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On the Release of Treated Water from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant

Arinobu Hori, M.D., Ph.D.

Hori Mental Clinic, Minami-soma, Fukushima, Japan

A Liberal Voice Amid the Treated Water Controversy in Post-Fukushima Japan

I perceive myself as an individual inclined towards liberal ideologies. Following the East Japan Earthquake and the subsequent nuclear accident, I relocated and worked in Minamisoma City, Fukushima Prefecture, from April 2012. Even in 2023, I persist in articulating critical analyses about the Japanese government and its culture, specifically when it appears to impose an exaggerated uniformity upon the populace.


However, to my vexation, I have increasingly observed discrepancies between my thoughts and those ascribed to individuals presumed to espouse 'liberal' views. The topic of releasing treated water from the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO)'s Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant is under heated discussion. My stance on this matter, albeit reluctantly, is one of acceptance. This is due to the measured radiation levels in the proposed discharge water being sufficiently low, and when compared to medical radiation exposure or discharges from nuclear plants elsewhere in the world, it is a reasonable stance.


It might be justifiable to express a degree of resistance to the Japanese government and TEPCO to keep in check entities that committed such a massive error as the nuclear accident. However, I do not empathize with the relentless protests advocating absolute opposition and negating all scientific authority. I perceive such actions as imprudent and unfavorable, especially if the goal is to augment the influence of liberal discourse within Japanese society.


One of the crucial lessons that Japanese society should glean from the nuclear accident is the significance of valuing objective and scientific facts and principles, even when they contradict the norms within a community. There is a strong tendency among the Japanese to value flexibility and perceive it as virtuous, avoiding being pedantic. However, there are critical instances when one must resolutely stand firm. Concerning the nuclear accident, I have previously submitted a blog to Kodansha Contemporary Business criticizing TEPCO for disregarding reports warning of potential extensive damage to nuclear plants due to tsunamis.


The question arises, does the state bear no responsibility for the nuclear accident? There's a 'profound discomfort' with the Supreme Court's ruling (by Arinobu Hori) [URL: https://gendai.media/articles/-/97005].


Seeking Objectivity on the Fukushima Treated Water Issue

I am reminded of what Kiyoshi Kurokawa, who led the parliamentary investigation of the accident, taught in his book "Regulatory Capture: Groupthink Will Destroy Japan." In nations typically referred to as advanced, it is customary to establish parliamentary-led investigative committees to analyze incidents or accidents with substantial societal impacts and to contemplate future countermeasures. However, in Japan, the investigative committee established after the nuclear accident was the first attempt of its kind in constitutional history.


I look forward to improvements in such issues within Japan, where analyses based on external, objective perspectives respecting scientific methodologies are performed for various occurrences. I wish for a society where the results of these analyses are valued and reflected upon. With this in mind, I cannot agree with the claim that one should completely negate scientific authority and prioritize emotional judgments in relation to the release of treated water.


If one asserts, in a conspiratorial manner, that organizations such as the IAEA cannot be trusted because they receive money from the Japanese government, the counterargument could be a similar conspiracy theory that anti-nuclear movements cannot be trusted as they receive support from specific political parties or foreign powers. I harbor concerns that such a path only leads to an impasse.


One argument from those strongly opposed to the release of treated water is that it "hurts the hearts of the people affected in Fukushima". As a psychiatrist working in Fukushima Prefecture, this argument directly concerns my professional expertise and daily work, and naturally, I am interested in it.


What follows is my personal opinion. Although I belong to several psychiatric-related societies and study groups, I do not want these views to be assumed as shared by those organizations. Even among psychiatrists, many may hold different opinions, and some might perceive me as 'unsympathetic '.


Excluding those directly affected, such as people involved in the fishing industry, ordinary residents living in Fukushima may not be as concerned about the release of treated water. They have many other worries to attend to. On this basis, I question whether continuously expressing anger towards the government and TEPCO, in a manner defended by 'liberal' individuals, truly aids in the long-term healing and recovery of those affected by the nuclear power plant accident.


