Discussion: Is Japan in danger of a nuclear disaster or not? What source to trust?


Hi Blog.  I have to admit being thoroughly confused about what’s going on at Fukushima’s nuclear power plant.  Are we in danger of a nuclear meltdown or aren’t we?

I’m hearing from NHK and the connected authorities that there is no cause for concern and everything is under control (as roofs get blown off plant buildings).

I’m also hearing from overseas sources that there is little cause for alarm.  For example, here.

Yet I’m hearing from sources on the ground without an interest in the nuclear power industry making statements like these:

(Source is anonymized, but is a trustworthy on about matters dealing with U.S. military:)


March 14, 2011:  You are absolutely right to have zero trust in Government of Japan (GOJ) or Japanese-controlled press on this.  The Japanese authorities simply won’t confirm the meltdown that is occurring.  Here are some of the facts from the western press:

1.  The USS Ronald Reagan, located 100 miles Northeast, had to relocate due to a radioactive plume cloud heading their way.
2.  17 members of the Reagan’s helicopter crews doing rescue missions have tested positive for radioactivity.  All helos are being decontaminated as they return to the Reagan.
3.  The Navy has tested positively for airborne radioactivity up to 100 miles away from the plant.
4.  The Japanese are pumping saltwater in to cool the rods.  This is only done as a last-ditch effort, since salt corrodes the reactors.  After that, they are out of options.
5.  Cesium has been detected by the Navy in the air.  The presence of this element in the air is an indication that the rods have actually started melting.
6.  The plant at Onagawa is also experiencing abnormally high radiation levels.  This plant is much closer to Tokyo.

Now, let’s remember how the GOJ is treating the casualty numbers.  They are reporting 1600 casualties right now.  That’s because they do not even consider a person “dead” until they are identified, so even though they have thousands of bodies piled up, they won’t report them yet as “dead”.  That is the way the GOJ operates.   They are simply not forthcoming with information.  The US Govt. was extremely frustrated at this way of operating during the Kobe earthquake.  The US Government could not get adequate situational awareness because the GOJ was simply not forthcoming.  This is no different.

Right now, the GOJ “officials have yet to confirm a meltdown because IT IS TOO HOT INSIDE THE TO CHECK.” (cnn.com) So, do they expect the reactor to cool down so they can check and confirm that the rods are actually melting?  Noriyuki Shikata, a spokesman for Japan’s prime minister, said Sunday the situation was “under control.” (cnn.com).   Under control? You can’t confirm if the rods are melting because it’s too hot to check, but everything is under control?

Stephanie Cooke, editor of Nuclear Intelligence Weekly for the atomic-energy community, said best summarized the GOJ on this issue by saying “The more they say they’re in control, the more I sense things may be out of control. (cnn.com)”


So which is it?  Again, Debito.org is disinclined to trust official sources given their record regarding safety and forthcomingness (witness 1999’s nuclear accident at Tokai-mura and the consequent media debacle).  But I wish I knew what to believe.  Suggestions and links from Debito.org Readers welcome.  Arudou Debito

UPDATE MARCH 16: The thing that I don’t get about recent developments is that Japanese society tends to overcompensate in regards to safety issues.  Why don’t we see that happening whenever there’s a case of nuclear energy?  “Just stay indoors for the duration” is not what I would call adequate safety advice.

70 comments on “Discussion: Is Japan in danger of a nuclear disaster or not? What source to trust?

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  • Similar Mainichi editorial:

    Gov’t must provide accurate information on nuclear disaster risks

    Japan’s nuclear power plant disaster is widening. The water level in a pool for spent nuclear fuel at Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO)’s Fukushima No. 1 plant has dropped, creating the possibility of a meltdown.

    The container of the No. 3 reactor at the plant has possibly been damaged and the fuel in the No. 1, 2 and 3 reactors is no longer fully covered with cooling water. If no countermeasures are adopted the fuel will melt, which could result in a large radiation leak. Workers handling the disaster must unite their efforts to secure a water supply as quickly as possible and cool the fuel.

    Equally important as bringing the nuclear power disaster under control is a proper response to the threat of radiation.

    It goes without saying that people’s health must be protected. At the same time we must ensure the well-being of people put at risk and ease people’s anxiety.

    It is only natural that people living within a 20 kilometer radius of the nuclear power plant have been evacuated. People living between 20 and 30 kilometers from the plant have been ordered to stay indoors, but is this an appropriate response? Even though the risk may be low in this area at present, the government should consider ordering evacuations in the outer ring as well to ease people’s anxiety and ensure that they can get back to life as normal. We also call on local government bodies around the nation to consider accepting people from these areas.

