Yoshiyuki SATO: What kind of Philosophy is possible after Fukushima?

What kind of Philosophy is Possible after Fukushima?

Yoshiyuki SATO, Tsukuba University


from infowar.com

The serious accident at the nuclear power plant Fukushima-Daiichi in March 2011 has contaminated the regions of Tôhoku and Kantô in Japan in large scale by emitting an enormous quantity of radioactive materials, and has changed our world and our life in a decisive way. Those who live in the contaminated regions are constantly exposed to low-does radiation, which we don’t have enough knowledge of their effects except the statistical ones. Moreover, despite of this catastrophic situation, the nuclear politics of Japan hasn’t almost changed at all. In this sense, we are in a catastrophic situation constantly worsening since the nuclear accident of Fukashima.

In this article, we are going to propose a possible philosophy after the accident of Fukushima in order to develop a fundamental reflection on the nuclear energy. The perspective that we employ is: nuclear energy is a “modern” technology in the strongest sense of the term (that is to say a technology of the 20th century), and it is important to look at the question again by adopting a Foucaultian point of view in terms of “power – knowledge”, that is to say by interrogating the connection between State power and scientific technology.

For example, the limit of the annual dose of radiation for the public that the Japanese government has fixed after the accident of Fukushima following the recommendation of the ICPR, is of 20 mSv, which is 20 times more than the normal situation (1 mSv). Behind this decision, we could suspect the social-economic intention of the government and its intention to limit the zone of evacuation and of excluding the cities of Fukushima and Koriyama, two cities economically and administratively important in the department of Fukushima[2]. Foucault calls this mechanism of power that govern the population by applying the calculation of social-economic cost “dispositif of security” [3]. In this case, we should examine the connection between the scientific power that decides the limit of dose of radiation and the power of security governing the population following a calculation of the social-economic cost. In this sense, the problem of the accident of Fukushima is at the same time the problem of techno-scientific knowledge and state power. From this perspective, we are going to develop a possible philosophy after the accident of Fukushima.

What kind of philosophy is possible after Fukushima?

Let us start our reflection with the critique of nuclear weapon and energy by Günther Anders. Anders is a german philosopher known for the critique of modern technology. Anders has done his doctorate studies with Husserl and his habilitation under the direction of Adorno, and has also participated in the seminars of Heidegger. When the Nazi was in power, he was in exile in France and then in the USA. Being chocked by the nuclear attack of Hiroshima and Nagasak triggered by the USA, he has started a critique of nuclear weapon and energy, which has become the important subject of his philosophical reflection.

In the Thesis for Atomic Age (1959), Anders writes “with the 6th August 1945, the Hiroshima day, a new age has began,  in which, we can transform in every moment and every place, no all our earth as a whole, into a Hisroshima”[4]. He also calls this transfomability of Hiroshima the “possibility of an auto-annihilation”[trans. die Möglichkeit unserer Selbstauslöschung] . His thesis arrives from there: “Hiroshima is everywhere”.

In the Six thesis for Tchernobyl (1986), Anders propose an other thesis, variant from the first one: “Tchernobyl is everywhere” [6]. In other words, if a serious accident happens in a nuclear power station, at whatever instant and whatever location, our earth can be transformed in Tchernobyl. Indeed, triggered by the big earthquake of Tohoku, a serious accident similar to Tchernobyl happened in the nuclear power plant of Fukushima Daiichi, and a large area of the land was contaminated by the radioactivity. The rate of emission of caesium 137 issued from the Fukushima Daiichi nucelar power plant is estimated to 15000 tera becquerel, which correspond to 165.5 times the atomic bomb like Hiroshima (89 tera becquerel), and the amount of the emission of radioactive substances is estimated to be 900 peta becquerel (which doesn’t include the discharge to the ocean), which correspond to 1/6 of Techernobyl. These numbers came from the estimation of the TEPCO (Tokyo Electric Power Company), the actual rate of the emission can be 2 or 3 times higher.

