Nuke Media Distortion with Facts—What to Believe about the Dangers of Japan’s Nuclear Reactors

Are you good at believing the things you believe? That’s my motto. So what are we supposed to believe about the danger of nuclear radiation following Japan’s recent 9.0 earthquake and damage to nuclear reactors at two locations?

Satellite view of Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant

First, why we need to know what is happening:

  • We care about the safety of the Japanese people.
  • We care about the safety about the world population.
  • We care about radiation drift toward North America.
  • We have energy needs that may be met with new reactors in the U.S., but only if they’re safe.

Second, why the mainstream media cannot be trusted for knowledge of what is happening:

  • The media are prone to sensationalize the “news” in order to boost their ratings.
  • The media have a liberal bias, which is already heavily invested in opposition to nuclear energy.
  • The media have no idea what a reactor is, how one works, and what terms mean when used to described behavior at a nuclear plant (e.g., “meltdown).
  • The media, even if they try for “balanced coverage” by “experts” with opposing views, are as likely to get crackpots having their own meltdown over what’s happening in Japan.

Third, the only way to nuke media distortion (whether deliberate or not) is with facts and critical reflection.

For facts, the internet is probably your best guide.

The most valuable report I’ve read so far comes from Dr. Josef Oehman, a research scientist in mechanical engineering and engineering systems at MIT. Read his analysis “Why I am not worried about Japan’s nuclear reactors”. The cost of being well-informed is the effort of becoming informed. Oehman’s article is lengthy, but accessible. You can settle for sound bytes or get the facts in clear and cogent detail.

Oehman captures the threat level with this advice:

If you were sitting on top of the plants’ chimney when they were venting, you should probably give up smoking to return to your former life expectancy.

I’ve started following Oehman on Twitter.

Of course, you want more than one doctor’s opinion. So switch off your TV and search out other reliable sources of real information. If you must monitor the TV coverage, be sure to note the names of specialists and experts who are interviewed, find out who they work for, and examine their credentials.

And listen carefully to the naive questions the journalists are asking. Watch for their own off-hand comments and simplistic reactions. Last night I watched Geraldo interview specialists about the news out of Japan. Geraldo marveled with near-panic that engineers had resorted to flooding their reactors with sea water in order to cool the over-heated reactors. Apparently he didn’t know that this is backup protocol when disaster strikes. (See the article by Oehman.)

Critics of nuclear energy will be sorely tempted to make good use of the disaster in Japan. But this could backfire on them if it turns out that the 9.0 earthquake demonstrates the safety and viability of nuclear power plants, even when disaster strikes.

Time will tell.

About Doug Geivett
University Professor; PhD in philosophy; author; conference speaker. Hobbies include motorcycling, travel, kayaking, sailing.

4 Responses to Nuke Media Distortion with Facts—What to Believe about the Dangers of Japan’s Nuclear Reactors

  1. Doug Geivett says:

    Hi Alex,

    As you know, I live on the left coast. We are paying attention to the news. The level of exposure even in Japan is uncertain. Their reactors are different in kind than the ones in use at Chernobyl and at Three Mile Island (TMI), which are infamous for their problems. Also, the reactors in Japan are more modern and better designed.

    There are no known casualties of the TMI “disaster.” The permit for continued operation of one of its reactors was recently renewed, with an expiration date of 2034.

    What about the Chernobyl disaster of 1986? In 2005, the World Health Organization reported that up to that point in time, some twenty years after the event, only 50 deaths could be “directly attributed to radiation from the disaster, almost all being highly exposed rescue workers.” This is a remarkably low number of casualties. And yet, the Chernobyl event (now 25 years past) is the benchmark for disasters at nuclear plants.

    The international team of 100 scientists who researched the Chernobyl effects concluded in 2005 that as many as 4000 people “could eventually die from radiation exposure” following the Chernobyl plant debacle. An excellent summary of their report may be found here.


  2. cam says:

    Are you good at believing the things you believe? When it comes to Japan’s nuclear issues, part of being “good at believing” is knowing what is REALLY going on. In one year or five years will Japan’s nuclear mess have been shown to be worse than what we are being told now? Or will the final story be that under devastating natural events these nuclear plants held up pretty well and the damage wasn’t nearly as bad as what was initially portrayed?

    Look back at the recent oil disaster in the gulf. Is that region unrecognizable, horribly changed forever? What evidence of that spill is still evident today and what difference is it making?

    “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste……” Have these recent crisis gone to waste? No. They’ve been put to good use. The media today is skilled at developing our fears and then catering to those fears. The answer to this fear is what is stated in this post: “The only way to nuke media distortion (whether deliberate or not) is with facts and critical reflection.”

    As Christians we must be skillful at living, and a large part of living skillfully is knowing what is REALLY going on around us whether in our spiritual lives or in the natural world. What we must see is not what others would like us to see or perceive for their personal benefit, but the truth of matters.

    Discovering the truth doesn’t come through osmosis plus a television set. It requires that biblical frame of reference that enables us to take the information we do acquire and evaluate it based on the solid standards of truth found in scripture.

    Are you good at believing what you believe? Only if you know what is REALLY going on.


  3. Alex says:

    I got scared out of my wits when I saw one blogger who was both saying the media distorts things and forecasting the entire Westcoast being infected with 750 RADS level of radiation (lethal). I was sympathetic for the one reason and left without reasons against the predictions. All I could say was, “well, I don’t know how he came up with that scenario, I’m going to bed praying he’s wrong”. A friend subsequently sent me this piece by Dr. Oehman which you link here and it was quite refreshing and assuaged some fears.


  4. Ray says:

    Well, so far, the short run is not presenting a very convincing instantiation of reliable nuclear disaster management in which the very infrastructure for moving materials into and out of the area has been damaged by natural disaster.

    Also, let us not discount the reality that the body count that will be directly attributable to actual nuclear disaster should containment fail is going to be understated, because . . . well . . . the tsunami has itself diminished the actual living population in the immediate zones of contamination.



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