In the accompanying post, I attempt to sum up the situation at Fukushima. This has not been an easy task. Unlike the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986 where too little information was disseminated, after the Fukushima disaster clearly too much information is available for any one author to process. For example, there have been about five major independent reports of variable quality on Fukushima and its effects in the past year, plus the same number of official reports. More are expected soon. And it is estimated that several thousand webpages are dedicated to aspects of the Japanese nuclear disaster. Many of the ones I looked at just contain opinions and are of little merit: the signal-to-noise ratios are often very low.
Among the better websites, Wikipedia has a number of pages on Fukushima including http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fukushima_Daiichi_nuclear_disaster which is a large entry whose table of contents runs to 50 lines and whose references number over 350. Its website on health effects http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radiation_effects_from_Fukushima_Daiichi_nuclear_disaster is almost as large. These two sites are kept up-to-date, are well-informed, and with good sources. Most important, they are pretty even-handed. Even counting the overlap, these two sites represent a vast amount of work: it seems they are maintained by a team or teams of Japanese academics.
For about two years after Chernobyl, because of the lack of information, the health effects agenda was driven by the USSR’s KGB with secrecy, equivocation, misleading information and outright deception being the norm. This also happened at Fukushima: official information from TEPCO and official Japanese nuclear agencies is routinely misleading: seasoned observers examine official press releases for what they hide not what they say.
At Chernobyl, the Soviet Union’s stranglehold on health information was maintained until independent scientists in the East started to object to the distortions and secrecy. Later in Western Europe, scientists started to realise the real situation: information about the resulting thyroid cancer epidemics in Russia, Belarus and Ukraine was verified by two British professors, Dillwyn Williams and Keith Baverstock. Our thanks should be given to them for their laudable efforts.
Later in 2005, IAEA and WHO tried to hijack the health effects agenda again by being ‘economical with the actualité’ in the famous words of a former British government minister. But again they were rumbled – mainly by a Green Party politician, Rebecca Harms MEP and her scientific advisors who relied on Professor Cardis et al’s research and the TORCH report – see www.chernobylreport.org.
With the vast reservoir of information and comment on the web on Fukushima, TEPCO, the Japanese Government, its nuclear agencies and IAEA/WHO can’t fully control the health agenda as happened at Chernobyl. Of course, that doesn’t stop them from trying: their main ace being that they know much more than they publicly admit. It will probably take several years perhaps a decade for all the necessary information to be winkled out piecemeal to explain what really happened after March 11, 2011. This is exactly what happened after Chernobyl.
The equivocations, distorted data and misleading information issued by TEPCO and various Japanese nuclear agencies are still a problem. For example, from recent optimistic TEPCO press releases, readers could be forgiven for thinking the emergency at Fukushima is over. It is not, as I show in the accompanying post.
Compounding this official disinformation is the dire situation in the UK where most newspapers (apart from the Guardian and The Independent) and media ignore Fukushima or reprint reassuring TEPCO press releases without comment. Almost all of the information in my post was gleaned from independent websites and from Der Spiegel in Germany and the New York Times in the US.
Most shameful has been the BBC’s policy of biased information and censorship with regard to Fukushima. In 2011, the BBC produced and broadcast several radio and TV documentaries including a Horizon TV programme and an edition of its science programme Bang Goes the Theory. The latter were ostensibly focused on nuclear safety with the main messages of few deaths at Chernobyl and none expected at Fukushima. No views from the scientific mainstream, far less opposing views, were presented.
Hundreds of objections were made to the BBC Complaints section alleging bias. (www.sgr.org.uk/resources/sgr-supports-joint-complaint-bbc-over-fukushima-documentary and www.nuclearconsult.com/information.php) These complaints were partly upheld by the BBC’s most senior adjudicating body, the BBC Trust, in an unpublicised decision. On the other hand, on October 9, 2011 BBC Scotland broadcast (only in Scotland) a balanced 30 minute programme “Fallout” in Chernobyl.
But the BBC’s control over nuclear matters apparently continues. On February 10, 2012, the BBC’s senior management pulled its Radio 4 scheduled Food Programme on the worrying high levels of food contamination at Fukushima. To be fair, on February 23, the BBC programme This World broadcast a balanced documentary “Inside the Meltdown” on Fukushima, though it was produced outside the BBC itself. So it seems there may be some differing views on nuclear issues within the BBC, which is encouraging.