If it is so, the possibility of an auto-annihilation caused by the nuclear arm should be equivalent to the one caused by the accident of a nuclear power station. Anders writes “distinguishing a war-like usage and a peaceful usage of nuclear energy is wrong and deceitful (töricht und betrügerisch)[8] We could examine this thesis of Anders through Foucault’s theory on “power and knowledge”. In Japan, the term “atomic energy (genshiryoku) normally means the peaceful use of nuclear energy, and the term “nuclear (kaku)” its military use. Therefore in Japan, one recognizes as if the peaceful use and military use of nuclear energy were two completely different things. While in reality, they are the two sides of the same coin.

In order to examine this equivalence of the peaceful use and the military use of nuclear energy, we refer to the thought of a Japanese scientist, Jinzaburo Takagi (1938-2000). He was a scientist specializes in nuclear chemistry as well as activist of anti-nuclear citizen’s movement. He calls himself a “citizen scientist”. Takagi was firstly assistant at the institute of nuclear studies at the Tokyo University, and then senior lecture at the Metropolitan University of Tokyo, but he resigned in 1973 due to his sympathy of the movement in which students and peasants fought against the construction of the Narita airport. He has co-founded Citizen’s Nuclear Information Center (CNIC) in 1973 and has been the representative from 1986 till 1998 [9]. In his books, Takagi proposes the fundamental reflections on the essence of nuclear technology and on its essential relation with the State power.

When on reflects on nuclear energy, one will inevitably arrive at posing the fundamental question: why shall one call upon a technology so dangerous to our everyday life simply to produce electricity? Indeed, this technology builds on radioactive substances and plutonium products, which are extremely dangerous for our life. As long as one uses nuclear energy to produce electricity, one cannot exclude the possibility of a serious accident in the nuclear power plant, which wouldn’t only cause massive emission of radioactive substances in an extended space and that put many lives in danger. In contrast, an accident in a power plant uses petrol or coal doesn’t cause dangers as bad as this. Why do we then use such dangerous technology for producing electricity? The response is very simple: the technology of the nuclear plant is a conversion of nuclear technology from the military use to a civil use.

In The dangers of Plutonium [10], Takagi reflects on the essence of nuclear technology by going backward to the time of the Manhattan project – the project that developed the atomic bomb.

The Manhattan project pursued two strands to develop atomic bomb: one consisted in concentrating the natural uranium and to extract uranium 235 (the material that produces the type of bombs used in Hiroshima) and the other to produce artificially plutonium 239 that didn’t exist in the nature (the material for producing the type of bombs used in Nagasaki). To produce plutonium, it is necessary to trigger the chain reaction of the nuclear fission in order to make uranium 238 to absorb a neutron. This technology for producing plutonium 239 is nothing other than the principle of nuclear creator. Takagi writes in The dangers of Plutonium: “The massive production of plutonium 239 consists in producing the nuclear reactor, in other words, the controlled mechanism that was invented for producing the plutonium that was the first material of the atomic bomb, and then it was converted in civil use for producing electricity. Furthermore, the reactor realises the chain reaction of the controlled nuclear fission, and the nuclear weapon provokes uncontrolled train reaction and produces destructive energy. Both are founded on the same principle of the “chain reaction of nuclear fission”, with a difference that the former is controlled and the latter is uncontrolled (though we know that this difference is very important). In addition, Takagi finds the foundation of the nuclear technology in the Manhattan project itself.

The Manhattan project was an operation which aimed to create a State centre of knowledge specialized in war. Moreover, the project had to be developed totally in secret. It required on one hand a tight control of information and on the other hand a centralized system of the research-development, that is to say a centralized power. The fundamental characters of the new state system of this gigantic technology consist of two points: firstly wealth, power and knowledge are centralized; secondly the technology and the substances that treats this centralized system generate a force infinitely destructive. Today, this type of gigantic technology has become popular. While its fundamental character was already established at that time”[12].

The Manattan project consisted therefore of organizing a state system of technology, in other words, the scientific-bureaucratic-military-industrial complex. In order to develop a nuclear technology having a destructive force, it must establish a system of technology strongly centralised by the State. The Manhattan project was this State system of technology. In Japan also, this State system exists as scientific-bureaucratic-military-industrial complex that one calls the “nuclear village”.

Having accepted the discourse of Eisenhower on Atoms for Peace (1953), the Japanese government has started, in 1954, the preparation for introducing nuclear energy. From then on, the Japanese policy of nuclear energy relies always on this state system of technology: the government and the bureaucracy form the project, the state organisations develop researches, and the energy industry realises the project. This state system of technology or the scientific-bureaucratic-military-industrial complex is what one calls “nuclear village”.

