Skip to main content

Building the Narrative of Fukushima

JapanMail Over at the BBC, Fiona Fox has a stern talking to with her colleagues in the press – British, primarily - over their handling of events at Fukushima Daiichi:

One tabloid's Japan coverage was typical. Under the title "Japan's Horror: Battle to Stop Nuclear Meltdown", the double-page spread included three articles by different reporters on the nuclear threat: "Now Food's Nuked", "Dangers Might Get a Lot Worse" and "Despair of Victims in Nuke Zone". The only piece about the earthquake itself was the story of a Brit who had a miraculous escape.

But when the first excitement passed and outlets started talking to  scientists and engineers in the nuclear field and academia, a different story began to emerge:

As with all good scientists and academics, there were differences of emphasis and differences of opinion, but I think a fair reading of the consensus would go something like this:

  • This was a very, very serious situation
  • The Japanese operators appeared to have done a tremendous job in controlling it
  • It was not another Chernobyl
  • Almost everything reported to have happened was what experts would have expected to happen in a 40-year-old plant faced with the combined impacts of the earthquake and tsunami - The Japanese authorities did everything right in relation to protecting the local population - setting the exclusion zone, handing out iodine tablets etc.
  • The health risks to anyone in Tokyo from a radiation leak at the plant in Fukushima are really very small indeed.

Which is considerably less dramatic than the media could be expected to cope with.

So why did the best estimates of the best experts give way to another narrative? Why did so many responsible broadcasters and editors not allow the facts to get in the way of a good story? Why did almost every section of our media lead daily reports with 'another Chernobyl' or the coming apocalypse, when none of Britain's leading scientists or the Chief Scientific Adviser were in any way confirming that assessment?

We talked about this a little in the story about Pew below, but Fox’s story goes into much more detail. If you want a good explication of  how media narratives get formed, Fox does a terrific job laying it all out.

Fox makes one excellent point that needs calling out: fastening on Fukushima overwhelmed the actual crisis in Japan - the earthquake and tsunami.

Three meltdowns! When did that hap – oh!

Comments

Daniel said…
Wow, that post makes it sound like the Fukushima story is over. That spin seems premature as things continue to spiral downhill at the plant.

Popular posts from this blog

Sneak Peek

There's an invisible force powering and propelling our way of life.
It's all around us. You can't feel it. Smell it. Or taste it.
But it's there all the same. And if you look close enough, you can see all the amazing and wondrous things it does.
It not only powers our cities and towns.
And all the high-tech things we love.
It gives us the power to invent.
To explore.
To discover.
To create advanced technologies.
This invisible force creates jobs out of thin air.
It adds billions to our economy.
It's on even when we're not.
And stays on no matter what Mother Nature throws at it.
This invisible force takes us to the outer reaches of outer space.
And to the very depths of our oceans.
It brings us together. And it makes us better.
And most importantly, it has the power to do all this in our lifetime while barely leaving a trace.
Some people might say it's kind of unbelievable.
They wonder, what is this new power that does all these extraordinary things?

A Design Team Pictures the Future of Nuclear Energy

For more than 100 years, the shape and location of human settlements has been defined in large part by energy and water. Cities grew up near natural resources like hydropower, and near water for agricultural, industrial and household use.

So what would the world look like with a new generation of small nuclear reactors that could provide abundant, clean energy for electricity, water pumping and desalination and industrial processes?

Hard to say with precision, but Third Way, the non-partisan think tank, asked the design team at the Washington, D.C. office of Gensler & Associates, an architecture and interior design firm that specializes in sustainable projects like a complex that houses the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys. The talented designers saw a blooming desert and a cozy arctic village, an old urban mill re-purposed as an energy producer, a data center that integrates solar panels on its sprawling flat roofs, a naval base and a humming transit hub.

In the converted mill, high temperat…

Seeing the Light on Nuclear Energy

If you think that there is plenty of electricity, that the air is clean enough and that nuclear power is a just one among many options for meeting human needs, then you are probably over-focused on the United States or Western Europe. Even then, you’d be wrong.

That’s the idea at the heart of a new book, “Seeing the Light: The Case for Nuclear Power in the 21st Century,” by Scott L. Montgomery, a geoscientist and energy expert, and Thomas Graham Jr., a retired ambassador and arms control expert.


Billions of people live in energy poverty, they write, and even those who don’t, those who live in places where there is always an electric outlet or a light switch handy, we need to unmake the last 200 years of energy history, and move to non-carbon sources. Energy is integral to our lives but the authors cite a World Health Organization estimate that more than 6.5 million people die each year from air pollution.  In addition, they say, the global climate is heading for ruinous instability. E…