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 project methodology
This project is unusual in that it is based on a detailed survey of the inhabitants of the Fukushima prefecture: eight 2 - 3 week campaigns were organized in Japan, and Reiko Hasegawa (Paris School of Political Science (Sciences Po)), Christine Fassert (French Institute for Radiological Protection and Reactor Safety (IRSN)) and Rina Kojima (University Paris-Est (ENPC)) held over 120 interviews with the inhabitants of the Watari area (Fukushima town), Nahara and Kawauchi. These different campaigns provided an opportunity to meet (sometimes more than once) inhabitants returning to their home towns following the government's lifting of the evacuation orders, and also those who had left for areas sometimes remote from Fukushima (for instance, Kyoto or Nagasaki). There were also meetings with representatives of national and local authorities, and lastly with associations and "counter-experts", particularly from anti-nuclear groups, who have played an important role in informing and supporting the public.
The project also drew on a review of both gray literature (ministerial reports, working notes, etc.) published only in Japanese, and scientific literature, often also not translated into English.
This report analyzes the implementation of the Japanese post-accident policy, and the issues involved in returning or not returning to the evacuated villages. It provides in particular:
1. A detailed description of the Japanese government's policy, and its interpretation at local level.
2. A categorization of the inhabitants based on whether or not they have returned to the evacuated territories.
The research was used to categorize the inhabitants, based on their decision whether or not to return to the evacuated territories once the government and the local authorities had lifted the evacuation order. The categorization shows the diversity of the views held by the inhabitants, as a function of different criteria (e.g. age, family situation, agreement with the post-accident policy, confidence in the assessment of the radiation conditions, etc.). The field survey examined the practical impact of the accident on people's lives, based on whether or not they had chosen to return: concerns about the effect of ionizing radiation, daily life in a contaminated environment, the role and limitations of measuring radiation exposure, disagreements within the family about the choices to be made, separations (several cases of women who had left the prefecture with their children), economic difficulties, the role and limits of financial compensation, "reconstruction" of the village, the degree of attachment to the home territory, and worries about the future, etc.
3. A focus on the particular role of mayors and their difficulties. The role of the mayors of Naraha and Kawauchi were studied in detail, based on interviews with those involved and with the municipal team. The analysis shows how these local representatives have been torn between government demands for "rapid reconstruction" and the often diverging interests of the inhabitants of the communes. It is extremely difficult to identify or to work with the notion of "general public interest", since very significant divisions are observable between inhabitants as regards their needs and desires, particularly between the elderly and families with young children.
4. The role of the expert in assessing the radiation risk. Interviews were carried out with a radiation-protection expert from the ICRP, doctors and government officials who described what they had done. This led to insights that raised questions about the role of the expert (what are the limits on the will to reassure?) and demonstrated how difficult it is to intervene when opinions are sharply divided, because positions on radiation risk are systematically associated with a position on nuclear energy.
5. The report concluded by looking at the experience of the nuclear accident at Fukushima in the light of a certain number of assumptions that form the basis of the post-accident policy defined by the bodies in charge of their management: the "unconditional" attachment of inhabitants to their territory, the commensurability of radiation and other risks, and the link made between zoning and personal protection.