Narrating Fukushima: Scales of a Nuclear Meltdown

Volume 07, Issue 4

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.

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