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Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Crisis:  Informal Labour, Local Citizens, Responses to Neoliberal Disaster Management

On the mediated surface, Fukushima Daiichi has been used to prove to the world that a nuclear disaster of significant scale can be overcome and that people can survive and return to their normal lives. The government has concentrated on proving that it is safe for the Olympics, safe for tourism, safe to consume local produce, and safe to restart nuclear reactors.

The authorities have furnished people with the means by which to normalise sickness and pathologise anxiety to justify the return to nuclear power reliance, while suppressing those who seek to resist it.

And so we return to the basic problem that no nuclear reactor can operate without radiation-exposed labour,

 Informal Labour, Local Citizens and the Tokyo Electric Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Crisis: Responses to Neoliberal Disaster Management ANU, Adam Broinowski, 8 Nov 17 

Nuclear workers are important as sentinels for a broader epidemic of radiation related diseases that may affect the general population.1

We live with contradictions everyday.2

Introduction

The ongoing disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station (FDNPS), operated by Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), since 11 March 2011 can be recognised as part of a global phenomenon that has been in development over some time. This disaster occurred within a social and political shift that began in the mid-1970s and that became more acute in the early 1990s in Japan with the downturn of economic growth and greater deregulation and financialisation in the global economy. After 40 years of corporate fealty in return for lifetime contracts guaranteed by corporate unions, as tariff protections were lifted further and the workforce was increasingly casualised, those most acutely affected by a weakening welfare regime were irregular day labourers, or what we might call ‘informal labour’.

During this period, many day labourers evacuated rented rooms (doya どや) and left the various yoseba (urban day labour market よせば, or lit. ‘meeting place’) to take up communal tent living in parks and on riverbanks, where they were increasingly victimised. With independent unions having long been rendered powerless, growing numbers of unemployed, unskilled and precarious youths (freeters フリーター) alongside older, vulnerable and homeless day labourers (these groups together comprising roughly 38 per cent of the workforce in 2015)3 found themselves not only lacking insurance or industrial protection but also in many cases basic living needs. With increasing deindustrialisation and capital flight, regular public outbursts of frustration and anger from these groups have manifested since the Osaka riots of 1992.4

As Mike Davis observed, an un(der)protected informal sector in cities and industrial zones around the world occurs where there is a dilution or absence of labour rights and is characterised by ‘semi-feudal kickbacks, bribes, tribal or gang loyalties and ethnic exclusion’.5 Whether on a construction site, on the pavement, or in a domestic employment situation, informal labour comprises a surplus or reserve army of mercenary, irregular or precarious workers who pay off their debt for the opportunity to work through the availability of their cheap labour power.

In this chapter, first I outline the conditions of irregular workers at nuclear power plants and the excess burden they have borne with the rise of nuclear labour in Japan since the 1970s. I then turn to post-3.11 conditions experienced by residents in radiation-contaminated areas. Contextualising these conditions within the genealogy of radiodosimetry standards, I seek to show, through personal interviews and localised responses, how those who are regularly exposed to radiation from Fukushima Daiichi are now confronting problems similar to those faced by informal nuclear labour for decades in Japan. This analysis shows how, after 40 years or more of environmental movements as discussed in Chapter Four, the struggle continues to find viable solutions to the systemic production of the intertwined problems of environmental crises and labour exploitation, and suggests how potential alternative directions for affected populations may lie in their mutual combination………

Conclusions

From this discussion, it is evident how an advanced capitalist nation-state deploys a disposable population of informal labour to absorb the dangers inherent to the use of large-scale nuclear technologies and its private extractive and accumulation practices. Since its inception, nuclear power has been regarded by some as a symbol of Japan’s postwar civilisational progress.100 At the same time, the health of many thousands of people has been endangered in exposures to radiation while harms have been perpetrated upon local communities and nuclear workers and the environment more broadly as millions of people have been integrated within the centralising and concentrating dynamic of the transnational nuclear power industry.

On the mediated surface, Fukushima Daiichi has been used to prove to the world that a nuclear disaster of significant scale can be overcome and that people can survive and return to their normal lives. The government has concentrated on proving that it is safe for the Olympics, safe for tourism, safe to consume local produce, and safe to restart nuclear reactors (with 25 reactors expected to be supplying 20 per cent total energy by 2030). The neoliberal disaster model adopted, in which the state prioritises the profit of private corporations and their wealth-creating strategies while minimising public services and pursuing deregulation (e.g. of labour conditions), is indicated not only in the official intention to rebuild the local economy of Fukushima Prefecture, but also to expand, including through its transnational nuclear industry, Japan’s financial, military and industrial sector after Fukushima. This reflects the priority given to both the interests of the utilities, banks and construction companies involved in the reconstruction program, and those of multinational corporations, foreign governments and international regulatory and financial institutions involved in this sector.

At the same time, the sovereign duty to protect the fundamental needs of the population and reflect majority will is secondary to these priorities. Unlike a natural disaster, owing to the materiality of radiation that continues to be dumped and vented into the environment, facilitating the return to pre-disaster conditions by forgetting and rebuilding communities in contaminated areas is a practice of illusion. Despite the claims of the Abe administration and other nuclear promoters, Japan’s safety standards cannot adequately insure against the seismic activities or extreme weather events and their impacts on that archipelago. The authorities have furnished people with the means by which to normalise sickness and pathologise anxiety to justify the return to nuclear power reliance, while suppressing those who seek to resist it. The wealth of a healthy society and environment cannot be traded for the putative convenience and economic benefits of nuclear power generation as they are not comparable values. Official denial of the steady accumulation and exposure to ‘low-level’ internal radiation in a growing segment of the population only aggravates rather than protects the affected communities from the stresses related to Fukushima Daiichi. This inescapably leads to the need to address greater systemic problems that underlie such disasters.

As the previous organic life of village communities in contaminated zones is transformed into retirement villages and ad-hoc industrial hubs for temporary workers, this alienation from food, land, community, history, the human body and nature itself is a warning of the growing negative costs of the rapid expropriation and consumption of the planetary commons under a globalised system. Just as nuclear energy is not the solution to climate disruption caused by reliance on fossil fuels in a global capitalist economy, nor are radiation exposures comparable to everyday risks in modern society (i.e. transport accidents). If introducing ‘mistakes’ into the human genome is to be wagered against the daily conveniences of ‘modern’ life then this aspect of modernity is unsustainable. Although somewhat anthropocentric, it is a timely reminder that the Nobel Prize laureate (1946) Herman Müller stated in 1956, ‘the genome is the most valuable treasure of humankind. It determines the life of our descendants and the harmonious development of the future generations’.101

And so we return to the basic problem that no nuclear reactor can operate without radiation-exposed labour, particularly of informal or irregular workers. If these populations refused to work and joined in support with a network of translocal groups on informal and alternative life projects for greater self-sufficiency such as micro-financing, small-scale and permaculture farming on non-contaminated land, renewable and decentralised energy production and distribution, or campaigns for greater distribution of wealth, better public education and health improvement, these communities and workers could be active agents in devising models that could eventually become viable for adaptation to larger human populations. This application at scale cannot come too soon in the present context of imminent exhaustion of the planetary commons from the systemic demands for relentless economic growth and accumulation of wealth and power for the few.

Acknowledgements……http://press-files.anu.edu.au/downloads/press/n2335/html/ch06.xhtml?referer=2335&page=11

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November 9, 2017 - Posted by | Fukushima continuing

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