Fourth quarter of 2000

Jinzaburo Takagi - The Citizen Scientist is gone
(Slightly modified version of an article first published in Japanese by Sekai Magazine, Tokyo, November 2000)

Jinzaburo Takagi died on 8 October 2000 in Tokyo.

by Mycle Schneider
Director of WISE-Paris
Chief Editor of Plutonium Investigation

Paris, October 2000

[Posted 06/11/2000]

Jinzaburo Takagi died on 8 October 2000 in Tokyo. Takagi-san co-founded and, until he was diagnosed with cancer two years ago, directed the Citizens' Nuclear Information Center (CNIC) in Tokyo. The CNIC, a key independent reference source on nuclear issues in Japan, and WISE-Paris have been cooperating for the last 15 years. Takagi-san and WISE-Paris director Mycle Schneider had a longstanding intensive collaboration on many issues and became close friends. They co-directed the International MOX Assessment (IMA) and jointly received the Right Livelihood Award in 1997 for their work on plutonium. The text hereunder was first published in Japanese in the November 2000 issue of Sekai Magazine, Tokyo.

"Even at this last moment, I have things to write and leave to younger generations, and as far as my health condition allows me, I will try so for some time». Three weeks after having scribbled with a pencil this very last letter to me, Jinzaburo Takagi passed away. I'll never forget his skinny, tired hand waving a slow, final, and the ultimate good-bye a few hours before cancer cut his life line. He knew, I knew.

Japan lost a prolific writer and gifted teacher, a superb scientist and acid critic of the nuclear establishment. Democracy has to do without this tireless visionary full of stinging questions and his very own personal answers. Children wait in vain for new books. Activists, journalists, politicians have to do without his pertinent analysis and thoughtful comments. And beyond the loss of an irreplaceable colleague and advisor, I mourn my friend.

We met for the first time in Vienna, Austria, in September 1986. Five months after the Chernobyl catastrophe, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) had set up a big conference to report on the origins and consequences of the disaster. We called this the nuclear lobby's "Whitewash Conference" and shared the revolting sentiment over an unbelievable - but nevertheless enlightening - statement by Dr. Morris Rosen, then head of the department of nuclear safety of the IAEA: "Even if there was this type of accident every year, (...) I would consider nuclear power to be a valid source of energy». Takagi-san and myself were members of an international task force, on the invitation of Greenpeace International, to give an independent review of the state of nuclear safety in the world. The outcome, an impressive 600-page report, was presented to the press in Vienna in parallel to the IAEA conference and stirred up massive media attention. Takagi-san was deeply shocked by the Chernobyl accident and continued to closely monitor the health and social consequences of the tragedy.

From then on, we met on many occasions around the globe. Our cooperation grew into a new dimension after Takagi-san had invited me to the Omiya International Plutonium Conference in 1991, my first visit to Japan. (When I was brought from the airport straight to a press conference - forget about jet-lag or fatigue - it became obvious immediately that time management is different in Japan...). The Omiya Conference became a milestone in the debate over the separation and use of plutonium. For the first time in Japan, the entire spectrum of implications of the plutonium industry had been openly discussed with competence and independence. After this event we met in places like Krasnoyarsk, Siberia, for a unique fuel cycle analysis conference co-sponsored by the local authorities, the nuclear industry and various NGOs; in Darmstadt (Germany), Amsterdam (Netherlands), Paris, Kyoto and Tokyo, to work on the International MOX Assessment (IMA); in London (UK) on plutonium issues; in Köln (Germany) where I interviewed him for German TV on the Monju accident; and we traveled Japan together on speaking tours more than once.

Takagi-san was a gifted teacher. When one does not understand the language, one tends to observe people much closer. With my zero knowledge of Japanese language I had ample opportunity for observation during the speaking tours, on- and off-the-record meetings and press conferences with Takagi-san. His audiences were fascinated by his talks. He was never acting, he just had a very intense way of speaking, often slowly and soft, sometimes affirmative and loud, but always convinced and therefore convincing. After a question, many times he would leave a blank, not for effect, but because he actually thought before he spoke.

Jinzaburo Takagi grew up in a family where science became a common goal. His elder brother by two years, Kojiro, Professor of Physics at the Toyama University, a man with a great sense of humor and the corresponding broad smile, says that his generation believed in science as a fundamental tool to build up a new Japan growing out of the ashes of the Second World War. His eldest brother Ryuro heads a Psychiatric Clinic in Kyoto and has been a great supporter of the nine year younger brother; his eldest sister is a medical doctor. Only his lovely younger sister Hide Miyagawa resisted the call of science and entered the administration of a music school.

In 1962 Takagi-san purchased second hand Glen Seaborg's 1958 book entitled "The Transuranium Elements". Seaborg had synthesized plutonium for the first time in 1941 and his book has deeply influenced the early Takagi-san. Seaborg wrote: "The story of plutonium is one of the most dramatic in the history of science. It was discovered and methods for its production were developed during the last war, under circumstances that makes a fascinating and intriguing story. It is, of course, a continuing story, and added chapters will have to be written at a later date.» At the time, Takagi-san had just started working at a laboratory of the nuclear industry, a young, dynamic research and technology sector, representing Japan’s future, and he was certain: "I resolved firmly to add a new chapter to the science of plutonium. I was 23 years old at that time.» It was the intrinsic link between civil and military applications and the fascination that scientists developed for both ends which first made him raise his eye brows. He was shocked that such an outstanding scientist as Glenn T. Seaborg, recalled "many ingenious and brilliant ideas» to build nuclear weapons.

The following 13 years, mainly in the nuclear industry and at Tokyo Metropolitan University, served not only to complement his education as a nuclear chemist but also to sharpen his view for the lack of independence and social responsibility in science and technology. While working on nuclear safety, he was surprised to find out "how little we nuclear chemists knew about the behavior of radioactive substances». That would not be a problem as such as long as ‘you know what you don’t know’ and as long as uncertainty is appropriately taken into account in risk assessment and management. Takagi-san realized that his colleague scientists and engineers brushed off growing citizen concern without having the appropriate basis to do so. That was the "turning point" in Takagi-san’s life.

The time he spent as a guest scientist in Heidelberg, Germany, at the Max Planck Institute for Nuclear Physics in 1972-73 broadened his scientific background and his cultural and linguistic knowledge. The Vietnam War took a significant place in the political debate of the time and Takagi-san became a profound opponent of the war.

When he came back from Germany, Takagi-san went through a period of difficult, sometimes painful, but decisive personal and professional decisions. He quit his safe position as an associate professor for nuclear chemistry at the Tokyo Metropolitan University- and a top career -to set up the Citizens' Nuclear Information Center (CNIC). What over the years has become the key reference for independent critical information on nuclear issues in Japan - not only for journalists, scientists, politicians and interested citizens in Japan but all over the world - was almost a revolutionary idea 25 years ago. The initiative to establish high level analysis capacity outside the industry, the elite science institutions and the government was seen by many as impossible, by some as treachery. Takagi-san's partner Kuniko Takagi-Nakada ("Hari-san") became the central moral and mental support of his initiatives and remained an essential source of inspiration until his end.

The key driving force behind Takagi-san's workaholic writing, travelling, speaking, teaching and consulting activities was his insatiable hunger for justice and truth. He continued to be outraged by the decision making process on nuclear - and other - issues in Japan and believed that his role as a "Citizen Scientist", a term invented by Professor Frank von Hippel who heads the Center for Energy and Environment at Princeton University, was to increase the level of democracy. The broadening of the understanding of the implications of decisions and the progressive modification of the rules were the goals. The basis for credibility are competence and independence. The long term guarantee for fundamental and sustainable change of society is only provided by absolute integrity and public accountability. This is what Jinzaburo Takagi represented. This is why his disappearance hurts so many people so much.

In 1995 Professor John Gofman, Professor Emeritus of Molecular and Cell Biology at the University of California at Berkeley, nominated Takagi-san and myself jointly for the Right Livelihood Award. Gofman is also a medical doctor who has a PhD in nuclear/physical chemistry and shares patents on two processes for separating plutonium from irradiated fuel and a patent on fissionability of uranium-233 with Glen Seaborg. The US based Environmental Research Foundation's publication Rachel's Health & Environment Weekly called Gofman "one of the greatest teachers of the 20th century». We were thrilled that this outstanding and gentle man nominated us for the award, commonly known as the Alternative Nobel Prize (which he had received himself in 1992). But it was only after the nomination had been re-introduced for the third time that the jury selected us for the award in 1997, recognizing "a unique partnership in the struggle to rid humanity of the threats posed by the manufacture, transport, use and disposal of plutonium». The jury stated that "they were honored for the scientific rigor of their research and the effectiveness of their dissemination of its results, which have served to alert the world to the unparalleled dangers of plutonium to human life, and empowered many to resist the misinformation and the secrecy whereby the plutonium industry imposes these dangers on the public». We were enthusiastic about the award that we considered the most prestigious recognition for our work.

The technical analysis is only the first step of the approach needed to master a given problem. The development of policy implementation strategies remains the core of progress towards social change. We spend many hours discussing political and institutional barriers in Japan and in France. In his Award acceptance speech, Takagi-san said: "There seems now no reasonable justification for continuing any civil plutonium program. One of the key factors which keep the program alive is above all the huge bureaucratic inertia. You can easily understand why the two countries with a very much centralized bureaucratic system, i.e. France and Japan, are going to be plutonium giants.» Another barrier for change is the rigid elite system in both countries and the almost religious belief that top technocrats "don't make mistakes». In reality they have been making so many mistakes in the past, in particular in the energy sector, that both countries have been driven into a dangerous nuclear one-way street. The plutonium saga is only the tip of the iceberg. Trillions of Yen have been and shall be spent on a plutonium program that very clearly has failed to provide any net social benefit. The findings of the major two year social impact assessment into the use of plutonium fuels (MOX), directed by Takagi-san and myself, has never been rebutted by the plutonium industry. Why should the industry do so? No political decision making process forces the nuclear industry to public accountability. The public inquiries prior to licensing in the nuclear sector are a hoax, in Japan and in France, and are a shame for a so-called democracy. And thus the autocratic machinery rambles on, beyond political and citizen control. In Japan there seems to be an unhealthy leftover of the Samurai tradition: carry on straight ahead and if you were wrong commit harakiri. The recent banking crisis seems to recall this mentality, no remediation measures until bankruptcy. But the plutonium industry has been off-scale in this respect. They have been wrong in energy consumption forecasts, on uranium price development, on cost estimates, on facility construction time evaluation, on spent fuel management schemes, etc. But it simply does not matter. It just goes on. And it will go on, in Rokkasho-mura or elsewhere, as long as a truly democratic decision making process does not force the lobby to face public scrutiny.

One week after Takagi-san went, the Japanese nuclear utilities declared their intention to conclude further contracts for oversees reprocessing - or better plutonium production - with the French plutonium company COGEMA. The operational risks and the environmental pollution - the plutonium plant at La Hague discharges about 20,000 times as much radioactivity than an average French nuclear power plant - stay in France. The nuclear risk export and the illegal storage of Japanese wastes in France shall continue.

For how long? Takagi-san's hope was always based on the young and future generations. He consciously devoted a significant share of his efforts to public education, whether in speaking or writing. Takagi-san published 58 books and co-authored 46 more. Two further books are not published yet; one of which is his first short novel. Many were translated into several languages, including some of his children's books (which my children enjoy in French). The variety of his writings, whether novels, technical reports, biographies or children's books reflect his broad based culture. It also made it easier for him to navigate in this unofficial international network of concerned scientists and citizens. This assisted him to make his science impeccable and his political efforts more efficient.

Takagi-san decided to use the Right Livelihood Award money to launch an independent school to lead scientists in a non-academic way to system analysis and accountability towards the citizen. In his last will he confirmed this choice and calls for the creation of a Fund which will serve to support young students. The great challenge will be to teach the teachers what Jinzaburo Takagi's ideas were all about. Because he is not there anymore to guide or even answer a quick phone call or e-mail message. I miss him badly already.

Good bye, my friend.

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