The author assesses the Fukushima nuclear disaster in light of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Hanford, Chernobyl, Three Mile Island and the nexus between nuclear weapons and nuclear power.
This summer, I participated in the seventeenth “Pilgrimage for Peace,” traveling to Hiroshima and Nagasaki with a group that included seventeen American students led by Professor Peter Kuznick of American University, seven international students from across Asia, and sixteen students from Japan. During our eleven days together, we had many discussions on the topic of “How to Understand the Relation between the Fukushima Nuclear Disaster and Hiroshima/Nagasaki.” Our Canadian coordinator and interpreter Norimatsu Satoko and two students from Fukushima introduced by Gotō Nobuyo made a special contribution to these discussions.
In the midst of this, I was struck by the prescience of something the late Takagi Jinzaburō (Citizens’ Nuclear Information Center) once pointed out. The Chernobyl nuclear disaster broke out on April 23, 1986, and shortly after that Takagi wrote the following:
Nuclear technology is the equivalent of acquiring on earth the technology of the heavens….The deployment here on earth of nuclear reactions, a phenomenon occurring naturally only in heavenly bodies and completely unknown to the natural world here on the earth’s surface, is…a matter of deep significance. For all forms of life, radiation is a threat against which they possess no defense; it is an alien intruder disrupting the principles of life on earth. Our world on the surface of this planet, including life, is composed most basically of chemicals…and its cycles take place as processes of combination and dissolution of chemical substances….Nuclear civilization always harbors in its womb a moment of destruction, like a ticking time bomb. The danger it presents…is of a kind completely unlike those we have faced before. And now isn’t it the case that the ticking of its timer is growing louder and louder in our ears?1
Despite Takagi’s words of warning 25 years ago, despite the painful experience of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, we failed to cultivate the ability to hear the ticking of the timer throughout the nation. It was against this background, sadly, that March 11, 2011 arrived. Here, I would like to explore the tasks that the present catastrophe presents for social science research.