    Even in areas located far away from the plant, people have started evacuating. With only limited information available, it is only natural that they feel uneasy. But if people in areas that face an extremely low risk start evacuating, confusion will arise, and this could hinder efforts to aid the people who really need help. What is important is for people to have a “healthy” measure of fear.

    At the Fukushima nuclear power plant, fission reactions were brought to a halt immediately after the earthquake struck, so the situation is fundamentally different from the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl. But could the situation worsen to a level on par with Chernobyl, and if so what kind of risk would people across Japan face? Many people want answers.

    When calling for a calm response, authorities must assess not only the current risk, but also the risks in a worst-case scenario, and provide people with accurate information, including the probability of such a scenario.

    The government is unequivocally responsible for establishing guidelines. We want the Cabinet Office’s Nuclear Safety Commission and other related bodies to actively carry out their responsibilities. At the same time it is also probably necessary for academic committees and other expert organizations to analyze the risks, support the government and provide information to residents.

    We have pointed out in the past that establishing a reliable and consistent source of information is an important part of crisis management. But the government must not go too far in controlling information. To cover the mouths of people in specialist fields will only harm the nation’s interests. We call for combined wisdom that will enable Japan to overcome this crisis.

    (Mainichi Japan) March 17, 2011

    Original Japanese story

    社説:東日本大震災 的確なリスク情報を

















    毎日新聞 2011年3月17日 2時31分

  • I laughed when i heard that TEPCO were raising the radiation safety level to twice the currently accepted level; so that their workers could work longer hours.

    What a farce and a complete joke….

    — Need a source.

  • Steve King says:

    I can’t believe you have left this unsubstantiated, anonymously-sourced paranoid nonsense on your blog for days now, Debito:

    1. The USS Ronald Reagan, located 100 miles Northeast, had to relocate due to a radioactive plume cloud heading their way.

    ‘Radioctive Plume Cloud’? This is unsubstantiated anywhere else.

    2. 17 members of the Reagan’s helicopter crews doing rescue missions have tested positive for radioactivity. All helos are being decontaminated as they return to the Reagan.

    The level of radioactivity tested is not stated and is therefore meaningless. There’s radioactivity practically everywhere, at some level. Does your source state that the level tested for is dangerous to the human health?

    3. The Navy has tested positively for airborne radioactivity up to 100 miles away from the plant.

    Again, without the actual measurements, this is meaningless

    4. The Japanese are pumping saltwater in to cool the rods. This is only done as a last-ditch effort, since salt corrodes the reactors. After that, they are out of options.

    What experience does your source have of the procedures necessary to cool a nuclear reactor?

    5. Cesium has been detected by the Navy in the air. The presence of this element in the air is an indication that the rods have actually started melting.

    Again, this is unsubstantiated. Any actual measurements to go on, with a credible source attached to their significance?

    6. The plant at Onagawa is also experiencing abnormally high radiation levels. This plant is much closer to Tokyo.

    Utterly absurd, as has already been pointed out. A simple look at a map comprehensively discredits this assertion

    Debito, I’m frankly shocked that you’ve let this stay on your blog. It’s an error of judgement on your part and it saddens me. The longer you leave this nonsense up for worried and and concerned people to see, the more your credibility becomes damaged.

    You are an individual who in my opinion has a great deal of credibility and gravitas amongst the wider community of non-Japanese and naturalized Japanese in this country. Please do this credibility and gravitas good service by removing these unsubstantiated and irresponsible rumours from your blog and replacing them with the kind of balanced analysis you are more renowned for.

  • I’d like to echo Steve in #55 above. Really, this is nothing more than the sort of irresponsible scaremongering that Debito would be ranting about if it was some abuse of crime statistics targetting the NJ community, for example. It’s a time for a bit of rational thought not hype and rumour-mongering. Like the UK Govt’s Chief Scientific Advisor insisting there was absolutely no risk to Tokyo, for example.


  • I have to agree largely with what Steve King has said Debito – though I think the article should be left up with Steve’s piece-by-piece demolition of it interleaved with the text – in bold.

  • WOW, Are you guys seriously blaming Debito for asking which news source to trust?
    I understand that everyone is on edge, this a serious situation. Most of us have loved ones who we are worried about, or have lives in Japan. While you sit and worry, and have time on your hands to respond to this blog consider this:

    The blaming has got to stop!!! Its Debito’s blog, he presents us with an issue – He did not create the issues, he merely encourages us to debate them, give each other ideas and often WE yes WE come up with solutions to the problems. QUIT blaming him for simply bring the debate to light.

