On March 11, 2011, the Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant was severely damaged as a result of a massive earthquake and subsequent tsunami that wreaked havoc along parts of the eastern Japanese coastline. Numerous equipment failures at the power plant led to nuclear meltdowns, a rapid loss of coolant inside the facility, and the release of large quantities of radioactive material. It was the largest nuclear disaster since Chernobyl and is one of only two disasters (the other being Chernobyl) to be classified as a Level 7 event on the International Nuclear Event Scale.
In the days and weeks following the incident global media outlets covered Fukushima extensively. But this high level of media attention didn’t last for long. In fact, only a couple of weeks later, it was all but forgotten as the media turned to more sensational stories, like Weinergate or the royal wedding.
Using the amount of search entries on Google as a proxy for public attention, one can see this trend represented in the following graph:
According to this graph, by 2013, Fukushima had practically vanished from the media and public consciousness. Instead, Japan began making headlines for winning the bid to host the 2020 Olympic Games.
According to the Japanese Prime Minister, Fukushima “has never done, and will never do, any damage to Tokyo” (which is only 240 km away), a claim that was swallowed by the mainstream media and passed on unchallenged. Over at the independent media organization Common Dreams, however, remarks like the Prime Minister’s are reviewed much more critically. Consider, for example, the recently published piece by Harvey Wasserman: “The Crisis at Fukushima’s Unit 4 Demands a Global Take-Over“.
Some notable passages:
We are now within two months of what may be humankind’s most dangerous moment since the Cuban Missile Crisis.
There is no excuse for not acting. All the resources our species can muster must be focused on the fuel pool at Fukushima Unit 4.
Fukushima’s owner, Tokyo Electric (Tepco), says that within as few as 60 days it may begin trying to remove more than 1300 spent fuel rods from a badly damaged pool perched 100 feet in the air. The pool rests on a badly damaged building that is tilting, sinking and could easily come down in the next earthquake, if not on its own.
[…] The one thing certain about this crisis is that Tepco does not have the scientific, engineering or financial resources to handle it. Nor does the Japanese government. The situation demands a coordinated worldwide effort of the best scientists and engineers our species can muster.
[…] More than 6,000 fuel assemblies now sit in a common pool just 50 meters from Unit Four. Some contain plutonium. The pool has no containment over it. It’s vulnerable to loss of coolant, the collapse of a nearby building, another earthquake, another tsunami and more.
According to Arnie Gundersen, a nuclear engineer with forty years in an industry for which he once manufactured fuel rods, the ones in the Unit 4 core are bent, damaged and embrittled to the point of crumbling. Cameras have shown troubling quantities of debris in the fuel pool, which itself is damaged.
[…] Should the attempt fail, the rods could be exposed to air and catch fire, releasing horrific quantities of radiation into the atmosphere. The pool could come crashing to the ground, dumping the rods together into a pile that could fission and possibly explode. The resulting radioactive cloud would threaten the health and safety of all us.
[…] Former Ambassador Mitsuhei Murata says full-scale releases from Fukushima “would destroy the world environment and our civilization. This is not rocket science, nor does it connect to the pugilistic debate over nuclear power plants. This is an issue of human survival.”
Wasserman is not alone in warning about an impending catastrophe at Fukuhima. Similar statements can be found at truthout.org, The Japan Times, Japan Focus, and the washington blog, all with the same message: experts believe that the situation in Fukushima is far from stable and represents an enormous risk not just to Japan but to the global community. Or in the words of David Suzuki:
This message sits in stark contrast to the cheery reports on Japan’s future Olympic Games. And the contrast here between image and reality is a vivid reminder of the dangers of a corporate, profit-driven media system. Because of their imperative to satisfy their costumers (the advertisers) the mainstream media are simply unable to serve the public interest, even when human survival is at stake, as it is in the case of the worsening crisis at Fukushima.