The Making of a Radiation Panic

Breakthrough Institute founders Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus examine some of the range of journalism on Fukushima. Of particular interest is background on Japanese politics – why has the government reaction been so weak?

(…) Despite the over-reaction in Japan and Europe, Fukushima has not slowed the pace of new nuclear plant construction globally (something we predicted last year). Against claims made in this week’s Economist, the number of reactors planned and under construction is virtually unchanged. In the US, the main obstacle to the expansion of nuclear has not been fear of radiation but rather the abundance of cheap natural gas from shale — a reality which similarly challenges the expansion of renewables.

There was nothing inevitable or natural about Japan’s panicked reaction to Fukushima. Growing mistrust of the government long pre-dates the tsunami. “The hysteria about radiation reflects a breakdown in trust, as witnessed by endless media accounts quoting people who doubt the government’s monitoring of food and soil,” wrote former Tokyo correspondent for the Washington Post, Paul Blustein. “Tokyo’s political class, which was eager to appear unified after the disaster, is consumed anew with score-settling and power maneuvers of the sort that have given the country six prime ministers in the past five years.”

Perhaps the most important lesson to be drawn from Japan’s radiation scare is the need for new, credible sources — independent of both electric utilities and governments — able to soberly put the risks and benefits of energy technologies in context. Alas, if the Natural Resource Defense Council’s slickly demagogic “nuclear fallout crisis” map is any indication, such credible sources won’t likely come from the traditional environmental movement.

See NPR’s coverage, which cites Breakthrough analysis by Jesse Jenkins, here: Nuclear Woes Push Japan Into A New Energy Future.

You can find our full collection of nuclear analyses and coverage here.

[From The Making of a Radiation Panic]

1 thought on “The Making of a Radiation Panic

  1. That was a bunch of hooey…the Japanese government evacuated its citizens in accordance with IAEA guidelines. The IAEA is the international organization which PROMOTES nuclear power.

    Also this statement is incorrect, “Even the 70 altruistic plant workers who stayed behind gained an additional cancer risk of just 0.002% — effectively zero in a country where four out of ten people get cancer.”

    Those 70 workers received a variety of doses, which means their risks are also varietal. It’s not a single number.

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