Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Michael Hanlon of The Telegraph Shill For The Nuclear Industry?

The only thing I can say about the writer, Michael Hanlon, is that he doesn't understand the situation on the ground at Fukushima, or, he understands it all too well.

The real victims of Fukushima (and TEPCO and the Japanese government) have yet to come.

Twenty thousand tsunami victims! you ain't seen nothing yet.

The world has forgotten the real victims of Fukushima

A natural disaster that cost the lives of thousands of people was ignored in favour of a nuclear 'disaster’ that never was, argues Michael Hanlon.
By Michael Hanlon
21 Feb 2012

I watched the terrible events which took place in Japan on March 11 last year with an appalled fascination. The first truly epic natural disaster to be recorded and beamed into a billion homes in real time produced dreadful images which will be seared into my memory forever.

Most terrible of all, was the black wave, a tide of death which we saw apparently creeping over the landscape like a flood of treacle. Looking more closely, this feature of the tsunami was revealed to be an illusion. The sight of cars pushed this way and that away, doing

U–turns on the highways bisecting this workaday landscape of open fields, scrappy industrial estates and boatyards was the giveaway. These waves were sweeping away everything in their path and sluicing whole villages and towns into the Pacific This was no tide of treacle; it was a wall of destruction travelling at 40 or 50mph.

Hundreds, thousands of people were being killed before my eyes, some in the most horrible way. And on that first day, like all journalists, I began writing about the disaster much as I had written about the 2004 earthquake and tsunamis which had devastated the coasts of the Indian Ocean.

But then something odd happened. When it became clear the waves had struck a nuclear power plant, Fukushima Dai-ichi, 100 or so miles north of Tokyo, it was almost as if the great disaster we had witnessed had been erased from view. Suddenly, all the reports concentrated on the possibility of a reactor meltdown, the overheating fuel rods, and the design flaws in this ancient plant.

I too found the nuclear angle compelling. The forces of nature meet human hubris and the terror of the unchained atom. There was human drama, the whiff of cover-ups, institutional incompetence, heroism (the famous Fukushima 50), and pretty soon an international angle as “deadly clouds of radiation” formed (which turned out to be nothing of the sort).

Soon we journalists became versed in the terminology of nuclear disaster – sieverts and millisieverts, the difference between pressurised and boiling water reactors, the half-lives of various isotopes of caesium and iodine.

It was at this point, at around day three, that I realised that something had gone seriously wrong with the reporting of the biggest natural disaster to hit a major industrialised nation for a century. We had forgotten the real victims, the 20,000-and-counting Japanese people killed, in favour of a nuclear scare story.

Yesterday, together with the rationalist campaign group Sense About Science, I attempted to put the record straight at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Vancouver. We argued that not only was the global media’s reaction to the Tohoku earthquake skewed in favour of a nuclear “disaster” that never was, but that this reporting had profound economic and even environmental implications.

For example, weeks after the tsunamis struck, several nations including Germany, Italy and Switzerland announced that they were

re-examining their commitment to civil nuclear power. On March 15, the EU energy commissioner, G√ľnther Oettinger, announced that the imminent meltdown of No4 reactor threatened an “apocalypse”. Six weeks later, the German Chancellor Angela Merkel, a physicist by training who should have known better, announced the complete closure of the German nuclear power programme.

All this happened amid mounting hysteria – and an information void. It wasn’t until several weeks later that the first considered scientific reports emerged from Japan, notably the report by Britain’s nuclear regulator, Mike Weightman, which made it clear that although outdated, riddled with design flaws and struck by geological forces that went way beyond the design brief, the Fukushima plant had survived remarkably intact.

There are bitter ironies in all of this. The panic caused a minor evacuation of Tokyo, which almost certainly resulted in more road deaths than will ever be attributable to radiation leaks. At one point, governments in Europe, including ours, were offering to fly expats home from places where the radiation levels were lower than the natural background count in Aberdeen or Cornwall.

As Wade Allison, emeritus professor of physics at Oxford University, says: “The reporting of Fukushima was guided by the Cold War reflex that matched radiation with fear and mortal danger. Reactors have been destroyed, but the radiation at Fukushima has caused no loss of life and is unlikely to do so, even in the next 50 years. The voices of science and common sense on which the future of mankind depends were drowned out and remain to be heard, even today. The result has been unnecessary suffering and great socio-economic damage.”

Sometimes the media gets it wrong and we all have to hold our hands up here. Twenty thousand-plus people perished in a real disaster, people about whom we in the West have heard very little.

For their part, policymakers should have waited until at least some science was in before cancelling programmes which, in the case of Germany, will lead to some 70 million metric tonnes annually of increased CO2 emissions, because the shortfall will almost certainly be met by coal-fired power. Nobody, to date, has died as a result of radiation leaks at Fukushima Dai-ichi. Zero – a number you will have read even less about than the 20,000 dead. Telegraph

No comments: