Fukushima: what’s really happening?

Lewis Page has a rundown at The Register, Fukushima’s toxic legacy: Ignorance and fear – Hysteria rages unchecked as minor incident winds down that is well worth a careful reading if you want a good perspective on the story of how Japan’s nuclear power plant handled an unprecedented natural disaster.

There is a lot in the news trying to compare this event with Chernobyl and Three Mile Island. Those comparisons provide a poor referent as far as the radiation and related effects. In terms of the major health effect of such events, there might well be something worth comparing.

It is now an officially acknowledged fact that the great bulk of medical damage to the public after Chernobyl resulted from mass panic and associated psychological stress, not from the accident itself.

In terms of the current situation

Against this background [measured radiation] the initial Japanese decision to do nothing at all about food shipments looks like the correct one. Unfortunately public hysteria has been fanned by ridiculous statements from overseas and UN officials, forcing the present limited climbdown.

Barring some new and unforeseen event at the powerplant, it seems clear that there will be no measurable radiological effects on anybody as a result of the quake and tsunami. Unfortunately the psychological consequences – almost entirely a result of fearmongering and bad reporting in the media worldwide – seem set to be measurable.

What is at risk?

The possibility remains there for the developed world to move to a vastly superior future which would please almost everybody: greens; energy-security hawks; those primarily concerned about economic health; and those who worry about social justice and wealth distribution and provision of good well-paid jobs (the unions, unsurprisingly, love nuclear).

But that better future seems set to be denied to us by the effects of fear and ignorance, driven irresistibly forward by standard-format journalism. ®

The risk from ignorance and hysteria is one that can be avoided but it is also one of the most insidious risks we face. This episode is a case in point.

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