Foucault calls this connection of power and of scientific knowledge “power – knowledge”. Organized and developed by the initiative of the State, the technological knowledge becomes an instrument of power with which the state power is applied. The technological power ceases to be the “pure” knowledge which expands freely. It is only developed in relation with power and as a mechanism of power. As Foucault says, it is in this sense that “power produces knowledge” and “power and knowledge implies directly one another” [13]

This manner of being State system of technology has generated a technology so dangerous for humanity. Takagi writes: “The Manhattan project had a very simple goal: produce atomic bombs as destructive as possible. Neither economy, nor the security of workers, nor environment are important. This goal was easy to realize for the technology. However it is not as such in the civil use of nuclear energy. Economy and security are important and it is necessary that the introduction of this technology should make humans happy, which is completely different from the case of the development of weapons destined to kill people. Nevertheless, those who wanted to apply the nuclear technology realised by the Manhattan project as peaceful use have forgotten this essential point while inheriting the Manhattan project. This historical background explains the actual difficulties that we encounter 4o years after the birth of nuclear energy, which has brought more difficulties than its fruits.[14]”

By the direct application of military technology of nuclear energy to its civil use, all the problems also come from the nuclear power plant. The gigantic force of the nuclear energy represents a positive side for military use, but also insurmountable problems for civil use.

At the first place, nuclear energy produces necessarily some radioactive wastes very dangerous to our life. At the first stage of the development of nuclear energy, on had hoped of the detoxification of the radioactive wastes. However this hope was already lost due to the technological difficulties and the cost-effect relation. The problem of managing radioactive wastes is that it has yet to be resolved even after the shutdown of the nuclear power. This is even truer for Japan, which situates in a seismic zone, cannot securely stock the radioactive wastes under the earth.

At the second place, to produce electricity, the nuclear power station concentrates a gigantic energy in its reactor and stock a lot of radioactive substance (for the reactor of one million kW to last for a year time, the amount of radioactive substances equivalent to 1000 atomic bombs like those used in Hiroshima and Nagasak have tobe stocked in this reactor[15]). One cannot completely exclude the possibility that these radioactive substances are massively released to the environment when this system is destroyed due to whatever reason -[16].

That is why nuclear energy cannot resolve the problem of strong toxicity of the radioactive substances, nor the problem of its destructive influence capable of harming the environment due to a serious accident. This comes from the fact that the technology of nuclear power plant was born from the technology that produces nuclear weapon (the production of plutonium by the nuclear reactor). In other words, the danger of the nuclear power plant comes from the danger of nuclear weapon, of which the aim is massive destruction. Moreover, the problems caused by the scientific-bureaucratic-military-industrial complex called “nuclear village” (for example, the propaganda of the security on nuclear energy, the lack of measures in case of accident, and the minimisation of influences of eventual accidents or even the dissimulation of certain accidental products, etc.), all these problems derive from the fact that the technology of nuclear energy has been developed by the State system of technology, that is also to say, by the connection of state power and technological knowledge.

The other point important for our reflection, is that the nuclear power plant produces necessarily plutoniums, which are the primary material of nuclear weapon. The nuclear power plant brings alone also the possibility of producing nuclear weapon. If the Japanese government cannot give up neither the technological development of nuclear power plant, nor the treatment of the used  nuclear fuels (that is to say, the enrichment of plutonium), nor the breeder reactor (that is the breeding of plutonium) despite numerous wastes and the important technical difficulties, it is because all these are in relation with the intention of the politicians and the bureaucrats to keep the possibility of producing nuclear weapon, even if this intension is at the same time linked to the politics of the “energetic self-sufficiency” (but, in reality, all these uraniums are imported). Indeed, Hitoshi Toshioka, historian of science, writes: “it seems evident that behind the politics of the Japanese government regarding the general development of the civil use of nuclear energy [that is to say, the project of treatment of  used nuclear fuels as well as the project of the breeding reactor, there is an intention of continuing to augment the potential of nuclear weapon” [17].

