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2011年12月14日 (水)


(Mainichi Japan) December 13, 2011
Remember past enthusiasm for nuclear science as we edge towards non-nuclear future

It's been pointed out in many quarters that the field of nuclear power in Japan has been failing to attract the interest of students.
There was a time not so long ago, however, that nuclear energy was at the cutting edge -- the superstar of scientific disciplines.

One can catch a glimpse of this by looking at how nuclear researchers were depicted in the literature and films of the period -- although hints of misgivings are also easily found.

Take, for example, Yasushi Inoue's novel "Hyoheki" (Ice wall), first serialized in the Asahi Shimbun newspaper in 1956 -- the same year the government formed the Japan Atomic Energy Commission and the industrial world entered the nuclear industry in a serious way.

"Hyoheki" is primarily the story of a man and a woman stranded in the mountains. However, the novel also depicts a senior researcher for a major company lab as a representation of the era's scientific rationalism.

When someone tells him that nuclear science "carries all the hopes of humanity" and "contains within it every potentiality," the researcher replies, "I don't think only humanity's bright dreams and possibilities are wrapped up in nuclear science.

It also carries the possibility of humanity's ruin."

When Inoue wrote these words, the United States and the Soviet Union were locked in a nuclear arms race and conducting above-ground nuclear tests, while at the same time the "peaceful use" of nuclear energy was being trumpeted as possessing "limitless possibility."

In the cynicism expressed by the researcher Inoue depicted in the novel, one can see the author's own thoughts on nuclear technology seeping through.

In 1959, the Tokyo Shimbun newspaper ran a serialized novel by noted author Fumiko Enchi called "Watakushi mo moeteiru" (I, too, am burning).

In the story, a young, dissolute nuclear physicist lost in his research absorbs a lethal dose of radiation when he makes a mistake during an experiment.

Before dying, the man sums up the novel, saying, "I turned towards that thing all humanity hopes for: the peaceful application of nuclear technology.
And I bet my life on opening that door just a crack."

Three years later, in 1962, film studio Toho Co. released a film titled "Gorath" in which nuclear power saves Earth from destruction by a mysterious object hurtling through space.

The entire world's nuclear energy is combined to create a propulsion device at the South Pole and shift Earth out of the way of the object. The nuclear engine, however, alters Earth's orbit.

Regardless of the story's plainly ridiculous premise, what can be seen in the film is a spirit true to the era in which it was made, with the countries of the world transcending national interests to save the Earth through nuclear power.

In the period from the mid-1950s to the mid '60s, the image of nuclear power was forged by anxiety and fear of a nuclear holocaust mixed with sky-high hopes for nuclear technology's peaceful uses.

Things have changed a great deal since then. For today's youth, the Fukushima nuclear disaster has spurred the idea of leaving nuclear power behind. However, on this point there is one thing I'd like to say:

Look back on how nuclear science was portrayed in the 1950s and '60s. To resolve the great unknowns lurking in the undiscovered territories of a non-nuclear future, a fresh, vibrant intelligence and way of thinking -- a new superstar -- will be needed.

Is it asking too much to bring all Japan's top minds together, just like in the movies, to tackle the challenge?

(By Kenji Tamaki, Expert Senior Writer)
毎日新聞 2011年12月13日 東京朝刊


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