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Citizen scientist' fighting on

Asahi Evening News
December 26, 1999

By Mayo Issobe

Jinzaburo Takagi is among the first to be called on by the media to comment whenever a nuclear-related incident is reported, such as that on Sept. 30 in Tokaimura, Ibaraki Prefecture, involving an unprecedented nuclear chain reaction that resulted in the death of a worker last week.

The reason he is in such demand is because of his unique standing as neither an academic confined to an ivory tower, nor an anti-nuclear activist who merely shouts slogans.

A graduate of the University of Tokyo with a doctorate in nuclear chemistry, Takagi worked as a researcher in Japan's fledgling nuclear industry in the 1960s, and taught at Tokyo Metropolitan University.

But instead of following the path expected of an elite scholar, he left to become what he now calls a "citizen scientist," doing research independent of establishments as a member of the general public.

From 1975, until quitting in 1998 to fight cancer, Takagi headed the non-profit group Citizens' Nuclear Information Center that he and other like-minded folk founded---and so was in the forefront of the grassroots anti-nuclear movements whose support soared among the general public---unaffiliated with any political groups---in the aftermath of the 1986 Chernobyl incident.

He was also behind the 1988 anti-nuclear event in Tokyo's Hibiya Park attended by some 20,000 people, and spoke at rallies and on television debates---as well as even going on a hunger strike to make his point.

Crucial problems

That Takagi, 61, is also known overseas is attested to by his winning of the 1997 Right Livelihood Award, the Swedish honor dubbed the "alternative Nobel Prize," which aims to support those "offering practical and exemplary answers to crucial problems facing the world today."

His recently published autobiography, "Shimin Kagakusha to Shite Ikaru"(Living the life of a citizen scientist; Iwanami Shoten, 700 yen), provides an insight into the path Takagi has taken. From his childhood in Gunma Prefecture, it covers his intellectual interests during his student days, ranging from maths to Esperanto, and the start of his career in nuclear science.

Also covered are his empathy for the protest of farmers forced to give up their land for the construction of the New Tokyo International Airport at Narita, and his involvement in anti-nuclear activities both within and outside Japan.

In his book, he also touches on his recent attempts at nurturing the next generation of "citizen scientists," who may not become the mainstream but have the potential to give hope to people facing the future in an uncertain world, through workshops and lectures called the Takagi School.

To be sure, Takagi has published many books: from ones on the dangers of nuclear reactors and the effects of plutonium, to his thoughts on ecology and admiration for the agrarian-minded poet and children's book writer Kenji Miyazawa. But this recent book, written while hospitalized earlier this year, encompasses a wider scope than any other.

Takagi writes, "(With cancer) one can estimate death to come at a certain point in time, but one can work until then with unexpected energies. I thought I would use the time to get my message to many people, relaying my message (by writing the book)... the path I have taken, my intentions and my reflections may live in the next generation."

A lay person may find scientific jargon tedious in parts, when the author recounts his earlier research in nuclear science. But such sections are not long and, on the whole, the author is eloquent and easy to follow---despite him saying he is often criticized by grassroots activists for his hard-to-understand talk typical of a college professor.

However, the book makes an interesting read not only for his anti-nuclear stand, but as a story of a man caught between the conflicting values of the individual and those of an organization.

After graduating from university, Takagi worked as a researcher for a nuclear fuel company (now merged into Toshiba Corp.), where his primary concern was measuring the radioactivity levels of reactor water, and the nature of radioactivity itself.

"Surprised at the unexpectedly high radioactive contamination of reactor water, I maintained that we should make the findings public in academic circles... but the boss said, 'You just want to make a name for yourself' and 'Your work is not compatible with the company.'

"It was expected that a company researcher would reassure the public that radioactivity can be contained safely, and that it can be put to use in a safe way," he writes.

Being forced to take sides in the growing controversy over nuclear power was also frustrating for him.

After a little more than four years at the company (Takagi says it was the equivalent of seven to eight years' experience) he went on to conduct research on radioactive levels in the environment at a Tokyo University nuclear institute, before becoming an associate professor at the early age of 30 at Tokyo Metropolitan University at the height of student unrest. However, he left the post four years later, to pursue his own science as a citizen.

Growing differences

It was after he was asked by a fellow scientist who supported a residents' group to conduct studies on plutonium, while earning his living by translating technical material, that Takagi launched himself fully into anti-nuclear activities.

In the book, he also makes a rare reference to his private life, saying that he married and had two boys while he was with the nuclear fuel company, but later divorced "because of growing differences in values in life." A woman who encouraged him when he was establishing himself as a citizen scientist is now his partner in life.

Worth noting is that his distrust of the Establishment has roots in his childhood experience of Japan's defeat in World War II.

The then seven-year-old boy---living a relatively comfortable life despite the war, with five siblings and a medical practitioner as a father---saw that whatever adults and teachers taught him turned out to be the opposite. The deified emperor was only human after all, there was no god's hand to overturn the war's outcome at the last minute, and the allied forces Japan had fought were now "liberating the country," he was suddenly told by the same adults. Nor did military officers commit hara-kiri like samurai should, as his grandmother from a samurai family had taught him.

"The anger and frustration I had felt at the end of the war developed into a belief that moulded my character," he declares.

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