November 6, 2013

In a previous Commentary, we predicted that Japan’s Press will trumpet apocalyptic concepts as the removal of spent fuel from Fukushima Daiichi unit #4 approaches. Well…it’s happening. Japan’s leading English-language newspaper, Japan Times, has begun what promises to be a news media feeding frenzy. On Tuesday, the Times posted an article which was headlined “Tepco feeling heat over fuel removal”. (1) They selected the most outrageous foreign and domestic voices of criticism for the impending operation, while at the same time conveniently avoiding statements by long-standing antinuclear critics who say this is much ado about relatively nothing.

Let’s look at fear-mongering statements included in the Times article. In a recent letter to America’s president, Former Japanese ambassador to Switzerland Mitsuhei Murata said, “It is urgently needed to set up an international task force to assist Japan by deploying all possible means to reduce the risks of the imminent first unloading of spent fuel from unit 4.” Next, long-time nuke activist Harvey Wasserman of Global Research says Tepco does not have the scientific, technical or financial resources to do the job on its own. He insists that the work “may be humankind’s most dangerous moment since the Cuban missile crisis. We are petitioning the United Nations and Obama to mobilize the global scientific community to take charge of the nuclear power plant and the job of moving these fuel roads to safety.” These are but two of several criticisms in the Times piece. There are no “balancing” statements provided.

There are several antinuke sources that might have been used to balance the report. Numerous western “experts” have question the extreme claims, and call for calm during operation that will only improve the situation at F. Daiichi. The Times should have followed the lead of New York-based Bellona newspapers which posted an article with a semblance of balance. (2) At first they cited Yale University professor Charles Perrow who says the operation is worthy of fear, “Tokyo would have to be evacuated because of cesium and other poisons that are there will spread very rapidly. Even if the wind is blowing in the other way it’s going to be monumental. This has me very scared.” However, Bellona also quoted the Natural Resource Defense Council’s nuclear program senior scientist Thomas Cochran, who said, “That Tokyo would have to be evacuated is complete nonsense. There are lots of worries at Fukushima. [The fuel pool] is not one of the pressing ones.” Union of Concerned Scientists expert Edwin Lyman says a pool accident is not a risk of significance, and “The vast majority of fission materials are encased in ceramic material – if a fuel assemble casing broke, you would be dealing with noble gasses as well as a small amount of radioactive ones, but I don’t think that would cause any sign of off-site exposure.”

Folks…the NRDC and USC have been trumpeting antinuclear persuasions to the world since the accident at Three Mile Island in 1979. These are not voices coming out of the so-called nuclear industry, the IAEA or any other nuclear community affiliation. They are about as “independent” as it gets. However, there is nothing about their position on the matter in the Japan Times. Is The Times turning heel on the NRDC and UCS? Probably not. There is another methodology at work here.

The Times is using what is called “cherry-picking” – to carefully select only the best or most desirable sources to support a pre-conceived agenda. This is done routinely by much of the Japanese Press. Usually, all nuclear critics line up on the same side of the field, if you will. But, in the case of the spent fuel removal scheduled to start in the middle of November, there is no such judgmental uniformity among them. The Times is clearly ignoring opposing viewpoints, performing a disservice to their numerous readers, and obviously only interested in fomenting fiction-based fears.

It should be noted that one English newspaper in Japan has gone a bit further than the Times by predicting future apocalyptic situations at F. Daiichi associated with fuel removal. Japan Daily Press says the unit #4 spent fuel removal is merely “a good opportunity to practice” for what they feel will be even more risky future spent fuel handling at the nuke station. (3) The daily Press explains, “The more dangerous affair will be extracting the radioactive fuel rods from the three molten down cores, where a small mistake might become the spark that starts a whole new nuclear disaster on its own.” The Daily Press also says “Tepco cannot be trusted with this dangerous process by itself”, and calls for international assistance. Regardless, after all the spent fuel from unit #4 has been safely transferred to the nearby common storage facility, it seems the scare-mongering will continue with removing spent fuel and melted corium from units #1 through #3. The beat will unquestionably go on, and Japan’s cherry-picking Press will do their utmost to keep their readers angst-ridden.