Home > World Events > Earthquake/tsunami in Japan

Earthquake/tsunami in Japan

March 12th, 2011

Yet another terrible disaster, this time in Japan. Already our floods which destroyed so much, and killed a number of people seem like a relatively modest event in retrospect. And all of these things are insignificant in comparison to the daily toll exacted by poverty and hunger in the world.

Categories: World Events Tags:
  1. rog
    March 13th, 2011 at 18:20 | #1

    Using the glass half full analogy implies a 50:50 risk, which isn’t quite good enough.

  2. March 13th, 2011 at 18:28 | #2

    rog @ #1 said:

    Using the glass half full analogy implies a 50:50 risk, which isn’t quite good enough.

    Pressing this glass half full analogy into service in the risk management field does not work very well, at least in the heavy-handed way the way you do it. To make it fit properly one would have to wait until the pouring is done ie the safety mechanisms and emergency repairs are exhausted. Obviously they are not done yet.

    So far only a bit of milk has spilt over the side. We shall have to see how much more milk is spilled before we start crying over it.

  3. Freelander
    March 13th, 2011 at 18:36 | #3

    @Jack Strocchi

    There are some industries that where it is wiser not to give them the opportunity to develop a poor safety record. One really bad outcome in the nuclear industry is capable of ruining a very long record of incident free operation.

  4. Fran Barlow
    March 13th, 2011 at 18:55 | #4

    @Hal9000

    It’s not a technical argument about the systems, it’s the reality of popular terror about radiation. It’s no good talking about the risks. People are terrified of being irradiated. The Japanese authorities are being economical with the truth in order to forestall panic, because they know that’s what will happen if they are frank. It’s that terror that will abort any nuclear future plans. No amount of sophistry will talk it away. Just think: they’ve just suffered an appalling natural catastrophe, but all the talk is about the nuclear power plants.

    Indeed.

    The reporting of this incident exactly follows Galtung & Ruge all those years ago. The damage directly inflicted by the earthquake and tsunami are seen as a natural process, and therefore a tragedy, the mere threat from the Fukushima plants is seen as most salient, because it’s not only negative, but can be presented as the result of actions by humans.

    Never mind that so far the score is:

    Earthquake/Tsunami

    Deaths: (approx.) 900; injuries (unreported)

    Fukushima 1 & 2

    Deaths: 0; injuries 4 (shared with earthquake/tsunami); 9 persons showing some evidence of elevated exposure to radiation (shared with earthquake/tsunami)

    Matters may change of course, but the net contribution to the incident at the Fukushima plant is likely to be tiny by comparison with the wider disaster. It would be ridiculous if public policy effectively elevated the mere fear of harm above the actual, much larger and more ubiquitous but unspectacular harm caused by the alternatives to nuclear power.

    Of course, as we know from the tussle over CO2 mitigation policy, FUD is a powerful tool. Say “Great Big New Tax” and “we’ll all be ‘rooned” for long enough and you can generate massive rightwing populist cultural angst. So too reckless sloganeering over this issue to a public that finds nuclear power at best to be hard to understand can also work very effectively. That doesn’t make it good policy though.

    As someone who resents FUD on CO2 mitigation, don’t you regard having it as an ally on the nuclear issue with at least some disdain? Playing to or relying upon unreasoning fears may be good in the short term, but it is corrosive of good public policy and of inclusive governance, both of which I imagine you would want to endorse.

  5. Hal9000
    March 13th, 2011 at 18:57 | #5

    Jack, let’s all hope you’re right about the success of containment mechanisms. But you’re dead wrong about the outcome of this event for nuclear power. The cost of a nuclear power plant has just gone through the roof as additional failsafe procedures will now be mandatory. Get used to this new reality.

  6. iain
    March 13th, 2011 at 19:02 | #6

    @Fran Barlow

    Keeping “score” is pretty tasteless.

    But, having to evacuate 210,000 people, is probably not very helpful when (at the same time) trying to rescue people currently in dire need from a natural disaster.

  7. Hal9000
    March 13th, 2011 at 19:07 | #7

    Fran, I agree that accurate information should be available, and I also agree that it’s conducive to good public policy. I do however dispute your general contention that the risks from nuclear would mitigate public opposition if only the discussion were better informed. The aversion to nuclear is based in the reality of nuclear materials being odourless tasteless devastating poisons. Many lies have been told by nuclear spruikers, which gravely diminishes the credibility of any statements made now, however actually founded in fact. I know you are honest about your advocacy of nuclear, however it’s not going to be palatable and that’s really the end of the story in terms of its usefulness as an AGW mitigation technology, since the investments need to be made over the next dozen or so years.

