March 4, 2014

The February 28 PBS report, Inside the slow and dangerous clean up of the Fukushima nuclear crisis, is fear-mongering at its most disturbing extreme. The obvious intent is to scare and upset the viewer with exaggeration, innuendo, and thinly-veiled conspiracy theory, all predicated on proliferating fear, uncertainty and doubt. (FUD) There seems to have been little or no effort towards rational informing of the viewers.

Even the lead-in by anchor Judy Woodruff drips with fear and doubt, “Now we take you to a place that garnered headlines around the world three years ago, but has hardly been seen since, because it’s so dangerous.” Hardly seen since? Who is she trying to kid? Fukushima has been in the Japanese Press every day for three years, and the internet has been inundated with apocalyptic scenarios made by leading international antinukes on a regular basis. Plus, what about the Fukushima radioactivity reporting coming out of the Pacific coastline of North America the past two months? “Hardly seen”? Give me a break. In addition, the implication that the Press in Japan isn’t covering Fukushima “because it’s so dangerous” is a complete fabrication! They are all over it… like white on rice.

The report itself begins with end-of-the-world insinuations by PBS’ Miles O’Brien, when he says the evacuation zone around F. Daiichi “remains a post-apocalyptic landscape of abandoned towns, frozen in time. We were on our way to one of the most hazardous places on Earth, the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.” Who wrote the script? Harvey Wasserman? Arnie Gundersen? Helen Caldicott? This is straight out of the antinuclear persuasion’s “Fukushima 101” rhetorical guidelines. The apocalyptic beginning follows with a quote from the plant manager posed in a fashion that makes it seem as if he is not taking his job seriously enough, “After all, if you are just cleaning up after an accident, there is a lack of quality, meaning speed is the only concern. I feel that isn’t enough. We need to look ahead, 30 to 40 years.”

Next comes two misleading statements – “Engineers believe some of the nuclear fuel has melted right through the steel containment vessels on to a concrete basement floor, where it is exposed to groundwater.” (Which it isn’t) – “As the ground water passes through the pump, it gets mixed in with the contaminated water that is used to cool the melted-down cores.” (What is O’Brien talking about? What pump? How is the pump mixing the waters? Is he making this up, or does he simply not have a clue?)

Next, the commentary turns to the wastewater tank issue. After implying that the storage tanks were thrown together in slap-dash fashion, O’Brien says that “no one disputes the plant is steadily leaking radiation-tainted water into the sea.” However, he conveniently neglects to point out that the alleged out-flow, inside the barricaded inner harbor, has contamination levels have become so low that they meet Japan’s limits for open discharge to the sea. Further, he neglects to say that all open water sampling outside the quay for more than a year shows nothing…nada…zero Fukushima contamination! He does present so-called “balance” by citing the plant manager, “When you go out to the open ocean, there is very little contamination found. Basically, the contamination is limited to the port.” But, this seems to be a left-handed way to say that Tepco cannot be trusted.

Finally, O’Brien’s piece turns to the usual antinuclear rhetoric intended for fomenting FUD. “At the port, they are bolstering the last line of defense. This water-shielding wall should be complete in September. Behind it is a system that injects a chemical into the ground that turns water into a viscous gel, stemming the flow to the sea. The company is also testing an idea to bury cooling pipes near the melted reactors to freeze the ground, making impermeable ice plugs in walls that would keep the clean and contaminated water apart. But all of this is clearly not sustainable. (emphasis added) In about three years, they will run out of space for new water holding tanks. Then what?” Which assumes everyone will just be sitting on their hands for the next three years.

At least O’Brien mentions the high-tech ALPS isotopic removal system that only lets harmless Tritium through. But, it’s radioactive so it is given special fear-oriented attention. When American expert Lake Barrett tells O’Brien that Tritium levels will be so low as to meet Japanese drinking water standards, O’Brien says “TEPCO has no authorization from the Japanese government, local residents or fishermen to discharge any water at all, including what is leaking, from the Fukushima Daiichi site.” O’Brien is right, but he clearly uses this to imply that if Tritium was harmless they would be allowed to release it. I guess we’re not supposed to trust Lake Barrett, either. There is nothing about rampant fear of radiation in the public… nothing about rumors of radiation hurting the Japanese fishing industry… nothing about a Japanese news media that is blatantly antinuclear. Just narrative designed to instill FUD.

O’Brien closes his fear-mongering with, “Three years after the meltdowns, the crisis has not ended here. In some ways, it is still unfolding.” The clear implication being that the accident continues… it’s not over… be concerned… be very concerned!

Then, Judy Woodruff chimes in, “Next Wednesday, Miles will have a report on the Fukushima meltdown’s effect on fish in the surrounding waters… we, his NewsHour colleagues, are in awe of his courage.” I’m in awe of how twisted the story is. I’m disgusted that PBS has stooped this low. Are revenues down? Is this what Public Television has come to? And, what about the untold story of the refugees from the disaster that killed 20,000 Japanese and made 300,000 permanently homeless many hours before the Fukushima accident began? What about the tsunami victims?

Oh…wait a minute…my bad…the tsunami’s aftermath isn’t nuclear – it cannot be connected to Fukushima radiation. The tsunami story wouldn’t instil FUD in the viewers, so it just isn’t newsworthy enough!

* The term “pump” in the posted transcript of the PBS report turns out to have been a typo. The term used in the video is “plant”. This still makes the statement dubious, at best. The groundwater seeping into the turbine basements does not “pass through” the plant. Yes, it mixes with the contaminated water in the cellars, but this water is stripped of Cesium and stored in wastewater tanks. It doesn’t “pass through” the plant. *