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Endemic Catastrophe? Notes From A Visit to Fukushima

Date: 18 March 2015 Time: 13.00-14.30

Venue: Bowland North SR25

Special CSEC/CSS STS Mixtures

Weds 18thMarch 1-2.30, BN SR25

Professor Brian Wynne, Emeritus, Lancaster University

Endemic Catastrophe? Notes From A Visit to Fukushima

ABSTRACT: Having studied and been involved in nuclear energy issues and ionising radiation risks controversies especially around Sellafield, then Chernobyl, since the 1970s, an invitation to spend three days in December 2014 visiting Fukushima and the approx. 1500 km2 Iitate village 'evacuation-zone' (unofficially partly populated still, by returning farmers - officially under government decontamination), was impossible to decline. Comparisons were invited with my knowledge of different events over the years involving the Sellafield nuclear complex, and with the Chernobyl nuclear disaster of 1986 and after, but I found these impossible to make, especially under the unfamiliarity and immensity of the immediate experiences around Fukushima. In what senses might we think, as philosopher Jean-Luc Nancy has argued, of Fukushima 2011 and continuing, as defining the equivalence of all disasters, natural, man-made (technological), and hybrid, following The Nazi Holocaust, and Hiroshima-Nagasaki, 1945? In this talk I'll try first just to describe and make a little - provisional - sense of what I encountered during my three days visiting both the Iitate area with its abandoned rice farms (and abundant charcoal-producing woods), some being used by the farmers collaborating with NGO scientists as experimental plots to attempt to test other decontamination processes), and evacuated families in Fukushima City, over 100km from the stricken Fukushima-Daiichi four-reactor site. Then I'll discuss some of the ways others have analysed such disasters, from the 1970s and 1980s work of Turner, and Perrow, and Vaughan, who emphasised the organisational-structural dimensions leading to catastrophic mismanagement of the technological-social systems involved, via Erickson on the 1972 Buffalo Creek coal-mining community dam-burst disaster, who introduced the idea that catastrophic multiple social conditions existed as preconditions both for the catastrophe itself, well before the dam-burst and ensuing 125 deaths and community-devastation, and for the disastrously inadequate social reconstruction and rehabilitation afterwards. How does this more historical process-based idea of 'slow disaster' relate to Nancy's idea of equivalence of disasters, or even to Beck's (Risk Society) thesis that late-20th/early-21st Century risks - with nuclear risk as his quintessential exemplar - are indiscriminate, pervasive, and incalculable? These are some of the questions towards which I'll try to point reflections and discussion.


Who can attend: Anyone


Further information

Associated staff: Brian Wynne

Organising departments and research centres: Centre for Science Studies, Centre for the Study of Environmental Change, Sociology


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