By Cécile Asanuma-Brice,
Researcher in urban sociology,
Franco-Japanese Institute Tokyo UMIFRE 19-CNRS /
CLERSE Laboratory, University Lille 1-CNRS
Translation Hervé Courtois & Kingsley Osborn
The explosion of the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant on 11 March 2011 caused serious radioactive contamination that forced tens of thousands of people to flee their homes. Because this proves the impossibility of managing a nuclear accident, the refuge is not desired by the national authorities who opted for a nuclear action, nor by the international authorities. At first the authorities provided aid and shelter, but all aid was interrupted in April 2017 at the same time as the reopening of part of the former evacuation zone in order to force the migrants to return to life in the contaminated territories.
Chapter breakdown
– Summary
– A morning like any other
– The effects of resilience
– This new earthquake revives anger
– Despite common sense, the return to the former evacuation zone organized by the authorities takes place
– What is the real situation?
– Progress, and life: what science is entitled to question
We can not finish counting the years of what we have too quickly called the “after” Fukushima , however we might wish it, as the ‘’after’’ hour has not yet come. The situation has never stopped deteriorating. The insolvable problems are still too numerous on the nuclear plant site for one to evoke an “after” which would suggest a resolved situation allowing a new beginning. While information on the subject is scarce, and attempts to respond to a self-appeasing desire under the approval of the international authorities in charge of the issue by propagating the magic formula of “everything is fine”, in fact this is not the truth. Far from being “under control”, the management of this disaster resulting in the destruction of 40% of the prefecture’s landscape continues its course, showing every day the human inability to contain the nuclear disaster. After so many years, the corium [1] of reactors 1, 2, and 3 have still not been detected. The only information we have is that they are no longer in the tanks. More than 800 tons of highly radioactive material has escaped from its confinement to penetrate the groundwater. The position of the material cannot even be pinpointed precisely because of a high level of radioactivity preventing humans, and even robots, from approaching it. The coriums must be permanently cooled, during all these years, by more than 300 tons of water [2] which daily become contaminated in contact with the radioactive material. This highly contaminated water is in turn stored in tanks around the reactors, nearly one million cubic meters stored at present. Authorities regularly announce dumping some of the water in the sea because of the inability to store all the liquid. No solution has yet been found at this barrel of Danaides, subject to human management and its mistakes. Thus, in December 2016 the injection of cooling water into the reactor 3 was suspended inadvertently…
Figure 1. Map of the distribution of contamination in Bq / m² (Source: Japanese Ministry of Education and Research, September 2011. Translation and adaptation: Cécile Asanuma-Brice, Géoconfluences, 2017.)
It is not without surprise that we see the ardor of international organizations, as well as the Japanese government, wanting to force home the people who fled in the aftermath of the March 11, 2011 disaster, generating waves of migrations towards the south of the country, most generally towards the urbanized zones. More than six years after the explosion of the plant, and present more than ever on this rural territory, the members of the institutions engaged in the nuclear world [3], engage in “humanitarian work” in defense of peasants at risk, praising the benefits of resilience (Asanuma-Brice, 2015), pointing out the sufferings of becoming refugee and the health consequences of the stress in the face of the disaster, while however at the same time displaying an agnostic attitude to the epidemiological results now showing more than 184 children under 18 as having to be operated on for cancer of the thyroid out of a limited sample of 270,500 people [4]. This point, taboo in political and scientific institutional circles, is nevertheless fundamental, because it is this assessment that determines the protection policies to be implemented, or not, in the event of an accident. If the explosion of a nuclear power plant and the dispersion of the isotopes it contains are not dangerous for health and for life as a whole ,then why? Why leave in the event of an explosion? Why evacuate the populations whose community life destroyed? Why spend so much money decontaminating? Why the need to create specific research centers on radio-protection since it would be useless to protect oneself from it? And finally, why use these same harmless isotopes to achieve the ultimate weapon of destruction that is brandished in the face of the world at every diplomatic tension? In short, we need to restore consistency in our discourse and analysis. If the inhabitants of Fukushima have taken refuge, or have been evacuated (even if the evacuation organized by the administration was very late) it is because there is a real danger which we all know, scientists, military and citizens.
