Organized Panel Session
Nuclear energy is controversial in many societies, mainly because of public anxieties surrounding the environmental and health effects of radiation. A radiation crisis, then, might be defined as a situation that involves both the actual damage caused by radiation, as well as fears that such damage will occur. How has Japan experienced radiation crises? War and natural disaster have produced three overweening instantiations of responses to this question: Hiroshima, Nagasaki and Fukushima. Instead of these large-scale, highly visible catastrophes involving radiation, I analyze the relatively recent history of a lesser-known site: that of Tokaimura (Tokai Village), in Ibaraki Prefecture, which has been the site of two milestones in postwar Japan's experience of the nuclear age. Tokaimura has the distinction of being Japan's first self-declared nuclear village; it hosted the opening of the Japan Atomic Energy Research Institute on its land in 1956, and Japan's first nuclear power reactor for electricity generation started operations in 1963. Nearly four decades later, in 1999, Tokaimura became the site of what is called the JCO Criticality Accident, which resulted in two civilian deaths and which ranked as Japan's most severe nuclear accident prior to Fukushima. Through juxtaposing these two phases in Tokaimura's history as a nuclear village, I argue that Japan has managed radiation crisis through a process of political and physical containment.