Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Don't Panic!

Before you freak out about nuclear fallout in Japan, take a deep breath, and read this.

The media is creating a LOT of hysteria at the moment. In the last few hours, I have seen links to news sites from a lot of countries claiming that there is a "mass exodus from Tokyo". Fox News showed a map of "nuclear plants in Tokyo", listing a place called "Shibuyaeggman". This turned out to be a club in a popular area of Tokyo.

While newspapers are acting as if this is a nuclear apocalypse, throwing around terms like "worse than Chernobyl",  
people who are actual experts on nuclear energy are telling us that there is no need to worry. So why are we believing journalists with no science qualifications over people with Ph.D.s? I think the reason is that fear is contagious. The earthquake and tsunami have panicked people, and a lot of us are in "doomsday" mode. Every report of another explosion at the plant in Fukushima is fuelling hysteria about radiation poisoning or explosions.

Let's look at the facts. Firstly, stop panicking when you hear the word "radiation". Do you realise that we are exposed to radiation all the time? Cosmic rays, naturally occuring radiation from the earth, food (especially bananas) and unfortunately global background radiation due to nuclear weapons testing (From Wikipedia: Background Radiation). For that matter, mobile phones and  wireless devices andproduce electromagnetic radiation, which some believe to be harmful to human health - and yet I'm guessing that most of you use those. 

This picture on the right is from the Daily 
Yomuiri - article here.  

(It is important not to confuse milisiervets and microsierverts. Earlier, people were reporting that "up to 800 milisieverts have been reported", but while I was watching NHK, they corrected it and said that it was MICROsieverts, which would be less than 1 milisievert.)

The maximum level that has been reported from the plant so far was 400 milisieverts, but that was only for a brief amount of time, while there was a fire. What is important to remember is that this was just inside the plant and the immediate vicinity. There is a 30km evacuation zone around the plant.

Today, the British Embassy said that "in case of a 'reasonable worst case scenario' (defined as total meltdown of one reactor with subsequent radioactive explosion) an exclusion zone of 30 miles (50km) would be the maximum required to avoid affecting peoples' health. Even in a worse situation (loss of two or more reactors) it is unlikely that the damage would be significantly more than that caused by the loss of a single reactor." (From this note) Even thought the French embassy is apparently panicking and trying to bring all its citizens back home, the British embassy states that even if the wind changes direction, the levels of radiation that would reach Tokyo would not have a significant effect.

People are panicking because higher levels of radiation were detected in Tokyo. However - "...radiation levels from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on March 15 in Tokyo, Tochigi, Gunma, Saitama, Chiba, Kanagawa, Yamanashi, and Shizuoka prefectures were all at their highest recorded levels since recording began in the latter part of the 1950s. The values ranged from 0.069 to 1.318 microsieverts". 1.318 microsieverts? Look at that diagram again. Yes, the annual exposure level is 2400. 1 microsievert an hour = 8760 in a year. Definitely not ideal, but still only a little more than you'd get from a chest CT scan, according to the diagram. It isn't until you reach 100,000 that the incidence of cancer increases. Besides, the level has been going down since. See this graph from -the levels have been going down.

Some say that the power company is lying about the readings. Well, there are somehere are live geiger counter readings from Tokyo here.

It's important to stay informed and remember that most journalists have no idea what they're talking about. They hear "nuclear" and immediately panic.

However, there are now 500,000 people who have been made homeless by the tsunami. In north Japan, there are thousands of people with no power, no clean water, and food is running out. The world is overlooking them because they're afraid of radiation. I urge you to do your own research into this, and to look at the sources. There are plenty of people who panic as soon as they hear the word "nuclear", and there are people who are actually educated on these matters. Writers for the Sun, conspiracy theorists, anti-nuclear activists and worried family members who are too panicked to think clearly and not reliable sources of information! For that matter, neither am I. Don't believe everything you read.

I'm not saying that I'm not feeling on edge right now. People are anxious. Aftershocks and the news are keeping people who were mostly unaffected by the disaster in a constant state of anxiety. A lot of shops are limiting how many things people can buy because they're all panicking and buying far more food than they need. But please, try to look at the facts, at what experts are saying, and not get swept up in the hysteria. It feels as if the British media is having a field day... the morose, over-dramatic voices that they're using to report this is starting to annoy me. My family is listening to ill-informed news reports and jumping to the worst conclusions.

1 comment:

  1. Hi, you're blog is great stuff concerning recent events- I'm writing an article for the Independent on Sunday about expats living in Japan at the moment and would really love to be able to speak to you!

    If you could drop me a line today i can call you from the office