Indeed, a document of minister of foreign affairs dated 1969 says: “we should always keep the economic potential and the technology of fabricating nuclear weapon, and we will make sure that it won’t be stopped” [18] This is also why the Japanese government cannot easily abandon neither the politics of nuclear energy nor the politics of the nuclear fuel cycle. Indeed, the elementary law of nuclear energy is revised in 2012 and the following phrase was added: “the security regarding the use of nuclear energy should contribute to the security of our country”. The expression “contributing to the security of our country” has fueled national and international suspicions on the japanese government’s possibility of owning nuclear weapon. The nuclear energy technology is therefore in close relation to nuclear weapon.

The desubjectification against the politics of nuclear energy 

To conclude, we are going to discuss the problem of the subjectification[assujettissement ] of subjects in the politics of nuclear energy. This politics was developed by building on the economic disparity between cities and provinces. The nuclear power plants produce energy for important cities, but due to the danger that they present, they shouldn’t be built in cities. They are therefore exclusively built in provinces that suffer from problem of depopulation and poverty. For compensating the land for the nuclear power plant, the state pays a enormous amount of subvention to the communes that have accepted it. Through this State politics, economy of these communes become totally dependent of subventions, because this benefice is so big for the communes. Moreover, the cadastral revenue of the nuclear power plants decreases due to depreciation, the communes are obliged to accept the construction of new reactors for assuring the case flow. This vicious circle is often compared to the one of drugs. It is precisely desubjecfication of the poor provinces by the State. One could also call this desubjectification of the provinces “internal colonisation”, which builds on the economic disparity between cities and provinces.

Hiroshi Kainuma, Japanese sociologist, defines this structure as “automatic and voluntary desubjectification of the provinces by the State” and remarks that it doesn’t change at all even after the accident of Fukushima [19]. Indeed, the economy of the communes doted of nuclear power plants depend totally on the latter, and the renouncement of this dependence would lead to the annihilation of its own existence. Like Judith Butler says [20], the subject is produced by the subjectification of power[21]; it is attached to the subjectictification for its auto-conservation, because the abandon of subjectification equivalents to abandon of its existence. The subject is therefore obliged to desire subjectifcation for auto-conservation.

However, after the accident of Fukushima, this desire seems more than ever revealing this dilemma: “I understood that the nuclear power plant is dangerous, but if I abandon subjectification, I would abandon my existence”. For certain “events”, the desire of subjectification could be transformed in the desire of desubjectification, that is to say, ability to act with an aim of resistance to power. And the accident of Fukushima correspond to this “event”. Indeed, in the “vision of reconstruction” published in August 2011, the department of Fukushima proclaims the shut down of nuclear. The village of Tokai, first commune that accepted the construction of nuclear power plant, announces now the shut down of nuclear. At the national level, those who are for the shut down of nuclear count 70 % of the population (though they differ each other in terms of the period of complete shutdown of nuclear) [22].

To realize the disubjectification against the politic of nuclear energy, it is indispensable to change the socio-economic structure that oblige the provinces to “desire” being exploited by the centre. It will therefore be necessary that the provinces introduce with will a natural energy, using the system of payment for renewable energy (FIT: feed-in tariff) introduced to Japan in 2012, aiming to transform the centralized system of electricity production into decentralized system.

We should seriously assume the eventfulness[événementialité ] of the event of Fukushima that has influenced also seriously our existence as well as our environment. The technology of nuclear energy has been developed in order to produce nuclear weapon. The everyday use of this technology in the civil society causes inevitably contradictions in related to our condition of life and even to democracy. From this point of view, we should shutdown nuclear (including nuclear weapons) and radically change the actual politics of energy in view of a politics based on natural energy.

Translated by Yuk Hui from French


[1] ICRP, Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant Accident, le 21 mars 2011, ICRP ref : 4847-5603-4313.

[2] In fact, since the decision on the reconstruction of the zones of evacuation in december 2011, the Japanese government has envisaged the possibility of hardening the criteria of evaculation from 20 to 5 mSv per year. However this measure, if it was put into practice, would include those part of the city of Fukushima and Kôriyama in the zone of evacuation with the improtant number of evcuated, that finally led the government to abandon it. See this article from the Japanese newspaper : « Fukushima no kikan kijyun, hinansha-zô wo osorete kyôka sezu : Minshutô-seiken ji (The government of the Democratic Party has given up hardening the criteria of evacuation at Fukushima, due to the increase of the evacuated, Asahi Shimbun, 25 May 2013.http://digital.asahi.com/articles/TKY201305250024.html

[3] Michel Foucault, Sécurité, territoire, population, Cours au Collège de France, 1977-1978, Gallimard/Seuil, 2004.

