Global situation moment: Fukushima power plant, day 21.
Not an April Fool’s joke, unfortunately. The tsunami and its aftermath have obviously been a massive disaster and tragedy for the people of Japan. And also, and importantly, it’s a still-unfolding and unresolved nuclear crisis of Chernobyl-like proportions.
I grew up around nuclear disarmament activists, and as a result was exposed to a great deal of information about nuclear weapons and nuclear power as a young person. And I share the view expressed by some (i.e., here) that much of the press coverage of this situation has been terrible.
Why? Because so much of it is indirect, unclear, and confusing with respect to the science of radiation and nuclear power. For example, the presence and concentration of radioactive isotopes have been reported without an explanation of how those isotopes are produced and what they could mean. Radiation and radioactive contamination (which are very different) have been discussed interchangeably or without a clear explanation of those terms. The term “meltdown” is frequently used with little or no explanation of its meaning. The worst case scenarios haven’t been described with any clarity or detail.
All of this is dangerous, because it substitutes speculation (and at times, misinformation) for a clear understanding of what’s actually going on. People in the US are overdosing on potassium iodide pills, when radiation levels across North America are unchanged from background levels, and the contamination that’s been found in milk so far is thousands of times lower than harmful levels. On the other hand, people in Japan are told by the government to evacuate a 19-mile radius from the plant, while the US military is evacuating to 50 miles and radiation above legal limits is already in Tokyo drinking water. It’s a mess.
I highly recommend this interview (audio with transcript) from my friend Chris Martenson’s extraordinary website, for an in-depth and accessible discussion of what’s happening in the Fukushima plant, and information about how to think about and respond to the situation. The Wikipedia page for the disaster is also very informative and being updated in real time.
Please pay attention if you haven’t been, and keep paying attention if you have. This isn’t over yet, even though much of the news has moved on to other things.