    I certainly hope that everyone is safe and well. Good luck to you whether you beleive the news from JP or elsewhere. I hope they are all wrong!
    BUT please stop the blaming those who wish to question the system!!!

  • agreed. If you want to find the straight scoop, come here. If you want drama and nonsense, go to tepido. The drone flyover pictures show a disaster, youd have to be insane to deny that causes concern.

  • http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1367684/Nuclear-plant-chief-weeps-Japanese-finally-admit-radiation-leak-kill-people.html

    Japanese TEPCO finally admits radiation now enough to kill. Here comes the bowing and the apologizing. Why does Japan have to be subjected to this every time? There shouldn’t be bowing or apologizing it should NEVER happen!

    Finally to prove Debito correct. Japan blocks out radiation readings closest to the plant.


    — Thanks but remember, the goal here is not to “prove Debito correct”. I don’t want to be correct in this situation — I’m hoping I’m wrong, actually. But I do want more information from reliable sources to get out for people to make informed decisions about where they want to weather this crisis out.

  • Ref my post # 53, source:

    “..On Wednesday the government raised the legal limit of radiation they could be exposed to from 100 to 250 millisieverts…”

    So, again, lets make a picture of ‘all ok’..by raising the safety limit, ergo they are safe!!!

    “…That is more than 12 times the legal dose for workers dealing with radiation under British law.”

  • Debito isn’t quoting any news source, just some anonymous idiot on the internet, of which there are an infinite number.

    If you want a credible source, try the UK Chief Scientific Advisor, for one. I don’t see that he has any particular reason to downplay things and he’s certainly put his, and by extension the UK Govt’s, credibility firmly on the line with very clear statements. Dozens of independent scientists around the world have come up with the same sort of assessment. The worst plausible case is some serious contamination of the local area, which of course is a serious outcome, but hardly a health hazard to anyone further away.

    Don’t forget in all this, we have an ongoing calamity with hundreds of thousands displaced and tens of thousands dead. All this wailing about our supposed victimhood, either further afield in Japan or even more ludicrously around the rest of the world, is pretty poor taste.

  • The Anonymous Contributor to this Blog Entry says:

    Most of the reports on your original anonymous posting were widely available from CNN on the day you posted it. Don’t tell me the readers on here actually watch and believe the Japanese Government propaganda of NHK over CNN.

  • The danger to the Tokyo Metropolitan area and the rest of Japan is the long-term effects of the event. All of the talk about radiation from the press is about immediate exposure, but the real problem is if the contamination enters the water supply. A large majority of the health issues at Chernobyl were from contaminated milk and other food sources.

  • jjobseeker says:

    Another interesting read Debito:
    The fact of the matter is, nuclear radiology is not part of our schooling other than on a theoretical or compulsory level. We’re never really taught what amounts of exposure are safe and unsafe. I never heard of a microsievert until a week ago–odd considering I grew up in the Cold War. So I agree with this editorial that on top of, or perhaps instead of, purely scientifically accurate information, what we really need is proper information that is more easily perceived by the general public.


    Public urged to avoid unnecessary panic amid nuke plant crisis
    (Mainichi Japan) March 18, 2011

    This Thursday, March 17, 2011 satellite image provided by DigitalGlobe shows Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant in Japan. (AP Photo/DigitalGlobe)
    Having served in the past as head of the Mainichi Shimbun’s Fukushima Bureau as well as the managing editor of the Science & Environment News Department at our paper’s Tokyo headquarters, I was asked to participate in a telephone interview with Radio Fukushima on March 16.

    On the radio, I declared that the radiation levels to which residents in Fukushima were exposed had no effect on their health whatsoever. “Please feel at ease,” I reassured them. We received e-mails and faxes saying that listeners felt reassured by the interview, the recording of which Radio Fukushima subsequently aired over and over again.

    The experience once again drove home how fearful people are about the effects of radiation. I’ve even heard of people leaving Tokyo for “safer” locations. While it goes without saying that we are confronting a grave situation unprecedented in the history of the development of nuclear energy, what we need more than anything is to follow the developments with level-headedness.

    Public fears began to mount the morning of March 15, when Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano announced that radiation levels of 400 millisieverts per hour had been detected in what is believed to be the vicinity of the No. 3 reactor at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 power station and added, “This level of radiation can possibly have an effect on people’s health.”

    Indeed, if someone were to be exposed to this level of radiation continuously for an hour, there is a possibility that they will develop symptoms such as a temporary drop in white blood cells.

