Media headline war escalates over Japan: competitive journalism endangers public more than nuclear plant does

World media have taken the hysteria over the Fukushima situation to a new level. Each vehicle, desperate to maintain or increase audience, has fixated on the nuclear situation; the plight of the half million refugees of the earthquake and tsunami, cold and hungry, has taken second stage. These vehicles are attempting to increase audience using a tried-and-tested technique: skillful rhetoric designed to whip up fear.  In other words, yellow journalism.

No problem with that by itself: business is business, and in the media, audience numbers matter. The problem is, it is panicking the hell out of the citizens of Japan. The stampede of evacuees from near Fukushima is probably more dangerous than the radiation.

I am not saying they should not be concerned, especially the ones who live close to the plant. Easy for me, comfortably ensconced in my hibernacle in Muskoka, to tell them not to worry. But absent from the hysterical headlines is something that I consider to be the central fact so far: that the Fukushima Daiichi situation has yet to produce its first fatality. When the situation is under control, I am certain that among the myriad of problems facing that part of Japan right now, the Fukushima plant will prove to have been among the least serious.

When it comes to mass consciousness, we humans have a propensity to oscillate between exuberant optimism and hysterical pessimism. We are obviously in a pessimistic valley right now. We have to stay cool and keep important facts firmly in mind. One of them is that Fukushima, while serious if you are a plant worker or someone who lives in the immediate area, is a manageable problem.

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Tim
9 years ago

A couple of early thoughts on what is going. While all the usual anti-nuclear forces are out in full force I have been pleased so far the for the most part politicians in both US and Canada have kept reasonably calm about the whole situation.

While I don’t want to throw boiling water technology reactor technology under the bus it does bring a little bit of a smile to my face when I see people posting on the web outside of Canada saying albeit without any formal education in the matter that CANDU is a much better and safer technology than BWR. I also noticed the press release from CNSC on this matter came about as a close as the Canadian can go in terms of crictizing a technology used and developed in some of Canada closest allies and economic partners. Put it this way I don’t think GE-Hitachi will be bidding on any new project under CNSC jurisdiction.

I think the following quotes from CNSC is quite interesting because it was something even I was not truely aware of and I think will be a major issue in the coming weeks. “In the even more unlikely event that EPS systems also become unavailable and all power is lost, all affected Canadian nuclear power reactors would safely shut down and stabilize using CANDU’s convection cooling system design. Then, all units would be placed in guaranteed shutdown state until power was restored.” I personally was not aware that convection cooling existed on any reactors other than on proposed Gen III.

I also want to comment that I think Duncan Hawthorne has more accessbile to media in aftermath of this incident that perhaps anyone else in the industry in the english speaking world. I do know Duncan does play a formal industry leadership role in the Operators Association and has a long history in the industry before coming to Canada but at the end of the day Bruce is not that big of player in the context of the US or European sector(Fox News in their interview did try to emphasize Bruce is the second largest facility in the world). I also have to note that again for his part Duncan is doing his best not to completely throw BWR under the bus either.

Steve Aplin
9 years ago

Tim, good point — where did the CNSC get the idea that CANDUs are convection cooled? I thought CANDUs use pumps like all GenII machines.

In CANDU proponents’ defence, they have had to sit through the endless positive void coefficient comments ever since Chernobyl; maybe some of those comments are from the H2O side of the fence. Nice to see Duncan not playing the CANDU-is-better-than-LWR card though.

Dan Meneley, former AECL head engineer, said in an interview that “ours [CANDU] is superior” when explaining the differences between CANDUs and BWRs, but that’s his sense of humour. See http://www.tvo.org/TVO/WebObjects/TVO.woa?videoid?830054922001

Tim
9 years ago

I would tend to stand by what I said a few days ago but I have to note that the PQ has now called for closure of the Gentilly 2 Candu plant in Quebec. I happen to note though there demand was essentially rejected out of hand by Jean Charest even though in the whole sceme of things nuclear provides only three percent of Quebec power.

Another thing that may start to get interesting is that I suspect in the coming federal election Ontario and Quebec will try to inject some common issues of alliance into the campaigns and given both McGuinty and Charest have reiterated their support for nuclear and for refurbishing their CANDU plants I suspect they both might make common cause on the whole future of AECL issue(You already had Dwight Duncan out this afternoon calling for more federal support of “clean green energy”). While trying not to get too political this of course will be counter to the four oil and gas producing western provinces that are already saying how bad bad bad a federal election will be right now. It might also be useful for both Quebec and Ontario for their own political purposes to talk up the “made in Canada” aspect of nuclear in both provinces. In some ways it will be curious to see what are the politics right of environment and energy compared to 2008 when some ways both issues hurt the Federal Conservatives hope of getting a majority in QC and ON.