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Note: the author of this article, Graham Leonard, is an American historian currently residing in Osaka, Japan.  He is an expert on the Lucky Dragon incident.

Although not long remembered in the United States, the Lucky Dragon incident sparked the creation of the Japanese national anti-nuclear movement.   One of the key aspects of the crisis was massive damage to the Japanese fishing industry as panic spread like wildfire among the public over possibile radioactive contamination of the oceans by American atomic tests. Although some of their fears had legitimate basis, most of them were ultimately found to be groudless.

One major factor in the panic was widespread ignorance of radiation biology not just on the part of the general public, but within the scientific community as well. Things have obviously improved greatly on that front in the last 60 years. But as I have watched the news and taken in reports on the current crisis over the past week, I have been struck by how many similarities exist between the responses in both cases, especially on the part of the media.

Then and now the media has served to make things worse in their rush to provide information. Even when not being intentionally sensationalistic, they rarely provide truly informative coverage. The conjectures of scientists and officials with no direct knowledge of what's happening are passed on verbatim with little comment. Statements about radiation are given without specifics or context. Radiation levels have increased in Tokyo? As measured by who, where, when, and how? What are the absolute readings and how do they compare with international safety standards and background readings elsewhere in the world?

This information doesn't seem to make the grade. It was already evident that the mainstream media has given up any pretense of factchecking when they report on political statements; it's sad to see that the same thing applies to scientific reporting.

I've never seen such massive coverage provide so little understanding. Comments from friends and family here and in America have revealed deep confusion over whether risk exists and if so, what can be done. No credible report that I've seen shows the Fukushima plants posing a significant threat to those in Tokyo, let alone those further West. Yet many people here in Osaka are scared and some I know are evacuating to their home countries. There's a constant underlying tension here, made all the more frustrating by its needlessness.

Another concern about the media coverage is that the emphasis on the nuclear threat is likely doing active harm by pushing news about the other, less lurid elements of the disaster to the background.

Regardless of how you feel about nuclear energy in general, the plausible threat posed by these reactors, even in a worst-case scenario, pales in comparison to the humanitarian crisis currently facing those in northern Japan. Hundreds of thousands have lost their homes and there is a severe shortage of food, water, blankets, and shelter. With the recent cold spell, the danger posed by these shortages has become even worse.

Of course, this is not an either-or situation; it is possible to be concerned about all aspects of this disaster. But I fear that many don't look beyond the nuclear headlines. I've seen many comments on-line questioning whether Japan, as an industrialized nation, really needs donations from the West. I can't help but feel that if the nuclear crisis wasn't taking up the bulk of the coverage that there would be less of such doubts.

Originally posted to 2011 Japan Earthquake and Tsunami Information and Assistance on Thu Mar 17, 2011 at 06:04 PM PDT.

Also republished by Japan Nuclear Incident Liveblogs.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Interesting perspective. (6+ / 0-)

    Thanks for sharing it with us.

    "I always found it interesting that people would cast aspersions on failure, as if it were a bad thing." -- Michael Steele, RNC Chairman

    by journeyman on Thu Mar 17, 2011 at 06:11:02 PM PDT

  •  Nice to know... (7+ / 0-)

    There are still a few sane people left in this world.

    "He who gives up his freedom for security receives neither"

    by coolbreeze on Thu Mar 17, 2011 at 06:21:08 PM PDT

  •  1. Really f'ing bad (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Plubius, Russgirl, Joieau, k9disc, myboo

    unless they can get the spent containment pool cool and wet, the prospects of something truly bad happening skyrocket.

    And there are a lot of people within a 20-50 mile radius that haven't been evacuated and are on a limited diet because NO supplies are coming in

    Happy little moron, Lucky little man.
    I wish I was a moron, MY GOD, Perhaps I am!
    -Spike Milligan

    by polecat on Thu Mar 17, 2011 at 06:42:39 PM PDT

  •  For real... (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    polecat, Bronx59, Joieau, erush1345, evergreen2

    It still seems incredible, however, that those at the top of the international nuclear energy community seem to have a huge dearth of information.  That is contributing to "bad" news.  Why is this catastophy depending on so few?  Why are so many spent fuel rods allowed to be stored to far above ground in containers that must be continuously filled with circulating water?  It blows me away that the "World" can't get power to that plant in less than a week, not to mention "eyes" into those buildings ... or water.

    Buy Monkey Milk for your next Tea Party!

    by just us on Thu Mar 17, 2011 at 06:53:52 PM PDT

    •  Actually, those (5+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      polecat, Bronx59, artebella, Plubius, erush1345

      at the top of this issue are providing tons of material re: approaching this incident and matters re: dosing.  They just aren't as interesting to the media because they aren't ramping up hysteria.  They don't post on popular websites -- rather; rad sites which are mostly not visited by the general population.

      There are two teams -- DOE and NRC which are in Japan in an advisory capacity.  They are in communication with scientists throughout the world.

