Nuclear Disasters and the Danger of a Marginalized Media

By Akio Matsumura


UPDATE: A Japanese translation of this article is available here.

Mr. Reiji Yoshida wrote in The Japan Times on November 12, 2011:

Tokyo Electric Power Co. on Friday for the first time let reporters into the base camp for thousands of workers striving every day to fix the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, showing off new dining facilities, a dormitory for single workers and the latest radioactivity monitors to check vehicles and clothing.

Tepco had long barred reporters from visiting J. Village in the town of Naraha, Fukushima Prefecture, the main gate police are using to control access to the 20 km no-go zone around the Fukushima plant.

On average, 2,100 workers a day are trying to tame the crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 plant, which experienced three reactor meltdowns in March.

Skilled engineers are badly needed at present to contain the crisis, as workers have to quickly finish their tasks before being exposed to dangerously high levels of radiation.

(Workers) should know the locations of valves, which pipes run where, and what’s inside them; cold water, hot water or steam,”

And they need to go quickly to their destination in the plant and speedily finish their work because the radiation is high.


I have focused for several months now on certain aspectsof the Fukushima disaster, especially the dangerous situation of reactor unit 4, where spent fuel rods are balanced on the second floor of a crippled building. It is heartening to see that people have taken interest. The last articles, “The Fourth Reactor and the Destiny of Japan,” and Gordon Edward’s scientific background of the issue, received more than 3,500 views from Japan and over 10,000 total views from over 50 countries.


TEPCO officials and Japanese journalists tour Fukushima

Reactor Unit 4 continues to alarm me. Recently released photographs show extensive structural damage to Units 3 and 4, far more than I had ever considered. A strong earthquake would crumble Unit 4, spilling the radiation pools in a disaster that would affect the people of Tokyo and Yokohama. The U.S. Geological Survey reports that a magnitude 6.5+ earthquake will occur in Japan in 2012. Even the Japanese Meteorological Agency announced on November 18 that there is a 15% chance that a magnitude 7.0+ earthquake will occur in the Great East Japan area in the next 30 days.

As UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said, “The effects of nuclear accidents respect no borders. We all have a stake in getting it right. Clearly, there is a compelling need for greater transparency and open accountability. We must rebuild public trust.”

As all we know, Japan has not gotten it right, and has not rebuilt any public trust. TEPCO and the Japanese regulatory body have at times been incorrect in their assessments of the situation at Fukushima Daiichi. And on numerous occasions TEPCO has communicated misinformation to the government and the public. They have often delayed needed action. The media, the group meant to bring accountability, were only allowed into the Fukushima plant area earlier this month, eight months after the accident.

And they have confirmed that the situation is not under control. Reactor units are on the brink of collapse.  The Japanese government says 8% of Japan is contaminated, but a map just released by the Japanese government indicates almost half of Japan is polluted by radiation from the Fukushima disaster.  Many scientist note that the 8% probably refers to areas with the high levels of contamination, however, they do not agree that the so-called “low-level” radiation is not harmful or dangerous to the health of people, animals and other complex forms of life. Meanwhile, the most serious threat remains the fate of the spent fuel pool of reactor number four, which has received little serious attention inside the government or TEPCO.

My concerns about media independence and nuclear transparency do not stop in Japan. How can we be assured of transparency in any case when the government and nuclear power industry are both responsible for and have a large stake in finding plausible solutions to nuclear crises? This colluded power consolidation marginalizes the public interest. What chance does public health stand when it depends on the fall of a nuclear company in bed with the government?

In the free world, the media has an obligation to rectify this imbalance. Reporters have a moral obligation to be the first in, to be in at the earliest stage possible after an accident to witness; to supply powerful photos to the public; to allow the public to demand of their governments an expedient solution that focuses on their safety and health.

As long as nuclear power plants continue to run, we need a gentleman’s agreement wherein governments and companies operating the nuclear power plants open the gates for the international media to visit the accident site immediately. The media is a necessary and often missing link between government and the people in the Rock Paper Scissors game of political consensus, political will and political action. International media and the many outlets they have should always serve the people, not only when the government and nuclear company find it convenient.


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