Thursday, March 17, 2011

We're All Going to Die!!!!! Scaremongering in the media

First, happy St. Patrick's Day everyone! Don't worry, I'm not glowing green in celebration.

Now, onto the topic at hand. I should note that this post is mainly for those overseas who are worried about the situation with the nuclear power plant in Fukushima. Unfortunately, much of the non-Japanese media has focused on this story at the expense of covering the actual disaster: the earthquake and tsunami that killed over 10,000 and left nearly half a million homeless. Poor science and alarmist tendencies have combined to create misleading reports that have my friends and family contacting me wondering if I'm still alive. It pains me that they don't check my blog to determine my status more regularly but that's beside the point.

Here in Japan, expats are fleeing for their lives as embassies ratchet up the hype. Canada's diplomatic corps is notably more calm, suggesting that you avoid travel within 80 km of the nuclear reactor. Fine with me, I had no plans to go there anytime soon.

In Tokyo, which is about 200 km south of the nuclear cloud of death (sarcasm intended), things are quiet. Rolling blackouts have been instituted (my office shut today at 2:50) and train service is reduced, but there is no panic. This evening, Tokyo may have a city-wide blackout for a few hours but it is still not determined exactly where and when (update: no blackout was necessary). It's also tough to find certain items such as batteries and flashlights; prepackaged bread and instant noodles have sold out, while gas stations have long lines. People are preparing for the worst but are generally going about their lives with the same detached demeanor that marks Tokyoites.

I've done quite a bit of reading on the effects of radiation and how far it will travel and how quickly I will turn into a quivering ball of cancer, and the risks as reported overseas are really overblown, at least here in Tokyo. If there was a serious leak of radioactive material, the biggest worry would be consuming too much contaminated food over the following months. Otherwise you can protect yourself by staying inside and sealing windows and doors and taking other basic precautions, in the event that dangerous amounts of radiation actually make it to your area.

The radiation levels at the plant are relatively small again today and Tokyo has no more radiation than normal. So I'm staying. If you are overseas, try to focus on the victims of the tsunami. It is truly unbelievable what is happening there and sad that the international media is more concerned about frightening everyone.

There's so much misinformation that people in the western US are now worried about the radioactive plume reaching them. Meanwhile, they smoke, drive too fast, have too many guns, and are excessively obese. Humans are terrible at understanding risk. We fear what we do not know and cannot control; we know about the dangers of smoking and obesity, and believe that we can control driving and guns, so we are fine. But a single radioactive particle is an unknown and sends us screaming into the streets.

There are some good articles on the whole thing, including one by my favourite sports columnist, Gregg Easterbrook, who writes Tuesday Morning Quarterback for ESPN. Finally, do your own research and reach your own conclusions. Just don't trust the media who want to sell papers or increase viewership at the expense of journalistic responsibility and simple facts.



1 comment:

  1. Hey Sean,

    Thanks for the update....very interesting and insightful comments.

    Glad to hear that your situation is stable.

    I hope that the recovery to a normal state in Japan is a speedy one.

    All the best!
    Sean S.