As we approach the first anniversary of the Sendai quake and tsunami, I am steeling myself for the inevitable blanket commentary of a nuclear disaster that never was, while we roundly forget about the genuinely horrific human tragedy of that event with some 20,000 lives lost in 7 minutes of terrifying natural calamity.
It has already begun, with a the release of a report that focusses on the very worst case scenario possible that never actually happened. In a low blow, this report went to media first before experts, leading to unmitigated headlines lifted straight from the report with little critical examination.
So I’m very grateful to my friends Ted and Michael for being early in the response, asking us to think very hard about the stories we choose to tell ourselves. The original article is published here, which is also the best place to leave a comment. Please read on.
Posted Thursday, March 1, 2012, at 4:55 PM ET
With an eye to the first anniversary of the tsunami that killed 20,000 people and caused a partial meltdown at the Fukushima power plant in Japan, a recently formed nongovernmental organization called Rebuild Japan released a report earlier this week on the nuclear incident to alarming media coverage.
“Japan Weighed Evacuating Tokyo in Nuclear Crisis,” screamed the New York Times headline, above an article by Martin Fackler that claimed, “Japan teetered on the edge of an even larger nuclear crisis than the one that engulfed the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant.”
The larger crisis was a worst-case scenario imagined by Japanese government officials dealing with the situation. If workers at the Fukushima Daiichi plant were evacuated, Fackler writes, some worried “[t]his would have allowed the plant to spiral out of control, releasing even larger amounts of radioactive material into the atmosphere that would in turn force the evacuation of other nearby nuclear plants, causing further meltdowns.”
Fackler quotes former newspaper editor and founder of Rebuild Japan Yoichi Funabashi as saying, “We barely avoided the worst-case scenario, though the public didn’t know it at the time.”
To say that Japan “barely avoided” what another top official called a “demonic chain reaction” of plant meltdowns and the evacuation of Tokyo is to make an extraordinary claim.