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Session 4a & 4b: “When Disasters End”

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New Data and Analysis on Recovery in Towns, Villages, and Cities in the Tohoku Region
Daniel P. Aldrich (Purdue)

The consequences of the 3/11 compounded disaster were not distributed equally across the coastal towns, villages, and cities of the Tohoku region of Japan.  Instead, the mortality rate varied tremendously, from zero up to ten percent of the local residential population.  What accounts for this variation remains a critical question for researchers to answer and for policy makers to design effective disaster prevention frameworks.  This paper uses a new data set including all tsunami-affected coastal villages to untangle the factors connected to mortality during the disaster.  With data on demographic, geophysical, infrastructure, social capital, political, and economic conditions, we find strong effects of tsunami characteristics, social capital measures, and demographic conditions.  These findings have important policy implications for future disasters in Japan and abroad…[Read More]


Mobilizing Nuclear Bias: The Fukushima Nuclear Crisis and the Politics of Uncertainty
Kyle Cleveland (Institute of Contemporary Asian Studies, Temple University Japan)

The nuclear disaster in Fukushima which followed in the wake of the 3/11 Tohoku earthquake and Tsunami has been one of the most significant public health crises in modern history, with profound implications for how nuclear energy is perceived. This paper analyzes the nature of risk assessment in the nuclear crisis, examining how the Japanese government and its constituent institutions in the nuclear industry, foreign governments and international nuclear agencies responded to public fears and attempted to manage public opinion in the early phase of the crisis. Based on interviews with Japanese government officials, nuclear experts and foreign embassy officials in Japan, the paper focuses on how foreign governments coordinated their crisis management response with the Japanese government while attempting to appease their expat citizens in Japan in the face of alarmist media coverage, criticism from anti-nuclear activists and pressure by nuclear industry officials to maintain the long-term viability of nuclear energy.

In addition to examining how the accident progression in the reactors was addressed and conveyed to the general public, the paper will discuss how evacuations from areas in close proximity to the Daiichi NPP were conducted, and how the exclusionary zones where determined by Japanese and foreign governments in Japan. As the crisis unfolded and efforts to bring the reactors under control were initially proving ineffective, concerns increased that radiation dispersion was unmitigated, and with radiation monitoring by the U.S. military indicating levels significantly beyond TEPCO’s conservative assessments, the United States broke with Japan, recommending an 80km exclusionary zone, and initiating military assisted departures for embassy staff and Department of Defense dependents from Japan. These actions deviated significantly from Japan’s assessments (which had established a 30km mandatory evacuation zone), creating a dynamic where the U.S. provided technical consultation for the nuclear response while striving to maintain a delicate diplomatic balance as they attempted to impose a qualitatively different crisis management response. Alongside the U.S. response, various European Union States moved their embassies to Western Japan, distributed Potassium Iodide (K1) to their expat citizens in Japan, and in some cases, left Japan altogether for the duration of the crisis. This paper will examine the implications of foreign government responses to the nuclear crisis for Japan’s international relations, both in the early phase of the nuclear crisis, and in the long-term, as Japan continues to coordinate its emergency response protocols with international nuclear agencies, and implement internationally recognized standards in its remedial efforts to ensure public health, and, to restore international credibility…[Read More]


Safe and trustworthy? Food safety after Fukushima
Nicolas Sternsdorff Cisterna (Harvard University)

In this paper I explore the mistrust of the government and experts in guiding the public through the Fukushima disaster as it relates to food. Radiation exposure can be external (ambient radiation), or internal (ingested). There is little that can be done to protect against external radiation other than relocation or avoiding the outdoors. Internal radiation, on the other hand, is a place where concerned people in Japan could exercise some degree of agency in limiting their exposure. Japan is a capitalist society with a well-developed food distribution system, so it is possible for consumers to choose foods in ways that limit their risk. The public has an option between trusting government assurances of safety and testing procedures, and purchase any food available without worrying about where it was grown. Or they can be suspicious of government standards and purchase food only from retailers that screen it to stricter radiation standards than the government (there are many such businesses currently operating in Japan). Or they can refuse to eat products grown in Northern Japan, and have their food sourced from areas unaffected by radiation or favor imported products. In what follows I offer an ethnographic vignette to look at the mistrust of experts, explain the setting of government food safety standards, and how some groups have challenged that interpretation. In the conclusion I return to the question of what it means for food to be safe when there is little trust in the system. The research is based on 18 months of fieldwork in the Tokyo area and numerous trips to Tohoku starting in September 2011…[Read More]


Disaster Scripting in India’s Nuclear Energy Landscape
Monamie Bhadra (Arizona State University)

