Sunday, April 3, 2011

A good piece on Fukushima

The aftermath of a terrible tragedy lingers.

Amplify’d from

Fukushima: the future is unknown, but the present is terrible enough

Of all the grim headlines to have emerged from Japan in recent weeks, this one on the Kyodo newswire was particularly disturbing: "Up to 1,000 bodies left untouched near troubled nuke plant". It followed reports that police abandoned the corpse of a tsunami fatality in Fukushima because leaks from the broken reactors made it dangerously radioactive to carry. They bagged the body and left it in a building; a burial or cremation will have to wait until radioactivity diminishes. Their action was a gruesome illustration of how disaster victims are being put to one side while the world is gripped by fear of a meltdown.

The explosions and radiation leaks at the nuclear plant have dominated coverage of Japan's multiple catastrophe, although they have so far resulted in far fewer casualties than the earthquake and tsunami. This is frustrating to anyone who has seen the situation in the evacuation shelters, where the need for food, fuel and care is enormous. It is also disappointing because humanitarian disasters are among those rare occasions when the media are actually useful. Reporters can put a face on disaster, identify needs, and sometimes fill in the information gaps left by overstretched emergency services. They can also help to drum up humanitarian assistance. This time that is also being done by microblogs, including Quakebook, a Twitter sourced charity book that will be published within days.

So why has the media focus remained on less tangible nuclear fears? The old media adage "If it bleeds, it leads", was clearly not the deciding factor. The problems at the plant have not yet resulted in a single fatality, whereas the 28,000 people dead or missing as a result of the earthquake and tsunami make it Japan's deadliest disaster since the war.

The shifts of the earth and ocean on 11 March reset the scales of modern catastrophe. The magnitude nine quake (one of the five most powerful ever recorded) and the 30m to 40m tsunami (the highest ever seen in Japan) caused more economic damage than any disaster man has known. They pulverised several hundred kilometres of coastline and left up to 400,000 people homeless. Fewer than a third are nuclear evacuees.


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