“Mummy, mummy, there’s a nuclear monster!”

More on the nuclear “disaster” at Fukushima, and its consequences. And a few facts about Chernobyl that most people aren’t aware of as well. (And this will be my last post on the subject for at least a month, I promise.)

This is the problem that everyone faces, who describes nuclear incidents as they really are — that is, insignificant. You are accused of being heartless, of failing to care about or empathise with people who are terribly frightened. You have committed the same sin as bracingly telling a toddler that there is no monster under his bed and that he should go back to sleep.

Part of the problem here is that in the case of nuclear dangers it is rather as though the toddler had a mentally troubled aunt or uncle who, in addition to telling the kid fairytales at story time, insists that the monsters in the stories are real.

“Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt” is alive and well, and living in TV newsrooms worldwide.


  1. And, I’ll re-voice my concerns about referencing in The Register’s articles. In the article, the author links to the government report being used by mainstream media to say that the radiation released is 10 percent that of Chernobyl. Good reference. But then, the author goes on to say:

    “That’s largely meaningless, however. If all the iodine emitted in one hour had been sitting still at a single point (no) and that had been the only radio-isotope present (no again) you could have stood 100 metres from that point for three hours and suffered zero health consequences.”

    He provides no references for this assertion.

    In another example, the author posts:

    “As of yesterday, according to nuclear experts at MIT in the States (reviewing data from Japanese and international monitoring teams on the ground) the highest dose rates seen within 30km of the plant have been 0.0016 millisievert/hour”, with a good reference to the MIT NSE Nuclear Information Hub.

    But then he goes on to say:

    “For context, you could live permanently under radiation levels of 0.0016 mS/hr and you would never achieve even half the annual dose levels permitted by airline crew”, without any reference to back this up.

    The author makes other grand claims:

    “The Fukushima nuclear powerplant ‘disaster’ … will see no deaths or measurable health consequences for anyone anywhere”

    “If a child ingests even quite small amounts of radio-iodine he or she will have a tiny extra risk of thyroid cancer in future … It is a total certainty that no child has or will suffer any such exposure.”

    “If babies drank such water constantly for a year, they might achieve that one-in-a-million chance of dying decades down the road.”

    None of these assertions have any references to authoritative sources to back them up. The reader is simply asked to trust the author’s expertise that the claims he makes are true.

    I checked the author’s background (http://lewispage.blogspot.com/). It turns out that he’s not a nuclear physicist, nor is he some expert in the field of radiation poisoning. He’s a freelance author, turned Reg staffer, with an undergraduate engineering degree dating back to 1991. He spent some time in the RAF working either on ships at sea, or in mine and IED disposal, but has no apparent experience in the nuclear field whatsoever. I could write an article and throw unreferenced numbers around like he does with as much credibility.

    The mainstream media has its flaws, and I agree that there has been a disturbing trend for news outlets to make claims without rational scientific backing. That being said, trusting unauthoritative articles at The Register that say the news outlets are unauthoritative is falling into the same trap, just on the other side. Both sides are doing a disservice to the populace, and it further highlights the need for us to search for reliable, authoritative, fact-based information sources.

    • As I pointed out earlier, he doesn’t give references for everything because he’s already explained it in earlier articles. I assume he doesn’t want to risk boring readers into avoiding his articles. That’s common in the popular science writing that I’ve seen.

      You’re right, he’s not a nuclear physicist. He’s a technical reporter. But given the fearmongering nuclear “experts” presented on TV news, the fact that he’s never claimed to be such an expert, and the research that he’s obviously (if you’ve read a large number of his recent articles) done on the subject, I suspect that’s a point in his favor. 😉

      I’m not easy to satisfy on science topics. I tend to know just enough about most of them to be able to tell when someone is trying to BS me. I trust his work because he’s proven his credentials to my satisfaction. Your mileage may vary. 😉

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