Gerry Canavan

the smartest kid on earth

Posts Tagged ‘when his salary depends upon his not understanding it

More on Japan

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The news from Japan continues to be terrible, with Judit Kawaguchi reporting 10,000 people missing from just a single town in Miyagi prefecture.

Much of the Internet attention—probably too much—is now focused on the Fukushima nuclear reactor that has been poised on the brink of meltdown. A scary-looking explosion happened on-site early in the morning EST, but it appears to have been in another part of the complex and not affected core containment. One of the inspectors from Three Mile Island says all eleven of the shutdown nuclear power plants will likely be total losses, reducing Japan’s electricity-generating capacity by 20%.

Nonetheless, nuclear experts are still assuring us that the ongoing release of radiation will not be catastrophic. Typing those words reminds me that I feel about nuclear experts more or less exactly the way that Tea Party People feel about climate scientists—with the caveat that the lopsided financial incentives and structural/institutional biases that denialists imagine exist in climate science really do exist with respect to nuclear research, where spending from pro-nuclear industry and governmental sources dwarfs everything spent in the other direction. Japan’s nuclear industry in particular has not given the population much reason to trust it:

Over the decades, the Japanese public has been reassured by the Tokyo Electric Power Company that its nuclear reactors are prepared for any eventuality. Yet the mystery in Fukushima is not the first unreported problem with nuclear power, only the most recent. Back in 1996, amid a reactor accident in Ibaraki province, the government never admitted that radioactive fallout had drifted over the northeastern suburbs of Tokyo. Reporters obtained confirmation from monitoring stations, but the press was under a blanket order not to run any alarming news, facts be damned. For a nation that has lived under the atomic cloud of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, total denial becomes possible because the finger on the button is our own.

Hopefully, though, despite my distrust, the nuclear scientists are right on this, and injury to the people and environment surrounding Fukushima will remain at a minimum.