Risk, Rumour, Radiation: Japan's Nuclear Catastrophe and the Politics of the Apolitical

Wednesday, July 16, 2014: 6:00 PM
Room: Booth 52
Oral Presentation
Anna SKARPELIS , Sociology, New York University, New York, NY
This paper analyzes the particularities of the Japanese approach to risk communication around radiation after 3/11. Radioactive contamination in Japan was first measured and its results published by the Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) and the Japan Atomic Energy Agency on March 14, 2011, three days after the Great East Japan Earthquake ravaged the country, leaving tens of thousands dead and many more displaced. Official radiation monitoring in the following weeks continued in an haphazard manner, yielding vague and at times misleading data that failed to provide actionable information on the necessities of evacuation to the local population.

Within a week of the disaster, various groups had hacked Geiger counters to enable collective radiation monitoring, resulting in a higher degree of granularity of data available to the affected population. Still, while the provided data was more transparent and comprehensive than that which had previously been made publicly available, the groups made few attempts at interpreting the data for the public. The groups insisted that their actions were complementary to, rather than antagonistic to, those of the government and TEPCO and that they therefore should not be seen as political.

The paper explores the role of digital media and technology in altering the production of and access to vital information after disasters.