The “Structural Disaster” of the Science-Technology-Society Interface From a Comparative Perspective with a Prewar Accident

Miwao Matsumoto

Abstract This chapter attempts to shed fresh light on the structural causes of the Fukushima accident by illuminating the patterns of behavior of the agents involved in a little-known but serious accident that occurred immediately before World War

II. Despite the expected incalculable damages caused by the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant accident, critical information was restricted to government insiders. This state of affairs reminds us of the state of prewar Japanese wartime mobilization in which all information was controlled under the name of supreme governmental authority. This paper argues that we can take the comparison more seriously as far as the patterns of behavior of the agents involved are concerned. The key concept that is employed for that argument is the “structural disaster” of the science-technology-society interface, the causes of which can be divided into two different categories, organizational errors and technological trajectory. Through the lens of “structural disaster”, the possibility of functional disintegration coupled with structural interdependence and secrecy is drawn for investigation relevant both in wartime and in peacetime. This paper will contextualize the sociological implications of the possibility for all of us who face the post-Fukushima situation based on exploration into the hidden prewar accident with particular focus on a subtle relationship between success and failure.

Keywords Structural disaster Secrecy Fukushima Wartime mobilization

Science-technology-society interface

Introduction

The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant accident was extremely shocking, but what is even more shocking in the eyes of the present writer is the devastating failure in transmitting critical information on the accident to the people when the Japanese government faced unexpected and serious events after March 11, 2011. Secrecy toward outsiders seems to have caused this failure: secrecy to the people who were forced to evacuate from their birthplaces, to the people who wanted to evacuate their children, to the people who have been suffering from tremendous opportunity loss such as giving up entering college, and others. It is virtually impossible to enumerate individual instances of suffering and aggregate them in an ordinarily calculable manner. Despite such expected incalculable damage, critical information was restricted to government insiders. This state of affairs seems to show similar tendencies to the state of prewar Japanese mobilization in which all information was controlled under the name of supreme governmental authority [1]. One might consider such a comparison to be merely rhetorical. This chapter argues that we can take the comparison more seriously as far as the patterns of behavior of the agents involved are concerned. It is true that the prewar Japanese military regime was oriented toward mobilization for war while the postwar regime has been prohibited from mobilization for war purposes of any kind by the constitution. In this respect there is a large discrepancy between the prewar and postwar regimes as to their purpose. However, the surprising but telling similarity of the patterns of behavior embedded in the regimes is evident if we look into the details of a hidden accident that took

place just before the outbreak of World War II (abbreviated to WWII hereafter).

This chapter attempts to shed fresh light on the structural causes of the Fukushima Daiichi accident by illuminating the patterns of behavior of the agents involved in the little-known but serious accident involving naval vessels that occurred immediately before WWII with a particular focus on the subtle relationship between success and failure in the complex science-technology-society interface. The chapter will then contextualize the similarity and draw its sociological implications for all of us who face the post-Fukushima situation. The conceptual tool that is employed here to that end is the “structural disaster” of the science-technology-society interface.

 
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