In the last two days I have carried out two research interviews. The first of these was on the twenty-second floor of a gleaming skyscraper in Otemachi, just minutes’ walk from the decadent Tokyo Station. The second of these was surrounded by samples and dog-eared record books in a lab-cum-office on the ground floor of a fisheries research station in Onahama, Fukushima Prefecture. A fine illustration of the gap that can exist between where choices are made over how energy is produced and governed, and where the people are that have to suffer the consequences of these decisions.
Actually, that is not really a fair comparison in my case, because the people I was visiting in the skyscraper are involved in something that could be considered attempt at a solution to current energy and climate change problems – carbon dioxide capture and storage. The Japan CCS Company are leading the development of Japan’s first CCS demonstration project at Tomakomai in Hokkaido, and yesterday I was speaking to some of their team about the governance of the project ahead of a visit to Hokkaido later this month. The management in Tokyo have been working closely with the city authorities in Tomakomai over the project development, and it seems as if the vast majority of publics and stakeholders in Hokkaido are on the side of the project – coming as they do from a place where industry and large-scale infrastructure is a major source of employment and income.
From today until Saturday I will be in a place with no skyscrapers – Onahama in Iwaki City, Fukushima Prefecture. Now as I have mentioned many times before Fukushima Prefecture is a massive place extending well beyond exclusion zones and the like. Onahama is thirty miles south of the eponymous and notorious nuclear plant, but of much greater concern than any immediate and direct effects on humans are the effects on fish – or, more precisely, the effects on humans if they eat contaminated fish. As such, fisheries in Fukushima Prefecture have been very tightly regulated since the nuclear event, and it is the effects of this tight regulation that I am here to study.
For some time fishing off the coast of Fukushima Prefecture was stopped completely until the effects of marine radioactive contamination from the Dai’Ichi plant on fish were better understood, but recently fishing has tentatively been allowed in selected areas and for selected types of fish. Monitoring and measurement is done primarily through trial fisheries, where small catches are brought in and analysed. One of these is happening tomorrow (weather permitting) not five minutes from where I’m staying, so I shall be going to have a look. I’ll be interviewing various people involved in fisheries to find out the effects on Onahama and Iwaki District more widely of halting something with such social, cultural and economic significance as fishing.
Aside from radiation, it is important not to lose sight of the fact that North-Eastern Japan was hit by a very large earthquake and tsunami, from which Onahama did not escape unscathed. There is construction going on everywhere to replace buildings that collapsed or were swept away, and the word 復興 (fukkō – reconstruction) features prominently around Onahama. On one hand, this prominence arguably shows a determination to continue with life (I refuse to use the word that starts with ‘r’ and ends with ‘esillience’ on account of the fact it’s been hijacked by all manner of people). But on the other hand, it serves as a stark reminder that the rebuilding process – both social and built environment – is still nowhere near done.