Our critical position as an urbanist is to propose in this text an assessment of the migratory situation and measures developed for the control of population movements, especially through housing policies, but also through attempts to revive the local economy in Fukushima six years after the disaster. Our analysis presents the results of studies carried out on the psychological effects of policies compelling residents to return to the territories of the former evacuation zone while the situation is still unstable, and we question the motivations behind the political will to return populations to areas still contaminated.
For six years now, we have been going to the scene of the disaster every month to follow as closely as possible not only the protection policies or management implemented by the various administrative bodies, but also by the populations themselves. Follow-up was done by regular queries, in the form of interviews, at the various temporary housing locations, with the associations in charge of the accompaniment to the shelter or to the health follow-up, with the inhabitants, refugees or not, as national and international administrators. This also led us to participate in various workshops and symposia organized by these different actors. They took part in the international conferences that we conducted each year, embracing the most diverse themes related to this disaster.
At first, however, we must give back to these analyses the context that is theirs, a land, that of Japan, whose seismic environment remains restless and will continue to be so because the country is a volcanic archipelago, located at the junction between the Eurasian plate, the sub-plate called “Love” to the west, that of Okinawa and that of the Yangze (north / south), the Philippine plate to the south, the Pacific plate to the east, and the Okhotsk plate to the north. Such a location leads us to think that human temerity cannot ignore the cause of earthquakes, which won’t be stopped by political arrogance.
A morning like any other
November 22, 2016, 6 am, Kanagawa Prefecture, south of Tokyo. The walls are shaking and the floor is spinning slowly, endless seconds. The commentator responsible for informing about the situation broadcasts in a repeating loop, “A tsunami is coming, run away quickly! Be sure to flee! Remember the March 2011 earthquake! Do not go to see the tides, run away to the mountains, hills or somewhere high enough to shelter yourself, run away! “.
With tight throats, glued on TVs that loop images of seashores on which are displayed in red capital letters, “Tsunami! Flee away! ” we become aware of the situation; a magnitude 7.3 earthquake occurred 75 km from the Fukushima shoreline, recording level 5 shocks. The vertical movements of the tectonic plates pose a risk of imminent tsunami. At 8 am, tsunamis of various heights have already reached the Tohoku shores of Chiba, measured up to 1.4 m in the port of Sendai, and 1 m in each of the two nuclear power plants at Fukushima. Because it is there that all eyes are fixed. Not without reason. About an hour after the earthquake, the cooling system of building 3 of the Fukushima Dai-ni power plant breaks down due to strong shocks, according to the authorities. We hold our breath…. An hour and a half later, to the relief of everyone, the system is reset.
The effects of resilience
[5]During the entire morning of November 22, speakers and televisions constantly order the inhabitants to take refuge, the journalists posted on the places envisaged for this purpose are, to our astonishment, surrounded by only a few people. “All the trauma came back with this earthquake. Most people could not move from home, as if paralyzed, overwhelmed by the despair of all those years when the practice of moving into shelter has remained impossible for most of us. Seniors in temporary housing turned off their television sets and acted as if nothing had happened.” (Mari Suzuki, resident of Iwaki, Fukushima Prefecture). The resilience advocated by the national and international authorities who participated in the management of the consequences of the 2011 nuclear accident has emerged, despite the will of the victims. The population of areas polluted by radioactivity whose land has not been retained in the evacuation zone, are for the most part in a state of advanced depression, after five years of fighting for recognition of their right to refuge remains unanswered. Additionally, the government announced the reopening of part of the still unstable evacuation zone around the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant as of March 2017,in fact causing the cessation of payment of monthly compensation used by some to relocate elsewhere and the closure of temporary housing. This constraint to return is mentally unbearable for people who have rebuilt their lives in host communities with a more stable environment.
This new earthquake revives anger
Hiroki Suzuki, a journalist in his forties, came to the gates of the evacuation zone a few hours after the earthquake. He waves his dosimeter which displays 7.09 microsievert / hour [6], while the natural average in the region was 0.04 microsievert / hour before the accident. “Look, we are lied. Still, always lied to …’’ he exclaims, without being able to hide a rage tinged with despair. Yet it was crossing this border of the evacuation zone two days earlier, that Professor Hayano of the University of Tokyo organized an inspection trip of the works at the nuclear power plant and of the evacuation zone, accompanied by thirteen high school students dressed in their simple school uniforms, without any type of protection. The earthquake occurred just after the study trip had generated a wave of discontent among residents, as reflected on social networks. Participant in several public revitalization projects in the region is Professor Hayano, among them is the ETHOS project conducted with the collaboration of IRSN, a project today at term to teach residents to live in a contaminated environment with a view to economic rationalization of the management of the consequences of a nuclear accident. As an adept of resilience, Professor Hayano ignores the consequences of a nuclear accident, ignoring hundreds of epidemiological studies on the issue, believing that fear of radioactivity is not justified. This initiatory trip was therefore intended to show students that they were not struck by radioactivity even though they would go to areas where the irradiation was highest, and that fear should give way to managerial reason. This attitude, considered irresponsible by many colleagues, ignores the most basic knowledge of radiation protection, that radioactivity acts on the human body, not suddenly, but in a process that spans several years.
This episode will have marked the people’s minds, because neither the seismic situation, the level of radioactivity nor the operating status of nuclear power plants (the November 22 earthquake proved it again with a new failure of the cooling system) should not allow such political tranquility. By a correlation, since the magnitude 7.8 New Zealand earthquake of November 13, 2016, we expected a new earthquake in Japan. Not by the law of series, but according to the tectonic sequence observed in 2011, when the Japanese earthquake was preceded by the earthquake of Christchurch in New Zealand, of magnitude 6.3. This phenomenon was verified during the Kumamoto earthquake in southern Japan on Kyushu Island, April 20, 2016, also announced by an earthquake in Christchurch February 14, of magnitude 5.8. This combination of earthquakes is the result of the pressures caused by the Pacific plate common to both archipelagos.
Thus, if the tsunami warning was suspended on the entire area a few hours after the earthquake, the number of replicates left a heavy concern. In just over a day no less than 90 aftershocks were recorded. The earthquake of November 22, 2016, followed by a strong aftershock on November 24 of magnitude 6.1 was accompanied by a new earthquake in New Zealand of magnitude 6.3 which, according to the director of earthquake information planning, Mr. Kouji Nakamura, would predict a new class 7 earthquake in Japan in the following months.
Despite common sense, the return to the former evacuation zone organized by the authorities takes place
Mr. Nakamura’s predictions were not long in coming. On February 26, 2017, at 4.49 pm, a new earthquake of magnitude 5 shook the ground of Fukushima but nothing disturbed the decision of programmed return made in 2013, the date when the Japanese government established a large budget, split among all the ministries and intended to develop risk communication in order to influence populations about their return. In April 2017, the Japanese government reopened a part of the evacuation zone around the Dai-ichi nuclear power plant, simultaneously lifting housing aid for the refugee population. Other incentives such as tax exemption for those planning to build new homes in the area are also introduced [7]. Following imperturbably the planning developed several years upstream, which in essence is disconnected from the present situation, and to the astonishment of the international institutions responsible for managing the nuclear issue, committed to setting up a management system that allows the existence of nuclear power, the Japanese government compels the population to return to live on areas still sometimes highly contaminated, by gradually abolitshing the evacuation zone (Figure 2).
Figure 2. Prohibited areas and return area in Fukushima Prefecture (Source of maps: METI Translation and adaptation: Cécile Asanuma-Brice, Géoconfluences, 2017.)
Figure 3. Reopening of the village of Iitate. Authorities greet residents under a meter displaying 0, 21 microsievert / h, with the greeting used when a family member comes home: “Welcome back! (Source of the Image: Kyodo News)
In fact, public investments for reconstruction have often been pharaonic for the construction of oversized buildings for an absent population. Thus, the only municipality of Iitate will receive a budget of 1.7 billion euros for the reconstruction of various public facilities. Only 10 to 20 percent of the population has returned to most villages, despite the constraints they face.