  8. Ken Lovell
    March 13th, 2011 at 19:17 | #8

    @ 48: ‘The Japanese authorities are being economical with the truth in order to forestall panic, because they know that’s what will happen if they are frank.’

    The evidence for this defamatory assertion consists of what, exactly? Perhaps by sheer luck we have an on-the-spot reporter inside the power station, with access to all the relevant data? Oh wait, the source could not be identified because s/he was not authorised to speak about such a sensitive issue, correct?

    A lot of anti-nuclear power **** is the left’s equivalent of global warming delusionism. Distortions piled upon selective reporting, and when all else fails just make stuff up.

  9. Freelander
    March 13th, 2011 at 19:26 | #9

    The bad event in the nuclear industry is a rare event. Statistics demonstrating everything is fine are meaningless. All it takes is an event like terrorists diverting plutonium and blowing up a city with a nuclear bomb, or even, only blowing up a nuclear facility with conventional explosives, for the safety record to dramatically change. There are fail-safes against these possibilities too, but I wouldn’t try taking out insurance for full cover on them. If someone did sell you the insurance the paper would probably be as valueless as CDSs proved to be when the bad thing happened.

  10. Alice
    March 13th, 2011 at 20:25 | #10

    You know – we had a situation a while back where the Prof asked people to put their politics aside out of respect for our own people who were suffering in the QLD floods. Id like to see the same thing happen now out of respect for the japanese that are suffering from not one but three disasters and I find the score tallying pretty tasteless as well.

  11. Fran Barlow
    March 13th, 2011 at 20:57 | #11

    @Alice

    I find the score tallying pretty tasteless as well.

    So your position is that “respect for the Japanese that are suffering” entails the right to misrepresent the various aspects of the unfolding disaster so as to buttress your own view of nuclear power without challenge from those who believe we ought to have an evidence-based discussion?

  12. Alice
    March 13th, 2011 at 21:23 | #12

    Fran,
    The reality is a quarter of a million people are being evacuated in Japan, and they cant get out because of the other disasters caused by the earthquake and the tsunami and where do they go to? There are thousands already in nuclear shelters with diminished access to food and water – your death tally scores at #4 simply to point score on this occasion Fran for your beloved unquestioning verbally acrobatic pro nuclear advocacy which you have demonstrated at length here and elsewhere in the blogosphere is not only tasteless.

    It is odious.

    Your death tally comment is also a blatant lie because so far 160 people are thought to have been exposed to radiation and they are still testing people. The number of deaths emerges years later in higher cancer rates and the reality is you have no idea how many people have been exposed or are injured or will die.

  13. quokka
    March 13th, 2011 at 22:20 | #13

    @Alice

    Sorry, but Fran’s comment about death tally is not a blatant lie. We do not know what radiation dose those 160 people may or may not have been exposed to. If it is less than a small multiple of annual natural background exposure, the likelihood of serious adverse health effects is very small. Postulating a radiation disaster without any real evidence is a bit out of order considering the terrible and indisputable suffering from the quake.

    @Hal9000
    “nuclear materials being odourless tasteless devastating poisons” – Yes, in sufficient quantities. However radiation is incredibly easy to detect. You can buy a dosimeter for less than a hundred dollars on eBay that will do the trick. The chances of contamination going undetected which your comment would seem be getting at, are just about non-existent.

  14. Ernestine Gross
    March 13th, 2011 at 22:32 | #14

    @Fran Barlow

    @26, page 1 you wrote:

    “In my own household, this has already caused some angst, because hubby is a lot less convinced on the prospective net benefits of nuclear power than I am. We’ve had to rule the topic out of order until we both agree that something meeting the above criteria has emerged, or three months, whichever comes first.”

    I am asking for the same relief from your apparent angst about your advocacy of nuclear power being a failure as you have granted your “hubby” (previously partner, previously hubby).

    There is also JQ’s rule that your favourite advocacy topic belongs to the sandpit until further notice.

    There is a difference, IMO, between people posting on the risk of serious nuclear pollution adding to the calamity of the earthquake(s) and tsunami in Japan on the one hand and an individual or interest group promoting their preferences.

