Real post coming soon - Read more »

31 March 2011

On Fears of Fukushima

I was thinking about what I wanted to write here today, since I hate missing a month on this blog even though I've done it before and will likely do it again. I've been talking myself in and out of writing about the situation at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan, but I wasn't sure what I was going to say about it. After all, it's been nearly three weeks since the earthquake and tsunami rattled that region of the world, and most of what can be said has been said already — and a lot of it by people more qualified to say it than myself.

Nevertheless, I got a little bit upset watching ABC World News this evening. The first four minutes were all about fears that fractions of trace amounts of radioactive iodine have been found in milk supplies in California and Washington... fears that are entirely overblown.

Even though the associated article is entitled "Radiation Levels in West Coast Milk 5,000 Times Lower Than Danger Threshold", from watching the main story presented in the newscast you'd think levels were 5,000 times higher than the threshold. Go ahead and watch it yourself. Of course, at the end, they bring in their medical expert to assure the public milk is safe, but all the while they're playing up the fact that the nation is abuzz about this dire situation, making very little mention that it isn't dire at all. Especially not here in the United States.

Now I don't claim to know everything about nuclear power, but considering I took several classes on it and even helped teach one, it was frustrating seeing something which I know isn't a big deal being blown out of proportion in the mass media. How many people who saw that report are thinking, right now, "I'd better avoid giving milk to my kids until this blows over"? At what cost to our collective public health? Do the benefits outweigh the risks?

In this particular case... probably not.

Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson managed to put many of these fears in perspective this morning with a sobering tweet entitled "Causes of death worldwide in March 2011." He noted that while 3,000,000 died of starvation, 250,000 of Malaria, and 100,000 in car crashes, less than 28,000 have died in the aftermath of the 11 March earthquake and tsunami. (I would even go so far as to point out that there have been no deaths related to the so-called "nuclear crisis" at Fukushima Daiichi.)

Yes, there is potential for much worse to happen from the reactors at Fukushima Daiichi. But it's important to remember that there is potential for worse in anything. Work is being done around the clock to protect public's health, safety, and well-being. And while there will always be disagreements on how the specifics are handled (we're only human), we must remember that it is because this work is being done — diligently, tirelessly — that a true nuclear crisis is being averted.

We must remember that, even without the fear of radiation, there are already hundreds of thousands of people in Japan whose lives have been directly affected by the 11 March earthquake and tsunami. And while remembering that, we must guard ourselves from the easy fear of the "unknown" by educating ourselves with facts whenever we can.

And in the age of the Internet, there's really no excuse anymore for not having the facts.

If you're on Twitter, consider this a "Follow Friday" (even though it's still Thursday for a little while longer). Countless organizations have been diligently sifting through conflicting reports and cutting through the media hype, but the ones I've found the most useful in the past three weeks are (in no particular order) @ans_org, @W_Nuclear_News, @neiupdates, @iaeaorg, and @NuclearStreet. All have provided timely updates, presenting the data clearly and concisely and providing context, despite the difficulties that arise when trying to put radiation figures into perspective.

If you're not on Twitter, you can get updates from ANS Nuclear Cafe's Fukushima page, World Nuclear News' Fukushima portal, and the Nuclear Energy Institute's Fukushima page.

In short, there's really nothing to be worried about. But you have to prove it to yourself.

P.S.: There's no way in hell I'm attempting BEDA this year. More on that later.


Post a Comment