      " My faith in the Constitution is whole; it is complete; it is total." Barbara Jordan, 1974

      by gchaucer2 on Thu Mar 17, 2011 at 07:00:18 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Thanks for the diary (8+ / 0-)

    I have been following a radsafe message board which is mainly used by scientists and rad experts from every sector.  Not one of them is minimizing this horrible situation; but, they are universally disgusted with the media and pseudo-experts.  

    Each of these folks continues to "noodle" out possible scenarios without hysteria.  Their stream of comments and replies are based on known facts.  Many of them are very concerned about the distraction from desparate Japanese who are suffering from abandonment and are rationing life supplies as if in a war zone.

    " My faith in the Constitution is whole; it is complete; it is total." Barbara Jordan, 1974

    by gchaucer2 on Thu Mar 17, 2011 at 06:56:26 PM PDT

  •  I hadn't heard of the Lucky Dragon (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    worldlotus, myboo, greycat, OtherDoug

    from the wikilink:

    On September 23, chief radio operator Mr. Aikichi Kuboyama, 40, died — the first Japanese victim of a hydrogen bomb. He left these words: "I pray that I am the last victim of an atomic or hydrogen bomb."[1][2]
    The sky on the west lit up like a sunrise. Eight minutes later the sound of the explosion arrived, with fallout several hours later. The fallout, fine white flaky dust of calcined coral with absorbed highly radioactive fission products, fell on the ship for three hours. The fishermen scooped it into bags with their bare hands. The dust stuck to surfaces, bodies and hair; after the radiation sickness symptoms appeared, the fishermen called it shi no hai (死の灰?, death ash). The US government refused to disclose its composition due to "national security", as the isotopic ratios, namely percentage of uranium-237, could reveal the nature of the bomb. Lewis Strauss, the head of the AEC, issued a series of denial; he went so far to claim the lesions on the fishermen bodies are not caused by radiation but by chemical action of the calcined coral, that they were inside the danger zone (while they were 40 miles away), and told Eisenhower's press secretary that Lucky Dragon was a "Red spy outfit", commanded by a Soviet agent intentionally exposing the ship's crew and catch to embarrass the USA and gain intelligence on the test. He also denied the extent of contamination of the fish caught by Fukuryu Maru and other ships. The FDA however imposed rigid restrictions on tuna imports.[3] The United States dispatched two medical scientists to Japan to limit the public disclosure and study the effects of fallout on the ship crew, under the pretense of helping with their treatment.[4][5] ...
    The US at first tried to cover up the Lucky Dragon incident, sequestering the victims and declaring the site off limits. Later the United States paid Kuboyama's widow and children the equivalent in yen of about $2,500.[7]
    The tragedy of the Daigo Fukuryū Maru gave rise to a fierce anti-nuclear movement in Japan, rising especially from the fear that the contaminated fish had entered the market. It also inspired the entire Kaiju eiga (monster movies) starting with Godzilla (Gojira) in 1954.
  •  Clarification? (0+ / 0-)

    Are you the author of the article?  

  •  2 Points. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    1. Someone publishing an (unofficial) map of Japan called Japan Radiation Maximum by Prefecture doesn´t help. Especially if that map records zero radiation in the Fukushima prefecture for the last few days.

    2. It´s up to the government of Japan to tell the rest of the world what is needed in Japan. If they don´t request anything then how the heck are we supposed to know what aid is needed.
    And more to the point.
    If it wasn´t requested and approved by the Japanese government then there is the chance that some bureaucrats will keep that aid in storage for months on end.

    Or simplified...
    If the democratically elected government of the (first world) developed country of Japan doesn´t feel the need to request aid from other countries what am I supposed to do or think?

  •  This place did a great job on informing. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Really impressive performance if you ask me.

    Democracy - 1 person 1 vote. Free Markets - More dollars more power.

    by k9disc on Thu Mar 17, 2011 at 08:19:19 PM PDT

  •  compounds, not pales (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    the plausible threat posed by these reactors, even in a worst-case scenario, pales in comparison to the humanitarian crisis currently facing those in northern Japan.

    Relief workers have to take into account their own safety when planning how to help the victims of natural disaster. You don't help anyone if, while trying to rescue a victim, you become a victim yourself. The threat from the radioactive plumes emitted by the Fukushima Daiichi plant is real, and it is interfering with rescue efforts.

  •  Is ANY organization delivering food to Japan? (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Plubius, Pat K California

    One would think that Oxfam would be there!  I want to donate to Shelterbox and also to an organization that is getting food to Japan.  They're running out in the north.  

    All I've been hearing is that Japan is a "rich" country and that donations are nearly nonexistent.  Does anyone have the latest scoop on this?

    "Religion is what keeps the poor from murdering the rich."--Napoleon

    by Diana in NoVa on Fri Mar 18, 2011 at 03:21:25 AM PDT

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