Thursday, May 19, 2011

Nuclear meltdown abroad and at home

In a sickening sort of way, news coverage around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant meltdown in Japan still has me hypnotized. It's news this week, by the way, that "the m-word," as Jonathan Soble of the Financial Times put it yesterday, can be applied to this still-unfolding disaster with what the news media consider some degree of certainty.

As hypnotizing as the coverage itself is the way news media are spinning it.

On Tuesday a New York Times article titled In Japan Reactor Failings, Danger Signs for the U.S. told how early assurances from our government were based on false information. When Americans were assured that U.S. reactors were safe, the claims behind those assurances were just plain wrong:

"American officials had said early on that reactors in the United States would be safe from such disasters because they were equipped with new, stronger venting systems. But Tokyo Electric Power Company, which runs the plant, now says that Fukushima Daiichi had installed the same vents years ago."

Moreover, blaming Japanese authorities for failing to respond appropriately and immediately to the early stages of the disaster appears to be less the full story than U.S. criticism implied a couple of months ago:

"But the release this week of company documents and interviews with experts provides the most comprehensive evidence yet that mechanical failures and design flaws in the venting system also contributed to delays. The documents paint a picture of increasing desperation at the plant in the early hours of the disaster, as workers who had finally gotten the go-ahead to vent realized that the system would not respond to their commands."

Compare that with FoxNews coverage of the same date: Japan To Stand By Nuclear Power At G-8 and Tepco Says It Can Still Bring Japan Nuclear Plant To Safe State In 6-9 Months ... a rather different spin, wouldn't you say?

Full disclosure, as if it weren't obvious: I trust the New York Times further than I do FoxNews to deliver fair and balanced reporting. And as I've written in many posts before today, I think it's foolish and hubristic to pretend we (humans) can engineer our way out of catastrophic risks posed by the choices we have made about energy consumption and production.

I wonder how long Japan's nuclear reactor disaster will remain an "issue" as opposed to an instructive lesson in human fallibility.

What will it take for FoxNews to face the risks nuclear power poses? What would it take for the corporations that profit from the nuclear power industry to be accountable for those risks? What scale of disaster might motivate citizens of the United States to insist on straightforward analysis, and policy driven by honesty instead of corporate balance sheets?

Related posts on One Finger Typing:
The radiation cloud is blowing in the wind
Digging deeper holes
Things fall apart

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