A UNU-IAS seminar on 13 November 2015, titled Understanding and Communicating Risks Post-Fukushima, provided a broad range of insights into the complexities of understanding and effectively communicating the risks associated with nuclear accidents. Panelists from Japan and other countries drew on multidisciplinary expertise to introduce lessons from Fukushima and other past accidents. The symposium followed the conclusion of an intensive two-day research workshop on risk communication, and featured presentations by five of the workshop’s 25 international participants.
Rika Morioka (Assistant Director, Myanmar Partners in Policy Research) explained how gender is associated with differences in how risk is perceived in Japan. According to her qualitative research, considerations of health and safety framed women’s perceptions of risk, while men were more likely to perceive risk in terms of jobs and economic well-being. She explained that masculine norms had been prominent in the nation’s reaction to the nuclear disaster.
In his presentation, Gaston Meskens (Researcher, Belgian Nuclear Research Center / University of Ghent) referred to the ongoing scientific discussions related to possible health effects of radiation in Fukushima and stressed that the Linear Non-Threshold hypothesis and the current limit of 1 millisievert (mSv) per year for the public should be maintained as a reference to inform post-accident governance. He explained that the public felt that it had been excluded from decision-making on the use of nuclear power in Japan before the Fukushima Daiichi accident, as well as the restarting of nuclear plants after the accident.
Presenting experiences from Europe, Tanja Perko (Senior Researcher, Belgian Nuclear Research Centre / University of Antwerp) explained that technical communication of data was not sufficient. Instead, emphasis needs to be placed on social-centric communication, based on public participation and engagement of a wide range of stakeholders. She also emphasized that Europe had learned much from the experiences in Fukushima, but that communication processes needed to be designed to match local contexts.
Drawing on his experience as a clinician in Fukushima Prefecture, Makoto Miyazaki (Assistant Professor, Fukushima Medical University) described current gaps in the effective communication of radiological risk. He noted that many people now have detailed data from personal dosimeters and the Whole Body Counter examination, but they are unable to interpret those readings without explanation that links the results with their daily lives. He emphasized that close communications between experts and affected citizens through “interpreters” helps to address concerns and contextualize recorded data.
Martin Krottmayer (Senior Officer, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies) explained the importance of engaging with affected communities through beneficiary communication. This requires establishing inclusive platforms for people to voice concerns and share experiences, and ensuring transparency in the services being provided to communities. He emphasized that the limits of available knowledge should be explained openly, so that acceptable risks can be properly considered.
The symposium concluded with interactive discussion between audience members and the panelists on a diverse range of concerns, suggestions and experiences. Participants highlighted the transdisciplinary character of effective risk communication, and indicated a strong interest in both learning from past experiences such as the Chernobyl nuclear accident, and sharing lessons learned from Fukushima to ensure more effective responses and policymaking in the future.
This public seminar and research workshop were organized by the UNU-IAS Fukushima Global Communication programme, a research initiative examining impacts of the Great East Japan Earthquake, tsunami and nuclear accident of 11 March, 2011 on people and society, the challenges of the recovery process in Fukushima, and related issues of risk and information provision.