[4] – Günther Anders, « Thesen zum Atomzeitalter », in Die atomare Drohung : Radikale Überlegung zum atomaren Zeitalter, C. H. Beck, 1981, p. 93 ; « Thèses pour l’âge atomique », in La menace nucléaire : Considérations radicales sur l’âge atomique, trad. fr., Le Serpent à plumes, 2006, p. 145. translator: “Mit dem 6.August 1945, dem Hiroshimatage, hat ein neues Zeitalter begonnen: das Zeitalter, in dem wir in jedem Augenblicke jeden Ort, nein unsere Erde als ganze, in ein Hiroshima verwandeln können”.

[5] Günther Anders, Hiroshima ist überall, C. H. Beck, 1982 ; Hiroshima est partout, trad. fr., Seuil, 2008.

[6] Günther Anders, « 10 Thesen zu Tschernobyl », Psychosozial, no 29, 1986, p. 7 ; « 10 Thesis for Tchernobyl », in La menace nucléaire, trad. fr., p. 316.

[7]According to the researches of Andreas Stohl (Norwegian Institute in Air Research). Cf. Geoff Brumfiel, « Fallout forensics hike radiation toll : Global Data on Fukushima change Japanese Estimates », Nature, no 478, 2011.http://www.nature.com/news/2011/111…

[8] « 10 Thesen zu Tschernobyl », p. 8 ; « 6 Thesis for Tchernobyl », trad. fr., p. 317.

[9] Jinzaburo Takagi, Shimin-kagakusha toshite ikiru (Live like citizen scientist), Iwanami-shoten, 1999.

[10] Jinzaburo Takagi, Purutonium no kyôfu (The dangers of plutonium), Iwanami-syhoten, 1981.

[11] Ibid., p. 13.

[12] Ibid., pp. 15-16.

[13] – Michel Foucault, Surveiller et punir, Gallimard, 1975, p. 32.

[14] Purutonium no kyôfu (The dangers of plutonium), pp. 18-19.

[15] – Tetsuji Imanaka, Teisenryô Hôsyasen Hibaku : Chernobuiri kara Fukushima he (Weak does of radiation: from Tchernobyl to Fukushima), Iwanami-shoten, 2012, pp. 34-35.

[16] Jinzaburo Takagi, Genshiryoku shinwa karano kaihô (Demystification of atomic myth), Kodan-sha, 2011, pp. 47-55.

[17] Hitoshi Yoshioka, Genshiryoku no shakaishi (The social history of nuclear energy), edition augmentée, Asahi-shimbun-shuppan, 2011, p. 175.

[18] Koki Sugita, Kensyo : Hikaku no sentaku (Examine the choice of anti-nuclear), Iwanami-shoten, 2005, p. 76.

[19] Hiroshi Kainuma, Fukushima-ron : Genshiryoku-mura ha naze umaretanoka (On Fukushima : Why was the nuclear village born), Seido-sha, 2011.

[20] Judith Butler, The Psychic Life of Power : Thories in Subjection, Stanford University Press, 1997 ; La vie psychique du pouvoir : l’assujettissement en théories, trad. fr., Leo Scheer, 2002.

[21] translator: Butler uses the word subjectivation instead of subjectification in her book, but it will make sense to distinguish the two words: l’assujettissement and subjectivation, these two words are not exchangeable (in the vocabulary of Foucault, the former is used in related to disciplines), but they are linked, here for consistency we override Butler’s subjectivation with subjectification, for more details on the difference,please see Sylvain Roux, Subjectivation, assujettissement et connaissance de soi chez Plotin et Foucault:  http://www.europhilosophie.eu/recherche

[22] According to the survey of the newspaper Asahi Shimbun dated17 Feburary 2013 (http://digital.asahi.com/articles/T…), those for the shutdown of nuclear are 71%, 18% against, and 11% without opinion.

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