Monday, 16 September 2013

The struggle of farmers in Fukushima part 1

This 12 minute video of Fukushima prefecture farmers at a meeting with Ministry officials. It's really grim watching. Farmers are bringing very reasonable concerns about contaminated land, contaminated food, the precarious existence of those who want to evacuate but can't.  The Ministry officials are sincere, within their capabilities, and are troubled by the plight of the farmers, but there is a total failure in communication. The farmers believe their food and land is contaminated, the Ministry sees fears of radiation being the product of "terrible rumours".   
The farmers will walk away from the meeting frustrated, angry and feeling that they have not been listened to. It's the Ministry's job to listen and respond to what they hear, not just the words but the feelings.  They don't  don't know this and I assume they don't know how to do this. Telling a farmer that people in the Ministry buy rice from Fukushima does nothing to make a farmer who believes he is selling contaminated rice think that the rice is now safe

Peter Sandman, a pioneer of a risk communication emphasises that where the public doesn't understand the risk, educating the public is useful.  In contrast, where there is public outrage,  public education of risk is not enough, the outrage itself must be dealt with.

Looking down Sandman's twelve point list of factors that contibute to outrage, it's hard to see any kind of resolution to the situation in Fukushima  short of making it financially possible for anyone who wants to evacuate to do including giving people the means to re-establish livelihoods. The situation on the left hand side reduces outrage; the situation on the right exacerbates it.
  • Voluntary vs. coerced 
There is nothing about Fukushima that is voluntary. The exclusion zone has been set. For those outside the exclusion zone, there is no assistance to re-locate or re-establish themselves. Farming itself is co-erced.  Farmers don't want to produce goods with radiation, even if it is below the 100 bequerels that has been established as safe, but if they don't produce, they have no income.
  • Natural vs. industrial
There is nothing about Fukushima that is natural. Radiation may be a naturally occurring substance, but it's not in Fukushima. The tsunami may have been the catalyst but it was industrial and government failures that lead to the failure at the nuclear plants.
  • Familiar vs. not familiar
Japan spent the 50s - 2011s making nuclear palatable. For a country that experienced nuclear attacks, the concerted effort of government, media and industry, not to mention the seduction of cheap energy prices, anti-damming ecology movments, fears of global warming made remarkable inroads into making nuclear a  popularly acceptable energy alternative.  And yet, the stigma of nuclear pollution and the health of those who were irradiated at Hiroshima and Nagasaki remain in the public psyche.  The familiarity of Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined with the unfamiliarity of knowing how constant low level radiation affects people combine to elevate anxiety.
  • Not memorable vs. memorable
Memorable... 3 years ago you'd be hard pressed to find someone outside of Japan who knew where Fukushima was. Now you'd be hard pressed to find someone with media access who did not.  The stigma of Fukushima is palpable. In one of my classes a student presented on her hometown.  She said she'd lived there for two years. In Q & A time one of her classmates asked where she lived before that. She replied Fukishima and that she was a post-disaster evacuee.  The unease was palpable. There was no unkindness, more like an OMG....Fukushima...  It's a tainted word, anywhere, the new Chernobyl.
  • 5-12 to come tomorrow.


Rurousha said...

I've been mulling this non-stop since you've written it.

First, thanks for an excellent summary.

Second, thanks for introducing me to Sandman.

Third, ugh, this Fukushima/Olympics/Abenomics triangle is such a tragicomedy that I can't contribute anything meaningful. My brain starts smoking.

So, let's suffice with thanks.

PS: Do you read Shisaku's blog?

Cecilia said...

It's such grim writing....

I have one on education and racism that is about to spew forth too...

I don't know Shisaku, I think I should. Will search.

I just found it... very depressing...