Symposium Discusses Nuclear Power, Honors Anniversary of Fukushima

Joelle Lingat, Staff Writer

The Fukushima: Lessons Learned? Symposium, held in Craig Lecture Hall the weekend of March 9–10, featured three different panels in honor of the one-year anniversary of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, marking the apex of the ongoing Fukushima lecture series.

“The symposium is different in a way that other speakers come from a discrete academic background and focus on specific segments in the Fukushima incident, whereas over the weekend there was more of a dialogue among disciplines going on,” said Yue Qiu, a Conservatory sophomore who is taking the Fukushima mini-course. “It was more dynamic and [had] a bigger picture when specialists from diverse areas were brought together.”

On March 11, 2011, the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami triggered a nuclear meltdown in the Japanese coastal town. In commemoration, the panels consisted of “Compound Catastrophe and Nuclear Aftermath,” “Public Policy: Regulation, Enforcement, and Reform” and “Nukes and Civil Society: Conflicting Discourses.” The moderators were John Petersen, chair of Environmental Studies; Eve Sandberg, associate professor of Politics; Suzanne Gay, professor of East Asian Studies and History; and Steve Wojtal, chair of Geology. The last event was a roundtable discussion that involved all the speakers, titled “The Way Forward.”

“Nuclear energy has both pros and cons and it was interesting to see both of them analyzed so thoroughly,” said Daniel Tam-Claiborne, OC ‘09, former Shansi Fellow and symposium organizer. “I came away with a lot more information that challenged my own notions of its safety and utility.”

The first panel consisted of Joonhong Ahn, professor of nuclear engineering at the University of California, Berkeley, and David Richardson, associate professor of epidemiology in the School of Public Health at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, who elaborated on the technical aspects that contributed to the disaster in addition to its aftereffects. Both have background experience in nuclear energy in Japan : Ahn is a member on the Planning Committee for the Atomic Energy Society of Japan, and Richardson works with Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombing survivors.

“The questions from the audience, particularly those from students, were very much admirable,” said Ahn. “They grasped multi-faceted nature of nuclear issues. It was wonderful for them to express their thought and understanding before they asked questions. I believe that this indicates that education in Oberlin is truly successful. I am grateful for having such a wonderful opportunity of speaking at the symposium.”

On the second panel, David Lochbaum, director of the Nuclear Safety Project for the Union of Concerned Scientists, was joined by Allison Macfarlane, associate professor of environmental science and policy at George Mason University and Kennette Benedict, executive director of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. The panel’s central theme was nuclear energy policy. During the audience participation portion of the event, both faculty and students, including Oberlin’s Paul Sears Professor of Environmental Studies and Politics David Orr, and an electrical engineering student from George Washington University, voiced questions.

The third conversation focused on the societal relationship of both Japan and other nations with nuclear energy. Akira Tashiro, executive director of the Hiroshima Peace Media Center of the Chugoku Shimbun; Holly Barker, cultural anthropologist and full-time lecturer at the University of Washington in Seattle; and Hugh Gusterson, professor of anthropology and sociology at George Mason University, participated in this discussion.

The cumulative talk gathered all the participants together to discuss options in moving forward after these events. While no specific exit strategy was determined, the panelists agreed different directions would need to be taken for the various countries. Although Japan is heading towards phasing out the use of nuclear energy, the future for the United States is still to be determined.