The world has forgotten the real victims of Fukushima

A natural disaster that cost the lives of thousands of people was ignored in favour of a nuclear ‘disaster’ that never was…

Michael Hanlon counts himself amongst the journalists guilty of ignoring the real Tohoku earthquake/tsunami disaster story. I was sufficiently impressed by Michael’s short Telegraph piece that I have created a Google Alert to track his dispatches.

(…) Hundreds, thousands of people were being killed before my eyes, some in the most horrible way. And on that first day, like all journalists, I began writing about the disaster much as I had written about the 2004 earthquake and tsunamis which had devastated the coasts of the Indian Ocean.

But then something odd happened. When it became clear the waves had struck a nuclear power plant, Fukushima Dai-ichi, 100 or so miles north of Tokyo, it was almost as if the great disaster we had witnessed had been erased from view. Suddenly, all the reports concentrated on the possibility of a reactor meltdown, the overheating fuel rods, and the design flaws in this ancient plant.

I too found the nuclear angle compelling. The forces of nature meet human hubris and the terror of the unchained atom. There was human drama, the whiff of cover-ups, institutional incompetence, heroism (the famous Fukushima 50), and pretty soon an international angle as “deadly clouds of radiation” formed (which turned out to be nothing of the sort).
Soon we journalists became versed in the terminology of nuclear disaster – sieverts and millisieverts, the difference between pressurised and boiling water reactors, the half-lives of various isotopes of caesium and iodine.
It was at this point, at around day three, that I realised that something had gone seriously wrong with the reporting of the biggest natural disaster to hit a major industrialised nation for a century. We had forgotten the real victims, the 20,000-and-counting Japanese people killed, in favour of a nuclear scare story.
Yesterday, together with the rationalist campaign group Sense About Science, I attempted to put the record straight at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Vancouver. We argued that not only was the global media’s reaction to the Tohoku earthquake skewed in favour of a nuclear “disaster” that never was, but that this reporting had profound economic and even environmental implications.
(…) There are bitter ironies in all of this. The panic caused a minor evacuation of Tokyo, which almost certainly resulted in more road deaths than will ever be attributable to radiation leaks. At one point, governments in Europe, including ours, were offering to fly expats home from places where the radiation levels were lower than the natural background count in Aberdeen or Cornwall.
As Wade Allison, emeritus professor of physics at Oxford University, says: “The reporting of Fukushima was guided by the Cold War reflex that matched radiation with fear and mortal danger. Reactors have been destroyed, but the radiation at Fukushima has caused no loss of life and is unlikely to do so, even in the next 50 years. The voices of science and common sense on which the future of mankind depends were drowned out and remain to be heard, even today. The result has been unnecessary suffering and great socio-economic damage.”

You will need a strong constitution to read the comments to Michael’s report. The global anti-nuclear forces mobilize instantly to inundate any open-comment site. There are a few science-based comments, but they are overwhelmed by the anti-science posters. Sigh…

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