Sunday, March 20, 2011

Not Breaking News: Japanese Nuclear Incident

As I'm sure you've heard, Japan has just been through the second largest earthquake in the last 50 years. That and the resulting tsunami has left approximately 8,000 dead and 13,000 missing. But if you go to that link, which was the first Google result of "japan earthquake tsunami dead", you'll notice most of the information is not about the duel natural disaster responsible for this tragedy, but instead focuses on the ongoing nuclear power plant problems (this chart puts the radiation in perspective). Although that issue is important, it is getting too much coverage.

The numbers are close to impossible to find online, but unless I'm missing something no one has been killed or injured by the nuclear incident. In fact, if anyone has been killed by a energy explosion it's probably at the Chiba japanese oil refinery explosion. By my calculations, if you don't count the now defunct Soviet Bloc, there have been less than 150 deaths from nuclear power in it's almost 100 year history (compare that to coal's recent history). Despite this, Germany has temporarily shut down older nuclear power plants and the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission is reviewing our own facilities.

It is worth noting that this is a big deal. Japan is the only country to have nuclear weapons dropped on it's cities and the nuclear plant will likely be a wasteland. But that doesn't mean this news trumps the real destruction that could be as big as 8% of Japan's total GDP. It's the future of Japan's political and economic system that will fill the news in the next couple of months, hopefully not some nuclear problem where no one gets killed or even injured. It's important to remember the Fukushima Daiichi facility in Japan is 40 years old. It's nothing compared to the new nuclear power plants.

My hope is that history will look back on this tragedy and remember just how safe nuclear power actually is. A nuclear power plant built in 1971 survived a magnitude 9.0 earthquake and 10 meter high waves. I recently watched an interview of Jon Stewart by Rachel Maddow. It's long, but worth watching. In it they discuss the idea that when there is 24 hours of news coverage, everything is made to sound like breaking news. It isn't. The earthquake was 39,000 times more powerful than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. Now that's news.


  1. Well, i think the workers who are trying to bring the reactors undercontrol may get sick and stuff but i dont see any "normal" people get sick, and even the vegatables that have been "contaminated" by radation is below safe levels. Secondly, the Fukushima plant is unusable after they dumbed the sea water in it because of its corrosive nature.

  2. Yeah, I'm curious if these workers will get sick and what the company/government might do to compensate them if they do. You'd have to pay me a lot of money to be there.


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