  15. quokka
    March 13th, 2011 at 22:51 | #15

    Probably the best account of what has happened and what is happening at the Japanese nuclear power plants: Fukushima Nuclear Accident – a simple and accurate explanation

  16. Fran Barlow
    March 13th, 2011 at 23:50 | #16

    @Ernestine Gross

    There is a difference, IMO, between people posting on the risk of serious nuclear pollution adding to the calamity of the earthquake(s) and tsunami in Japan on the one hand and an individual or interest group promoting their preferences.

    That’s so, but in this case I am simply attempting to add suitable qualifying information to the discussion on the risks attending the events at Fukushima following the plant’s perturbation by the earthquake/tsunami. I reserve the right to correct misleading claims where I see them.

  17. Donald Oats
    March 14th, 2011 at 00:06 | #17

    @sam
    OK, I admit I laughed.

    Further to your point, I just wish to point out that NOONE DIED from nuclear power plant accidents for at least TWO MILLION YEARS, an even better safety record than fire!

  18. Donald Oats
    March 14th, 2011 at 01:01 | #18

    @Donald Oats

    Concentrating on the human dimension of the earthquake(s), I personally find it challenging – impossible, really – to completely apprehend it. And the aftermath is no easier. Even so far removed from it geographically speaking, and seeing it through the pinhole of a photojournalist’s lens, the scale of the destruction is vast. Feeling sorry for people caught up in such a fate hardly seems to be an adequate response.

  19. Freelander
    March 14th, 2011 at 05:22 | #19

    TerjeP (say tay-a) :
    The more modern nuclear plant which was without any notable nuclear incident and which is situated closer to the epicentre is detailed here:-
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Onagawa_Nuclear_Power_Plant

    http://www.news.com.au/breaking-news/second-state-of-emergency-declared-after-radiation-recorded-at-onagawa-plant/story-e6frfku0-1226020808528

    Oops…

  20. Alice
    March 14th, 2011 at 06:17 | #20

    @quokka
    says (of me) “Postulating a radiation disaster without any real evidence is a bit out of order ”
    I find that an absurd comment.

  21. Alice
    March 14th, 2011 at 06:20 | #21

    @Fran Barlow
    says “I am simply attempting to add suitable qualifying information to the discussion”
    You are adding selective information as suits your advocacy ie severely ethics depleted “evidence”.

  22. rog
    March 14th, 2011 at 06:27 | #22

    In a curious twist we now have climate skeptics vs nuclear skeptics with no thanks to the media (ABC news this morning – Japan faces nuclear meltdown; Herald Sun “JAPANESE authorities are battling the threat of multiple reactor meltdowns at four nuclear power plants” and “JAPANESE authorities are battling the threat of multiple reactor meltdowns at four nuclear power plants.”)

    Amongst all the noise scientists have been relegated to the background.

  23. rog
    March 14th, 2011 at 06:28 | #23

    Whoops, should be “US nuclear physicists have warned we might be watching another Chernobyl.”

  24. TerjeP
    March 14th, 2011 at 07:59 | #24

    Freelander – the wikipedia article I linked seems to have been updated since I added the link. I’ll quote the latest from it:-

    On March 13 2011 levels of radiation on site reached 21?Sv/hour, a level at which Tohoku Electric Power Company were mandated to declare state of emergency, and they did so at 12:50, declaring the lowest-level such state. Within 10 minutes the level had dropped to 10?Sv/hour.[2][3][4] The company claimed this was due to radiation from the Fukushima I nuclear accidents and not from the plant itself.[5]

  25. TerjeP
    March 14th, 2011 at 08:02 | #25

    The quote has not worked perfectly. The radiation units include a question mark that should be the “micro” symbol.

  26. Greg
    March 14th, 2011 at 08:14 | #26

    Alice :
    @Fran Barlow
    says “I am simply attempting to add suitable qualifying information to the discussion”
    You are adding selective information as suits your advocacy ie severely ethics depleted “evidence”.

    It might be worth reading what JQ wrote up top (again?), Alice. He did exactly what Fran has done – provided scale and perspective.

    Your claim that Fran’s statement is ethically “odious” is complete nonsense. Ethics deals precisely with “greater harm” questions.

  27. sam
    March 14th, 2011 at 09:16 | #27

    @Donald Oats
    Congratulations Mr Smith, one of your legs won’t have to be amputated today!

Comment pages
1 2 9580
Comments are closed.