re-)Separation of Ballot and State
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail