Fourth quarter of 2000
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.
Director of WISE-Paris
Editor of Plutonium Investigation
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
Japans 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.
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 dont
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-sans life.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
bye, my friend.