Reactor No. 4 exploded, leaking 10 tons of radioactive material.
The leak was much stronger than that of the nuclear bomb dropped on Hiroshima.
Afraid of exposing secret information and civilian unrest, the Soviet government kept the accident silent while the damages widened.
Nearby countries also were fearful.
German sociologist Ulrich Beck, who observed the shock of the Chernobyl nuclear accident, published “Risk Society.” It is a theory on risk that stipulates that industrialization and modernization brings technological development and material prosperity, but also greater risk.
Beck’s theory on risk purports that there are not only more calamities, but that calamities are a structural part of modern society.
It is a society that encompasses catastrophic disaster in its daily life.
The risks include biological calamities, nuclear accidents, unemployment, financial commotion, environmental destruction and global warming.
Thus risks are repeatedly produced and our awareness of the dangers become muted, as does their control. As risks become globalized, everyone is affected.
As shown in the Taean oil spill, accurate calculation of the damage and compensation are not easy.
Beck, who visited Korea in March said, “South Korea, where modernization has been extreme, is at grave risk with many dangers.” His words resonated here, because we had just suffered the Taean oil spill, the Namdaemun arson, the attempted kidnapping of a child caught on CCTV, and the discovery of a rat’s head in shrimp crackers.
Those were relatively mild risks. The fear of mad cow disease has driven the people to a near state of panic. On top of that, we have avian influenza spreading in Korea.
The earthquake across the border in China doubled our sense of crisis.
Beck wrote, “It is important for the state to carefully discuss with the people what risks they can handle and what risks it would first manage and thus come up with an agreement.”
If risk society is an inherent characteristic of modern society, the state’s and government’s duty is to manage risk and safeguard its people.
This is something the new administration should listen to.
*The writer is a deputy culture and sports editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
By Yang Sung-hee [email@example.com]
with the Korea JoongAng Daily
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