The second of a two-part series; read Kip’s first post here.
Sound communication strategies are needed to manage radioactive risk in Japan. Thousands of residents need help reconciling their personal future with real or perceived threats to human health and the environment. But who helps with this? The Japanese government’s new rebuilding effort could be the logical first step.
Prime Minister Naoto Kan’s government recently launched the Reconstruction Design Council to plan the reclamation of the entire Tohoku region of Japan, roughly one-fifth of the country. Unclear of even the exact geographic scope yet, this daunting task will no doubt drive environmental testing, demolition, decontamination, planning, resettlement, infrastructure and other construction not to mention the layers of government oversight and assistance for decades to come.
One of the photos taken and released by Tokyo Electric Power Company during the tsunami, showing the rushing waters taking over the Fukushiima plant.
The council is made up of architects, academics, corporate leaders and local politicians. It is likely they will work with unmatched patriotic fervor. Many will devote the rest of their lives to this effort and no doubt will be the heroes of tomorrow. Today’s heroes are the nuclear plant workers at Fukushima.
But the council must proceed with caution. Its actions must remain open and transparent or risk creating mistrust. In the short term, council members must respond to increasingly impatient residents near the nuclear plant, covering hundreds of square kilometers. To succeed in the long term, the council must work with, not just for, Japan’s citizens.
This isn’t China where government planners trump people every time on massive resettlements (like the Three Gorges Dam). And this isn’t traditional Japan anymore, where the stoic spirit, called gaman, kept society harmonious. Gaman has run dry. A more open model must lead the way.
This decades-long reconstruction reminds me of the U.S. Superfund environmental remediation model, but clearly on a much larger scale. Remedial investigation and risk assessment are the required first steps. Is that a model Japan will follow? Prescribed by law or not, the Reconstruction Design Council must undertake that risk assessment obligation and do it in such a way that is public, transparent, upfront and explained in terms that people can understand.
From trust comes recovery – physical, emotional and national. If the Reconstruction Design Council can begin its efforts with a trustworthy step, its members can surely be future national heroes.