The nuclear meltdowns at Fukushima in the spring of 2011, according to countless media and government analyses, were a failure of Japan: collusive ties between regulators and industry prevented proper enforcement, the nation's nuclear engineers embodied a culture of hubris, and the state prevented the media from raising critical perspectives. This analysis is usefully understood as a narrative. Like all narratives, it reveals certain issues and masks others. One of the limitations of the “failure of Japan” narrative is that its national focus ignores causes and consequences at local and international scales. In this article, we offer a broader view of Fukushima by presenting a series of alternative narratives that draw out local, national, and international dimensions. Casting our gaze beyond the dominant narrative allows us to direct attention to actors and issues often overlooked, such as Cold War politics, international flows of knowledge and materials, global consumers, nation building, villagers in Ōkuma and Futaba, and laborers at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant. In particular, we highlight several significant ways in which narratives at different scales intersect, overlap, and reinforce each other. To make sense of the complex forces that brought about the nuclear meltdowns and myriad impacts they will have, we need more stories, not a single narrative.
Narrating Fukushima: Scales of a Nuclear MeltdownNarrating FukushimaC. F. Jones, S.-L. Loh, and K. Satō
Christopher F. Jones is an assistant professor of history in the School of Historical, Philosophical, and Religious Studies at Arizona State University. His research focuses on the history of energy, environment, and technology. His book Routes of Power: Energy and Modern America will be published by Harvard University in spring 2014. It examines the causes and consequences of America's first energy transitions—the rising use of coal, oil, and electricity in the mid-Atlantic region between 1820 and 1930.
Shi-Lin Loh is a PhD candidate in modern Japanese history at Harvard University, jointly affiliated with the Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations and the Department of History. She is also pursuing a secondary field in science and technology studies. She is working on a dissertation envisioned as a synthetic history of the nuclear age in twentieth-century Japan.
Kyoko Satō is associate director of the Program in Science, Technology, and Society at Stanford University. She studies the cultural politics of technology. Her latest publication is “Genetically Modified Food in France: Symbolic Transformation and the Policy Paradigm Shift” in Theory and Society (2013). She is currently examining the development of cultural meanings of the 2011 Fukushima disaster, as well as their effects on nationally specific ideas surrounding nuclear technology, in Japan and the United States.
Christopher F. Jones, Shi-Lin Loh, Kyoko Satō; Narrating Fukushima: Scales of a Nuclear Meltdown
Download citation file: