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Yesterday, we posted from the edge of not knowing what the events in Fukushima would bring. At this moment, we hear that the evacuation zone around Reactor #1 has been increased to 20km.
This event is in the midst of its unfolding. With Jane Bennett’s insights at hand, we’re peering into the fog of uncertainty that continues to surround Fukushima.
In Vibrant Matter, Bennett says an event is an assemblage of “actants,” aka sources of action.
We can name some of Fukushima’s actants: tectonic plates, 8.9 earthquake, power outages, diesel-generators, batteries, coolant, sea water, damaged roads, fuel rods, evacuations, media pressure, concrete, ongoing aftershocks, corporate polices, official processes, the aging materials and systems of a nuclear power plant.
There are other actants at play that escape our knowledge or that we may never be able to identify. Uncertainty itself has become an actant in Fukushima, sending tens of thousands of people into motion as evacuees.
Any one of Fukushima’s actants, depending on where it is in the assemblage and “the fortuity of being in the right place at the right time,” can make the difference, make things happen, become “the decisive force catalyzing an event” (Bennett, p. 9).
The more complex and diverse an assemblage, the more “powerful” it is, which means the more change it can create in things and people around it. The complexity of Reactor #1 is extreme. So is its power to create change in the things and people around it. Its extreme complexity means its “maintenance” is never simply about command and control, it’s about “continuous invention,” because each actant in its assemblage is continuously affecting and changing the others (Bennett, p. 23).
From today’s edge of not knowing:
- We know that nuclear power is one of the most complex and volatile mix of actants humans have ever attempted to “control’ or “maintain.”
- We know that humans simply can’t design for every geologic force or event.
- We know that any nuclear reactor is a participant in the geologic, which makes every reactor an event that unfolds with considerable uncertainty.
To feel the uncertainty of this moment is to gain a critical piece of knowledge. All future attempts to design for the nuclear need to begin from the lesson this feeling teaches: nuclear technologies will always exist in relation to complex, powerful geologic forces we can never control.
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