Saturday, 10 September 2011


"I sympathise immensely but regret that I cannot offer the comfort of clarity. The nuclear disaster has been terrifying, but not as expected. If someone had told me a year ago that three reactors would melt down simultaneously, I would have assumed an apocalypse. Yet Japan today is not like any doomsday I imagined. Instead, there is a kind of slow decay. After three visits to Fukushima, I am less afraid of radiation than I was a year ago but more worried about Japan."

This is the conclusion to a very moving, balanced summary of what Fukushima means now to Japan, its people and all who give a damn.

Full story here by Jonathan Watts.


Stagerabbit said...

Balanced? Really? He writes:

"Even in downtown Tokyo – 240km from the reactor – levels have risen close to the point where they would have to be marked with a "Radiation Hazard" warning if they were found in a workplace."

What is he talking about? What radiation levels? When? For how long? Where exactly? I think I might have remembered this.

Covering the human aspect, particularly the aspect of how fear caused by lack of information is as (or more, in my opinion) dangerous than the radiation itself is important and needs to be addressed. However, enough of the article is like the quotation above (unsourced, spurious, misleading, etc.). Some of the things he writes strike me as untrue. For instance, I'm pretty sure that TEPCO, bad as it is, were saying that "maybe" there was a meltdown quite early on, but it wasn't confirmed until May 23. Also, did a member of the government actually say they hadn't released info in order to not cause panic? If I missed it, fine, but why not source it? The list goes on, and I worry that the author is simply stoking fears.

The author also talks about radiation dosages without any kind of context for what they mean, which is something that drives me crazy. Numbers without solid context are meaningless.

He lets his interview subjects say things that are pretty scary, but never digs more deeply.

Honestly, whatever his intentions, the whole thing reads to me like a kneejerk anti-nuclear piece that hides under thin veneer of balance and the raw emotions of his interview subjects (which incidentally, is a great way of deflecting criticism). He talks about the shutdown of the NPPs as if it is a foregone conclusion, with no need for due consideration or study.

I really would have felt better if he'd sourced this article the way Monbiot and Ben Goldacre do.

All in all, an appeal to emotion rather than to reason. Sigh.

Our Man in Abiko said...

Perhaps "balanced" was the wrong word. Our Man meant, er, accurate to what it's like to be here, at least to my addled mind.

Sure, that's about perceptions, but I thought it was a fair piece about the perceptions of danger (that we don't really know) and how fears have split families, while others soldier on in the danger zone, because what choice does anyone really have?

I don't tend to get the numbers anyway, so I didn't notice them. But do you not think folk are unsure who to believe?

A fair treatment of what it's like to live with fear? I dunno. Let me reread it...

Stagerabbit said...

Okay, I see your point about the piece being about living with the perception of danger. I guess my problem is that he writes a lot of stuff suggesting that the danger is real. I don't think he should be doing that without real data.

To me, the bit about Tokyo I quoted is an indicator that while the piece does do something laudable (allowing the people in or from the stricken areas to voice their uncertainty and worry), the author's motivations are not simply documentary.

(By the way, sorry if the beginning of my first comment sounded sarcastic, I did mean it as a genuine questions, so I'm glad you responded in that spirit.)

V said...

The International Commission on Radiation Protection standard dose limit for protection of the public is 1mSv per year, which works out to be 0.11µSv per hour. The air radiation levels here in the 23 wards exceeded that level for at least four months. Due to the way fallout forms "hotspots" air levels are really not the whole story. There's a patch on my roof that measured over 3µSv/hr.

Tokyo government data says the air is 0.05µSv/hr today. I just stuck my geiger counter out the window and got twice that, and I don't live on the ground floor (there's an appreciable difference the farther you get from ground level - at least 0.03µSv/hr). To me personally a government's unabashedly blatant attempts to mislead the population of an entire city, if not a country, is far more disturbing than the issue of physical contamination. The authorities could easily have neutralised the fear and uncertainty that has prevailed here this summer by doing something very simple; publishing accurate data. By undermining their own credibility they have jeopardised not only the health of those they have a responsibility to protect, but the long term economic stability of the whole country.

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