From Peter Wynn Kirby, Japan Focus.
The record earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan on 11 March 2011 ushered in a highly mediated disaster as Japanese grappled with the triple-meltdowns and radiation crisis at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station. Largely out of sight of international camera crews and probing journalists, the Japanese state and multiple municipalities embarked on the largest radiation response effort in history in an effort to restore hundreds of square kilometres1 covered in radioactive debris. This campaign saw about 70,000 Japanese workers remove over 16 million cubic metres of irradiated dirt2—scraping topsoil off roadsides, meadows, wooded areas, agricultural fields, school grounds, residential zones, shrine compounds, and parklands. Crews swept up radioactive twigs and pine cones, whittled exterior bark from tree stumps, and clipped low-lying branches in an attempt to bring radiation levels down to allow resettlement of tens of thousands of evacuees. Workers garbed in protective gear, joined by volunteers, scrubbed and hosed down streets, pavements, stairways, kerb stones, and storm drains in urban and suburban areas. They also wiped down the exterior of houses, apartments buildings, shops, schools, and other public facilities, using specially treated wipes to clean roof tiles, gutters, window sills, panes, mullions, wall cladding, and doorsteps. Wipes and protective clothing were collected for separate incineration. This campaign allowed state, prefectural, and municipal representatives to record ‘safe’ radiation measurements in areas of Fukushima’s disaster zone—a major Japanese policy priority, particularly with the 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games on the horizon.
Source: Ministry of the Environment, Government of Japan; (accessed September 2019).
In parallel with these massive efforts to collect, or disperse, the radioactive fallout of the Fukushima Daiichi disaster, the pro-nuclear Japanese state engaged in aggressive PR-management to contain Fukushima’s political fallout, working with the nuclear lobby to frame the Fukushima campaign in favourable ideological terms. The scrubbing and scraping of a huge portion of Fukushima’s land area became branded as ‘decontamination’ (josen), despite clear contradictions described below. More telling still was the appropriation of the conceit of recycling to imbue the effort to remove radioactive dirt and other abominated debris with flattering hues of eco-responsibility and resource efficiency. This article3 scrutinizes the decontamination campaign in order to highlight the numerous ways in which the nuclear lobby has leveraged recycling in Fukushima to sanitize and promote nuclear energy throughout its mobilization on the archipelago, with implications for other nuclear purlieux.