We are all seeing a renewed surge of interest in the concept of a global risk society right now in connection with the coronavirus pandemic. After Chernobyl and Fukushima, this virus has become the third global example for its practical verification, writes Valdai Club Programme Director Oleg Barabanov.
March 11 marks ten years since the devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan which led to a large-scale accident at the nuclear power plant in Fukushima. This catastrophe became the second-worst, in terms of importance and radioactive release, after the Chernobyl accident of 1986, and the only one apart from Chernobyl to receive the highest (level 7) rank on the International Nuclear Event Scale. However, for the sake of accuracy, it should be noted that in terms of the release of radioactive materials, Fukushima, according to various estimates, was about three orders of magnitude less than Chernobyl, and it is not entirely correct to directly equate them.
But no matter how you count the levels of radioactive release, it is clear that the accident at the Fukushima nuclear power plant was a global shock in economic and social terms. It had serious negative consequences for Japan itself. These included the huge financial costs associated with its liquidation, the resettlement of residents from the exclusion zone, and much more. Japan, the only country to have suffered from the military use of the atomic bomb, has a particular historical sensitivity to nuclear disasters; this played a social and psychological role in the perception of the accident.
In the post-Fukushima world, a heated discussion unfolded about the future of nuclear power, and about its safety, which led to the curtailment or reduction of nuclear power plant programmes in a number of countries. And here, in our opinion, the negative consequences from the accident itself were supplemented by a very significant negative narrative on the part of not impartial (and, apparently, not disinterested) academic expertise on both sides. It is clear that in such an economically and financially significant industry as energy, this controversy was closely related to the lobbying and anti-lobbying of various corporate groups. And therefore, it was far from objective and impartial in nature. This lobbying struggle, unfortunately, made academic science its instrument to a large extent. Alas, high-browed intellectual experts (the so-called conscience of the nation), as in other branches of science, were no strangers to the temptation of lobbying, both in the form of access to grants and funding for scientific projects, and with respect to strengthening their media, corporate and political influence. As a result, academic hypocrisy (a highly interesting but highly understudied sociological phenomenon) manifested itself in all its glory in this post-Fukushima nuclear controversy. We repeat, this happened on both sides (both among opponents and supporters of nuclear energy).
The nuclear sphere, where this phenomenon was clearly manifested after Fukushima, is by no means the only one of its kind. Among other examples of such academic hypocrisy, one can recall, for comparison, the extremely high impact of corporate lobbying on science in the field of pharmaceuticals and medicine (which is now especially relevant for society and often socially dangerous in the context of the coronavirus pandemic).