Everyone Panic!

Cross-posted from the other site

I’ve avoided saying anything else about Japan’s nuclear situation since, every time I do, things seem to get worse. But I have to break my silence today due to the pure hysteria of the reporting.

Japan’s nuclear and industrial safety agency on Friday raised the level for the crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant from a 4 to 5 — putting it on par with the 1979 incident at Pennsylvania’s Three Mile Island.

According to the International Nuclear Events Scale, a level 5 equates to the likelihood of a release of radioactive material, several deaths from radiation and severe damage to a reactor core.

Chernobyl, for example, rated a 7 on the scale, while Japan’s other nuclear crisis — a 1999 accident at Tokaimura in which workers died after being exposed to radiation — was a 4.

In Pennsylvania, a partial meltdown of a reactor core was deemed the worst nuclear accident in U.S. history.

OMG!!!1! It’s as bad a three-mile island! An incident that resulted in … no deaths from radiation. In fact, it’s probable that the hysterical reaction to TMI caused more health effects through stress and fear than did the meltdown.

We’re my see a similar relation — more deaths from fear than radiation — emerge with Fukushima. Media hype, for example, has prompted a run on iodine tablets in California. Potassium iodide is not a medication you should take unless you have to, since it can have adverse health effects, especially for pregnant women. People can and have died from allergic reactions to it.

It’s even worse in Europe, where hysterical anti-nuclear forces in Switzerland, Austria and Germany are gearing up to make sure those countries replace their nuclear plants with fuel guzzling, filth spewing fossil fuel plants. Germany is switching off their reactors temporarily, an action which makes me think that Angela Merkel, a quantum chemist, needs to go back to university and have her head examined.

In the meantime, as Gregg Eastebrook reminds us, the media are almost hyping a potential disaster over the actual catastrophe — a massive earthquake and tsunami that’s left 10,000 dead and half a million homeless. That’s what we should be expending our sorrow and concern over. Here is just one story, about 30 children waiting for parents to show up — parents who may never show up because their bodies are somewhere in millions of tons of rubble. Last night, I saw a man whose entire family — wife, kids, grandkids — was washed away. He was trying and failing to contain his overwhelming grief. How do a few stray isotopes compare to that kind of unthinkable tragedy multiplied on such an epic scope? They don’t.

Meanwhile, back in reality, the nuclear situation may be improving, with power restored to at least four of the six units and water being sprayed on unit three’s spent fuel pool, the most dangerous threat the Japanese are facing due its use of plutonium. It’s going to be a long slog and there’s still a potential for disaster. But less hysteria and more reporting would be wise from this point on. The fact that this disaster has been moved up on an arbitrary scale (“I give Fukushima a 5 but I can’t mutate to it.”) is something that is of importance to historians and nuclear regulators.

The enviros do have one point — it is time to reconsider nuclear power. It’s time to consider that a 40-year old archaic design has — so far — weathered one of the worst natural disasters that could be thrown at it. It’s time to consider replacing similar reactors with more modern designs, such as pebble bed or thorium reactors. And time to remember the real story that’s jumping out at me from the Fukushima situation — the Big Damn Heroes who are doing their best to keep this situation under control. I have no idea what kind of civilian medals the Japanese government gives out . But anyone risking having his gonads fried to help prevent a disaster deserves every one they can find.

Exit link: Jesse Walker on how resilient Japan is. Contra western reports, there has been some crime and looting. But the vast vast majority of the Japanese are helping each other out — which is what civilized people do in almost every crisis. I have recently become extremely annoyed at the Hollywood cliche of people screaming and running whenever there is a danger. In dangerous situations, people tend to either act calmly or freeze up. If you can bear it, watch some footage of 9/11 and count the number of people following the Hollywood cliche. You may not even need to take your shoes off to keep track.

The world does not work like it does in a Comac McCarthy book, no matter how much the media wishes it did.

Update: Gregg Eastebrook again. He points out that the biggest problem in Fukushima are the cooling pools for the spent nuclear fuel, a problem we also have in this country. Of course, we wouldn’t have as much of a problem if Obama had not, for purely political reasons, cancelled the Yucca Mountain facility, a repulsive decision I’ve previously taken him to task for.

Party of science, my radioactive ass.