A resident of the village of Iitate declared on February 19, 2017, during a conference organized in Fukushima by researchers and former inhabitants of the village: “We are told that there is no problem. Just do not go on the “hot spots”. You can not go to the mountains, nor go near the rivers, do not go to the right or to the left … How do you want us to live here ?! “. A former member of the communal council, testifies: We moved six years ago now. Why should we return to a desert village where the environment does not allow us to live freely and safely? [8].
What is the real situation?
Figure 4. Estimated total of refugees is 39 600 person on February 2017
Source : Official data, published by Fukushima Minpo Journal on March 2017. Translation : Cécile Asanuma-Brice. Realisation : J.-B. Bouron, Géoconfluences, 2017.
Since most people did not register in the refugee counting database, it is difficult to establish an accurate mapping of the situation. Nevertheless, the map at the time of the facts allows us to establish trends (Asanuma-Brice, 2014). It reported 160,000 refugees by the time they were highest in May 2012.The inhabitants had mainly taken refuge in the countryside of the surrounding Prefectures (Yamagata, Niigata), as well as in the capital, Tokyo [9].
Figure 5. Number of refugees in and out of Fukushima Prefecture (Source: according to official data, relayed by Fukushima Minpo newspaper, March 3, 2017. Translation-adaptation: Cécile Asanuma-Brice and Géoconfluences, 2017.)
Six years later, the authorities estimate this figure at 80,000 refugees, including 40,000 outside the department, and 40,000 internally displaced persons. However, the distribution has changed somewhat as the majority of refugees outside the Prefecture are now exclusively located in Tokyo and 80% of these people would be relocated to rental apartments in the public or private sector [10]. This figure does not include all persons whose refugee status has changed to that of a migrant, all those who, after six years spent outside their village, have rebuilt their lives elsewhere and have administratively registered their move to another municipality.
This leads us to question the relevance of the term “refugee”, because most evacuees “voluntarily” or not, have rebuilt their lives, failing to rebuild their environment, elsewhere. Six years. This corresponds to a complete school cycle, which is why most families with children no longer plan to return to live in the area. They… moved.
The situation is harder for the elderly. Some of them have been relocated to the 15,561 temporary housing units built inside the Prefecture. Thus those over 65 years old represent more than 40% of the people relocated in these so-called “temporary” cities. For the most part, these people had to agree to move to collective public housing built for this purpose and are, in fact, no longer included in the figures for refugees. While in July 2012, 33,016 inhabitants lived in these temporary housing, this figure drops to 12,381 in February 2017, reaching the lowest rates after April 2017. As of January 31, 2017, 3,028 public rental units of the 4,890 originally planned were built in 15 municipalities in the Prefecture (Figure 6).
Figure 6. Map of dwellings built for refugees in Fukushima Prefecture (Data source: Fukushima Minpo, March 3, 2017. Translation-adaptation: Cécile Asanuma-Brice and Géoconfluences, 2017.)
Another portion of seniors lived, since the happening, in a private rental park. Renting an apartment in the city was often seen as temporary, waiting for the results of the gigantic policy of public decontamination. People have been left in hope for two years, and then the government stopped providing them with housing assistance, pretending that it is possible to return. Some reconnaissance trips to the scene are enough to awaken their conscience. The landscapes have been destroyed by decontamination, scraped soils, torn trees, sacks of contaminated soil extending as far as the eye can see in the fields. The house has deteriorated. Habitat rehabilitation companies are no longer there, nor are there any neighbors. Their children, grandchildren, have started a new life elsewhere and do not want to come back to an environment that still has high levels of contamination. It is, however, impossible for them to maintain their large farm buildings alone; empty, heavy, are these stones, like their spirits drowned in an ultimate hope forever unfulfilled. Those who try to return fall into a depressive spiral that leads to suicide for majority of them.
A documentary made by the NHK on January 9, 2017 tries to sound the alarm, but to no avail. Titled “And yet, I tried to live” [11], it bears witness to the end of life of these people, mostly elderly, victims of an isolation that will often be fatal to them. Professor Tsukiji [12], Waseda University, psychologist and director of the Disaster Situations Laboratory published the results of a study proving that the constraints to return on these still unstable territories would generate a consequent wave of suicides. It remains inconsequential on the planning decision-making machine that was put in place four years earlier. These human sacrifices are accepted by all in the silence of a world that continues to be nuclearized.