    The figure — 400 millisieverts — however, is believed to have been a particular measurement taken close to the rubble of the damaged No. 3 reactor. We later learned that radiation levels differed even in the same power plant grounds, with levels by the No. 1 power station’s main entrance reaching just 10 millisieverts. Yet, footage of Edano announcing the former figure and saying that such levels could be damaging to people’s health were repeatedly played on television.

    Panic rose even further that evening when it emerged that radioactive material originating in the Fukushima plant had been detected in Tokyo.

    So does the current situation actually have any bearing on our health?

    Exposure to radiation can be divided into two kinds: external and internal. External entails the direct contact of radioactive rays with parts of one’s body that are exposed. Internal refers to radiation exposure that occurs when air or food tainted with radioactive material enters the body. For the time being, external exposure is of most relevance to us.

    There are two possible ways that people can be exposed to radioactive material externally. The first is through direct exposure to radioactive rays from the nuclear power plant. The second possibility is radioactive materials spreading close and far away from the power station while it continues to emit radioactive rays.

    The rule is that radiation doses are inversely proportional to the distance from the source squared. Therefore, outside a 20-km radius from the plant — from which residents have been evacuated — any direct external exposure from the power station is negligible.

    That leaves us with flying radioactive material as the source of virtually all of the radiation being detected elsewhere. The highest radiation level that had been detected in Fukushima Prefecture by the evening of March 17 was 30 microsieverts (a microsievert is one-one thousandth of a millisievert) or lower, with most measurements at around 2 to 5 microsieverts. Compare that to a CT chest scan, a single one of which will expose the recipient to approximately 6,900 microsieverts. Even if a level of 30 microsieverts were to be maintained, one would have to stand outside for 230 continuous hours to be exposed to the same amount of radiation as a CT scan.

    Time and time again, the media has used the phrase, “Current radiation levels do not pose an immediate health risk.” While the expression is accurate from a scientific point of view, it seems to instill fear in some members of the public. One acquaintance of mine asked: “If they’re saying that there’s no immediate health risk, doesn’t that imply that we might experience effects in the future?” In reality, however, exposure to radiation of 100 millisieverts or less is said not to raise the risk of developing cancer later in life.

    What we need now, more than scientifically accurate information, is sound, on-target information. To that, we can definitively say that current radiation levels are not going to have an adverse effect on our health.

    If the situation were to deteriorate, because of fuel rods being exposed above water or some other reason, thereby raising the amount of radioactive material being emitted, we would be exposed to higher levels of radiation. It will not be too late, however, to decide at that point whether or not to evacuate.

    Another common concern is that the current nuclear crisis will end up being a repeat of the Chernobyl disaster of 1986. The accident at Chernobyl took place when control over atomic fission in a running reactor was lost, triggering a surge in power output that caused huge explosions and fires, releasing massive amounts of radioactive materials into the atmosphere. Fallout from the accident was found around the world.

    On the other hand, the No. 1-3 reactors at the Fukushima No. 1 power plant automatically stopped running immediately following the earthquake on March 11, and control rods were inserted in place. At the time, the No. 4 reactor was in the midst of an inspection, and no nuclear fission reaction is currently taking place in any of the reactors. The generally held view among experts is that the circumstances of the nuclear power station crisis in Fukushima are completely different from those at Chernobyl.

    The worst-case scenario would be if the pressure in a reactor’s pressure vessel and container vessel were to rise and damage the vessels, allowing radioactive materials to leak. Even in this case, however, there would be no large explosions, and the radioactive materials would remain in the immediate vicinity of the power station. Meanwhile, radiation levels will rise considerably, but according to the law that radiation doses are inversely proportional to the distance from the source squared, residents at least 20 kilometers away from the plant will not be exposed to lethal amounts of radiation. Moreover, the chances that the entire Tokyo metropolitan area will be destroyed from such a turn of events — which seems to be the belief held by some members of the public — is nil.

    After I explained these things in my interview with Radio Fukushima, a local man commented on Twitter: “I felt reassured and was able to have a nice meal. It was the first time in a while that food tasted good to me.” His tweet made me painfully aware of the importance of accurate, appropriate information.

    Employees of the Tokyo Electric Power Co. and cooperating companies, Self-Defense Force troops, and police are on site right now, trying to bring the situation under control. Let us follow what’s going on with a cool head on our shoulders. My hope is that the efforts being made on the ground will lead to a breakthrough in the crisis. (By Hidetoshi Togasawa, Editorial Division)

    The original Japanese story
    毎日新聞 2011年3月18日 東京朝刊




















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