Fukushima Lessons Learned

Why a Symposium

During the early weeks of the nuclear crisis at Fukushima, it became clear in comparing Japanese and foreign news sources, that there wasn’t a lot of good information available–from either. The American sources–even the venerable NYTimes–seemed to play up the disaster angle, while the Japanese sources repeated what they were being told by government and TEPCO. Members of the public– in Japan and the U.S. and elsewhere–who understood that we are regularly lied to or deliberately not informed about nuclear issues–generated rumor and panic to fill the gap.

We are all going to live with the issues that have come out of this nuclear crisis for a very long time. As long as we are reliant on nuclear technology, we need to stop pretending that it is a safe, clean technology. Accidents are going to happen. That is the starting place. Everything else proceeds from there.

This symposium aims to provide access to the expert knowledge of people who have spent a lot of time thinking about these things, even before Fukushima. As Tomoyuki Bannai, an elementary school teacher in Fukushima, tells his students, “We are going to live with radiation for a very long time, and we must know as much as we can about it–”

Why an Art Exhibit

From the very beginning, when we were planning the symposium for the first anniversary of the Great Tohoku earthquake, the art exhibition was always a part of it.

As the Fukushima crisis reminds us yet again, such events have a large factor of unknowability built into them– there is always what the physics, or biology, or geology cannot tell us; what the government and nuclear industry will not. Much of what we do know is expressed in a precise language of numbers. This is a necessary kind of knowledge, but it is not the only kind of knowledge, and it can be limited and alienating.

The arts are not a panacea, but they can help us to live with large uncertainties–to imagine a path for finding our way. The arts give a human face to the numbers. They remind us that statistical populations are communities of human beings. By opening the door of empathy, they show us that “over there” is not so very far away. That what happened to “them” can happen to “us.” Nuclear accidents have no disciplinary boundaries; they are multi-disciplinary events. They belong, unfortunately, to us all.

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