Newsletter XVII - Report on the Workshop “Learning from Citizen Science after Fukushima”, on 27 February 2019 in Brussels

Can citizen-driven radiation monitoring strengthen nuclear safety governance? If so, how? Why do citizens measure radiation pollution in the environment in the first place? 

These and related questions were put up for debate at a Stakeholder Workshop “Learning from Citizen Science after Fukushima”, which was held on 27 February 2019 at the Brussels Office of the Belgian Nuclear Research Centre (SCK - CEN), and which involved citizen scientists, Belgian and European radiological protection researchers, members of safety authorities, and policy professionals. The report on the Workshop, which is available at the web-link below, highlights the role and potential of citizen engagement in nuclear safety governance in Japan and Europe.

 The 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster was a nuclear accident at the Fukushima Daiichi (or Fukushima I) nuclear power plant in Ōkuma, in Fukushima Prefecture, in north-east Japan, which was started by a 15-metre tsunami following the Tōhoku major earthquake, on 11 March 2011. The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster was the most significant nuclear incident since the 26 April 1986 Chernobyl disaster, and the only other disaster since to be given the Level 7 (“Major Accident”) event classification of the International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale (INES).

 The Workshop at SCK - CEN marked the close of a two-year bilateral social science research project, “After and Beyond Fukushima: Probing the Role and Potential of Citizen Science in Nuclear Science and Technology Governance in Japan and Belgium”, funded by the Research Fund - Flanders (FWO) and the Japanese Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS). The project was motivated by a concern to heed lessons from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, and to hold a more fruitful dialogue between all concerned actors. In the opening session of the Workshop, Belgian and Japanese researchers presented key findings from their research project, providing responses to two inter-related questions:

 1. How and why did the Fukushima disaster trigger the emergence of citizen science in Japan and other countries?

 2. How do formal institutions, such as public authorities and scientific research communities, in Japan and Europe, respond to the rise of citizen science, particularly citizen-driven radiation monitoring?

 Two Japanese citizen scientists shared their perspectives on these same questions based on their experiences. In the Workshop’s afternoon session, participants engaged with a list of recommendations for policy and practice proposed by the research team. This session incited debate about how citizen science concepts and approaches can strengthen science policy, safety governance, and public engagement strategies, taking into account the possible limitations of embedding citizen science in formal policies and practices. Among other issues, participants addressed the importance of contextual factors when engaging with citizen scientists, such as language and culture. They also pointed to the importance of science outreach to schools in order to raise public awareness about radiological protection and nuclear safety, and to better prepare all stakeholders for a possible accident.

 Other themes that emerged were the lack of a regulatory framework for citizen engagement in nuclear safety governance and the asymmetrical relations between formal institutions and citizen science groups, which could hinder joint problem solving.

 Although the question of how to foster mutually fruitful exchanges between formal institutions and grassroots citizen science groups remains open, the issues and considerations raised in the Workshop can help to nurture the (sometimes fraught) relationships between citizen science and formal institutions, and to build institutional capacity for citizen engagement in science and its democratic governance.

Dr. Michiel van Oudheusden
Belgian Nuclear Research Centre (SCK-CEN).

Ms. Joke Kenens
SCK-CEN, KU Leuven.

Dr. Go Yoshizawa
Osaka University and Oslo Metropolitan University.

Prof. Dr. Nozomi Mizushima
Sokendai Graduate University for Advanced Studies.

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