"Into Eternity," a 2009 feature documentary film by Danish director Michael Madsen, is about a nuclear waste depository 500 meters underground in Finland. The Japanese title is "Juman-nen go no Anzen" (Safety 100,000 years later). The camera goes into the deepest reaches of the facility, and the director interviews people involved in its construction.
"Is this facility really safe?" "How do you intend to warn our descendents (of the deadly deposit)?" These hardball questions leave some interviewees struggling to answer them in their own words.
Watching their exchanges, you forget that Madsen and his interview subjects are in opposing camps on nuclear power generation, because you get the clear sense that both sides are genuinely eager for dialogue. I was deeply impressed by the Finnish style of democracy that values information disclosure and transparency, although my reaction was probably not the sort of audience reaction the film's producers were after.
The August issue of Voice magazine ran a Japanese translation of a commentary contributed by Jacques Attali, a French economist. Like Japan, France promotes nuclear power generation as a matter of national policy.
Asserting that the French government must be "100 percent transparent" and "disclose all information," Attali noted, "No country that is not a democracy should ever use nuclear energy. In my opinion, being a democracy is an absolute condition for any country to use nuclear energy, and transparency is indispensable to the use of nuclear energy. A country that has no transparency is not a democracy."
If Attali's argument is valid, it follows then that Japan is not a democracy, which in turn means that Japan cannot and should not use nuclear energy. (There is also the argument that since an accident can knock a nuclear power plant out of control, no democracy can handle nuclear power generation.)
Also in the August issue of Voice, Kimindo Kusaka, a critic, proposed the establishment of municipally operated nuclear power plants. Is this just an idle fantasy? I don't think so. Kusaka's proposal may be understood as a manifestation of his anger with the central government and power companies, which can no longer be trusted to handle nuclear power because of their obstinate refusal to be transparent and disclose information.
The earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster of March 11 revealed some major flaws in Japan's democracy. What do we do now?
In the latest issue of quarterly Gendai no Riron (Contemporary theory) magazine, Hitoshi Maruyama, professor at Iwate University, called for "politics of slow life" in this post-3.11 era. Parliamentary democracy with its free elections can devolve into "fast democracy" that does not take enough time for deliberative discourse. "But for us to form opinions that are unshakable and fully developed, we must think them through and debate thoroughly with others," he asserted. "That's why we need 'slow democracy,' or deliberative democracy."
Under "slow democracy," according to Maruyama, people of different political persuasions accept their differences in discussing matters that directly affect the lives of all citizens, such as nuclear power generation. Instead of letting just a handful of government officials and nuclear experts--members of the so-called atomic village--call all the shots, it should be up to the public to try to establish a system of "civilian control," Maruyama argued.
The Atomic Energy Society of Japan (AESJ) is as powerful a member of that atomic village as the government and the electric power industry. But I was pleasantly surprised by what I read recently in the society's journal, Atomos.
In the June issue, Shigeyuki Koide, a journalist, vehemently criticized the absence of communication within the nation's nuclear power industry. Masaharu Kitamura, a professor at Tohoku University, discussed the AESJ's introverted nature and warned, "(The society) must not remain smug by exchanging opinions only with like-minded parties." And in the July issue, Mariko Hasegawa, an anthropologist, raised some fundamental questions about nuclear power generation.
I believe the AESJ proved its sincerity by publishing these harshly critical comments for two months in a row.
I was also favorably impressed by the Code of Ethics of the AESJ--which can be read on its website--which discusses the moral obligations of science and technology experts, especially those who deal with nuclear energy that can wreak horrendous destruction.
And I was even more impressed by the society's responses to all sorts of questions, raised by people who don't agree with its basic stance, when the code was being established.
One person asked if the AESJ would deny membership to anyone who is opposed to nuclear power generation. The response was that the membership is open to anyone who "proposes a viable alternative policy and offers ideas on what to do about the present use of nuclear energy."
In other words, the AESJ recognizes the need of dialogue. Even if not all members are on the same page--which is quite likely--I now know for a fact that there are indeed members who believe in dialogue.
However the nuclear power generation issue will be resolved, a long road lies ahead of us as we decommission reactors and make "postwar settlements" in science and technology. And in that process, we will definitely need the expertise of people who are for nuclear power generation.
When fruitful dialogue begins on "Atomos" between members of the atomic village and people in the anti-nuke camp, we may see the beginnings of a "slow democracy" in our country.
Lastly, let me mention a most fascinating feature article I read in the July issue of Gendai Shiso (Contemporary thought) magazine.
Benedict Anderson, who coined the concept of the Imagined Community, summed up pirates as "enemies of the State and friends of the people" for never being party to the slave trade. They raided ships hauling "gold, silver and other minerals, mostly plundered from the American continent by the Europeans." Anderson identified those pirates of yore with WikiLeaks and other "online pirates" of today who divulge information hidden from the people by their governments. Are these modern-day pirates criminals, or are they practitioners of a new type of democracy that transcends national borders? This is definitely something for us to think about.
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Genichiro Takahashi, a novelist and professor at Meiji Gakuin University, was born in 1951. He is currently working on a new novel about a nuclear power plant. In the latest issue of quarterly SIGHT magazine, Takahashi discusses the March 11 quake and nuclear disaster with Tatsuru Uchida.
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