Progress, and life: what science is entitled to question
This brings us back to a larger reflection developed by Max Weber a century ago, who himself used the writings of Leo Tolstoy about the meaning of death in our civilized societies. According to him, death for the civilized man (Kulturmensch) cannot make sense in that the life of each individual is constitutive of an infinite process which he seeks: progress. Nobody will ever be able to reach a goal, a climax, since progress is an infinite process. In this the finite time of life is only part of its momentum. Weber connects this reflection with another that I think is fundamental to put in the agora of sciences (human or not): “Does progress “, as such, have a discernible meaning beyond the technique, so that putting oneself to its service would be a meaningful vocation? ” (Weber, 1969). This question, formulated a century ago, remains unansswered; our societies continue to multiply human sacrifices on the altar of innovation for a purpose whose existence is not on a human scale.
Researcher in urban sociology, Franco-Japanese Institute Tokyo UMIFRE 19-CNRS / CLERSE Laboratory, University Lille 1-CNRS
Notes :
[1] Corium: Technical term for the core of nuclear reactors.
[2] Data from TEPCO, January 27, 2017.
[3] IAEA: National Agency for Atomic Energy, the CEPN: Center for the Study on the Evaluation of Protection in the Nuclear Field, or the IRSN: Institute for Radioprotection and Nuclear Safety.
[4] According to the results of the sanitary committee official returns on February 20, 2017.
[5] On Resilience, refer to our article: C. Asanuma-Brice (23 November 2015) “From Vulnerability to Resilience, Reflections on Protection in the Event of Extreme Disasters”, Public Reason Review.
6] The microsievert / hour is the unit generally used to measure the impact of radioactive radiation on humans.
[7] Minpo Journal, January 18, 2017
[8] Conference on the return of the inhabitants of Iitate (Fukushima) 19.02.2017
[9] Regarding the housing policies set up after the disaster, see our article: C. Asanuma-Brice (2011), “Japanese social housing, when the notion of” public “is right,” Revue Urbanisme, Nov. 2011.
[10] Survey of March 13, 2017, Fukushima Prefecture
[11] NHK, 2017
[12] Takuya Tsujiuchi Waseda Institute of Medical Anthropology on Disaster Reconstruction, “Mental Health Impact of the Fukushima Nuclear Disaster: Post-Traumatic Stress and Psycho-socio-economic Factors”, Fukushima Global Communication Program, working paper series, number 8, December 2015.
Scientific articles and publications
Anders Gunther, 2006, La menace nucléaire : considérations radicales sous l’âge atomique, Broché.
Arendt Hannah, 1967, Responsabilité et jugement, Poche.
Asanuma-Brice Cécile, 2017, “Atomic Fission and Japan’s Nuclear Meltdown: When politics prevails over scientific proof”, in Christophe Thouny et Mitsuhiro Yoshimoto (dir.), Planetary Atmospheres and Urban Society After Fukushima, Singapore, Springer Verlag, pp. 95-112.
Asanuma-Brice Cécile, 2016, « À Fukushima, la population est dans une situation inextricable », Le Journal du CNRS.
Asanuma-Brice Cécile, 2016, « La mémoire de l’oubli, une forme de résistance à la résilience », publication des actes du colloque « Après le désastre, réponses commémoratives et culturelles », Université de Tokyo.
Asanuma-Brice Cécile, 2015, « De la vulnérabilité à la résilience, réflexions sur la protection en cas de désastre extrême : le cas de la gestion des conséquences de l’explosion d’une centrale nucléaire à Fukushima », Revue Raison Publique.
Asanuma-Brice Cécile, 2014, “Beyond reality: The management of migratory flows in a nuclear catastrophe by a pro-nuclear State”, The Asia-Pacific Journal, vol. 12-1, November.
Asanuma-Brice Cécile, 2012, « Les politiques publiques du logement face à la catastrophe du 11 mars », Ebisu, n° 47, juin.
Beck Ulrich, 2003, La société du risque, Paris, Flammarion, 521 p.
