To understand or not to understand?: infinite responsibility for HLW disposal, or ongoing structural disaster

Meltdown, hydrogen explosion, half-life, condenser, and dose level are technical terms in science and technology' that have rushed into people’s daily lives since March 11, 2011, when one of the most severe nuclear accidents in history happened in Fukushima, along with an earthquake of a once-per-one-thousand-year magnitude. This was a hybrid disaster, made up of multiple extreme events both occurring in natural environments and affecting artifacts. In such a situation, the behaviors of all actors could resemble an as-yet-unseen social experiment, for which some might argue the government was ill-prepared in handling - both the events and the social fallout - despite early warnings. Some residents attempted to make rough estimates regarding radiation dose levels in their local area, while others tried to send relief donations for the victims via their own personal means, rather than facing potential delays of the aid going through official routes. Some parents attempted to evacuate their children while they themselves remained in their local residence. There are innumerable, untold other cases that occurred within the citizen sector, and after some time had passed, these people started to seek expertise and guidance for the questions they were facing.

Against the background of such a situation, Prime Minister Abe bid for the Olympic Games to be held in Tokyo in 2020, declaring that everything in the post-Fukushima situation, including surface debris and radioactive materials underground and in the water would be “under control.” This chapter analyzes the nature of ongoing structural disaster by highlighting a persistent problem that will continue whether the post-Fukushima situation is under control or not. The main concern is radioactive waste, particularly High-level Radioactive Waste (HLW) disposal; as such, this chapter focuses on the role of expertise entangled with HLW disposal issues and scrutinizes the reason why such disposal could be regarded as an ongoing structural disaster, which involves an infinite term of responsibility.

Discourse in the post-Fukushima situation involves two different narratives: one emphasizes the need to enhance science and technology' literacy among the citizen sector, which could lead to enhanced understanding of nuclear reactors, radioactivity, and other topics; and the other asserts the need to seek an alternative course for civilization, one that is not driven solely by the progress of science and technology'. The two narratives might initially seem to represent opposing viewpoints, as the former aims to disseminate science and technology' expertise


while the latter fundamentally reconsiders the weight or value of expertise in science and technology on a civilizational scale. However, there is a common thread that is shared by these seemingly opposing narratives. From the viewpoint of sociology, both narratives tend assign the Fukushima accident affairs to “other people” despite the logical impossibility of doing so. In this connection, the concept of structural disaster is designed to prevent such a tendency from arising and attributes a due portion of the accident to all actors and sectors.

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