From the Low-level Radioactive Zone – A Civil-Bio Society?

(Original text in Japanese below)

From the Low-level Radioactive Zone – A Civil-Bio Society?

Yoshihiko Ikegami

Iitate Village is located 40km away from the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant (designated as an indoor evacuation zone). For a period of time the radiation level there was as high as what was monitored in the neighboring towns of Chernobyl. On March 30, IAEA staff went in to the village to monitor the level of radiation, and the meter pointed 2 million times higher than normal. Following this monitoring, the IAEA urged that the residents must evacuate. However the Japanese government insisted that no evacuation was necessary by hinting that IAEA’s monitoring was insufficient thus inaccurate, and presenting a far lower radiation rate. Two days later, the IAEA quietly announced that its monitored number was wrong without any explanations of the reason and ground of their previous measurement.

The primary concern for the residents in the Kanto Region including Tokyo is the minute by minute change the Fukushima Nuclear Plants undergoes. Whether it results in the worst-case scenario like meltdown and scattering of plutonium or it clams down – realistically this is but uncertain at the moment. Nevertheless, the government continues to make announcements that it will calm down without presenting any justification, and mass media follow that up with numerous comments made by proxy scholars that the situation is heading toward recovery. On the other hand, mostly via the internet journalists and experts are warning the public that they should be ready for the worst case scenario.

The next concern is the pollution level of drinking water, that is, tap water and farm products from within a vicinity of the Fukushima plant. Tokyo is largely relying on that region for its source of water and food supplies including vegetables. The government reportedly set the maximum amount of radiation to 10 to 100 times above the regulatory limits by WHO, naming it “a tentative measure in the state of emergency”. In other words, unless the contamination is excessive, it does not deem the supplies as legally contaminated. Although numbers show relatively high radiation level from farm products and water, they are measured based on the new regulation hence considered safe. And it judges as “undetected” the radiation bellow a certain degree (i.e., about 10 times higher than WHO’s regulation). Therefore we end up with having to check on TV and the internet the degree of radiation in vegetables and water on daily basis.

The government calls the information shared on the internet “rumors” and repeatedly urges the public not to believe them. In addition, a public advertising organization called Advertising Council Japan is airing a TV commercial asking people not to believe rumors and not to buy-up. (The head of the organization is the president of TEPCO.) The commentators in news programs single-mindedly repeat similar messages.

This is a warfare we are fighting everyday in the low-level radioactive zone. The situation reveals itself as a psychological warfare, which was a symbolic strategy during the cold war. While Communism was an imagined hypothetical enemy, what stands out in this situation is a neural battle fought over the information and its interpretation of the invisible entity called radiation. Then who is our enemy? For us, the more the word “safe” is repeated, the worse our worries become. What is the state doing? It is certainly in a tremendous fear of impossibility to control us the people.

Once higher radiation level is detected in tap water, the government announces that infants under 1 year old should refrain from taking it, but no safety is assured for children of 2 years and older. Then a newspaper article came as even more surprise! For instance, the Japan Pediatric Society announces that dehydration is more threatening than radiation in tap water, so children should not hesitate drinking water. The statement itself is not necessarily wrong — but the timing. What should we do? This is an information warfare over the body, of life itself, being fought as radioactive substances keep accumulating in our bodies.

The question is how long we could survive in this intensity of the situation. Our least defense and resistance are not to buy any vegetables, even when their radiation levels are lowered any bit.

Meanwhile mass media has begun a major campaign for urging us to buy and eat low-level contaminated vegetables. It is up to each individual to determine it as safe and eat it, however, what is it that a public campaign is launched to promote false safety? It is instigated in the name of justice to support farmers. The campaign does not seem to have achieved a dominant support. But the daily reminder of safety is quietly suggesting that those who question the government’s announcement are morally inferior. At the Meteorological Society of Japan, the president ordered its members to refrain from predicting radioactive scattering. The reason for it was not to stir up worries among people.

How could we make sense of this voluntary submission? The general public in Japan, who experienced The Great Japanese Empire in the past, are extremely sensitive to the issues of nationalism where an entire nation stand in unity to deal with problems. There are warnings against nationalism in the midst of this disaster, but this seemingly voluntary and moralistic attitude differs from nationalism. The advocators are not using phrases like “for the sake of our nation” or “for the emperor” like in the past, nor calling those who don’t follow the master narrative unpatriotic. Nationalism is not functioning in this low-level radioactive area at least so far. The enemy is not outside us the nation.

But there is a rising tendency to see that our moral enemy exists within. This morality, which originates in a psychological dilemma based on the body, is different from a typical sense of fascism, and is grounded on the body that accepts contamination. I would call this rising state: a civil-bio society. This uncanny form of society has not just begun its cycle in recent weeks, but has gradually been organized since the 90s. Then since the wake of the disaster, it has begun to take over a crucial part of the society. At this moment it remains as a tendency and has not come to play a major role; and it is not possible to determine whether it is rooted in the particularity of Japanese society or something more universal. Three weeks has passed since the nuclear accident, this is where we stand now.





政府は自分たちの発表する数値及びその解釈以外はデマと決めつけ、さかんにデマを信じないようにと繰り返している。さらに広告公共機構(AC:ADVERTISING COUNCIL JAPAN)と称する団体はデマを信じるな、買い占めを控えよと頻繁にCMを流している(この団体の代表は東京電力の社長である)。またニュース等でもコメンテーターを通じてこのメッセージは頻繁に繰り返される。


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