Best-selling Kojien dictionary expands nuclear terms in once-a-decade update


The new edition of the best-selling Kojien dictionary to go on sale next month will be the first with nuclear power terms selected by a dedicated editor in its 62-year history, its publisher says.

The dictionary, covering some 240,000 words, was first published in 1955 and is revised every 10 years or so. Publisher Iwanami Shoten decided to assign a dedicated editor to review nuclear terminology for the seventh edition because people have become more familiar with such words since the March 2011 Fukushima disaster.

Some of the terms are frequently used by the media and are commonly understood, but many of those in the current edition are defined using technical jargon.

Toru Kawahara, 46, at Iwanami Shoten proposed at a meeting just months after the Fukushima disaster that the publisher appoint an editor dedicated to reviewing and selecting nuclear terms.

He remembers saying, “Issues regarding nuclear plants are no longer restricted to experts in the field and people living near the plants.”

The proposal was accepted unanimously and Kawahara himself became the first to take the post.

He added about 20 new words to the upcoming edition including hairo, meaning to decommission a reactor, and anzen-shinwa (safety myth), describing the view once promoted by the government and power companies that atomic power is undoubtedly safe.

One of the key factors in selecting the new terms was “whether they will continue to be used” in years to come, he says.

Kawahara came up with 200 candidates, including words he saw in print and on the internet. He was surprised to learn that hairo had not been included.

He realized that people only paid attention to the building and operating of nuclear plants and cared far less about the fact that the work of scrapping aged reactors safely is an important part of nuclear power.

“Everyone, including myself, was so indifferent” about nuclear power, he said.

While also adding The Great East Japan Earthquake, the offshore mega-quake in 2011 that triggered the Fukushima crisis, Kawahara revised some the older entries, such as radiation and breeder reactor, by using words that are easier to understand.

He also knew that some of the terms he chose to add were not widely used. These included youso (iodine) and bento (venting).

Iodine pills help reduce radiation buildup in the thyroid in the event of a nuclear accident or incident. “I think it is good to tell people how they work and how they should take them in an emergency,” he said.

Venting is one of the terms that became widely known from the Fukushima crisis. Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc., manager of the stricken Fukushima No. 1 complex, came under fire for a failed venting attempt that would have released pressure in the reactors. Instead, hydrogen explosions ensued, gutting the buildings housing them and contaminating the environment.

Since venting can cause radioactive releases into the environment, “I thought it is a term we must have as long as it concerns life-and-death situations people may encounter during evacuation,” Kawahara said.

He also contemplated adding kitaku konnan kuiki (difficult-to-return-to zones), the term for areas near the Fukushima plant where radiation remains unacceptably high. But he dropped it, concluding it would no longer be used once such designations are lifted.

“I felt compelled to help people remember the reality of residents there who cannot return to their way of life before the disaster. It was not an easy decision.”

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