Is US media sensationalizing the nuclear angle

Joseph Murphy murphy7312 at
Mon Mar 21 00:40:05 EDT 2011

Dear Colleagues,
One of the most interesting things about being in Japan during a  
global event, is seeing the difference between how it is reported in  
Japan, and how it is reported in Europe and America.  I've heard, from  
many of my colleagues in the Japan studies field, a similar take, that  
the US media is overplaying the nuclear angle. I'm no fan of the US  
media, but as an engineer, I am frankly appalled.  If article after  
article, and expert after expert are asserting that there is  
absolutely no danger  outside the immediate vicinity, they are wrong.   
While the acute effects of a worst-case scenario involving  
catastrophic release of gamma radiation would be confined to a 20-30  
km radius, the possible long-term effects are serious, and reach much  
further.  You've got 3 different primary contaminants (iodine, cesium,  
strontium), with 3 different half-lives, and 2 different possible ways  
of diffusion (air and water).  In a serious meltdown, airborne  
contamination could certainly reach Tokyo within hours, depending on  
prevailing winds (do we really want to put our eggs in the offshore  
wind basket), contaminants fall on the ground where they are absorbed  
by plants, animals eat the plants, it's in the food supply, popping up  
potentially anywhere in the country, for years.  This is not a one in  
a million scenario, it was one in twenty at times last week for  
Fukushima Dai-ichi.
That's largely iodine contamination, which dissipates to safe levels  
in 6 months.  Cesium and Strontium, with much longer half-lives, are  
around for 100's of years at dangerous levels.  The cesium and  
strontium plume from Chernobyl is currently nearing the Kiev water  
table.  The lump of radioactive material from a meltdown sits there  
for centuries.  The surrounding 30 km area would be a no-persons' land.

The engineers at Fukushima Dai-ichi worked heroically, they have so  
much pride in their plants they will risk their lives, but the fact  
that multiple personnel died, and 50+ endured life-threatening levels  
of radiation, say clearly that this was not under control.  The  
industry plans based on insurance actuarial tables for 100 year  
scenarios, that is the legal obligation to their shareholders.  Then a  
1000 year scenario visits, as geological time is likely to do.

Anyway, unlike Hurricane Andrew, unlike Katrina, unlike the earthquake  
and tsunami in Indonesia, the relief effort in Japan was compounded  
over the first week by an escalating, potentially catastrophic nuclear  
crisis, that could itself affect all aspects of recovery, from  
infrastructure to food production.  The downplaying of this I've seen  
on Japan studies lists which 20 years ago would have been resolutely  
anti-nuclear is fascinating.  Possibly a tactical downplaying because  
of the way this could be used to ramp up fossil-fuel consumption,  
maybe a theoretical problem with seeing Japan's natural disasters as  
"particularly" technical.  But they don't seem to proceed from a  
serious analysis of the situation at the plant.
J. Murphy

On Mar 18, 2011, at 4:23 AM, Lindsay Nelson wrote:

> As someone who has been in Tokyo since August (currently in Kyoto to  
> have a bit of a break from the aftershocks), I can say a few things.
> 1. The nuclear power plant story is being ridiculously  
> sensationalized in the American media. Article after article and  
> expert after expert have declared that there is absolutely no danger  
> to anyone outside the immediate vicinity of the plant, and yet the  
> major news outlets ignore these stories and continue to vamp up the  
> fear. Worse, they do this at the expense of reporting on the real  
> crisis, which is the 400,000 + people in the northeast who have  
> limited food, water, and shelter and are already dying as a result.
> 2. Many people have made the decision to leave--at least  
> temporarily--for a variety of reasons. Aftershocks were constant for  
> the first 24 hours after the quake, and they continue even now. I  
> personally have not slept much at all for the past week--partially  
> because of the stress of the aftershocks, and partially because I  
> have been dealing with frantic, panicked family members who were  
> horrified that I hadn't fled the city. I also worried about  
> blackouts as my only heater is electric, it's getting very cold, and  
> kerosene / space heaters are completely sold out. I've left for a  
> few days to get some sleep and try to re-group, but I plan to  
> return. The bottom line is that even if there is no danger from the  
> power plant, there are plenty of other reasons why people might  
> choose to leave. And given the changing nature of the power plant  
> situation and the huge amount of conflicting information available,  
> I can understand why some people would be concerned enough to leave.
> 3. Regarding film archives and screenings--for the most part it's  
> business as usual in Tokyo. The scheduled blackouts have been  
> avoided so far because people are doing a great job of conserving  
> energy. Some universities have postponed classes and some smaller  
> companies have shut down to allow their employees to spend time with  
> their families, but most places are up and running. Very few  
> Japanese are leaving the city (the shinkansen were crowded today as  
> I headed for Kyoto, but Monday is a national holiday, so that's not  
> too surprising). If regular blackouts become a necessity this will  
> of course impact daily life considerably, but for now other than  
> slightly reduced train service, a gasoline shortage, and shortages  
> of items like bread, milk, and rice (really just the result of over- 
> buying, not an actual shortage), Tokyo seems pretty normal to me.
> I provide informal updates about the situation on the ground and  
> links to helpful articles at
> --Lindsay Nelson
> On Fri, Mar 18, 2011 at 12:03 AM, Quentin Turnour <Quentin.Turnour at 
> > wrote:
> William,
> Perhaps to shift things just to the issue of film archives...Thanks  
> for your great and thoughtful post, Odd also considering I've just  
> spent the morning doing a run through of the NFC's 35mm print of the  
> SHINGUN/MARCHING ON and also reading your great on-line article  
> about this unusual early Showa silent.
> Literarily a few minutes after your post came up, Kae Ishihara at  
> the Film Preservation Society posted an email and link to English- 
> speaking FPS members
> In the last few days I've had some contact with her, Akira Tochigi  
> at the NFC and a few others in the Japanese screen culture community  
> (such as Fujioka Asako of the Yamagata Doco festival - a cultural  
> event which of course takes place within a prefecture once removed  
> but still very close to the tragedy of the tsunami). But Kae's email  
> is a great summary of what's happening with the NFC and regional  
> film archives, and even some Japanese film industry matters - Sony's  
> HDCam tape plant was at Sendai, for example.
> As I alluded to, ironically we've been doing a season here of 1920s  
> Japanese silents from the NFC and Matsuda, and the reconstruction of  
> the Kanto area post-1923 obviously looms as a sub-text in many of  
> the films we were screening... Or as a text on some of the mid-1920s  
> Ministry of Education Tokyo reconstruction films, such as the  
> eccentric PUBLIC MANNERS TOKYO SIGHTSEEING (...which has led us to  
> making the decision to postponed a screening of these films).
> Our program included a visit by the benshi Mr. Kotoaka Ichiro, who  
> bravely went ahead with a performance of his final session only  
> minutes after getting the news of the earthquake and then had some  
> difficulties getting back to Tokyo from Australia the following day.  
> We are currently ben asked to hold the prints from this series for  
> the NFC until advised; as the FPS's site indicate it seems not so  
> much that their facilities have been damaged, but shipping services  
> are still unreliable, power is a problem and staff simply have  
> having trouble getting to work
> Finally, and noting the debate that your email inadvertently sparked  
> over foreign perceptions... Those who know some of the history of  
> what happened in the wake of Great Kanto will remember that  
> immediate international goodwill degenerated badly in mutual  
> recrimination in the weeks and months following; especially in  
> Japanese-US relations. Whilst some of this had to do with the coming  
> of US legislation restricting Japanese immigration, the beginnings  
> of militant nationalism, and a   trickle of international press  
> accounts of bad Japanese official behaviour (especially of the anti- 
> Korean pogroms), lets hope the same thing doesn't happen again.
> Quentin Turnour, Programmer,
> Access, Research and Development
> National Film and Sound Archive, Australia
> McCoy Circuit, Acton,
> phone: +61 2 6248 2054  |  fax: + 61 2 6249 8159
> The National Film and Sound Archive collects, preserves and provides  
> access to Australia's historic and contemporary moving image and  
> recorded sound culture.
> ReelDrew at
> Sent by: owner-KineJapan at
> 18/03/2011 02:27 PM
> Please respond to
> KineJapan at
> To
> KineJapan at
> cc
> Subject
> the eerie silence on KineJapan is maddening!
> I have been a member of KineJapan for the last ten years. I joined  
> originally out of a need to obtain translations of the intertitles  
> of Japanese silents on VHS in my collection. I am very grateful to  
> those members on KineJapan who aided me and made it possible for me  
> to, among other things, write an article on Hiroshi Shimizu that is  
> published on Midnight Eye.