Following the historic US-India nuclear deal of 2008, and the tragedy of Fukushima three years later, India is now afire with protests against Prime Minister Singh’s decision to accelerate the development of its nuclear energy infrastructure through foreign investment (Visvanathan 2012). Protests echo age-old anxieties of livelihood protection, land tenure and distribution, sovereignty over resources, independence from foreign economic forces, the continuity of community and shared identity, as well as with the more prosaic concerns of risk and safety. To analytically hold still and make legible the perpetually shifting anti-nuclear landscape of India is challenging. Geographically, politically and institutionally decentralized and tenuously linked, Indians opposing nuclear energy operate on multiple political, cultural and epistemic registers. With contradictory motives for opposition, activists advance competing visions of what constitutes proper development, health, and the public good. Engagements with the Indian bureaucracy and the nuclear establishment occur at various levels and locales, including courts, academic seminars, public hearings of environmental impact assessments, marches, police stations, and encounters with scientists surveying the land and water. Even the nuclear reactor technologies activists oppose vary from place to place, with one kind of reactor purchased from the United States in Gujarat, another set of French European pressurised reactors for the nuclear park in Maharashtra, and the addition of yet more Russian reactors to an existing facility in Tamil Nadu…[Read More]


Repurposing Place Online: Japan’s Push for Foreign Tourists after 3/11
Laura Beltz Imaoka (Department of Visual Studies, University of California, Irvine)

Three days following 3.11, the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) sent an official letter of support to Japan’s Minister of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism assuring him of their readiness to provide any assistance to aid recovery. Beyond condolences for the loss of lives and property, the Secretary General of the UNWTO added his concern for the damage caused to “the beautiful tourism destinations in North eastern part of Tokyo and many of other places.” Far from an isolated incident, this geographical gaffe reflects a multitude of others following the disaster, as international media outlets saturated electronic screens with a menagerie of images, conflated maps, videos, and speculations.For Japan’s tourism sector, the disaster’s mediation had immediate and far reaching economic repercussions, resulting in a dramatic downturn of foreign tourists entering the country and a surprising number of tourists cancelling trips to areas located far from the disaster zone.To a global audience, “Japan,” the nation as a whole, had become unsafe.

In order to repair the negative aftereffect of international disaster coverage and reinstate confidence in their country’s tourist-friendly stability, Japan’s tourism industry embarked on an intense period of global image management via social media-based public relations (PR) campaigns. In today’s converged media-communications environment, participation, interaction, and co-creation have taken center stage. Media work now involves various stakeholders, from professional producers, audiences, to sponsors; each with different objectives, from commerce, creativity, to social connection. Disasters as media events transferred into cultural memory are thus co-constructed with indeterminate levels of control over meaning-making activities. Discussing a fraction of these cultural productions with a focus on the stakeholder goals, constraints, and the technology that facilitates them, this paper reflects on the contested nature of post-disaster social media interactions and their influence on the ongoing struggle over 3.11’s meaning in history…[Read More]


Community-Driven and Clustering Housing Recovery after Devastating Disaster A Case Study on Hurricane Katrina and Great East Japan Earthquake
Tamiyo Kondo (Graduate School on Engineering, Kobe University)

After a devastating disaster, the affected area loses all functions that are necessary for people to sustain their lives. One of the most important functions to recover is housing which serves as a basis for human life and community. The author has conducted research focusing on housing recovery after Hurricane Katrina (2005) and the Great East Japan Earthquake (2011), both of which have similarities such as a high percentage of submerged area, widespread and long-term evacuation of survivors and the vast extent of destruction of the built environment. This indicates that there are similar challenges for post-disaster recovery planning and housing recovery and that Japan can learn from failures of recovery after Hurricane Katrina…[Read More]


Crossing the Streams: Locals, Experts & Knowledges in Tōhoku’s Participatory Recovery Planning
Tyson Vaughan (Dept. of Science & Technology Studies, Cornell University)

I have conducted over a year of ethnographic fieldwork in tsunami-devastated Japan, investigating participatory recovery planning processes in several districts of Karakuwa Peninsula in Kesennuma City, Miyagi Prefecture, and the roles played by recovery planning experts from Kobe. Much of my training is in that branch of Science and Technology Studies (STS) concerned with public engagement with science and technology (PES), and I began this project on the supposition that post-disaster participatory recovery planning is an interesting example of “upstream” public engagement in socio-technical change, in which non-local recovery planning experts work with non-expert, local residents. However, my research has led me to question some of the assumptions that I carried into this project, in ways both disappointing and reassuring. For example, the actual degree of influence that local residents wield over the shape of their built environment is disappointingly constrained by government policy. Also, the oft-invoked notion of “upstream” engagement seems thinly theorized and frustratingly inappropriate when the current activities are considered within the cultural and historical context of the local area. However, I have found the experts far more reflexive and keen to understand local conditions than generally portrayed in PES literature. In this short paper, I will touch briefly on each of these “findings,” and I will be happy to discuss them in more depth in my presentation and in the fora of the workshop…[Read More]


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