Last update on March 2016
SHINRAI ("Trust" in Japanese) is a Franco-Japanese research project, launched in 2014 and coordinated by the IRSN, that aims to investigate the social and political consequences of the Fukushima accident that occurred in 2011. It is primarily concerned with the decision-making methods used by the authorities following the accident and their impact on the population. The project studies the role of public experts, their trustworthiness in the eyes of citizens and their accountability, especially in a context where scientific data alone are not able to settle and legitimize decisions. SHINRAI focuses on the challenges the nuclear disaster presents for our democracies, by questioning the methods used to involve citizens in the decisions related to post-accident management.
Background and objectives
In March 2011, Japanese authorities had to manage a triple crisis: an earthquake, the subsequent tsunami, and the nuclear accident.
The idea of the SHINRAI project was born in the months that followed. The main desire was to more precisely understand the mechanisms through which citizens lost confidence in the authorities and their experts after the nuclear accident, and analyze the conditions under which new citizen experts or "counter-experts" emerged. To do so, the project relies on a research partnership between three institutions: IRSN (France), Sciences Po (France), and the Tokyo University of Technology (Japan). More generally, this research should provide political and sociological insights on governmental and regional management issues in the wake of a nuclear accident—e.g., policy for managing contaminated areas, evacuation decisions, radiological threshold, role and limitations of decontamination, and waste management.
At the theoretical level, the project is part of moral and political sociology (concepts of: institutional trust, trustworthiness, legitimacy) as well as the sociology of science and technology. The relationship between science, expertise and political decisions are analyzed in the specific context of post-accident management. The debate concerning the radiation exposure levels at which people need to be evacuated from contaminated areas (raising the threshold to 20 mSv after the accident) are specifically examined, as is the controversy over the effect of low doses of ionizing radiation and its public impact on understanding of the radiological risk.
The SHINRAI project is based on survey work (interviews, questionnaires) in Japan with four types of stakeholders:
- the authorities involved in post-accident management, at various levels: governmental, prefectural, municipal (e.g., Reconstruction Agency, bureau of accident victim assistance, and Fukushima Prefecture decontamination unit);
- the scientists and experts involved in advising authorities or expert committee members, or at the contrary criticizing/denouncing the measures taken by these authorities;
- nongovernmental associations offering aid to radiological victims and refugees of the nuclear accident; citizens advocating "independent" measurement of radioactivity; movements begun by "citizen scientists," who are constructing bodies of expert knowledge independent of authorities;
- residents of the Fukushima Prefecture, including those living in the cities of Nahara and Kawauchi, who were in the mandatory evacuation zone after the accident and involved in the "return of evacuees" program following decontamination. The investigation also concerns the Watari district of Fukushima, which was not part of the evacuation zone but was subject to decontamination operations because of contamination levels above established standards.
After defining the outline of the SHINRAI project during a preparatory study conducted in 2012 and 2013, Christine Fassert (IRSN) and Reiko Hasegawa (Sciences Po) conducted three two-week missions in Japan in October 2014, and March and September 2015. These missions, successively, made it possible to:
- make contact with Japanese academic partners and verify the feasibility of the survey in the Fukushima region;
- invite a Japanese university, Tokyo Tech, to join the project;
- begin a survey of the institutional actors at national level (JAEC, MEXT, METI, Reconstruction Agency, Disasters Victims Assistance Committee, etc.) and local level (municipalities of Kawauchi and Nahara), as well as association members ("citizen scientists," providers of aid to evacuees, "citizens sensors", etc.) through dozens of interviews;
- make contact with the locals, through an initial set of interviews to better understand the situation in the evacuated cities, to track the population consultation process and inhabitants' decisions to return or not after the lifting of government evacuation orders.
The next missions will help to continue talks with the various stakeholders, including conducting new interviews with residents who have already participated, to consider the paths they have taken (e.g., whether or not they decided to return to decontaminated areas).
Perspectives and initial results
The SHINRAI project should provide:
- a complement to studies already initiated, particularly those led by the IRSN, on decontamination problems and population return;
- a sociological and political perspective on the issues of public expertise in the event of a nuclear crisis and, additionally, on the positioning of the public expert in society;
- a reflection on the methods of articulation of public expertise with emerging expertise (citizens sensors, citizen scientists, etc.), whether they claim to be neutral or "anti-nuclear."
Initial findings identify specific problems related to the return of populations in decontaminated areas for the towns of Kawauchi and Nahara, as well as other common issues:
- The elderly are more often returned to their villages after the lifting of the evacuation order than families with children, due to a radiological situation that has not yet returned to "normal" in these territories (children are more sensitive to radiation), but also due to of the lack of infrastructure in these areas. For example, Kawauchi residents normally use a hospital in a city that remains completely evacuated and is located in the "difficult-to-return" zone.
- Financial compensation measures have created situations seen as unjust between beneficiaries and nonbeneficiaries and have generated tensions that, in some cases, destroy community cohesion within villages.