Accepted Paper:

Radiation and responsibility: what is the right thing for an anthropologist to do in Fukushima?  


Tom Gill (Meiji Gakuin University)

Paper short abstract:

In areas affected by the Fukushima nuclear disaster, disagreement about the science of radiation, and political issues over relocation and compensation, pose a great challenge to public anthropology even to define the public interest. Then comes the even harder question of how best to serve it.

Paper long abstract:

I have been making regular fieldtrips to Fukushima since April 2011, focusing on Nagadoro, a hamlet of population 250 within the agricultural village of Iitate. As I write, the entire village remains evacuated due to high levels of radiation from the Fukushima No.1 nuclear power plant. In this extreme situation, any kind of research that generates data is of obvious public interest and may influence perceptions of the disaster and, ultimately, the lives of those affected by it. Consider the question of whether it is safe to live in Iitate; or in parts of Iitate; or if it is not, then when it might become safe. An accurate scientific assessment demands an understanding of nuclear physics and biochemistry beyond most farmers and anthropologists alike. Even scientific experts do violently disagree, the debate being coloured by political confrontation between proponents and opponents of nuclear power, and by pressing material considerations of relocation and compensation. The people of Nagadoro no longer trust government assurances and will probably not return to live there even if the tremendously expensive decontamination works now underway do eventually reduce radiation to what the government calls 'safe' levels. Normally anthropologists avoid making judgments about things beyond their expertise. But how can the social meaning of post-disaster Fukushima be usefully analysed without reference to the basic science of radiation? An honest appraisal of the situation almost forces the observer to take sides - whether it is good anthropology or not.

Panel P024
Practicing a public anthropology in communities devastated by the East Japan Disaster