> Since then, I have regularly received almost daily the messages that  
> have been posted here. In all honesty, a large number--perhaps the  
> majority, in fact--have been of limited interest to me inasmuch as  
> they tend to deal with contemporary Japanese films. Consistent with  
> my enthusiasm for films in other countries, including my own,  
> produced in earlier decades, it is my interest in the Japanese  
> cinema of the past, especially the films of the 1920s and 1930s,  
> that has been of consuming interest to me. Nevertheless, from time  
> to time issues involving those golden years do come up here.
> However, whether or not the topic has been of particular interest to  
> me, I have always valued the fact that KineJapan has always been  
> there, an extremely valuable resource to be consulted when needed.  
> Never before since I've been here did this group shut down.  
> Certainly, it was very active right through the events of 9/11 as  
> were other film discussion groups in which I participated.
> Since the tragic events that began a week ago, though, this place  
> has suddenly turned into a ghost town. Aside from a very limited  
> amount of posts specifically on the topic of the tsunami, there has  
> been absolutely nothing here. No one has even bothered to post how  
> things are going on in Tokyo, while all sorts of wild, apocalyptic  
> rumors circulate unchecked in the US that Tokyo is about to become  
> irradiated, that it may be doomed. I believe a few welcome posts  
> here from knowledgeable people in the Japanese capital might help to  
> clarify the situation and perhaps alleviate some of these fears.
> I have had a consuming obsession with early Japanese cinema for the  
> last 36 years. In trying to interest people in the West in this  
> topic and to recognize the value of Japanese films from those years,  
> I have long had to confront an enormous amount of indifference and  
> insensitivity to these achievements by too many in America and  
> elsewhere in the outside world. It has taken so long to bring  
> attention to these films here. Indeed, it was only this January that  
> the premier venue for classic cinema in the United States, Turner  
> Classic Movies, after being on the air for 17 years, finally  
> presented three Japanese silents--Ozu's famous masterpieces, "Tokyo  
> Chorus," "I Was Born, But. . .," and "Passing Fancy." So it is only  
> very recently that this neglected period of Japanese film is just  
> starting to receive some recognition here.
> Given this obession of mine, I would very much like to know how the  
> archives and other collections of Japanese cinema are coping with  
> the current crisis in Tokyo. Are they able to function normally in  
> their work of preservation considering the power blackouts etc.? If  
> there really should be an evacuation of the capital, has there been  
> discussion of removing films and other cultural treasures from Tokyo  
> to Kyoto, a much safer city and which I personally feel should be  
> restored to the position of Japan's capital?
> As to whether now is the proper time to discuss the preservation of  
> culture in view of the terrible loss of life and the continuing  
> threat, I believe that, far from being at odds or incompatible, the  
> preservation of human life and humanity's cultural heritage are  
> inseparable. The heroic people of Egypt have shown all of us the way  
> recently in this area. During a time of turmoil in which a corrupt,  
> discredited dictatorship was attempting to hang on to power by  
> employing ruthless methods against the protestors, demonstrators  
> courageously appeared to form human chains around the Library in  
> Alexandria and the Egyptian Museum in Cairo to protect these  
> treasures of our history. I would hope that, should it ever become  
> necessary, a similar sense of cultural responsibility will be  
> demonstrated in other countries, including Japan. The heritage of  
> Japan, including its film history, is the common property not just  
> of one country but indeed, the legacy of all the people of the earth.
> In all those non-Western countries that the West chose to lump  
> together as "Oriental," for much of the 20th century the four most  
> significant in terms of creating outstanding cinemas in the first  
> half of the last century were Japan, China, India, and Egypt. This  
> preeminence in the new art of film was emblematic of these nations'  
> continuing cultural leadership in the modern world. In terms of  
> documenting and preserving the national film heritage, however,  
> Egypt under the Mubarak regime was scandalous. The Egyptian film  
> archive was by far the worst run in the entire world, mismanaged by  
> members of Mubarak's family. So neglected was the state of the  
> archive that it was a common sight to see rats crawling out of cans  
> of film in the vaults. The situation with the Egyptian archive was  
> thus symptomatic of the larger ills afflicting the society under the  
> corrupt regime that ruled Egypt for thirty years. Needless to say,  
> with the present rebirth of Egypt through revolution there is a far  
> greater hope that the glories of Egyptian cinema from its bright  
> beginnings in the silent era to the achievements of later decades  
> will be at last properly preserved.
> While the infrastructure of Japan including its archives can hardly  
> compare to its counterparts in Egypt in the Mubarak years, there has  
> nevertheless been a steady decline in Japan in the two decades since  
> the economic bubble burst in the early 1990s. Egypt is now trying to  
> recover from a social disaster, Japan from a natural one  
> exacerbated, it seems, by a variant of the same corruption and  
> cronyism that long afflicted Egypt. I think Japan, like Egypt, will  
> need to transform itself anew, but as with Egypt, that  
> transformation must be solidly based on the preservation and  
> dissemination of past achievements including a glorious legacy of  
> early cinema. Consequently, in addition to my general concern at the  
> eerie silence that has suddenly taken over KineJapan, as though all  
> its members have been struck dumb, I would in particular like to  
> know how the film archives and other institutions consecrated to  
> cinema history in Japan are faring during the present crisis.
> William M. Drew

Assoc. Professor and Assoc. Chair
Dept. of Languages, Literatures and Cultures
University of Florida
Gainesville, FL 32601-5565

-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...

More information about the KineJapan mailing list