Accepted Paper:

Figuring Nuclear Power: The Multiple Japanese Meanings of Nuclear Energy   

Author:

Maxime Polleri (York University)

Paper short abstract:

Nuclear power is part of Japanese technological culture, central to their everyday lives, and a potential destroyer that contaminates environments. Following the Fukushima Nuclear Disaster, I explore how specific figures of Japanese society experience, mobilize, and rationalize nuclear energy.

Paper long abstract:

Nuclear power is part of Japanese technological culture, central to their everyday lives, and correspondingly a potential destroyer that contaminates environments. In the aftermath of the Fukushima Nuclear Disaster, I ask how does Japanese society make sense of nuclear power? To conduct this anthropological study I concentrate on two figures: state officials and anti-nuclear activists. In this, I explore how each figure - informed by different political horizons and technical means - experience, mobilize, and rationalize nuclear power. Energetically speaking, I highlight the manifold technological, political and cultural discourses/practices that frame nuclear power in given states of knowing and being. To do so, I draw on Joshua Barker idea of figures, which encompasses individuals who also stand as symbols of specific socio-cultural realities. This conceptualization offers pragmatic empirical tools and an abstract analytic lens, allowing one to oscillate between the daily materiality of nuclear power (infrastructure, electricity, radiation, nuclear arsenals) and the symbolism that it takes (progress, fear, nationalism) for a specific figure of Japanese modernity. Through ethnographic fieldwork research, I expose the different epistemic lenses and sensory accesses that allow figures to rationalize the various meanings of nuclear power. Subsequently, I analyse the concrete effects of the un/official materialization of the many framings that surround this source of energy in post-Fukushima Japan, especially toward the ongoing problem of radioactive contamination. Through this historical juncture, much is to be gain in rethinking the intersection between the concept of energy and nuclear power.

Panel T124
Energy Beyond Crisis: Energetic Bodies, Ecologies, and Economies