Radiation Risks and the Hermeneutics of Low-Doses: A Chronic Disaster?

Thursday, July 17, 2014: 11:10 AM
Room: Booth 44
Oral Presentation
Paul JOBIN , University of Paris, Diderot, France
The Fukushima nuclear disaster (hereafter “3.11”) has reactivated the controversy over the hazardous consequences for human health of low-dose radiation, an issue dating back to the mid-1950s. 

Following on Miwao Matsumoto’s notion of “structural disaster” and the sociology of nuclear labor as pioneered by Gabrielle Hecht, I will first address the chronic dimension of 3.11, or the disaster before the disaster. By the multiplied levels of subcontractors and the frequent camouflage of radiation doses, the labor organization of the nuclear industry in Japan and other countries (Taiwan, France...) have made invisible the major part of occupational hazards. This invisibility of local and chronic hazards has also alimented and biased a global production of scientific knowledge and ignorance, which is only one but fascinating part of the long controversy on “low-doses”. I will examine to what extent has 3.11 created a new context that could lead to the further modification of current standards of radiation protection. Here I will present how Japanese labor and environmental activists build their criticism of existing safety standards by borrowing from classical epidemiology. I will further address the criticism on minor mode that has rose within the nuclear establishment (the “nuclear village”) in Japan and among the international “community” of epidemiologists and radiation specialists. The conflicts of interpretation (i.e. hermeneutics) between Japanese government experts and activists thus reflect a larger debate, at a global level, within the community of epidemiologists and radiation specialists. This description will lead me to discuss the limits of the classical opposition between the positivist paradigm and the social constructivist paradigm.

This research follows up on a study I started in 2002 on Japanese nuclear contract workers. Further observation and interviews have been conducted since 3.11 in Japan and in Europe, among cleanup workers, government experts, activists and epidemiologists.