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Fear the Media Meltdown, Not the Nuclear One (UPDATED)

In fact, the 2005 report says that a much, much bigger effect on public health comes from the rumors and uncertainty:

Alongside radiation-induced deaths and diseases, the report labels the mental health impact of Chernobyl as “the largest public health problem created by the accident” and partially attributes this damaging psychological impact to a lack of accurate information. These problems manifest as negative self-assessments of health, belief in a shortened life expectancy, lack of initiative, and dependency on assistance from the state.

The fatalistic feeling of being doomed leads to passivity, as well as other more significant mental health issues; this is entirely due to poor information and uninformed alarmism.

"Experts" in the media

Now, let's look at some of the media reports.

One of the first ones I saw (pointed out to me by my PJ colleague Richard Pollock) was this story in Channel News Asia:

Several experts, in a conference call with reporters, also predicted that regardless of the outcome at the Fukushima No. 1 atomic plant crisis, the accident will seriously damage the nuclear power renaissance.

And who are these experts?

"The situation has become desperate enough that they apparently don't have the capability to deliver fresh water or plain water to cool the reactor and stabilize it, and now, in an act of desperation, are having to resort to diverting and using sea water," said Robert Alvarez, who works on nuclear disarmament at the Institute for Policy Studies.

Hmm. Robert Alvarez. At the Institute for Policy Studies. Which, according to its web site:

IPS became involved in environmental issues through the anti-nuclear movement, a natural extension of its long history of work on the “national security state.” In 1979, IPS Fellow Saul Landau won an Emmy for his documentary "Paul Jacobs and the Nuclear Gang,” which tells the story of the cover-up by the U.S. nuclear program and of the hazards of radiation to American citizens. In 1985, Fellow William Arkin published Nuclear Battlefields: Global Links in the Arms Race, which helped galvanize anti-nuclear activism through its revelations of the impact of nuclear infrastructure on communities across America.

Anti-nuclear movement? Next?

"It is considered to be extremely unlikely but the station blackout has been one of the great concerns for decades," said Ken Bergeron, a physicist who has worked on nuclear reactor accident simulation.

Kenneth Bergeron, author of Tritium on Ice: The Dangerous New Alliance of Nuclear Weapons and Nuclear Power.

I wonder, who else was on this call?

"Joseph Cirincione, the head of the Ploughshares Fund." This would be the same Ploughshares Fund that:

... supports a global network of experts and advocates who are now poised to realize the vision of a nuclear weapon-free world. We leverage the impact of those funds with our own advocacy, with our ability to raise the profile and visibility of key issues, and by convening and engaging with organizations and leaders in the field.

"Paul Gunter is [sic] the U.S. organization Beyond Nuclear," which:

... aims to educate and activate the public about the connections between nuclear power and nuclear weapons and the need to abandon both to safeguard our future. Beyond Nuclear advocates for an energy future that is sustainable, benign and democratic. The Beyond Nuclear team works with diverse partners and allies to provide the public, government officials, and the media with the critical information necessary to move humanity toward a world beyond nuclear.

Gunter also, according to ecologia.org:

... is a co-founder of the Clamshell Alliance. A resident of Warner, New Hampshire, he has been arrested at Seabrook for nonviolent civil disobedience on several occasions.

I begin to see a pattern. Google those several names; you'll find that over and over again, these same four names are being quoted as "nuclear power experts." All of them closely associated with anti-nuclear organizations.

I wonder if they might have an agenda?

What to make of all this

No one can tell you that there will absolutely not be a catastrophic failure -- really catastrophic, like Chernobyl or worse -- at one or more of the Fukushima reactors. At the absolutely worst case, some combination of accidents and failures could break through all three major containments and release a large amount of radiation through the "China Syndrome" or something like it.

It's very likely that there has been at least a partial meltdown in one or more of the reactors -- but "meltdown" doesn't mean "catastrophic release." The reactor would not just have to melt down, but also penetrate both the still containment vessel and the concrete outer layer, and both were designed explicitly to keep that from happening.

What we can say is that it's not very likely to be a catastrophic accident, and gets less likely with every minute. The Japanese are cooling the reactors down, and adding boron, which "poisons" the nuclear reaction by absorbing neutrons, the "sparks" that make the reaction go.

The amount of radiation that has been released is, so far, actually very minor. Instead of being "another Chernobyl," which the IAEA put at INES level 7, this is INES level 4 -- and Three Mile Island was level 5. So far, Fukushima is not just not another Chernobyl, it's not even another Three Mile Island.

And finally, when you hear someone in the media giving one of these catastrophic predictions, check who it is. So far, the catastrophic predictions are consistently coming from people who have been professionally and personally committed to shutting down nuclear weapons and nuclear power for decades.

(UPDATE: Fuel rod fire?)