Drawing the Line Between Validating Concealed Emotions and Expressing Anger in Public

I want to emphasize the distinction between holding anger or resentment and expressing it here. It is entirely legitimate to hold anger or resentment. Even if one carries it throughout their life, that should be respected. No one should dictate how the heart should feel, saying things like, "Enough time has passed. Forget it, forgive."



However, when it comes to expressing these feelings, people should be mindful of adhering to socially accepted limits and express their emotions within those confines. Immediately after a severe disaster, these boundaries should be set wide. If anger and resentment are the emotions supporting the heart that seems to be falling into chaos, it can't be helped if expressions of intense hostility occur. Even so, it is preferable to express these feelings in a confidential environment, such as a therapy room.


From my perspective, more than ten years after the accident, continuously allowing expressions of 'anger' to prevent the actions of the government and TEPCO, ignoring all the scientific opinions accumulated through due process, exceeds the 'boundaries' for the victims to maintain social credibility.


Reiterating the point, it's the rightful prerogative of victims to hold and express anger and resentment. However, there should be certain limitations to how they are expressed. This is because these expressions tend to take the form of an attack on the offender, and modern society prohibits the enforcement of vigilante justice. Even if there isn't a direct penalty, there is a risk of negative consequences such as decreased social credibility and deterioration of relationships with those around them. People may feel uncomfortable interacting with others outside of those they protest with. Considering this, how 'anger' should be expressed must be chosen carefully without inflaming the anger further.


Generally speaking, in social, political, or religious activities, there's a possibility that victims or people affected who are skilled at verbalizing their experiences are frequently asked to appear at meetings for such activities. Some of these individuals may later experience hurt or a decline in their health, so there needs to be consideration for these potential situations.


Balancing Empathy and Practicality: Upholding Social Boundaries while Advocating for Trauma Victims

There is another reason to limit the expression of anger. This is something I, as a psychiatrist who interacts with trauma victims, personally feel. Individuals who only briefly engage with victims might be satisfied by fueling their anger and experiencing catharsis together. The situation is different, however, when psychiatrists continue to work therapeutically with disaster victims. Suppose the disaster victim comes to believe that social authority and scientific evidence are irrelevant and that the victim's anger is important and should be attended to, that distrust and anger may be directed toward the attending physician later in the treatment. In that case, the attending physician would be in quite a predicament. A shared respect for the "social frame" is essential for continued treatment.


At the same time, there's another concern. We don't want to create an atmosphere where 'liberal-style' activities that draw attention to social issues and express a will to protest are perceived as morally problematic or inappropriate. We need to be cautious to prevent such situations from arising.


We should consider that the current state of being 'almost okay' has been achieved owing to the sustained efforts of people who have been vigilant about the health risks of radiation exposure, performed voluntary measurements and decontamination, and actively demanded that the administration and TEPCO undertake such actions. What comes to mind is how TEPCO, who initially announced the "Three Pledges" regarding compensation (https://www.tepco.co.jp/fukushima_hq/compensation/oath/index-j.html), later increased their number of cases refusing settlements suggested from Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) as evidence accumulated indicating minor direct health damage due to radiation exposure.


Despite lacking direct evidence, the people's desire and dedication to minimize the effects of the disaster caused by the nuclear accident should be recognized. They remained vigilant and proactive in their efforts to address the situation, even in the absence of clear demonstrations of wrongdoing. Their commitment to safeguarding their health and the environment in the aftermath of the accident was admirable


Indeed, we must avoid creating a situation where excessive claims such as "scientific knowledge is meaningless" regarding the handling of "treated water" cause all "social activities" related to the nuclear accident to be perceived as dubious.


Conclusion

Expressions of anger and resentment due to the nuclear accident should focus more on pursuing issues outside the direct health damage caused by radiation exposure. As I've already mentioned, more interest should be in activities that monitor and criticize the normalization of inappropriate relationships among domestic organizations.


Regarding the health damage caused by the nuclear accident, evidence is accumulating that there were indirect health damages, such as the worsening of existing diseases experienced by victims due to the stress of evacuation, health damage to vulnerable groups, and the onset or worsening of mental problems. Focusing on such issues and demanding rectification would also be an appropriate expression of anger.


*This discourse is a reprint from an article published on the Kodansha Contemporary Business portal on the 15th of July, 2023.




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