Brown Kate, 2015, Plutopia : Nuclear Families, Atomic cities, and the great soviet and american plutonium disasters, Oxford University
Bruno Tino, 2016, « Presse et nucléaire au Japon ─ De Hiroshima à Tôkaimura(1945-1957) », Ritsumeikan
Takuya Tsujiuchi, Maya Yamaguchi, Kazutaka Masuda, Marisa Tsuchida, Tadashi Inomata, Hiroaki Kumano, Yasushi Kikuchi, Eugene F. Augusterfer, Richard F. Mollica, 2016, High Prevalence of Post-Traumatic Stress Symptoms in Relation to Social Factors in Affected Population One Year after the Fukushima Nuclear Disaster
Hecht Gabrielle, 2004, Le Rayonnement de la France. Énergie nucléaire et identité nationale après la seconde guerre mondiale, Paris, La Découverte.
Jonas Hans, 1979, Le principe de responsabilité, Flammarion, Champs essai.
影浦 峡(2011)3.11後の放射能「安全」報道を読み解く: 社会情報リテラシー実践講座 、岩波科学 — Kageura Kyo, 2011, Déchiffrer les rapports concernant la contamination “fiable”/”sûre” après le 3.11 : cours pratiques d’initiation au décodage de la littérature concernant l’information sociale”, édition scientifiques Iwanami [en japonais]
影浦 峡(2013)信頼の条件―原発事故をめぐることば 、岩波科学 — Kageura Kyo, 2013, Les conditions de la confiance – Les paroles autour du nucléaire, édition scientifiques Iwanami [en japonais]
Pelletier Philippe, 2012 « La guerre de Fukushima », Hérodote, 2012/3 (n° 146-147), p. 277-307.
Ribault Thierry et Ribault Nadine, 2012, Les sancuaires de l’abîme. Édition L’encyclopédie des nuisances.
Riesel René, 2008, « À propos du désastre en cours », in Catastrophisme, administration du désastre, et soumission durable, Édition L’encyclopédie des nuisances.
Semprun Jaime, 1986, La nucléarisation du monde, Ivrea.
Shinobu Goto (2016), “Fairness in Educational Materials on Nuclear Power and Radiation by the Japanese Government for Formal Education”, The International Journal of Sustainability Education, Volume 12, Issue 2.
Study 2007, (2015), 見捨てられた初期被曝, 岩波科学ライブラリー2015 — Study 2007, Les irradiés abandonnés de la première vague de contamination, Éditions de la Librairie scientifique d’Iwanami [en japonais]
Thébaud-Mony Annie, 2008, Travailler peut nuire gravement à votre santé. Sous-traitance des risques, mise en danger d’autrui, atteinte à la dignité…, La Découverte, 2008. Compte-rendu d’Igor Martinache dans Lectures.
Weber Max, 1963, Le savant et le politique, conférences à l’université de Munich de 1917 à 1919, Paris, Éditions 10-18.
Press and public publications of the author
Asanuma-Brice Cécile, 2017, « Fukushima : une catastrophe sans fin », Sciences et avenir.
Asanuma-Brice Cécile, 2016, « Fukushima, Temps de la fin contre fin des temps », Sciences et avenir, 21 mars 2016.
Asanuma-Brice Cécile, 2016, « Japon : “La centrale nucléaire de Sendai réveille le traumatisme de mars 2011” », Le Monde.
Asanuma-Brice Cécile, 2015, « Fukushima, Bilan d’une situation sanitaire inquiétante », Médiapart, octobre 2015.
Asanuma-Brice Cécile, 2014, « La légende Fukushima », Libération, septembre 2014.
Asanuma-Brice Cécile et Ribault Thierry, 2013, « “Crime d’Etat” à Fukushima : “L’unique solution est la fuite” », Le Nouvel Observateur-Rue 89, juillet 2013.
Asanuma-Brice Cécile, 2011, « La réouverture contestée des écoles irradiées de Fukushima », Le Nouvel Observateur-Rue 89, Mai 2011.
Source :
Cécile Asanuma-Brice, « Les migrants du nucléaire », Géoconfluences, octobre 2017.

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