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Session 3: “Radiation, Information, and Control”

Everyone is encouraged to post a comment at the end of each manuscript. You may also post a comment on the papers and substance of an entire session by posting a comment at the bottom of this page.


Why Safecast Matters: A Case Study in Collective Risk Assessment
Yasuhito Abe (University of California)

The Fukushima nuclear accident has created an alternative space for science knowledge production practices. Since the beginning of the accident, a wide variety of people, including but not limited to lay people, have engaged in DIY (do-it-yourself) reporting of Geiger counter readings for their health and safety, and have distributed the resulting data to those who are concerned about nuclear radiation by harnessing the Internet. As early as March 13 2011, Geiger counter readings were broadcast via UStream (Nihon Saiken Initiative, 2012). On March 17, Dr. Ryo Ichimiya, a researcher at the High Energy Accelerator Research Organization, created a website called “Radio Monitor 311,” which summarizes radiation monitoring data and graphs related to the Fukushima nuclear accident …[Read More]


Negotiating Nuclear Safety: Responses to the Fukushima Disaster by the U.S. Nuclear Community
William J. Kinsella (North Carolina State University)

This essay revisits the literature on “high-reliability organizations,” originated by researchers at the University of California-Berkeley, in light of the 2011 disaster at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power station. Rather than focusing on the operational level of analysis as did the original literature, the essay expands the high-reliability concept to a more macro level by envisioning a “high-reliability communication system” incorporating a range of actors beyond nuclear operators, vendors, and regulators. Such a system can more effectively address the problem of requisite variety in perspectives, knowledge, and imagination, enhancing both nuclear safety and democratic risk governance. Drawing on a preliminary analysis of responses to the events at Fukushima by the U.S. nuclear community, the essay identifies thirteen rhetorical boundaries that currently structure communication within that system…[Read More]


Radiation Protection after 3.11: Conflicts of Interpretation and Challenges to Current Standards Based on the Experience of Nuclear Plant Workers
Paul Jobin (U Paris-Diderot, CEFC Taipei)

Since the Fukushima nuclear disaster (hereafter 3.11), nuclear workers have been engaged in the “emergency work” (kinkyū sagyō) at Fukushima Daiichi without clear time limits, meaning the “emergency” could last for decades. This problem has been emphasized by the NGOs engaged in negotiations with the Ministry of Health and Labor. These activists aim to defend the rights of the workers involved in the cleanup of Fukushima Daiichi and of those hired for the decontamination work in Fukushima prefecture. Some workers have come from Fukushima to join the meetings in Tokyo, bringing a dose of reality to discussions that might otherwise lack the proper context. The criticism of these NGOs and workers deals mainly with various aspects of the current working conditions.

Some of the problems addressed are similar to those faced by contracted nuclear plant (hereafter, NP) workers even before 3.11, like the practice of modifying dosimeters to minimize radiation readings—since employers are not obligated to propose alternative jobs when the maximum dose has been reached. There is little pressure to change this situation, since the multiplication of contractors allows the big players, like TEPCO, Tôshiba, Hitachi, GE, etc., to evade any responsibility over such practices. Another major issue is the lack of health insurance or regular labor contracts. Other problems are specific to the post-3.11 context. As regards radiation protection, the biggest problems are…[Read More]


Downwind and Denial
Sharon Traweek (University of California, Los Angeles)

In this essay I address the denial of radiation by government agencies, the practices enforcing that denial, and the numerous projects to define the subject position of the radiated and to make that positionality public. Downwind is the direction wind blows. I am using the term “downwinders” to refer to those exposed to radioactive contamination or nuclear fallout from atmospheric or underground nuclear weapons testing, and nuclear accidents, whether in Hiroshima, Nagasaki, the south Pacific, the US southwest, or near numerous nuclear power plant accidents, such as the Tohoku region near Fukushima DaiIchi. (See the work of Wm Kinsella, et al, on the downwinders at Hanford, Washington, US.)

I employ a set of concepts from Judith Butler, Kimberly Crenshaw, Michel Foucault, and Miranda Fricker. Foucault used the term governmentality as the organized practices (mentalities, rationalities, and techniques) through which subjects are governed and biopower is the political strategy of governing the biological features of humans. During WW II and the Cold War the US government [Read More]


Unwanted Intimacies: Technostruggle and Radioactive Embodiment after 3.11
Kath Weston (Department of Anthropology, University of Virginia)

Not all forms of intimate encounters with “resources” such as food, water, and energy are desirable, or desired. The radioactive isotopes associated with the production of nuclear energy are distinguished by their imperceptibility to the body’s unaided senses.  In the months after 3.11, as data on radiation releases from Fukushima Daiichi supplied by the Japanese government and plant operator TEPCO proved unreliable, ordinary people in Japan began to take their own radiation measurements.  They set about making or acquiring Geiger counters and dosimeters, then used digital technologies and social media to disseminate the results.  “Unwanted Intimacies” characterizes these developments as a form of technostruggle in which people seize the (technological) means of perception in order to produce knowledge about their intimate bodily engagements with potentially lethal derivatives of resources that are supposed to sustain them.  To make sense of statements such as “we are becoming nuclear fuel rods,” I distinguish between ecological models grounded in interdependence and conceptions of biointimacy that treat bodies and environments as co-constituting.  In the longer version of this paper (available upon request), after applying Ulrich Beck’s account of sovereignty over knowledge production work in my analysis, I go on to question whether sovereignty as a concept is adequate for understanding technostruggle as a movement organized around the need “to protect” (mamoru) people, especially children, from radiation. The longer version of the essay concludes with a look at the post-3.11 phenomenon of the “radiation divorce” by way of considering how biointimacies can affect intimacies more conventionally conceived, such as those entailed in kinship…[Read More]


New Expert Eyes Over Fukushima: Open Source Responses to the Nuclear Crisis in Japan
Luis Felipe Rosado Murillo (UCLA)

In the aftermath of Fukushima disaster, a new and unlikely group of technoscientific experts came to the rescue – computer hackers – but not without help from Internet entrepreneurs, journalists, and non-expert volunteers. In a matter of days after the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, computer experts organized online meetings and elaborated on technical solutions to address the expected effects of the disaster. In this paper I explore responses of Open Source experts and enthusiasts to the Fukushima crisis by analyzing the development of collaborative technologies to measure radioactive contamination across Japan.

This paper is offered as a partial description of the nature of sociotechnical ties among hardware engineers, software developers, businesses, educational institutions, non-profit organizations, and Free and Open Source projects. Based on ethnographic data from participant observation at Tokyo Hackerspace (THS) and trajectory interviews with expert and non-expert volunteers, this paper addresses emergent forms of technoscientific expertise which are not confined or legitimized by particular institutions, but remotely distributed and organized around networks of various specialists and influential actors…[Read More]


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