Friday, 18 March 2011

1st Letter On Fukushima Fallout


A sense of irrational panic over recent events at the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan has been encouraged by the media in Taiwan, including the Taipei Times. I have read irresponsibly inaccurate and even outright false statements concerning events at Fukushima in the pages of the Taipei Times every day for the past week. Many of these statements were made in AFP or Reuters reports, but this does not entirely absolve the Taipei Times of blame. Are you not at liberty to suitably edit such reports?

I have seen it printed in your pages, several times, that the reactors at the Fukushima plant "exploded". They did not; the explosions that occured were within the housing of the reactor, not the reactors themselves. A child would have known the difference.

I have seen the uncritical use of the word "meltdown" (sometimes with the entirely inappropriate modifier "catastrophic") without reference either to the technical facts of what a meltdown is or the vast distinction in consequence between a meltdown and a reignited fission reaction.

I have read unqualified mention of "increases" and "spikes" in radiation stemming from the plant with scarce mention of the extremely short half-lives (i.e. measured in minutes and seconds) of most of these radioisotopes.

And I have never once seen in your pages recognition of the frankly amazing fact that a 40 year old power plant based on 1950s design specifications (at a time when knowledge of earthquakes and tsunamis was comparatively primitive) has withstood the largest earthquake Japan has ever seen - and its aftershocks - with only minimal radiation leakage whose worst consequence so far seems to have been to expose plant and emergency workers only to a slightly increased risk of cancer.

I am not an expert in nuclear physics, but I know enough to have confidence that the situation is far from out of hand and that the recent sense of panic and calls for abolition of nuclear power are insensible and irresponsibly out of proportion to the reality. As you are wont to criticize political parties for failing to work constructively together over the disaster in Japan, does it not occur to you that printing such irresponsible claims will increase the liklihood of public panic in the event that Taiwan is hit by a similar disaster?

Yours freely,
Michael Fagan.

(Sent: Friday 18th March 2011. Unpublished by the Taipei Times)

Argh! Mea Culpa: The TT did of course run this Reuters piece in which a professor Reagan of the University of Surrey actually made that exact point about how well the aging plant stood up to the earthquake. Sorry guys.


  1. The Fukushima crisis hasn't played out yet. You are making statements way to prematurely about the consequences.

  2. 1) The reactors have not exploded.

    2) Any likely meltdown will not be catastrophic.

    3) Most of the radioisotopes accounting for the increased radiation have very short half-lives.

    4) Slightly increased risk of cancer to site workers is largest consequence of radiation so far.

    5) The situation is far from out of hand.

    Anon: Which of these statements is "way too premature" and why?

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