back to article Praying for meltdown: The media and the nukes

Sensationalism has always been part of the popular media - but Fukushima is a telling and troubling sign of how much the media has changed in fifty years: from an era of scientific optimism to one where it inhabits a world of fantasy - creating a real-time Hollywood disaster movie with a moralising, chivvying message. Not so …


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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Keep calm and carry on..

    Maybe that lasted into the 70's... afterall who remembers/learned the lessions from Banqiao Dam? (lmgtfy:

    Hydro power really is dangerous....

  2. Hermes Conran


    Even those convicted liars who run these plants have had to admit that the core in at least one reactor has melted. The fact that good civil engineering and drastic risk management has prevented hundreds of people being poised so far does not detract from the fact that the whole area around the plant is despoiled for generations.

    1. Anonymous Coward

      'despoiled for generations'

      Like the areas around coal-fired power plants you mean? Besides which, does the concept of 'half-life' mean anything to you?

    2. Reading Your E-mail

      Point proven perfectly

      "Reactor melted"

      Yep, but so what, if the whole plant had melted then we would have a problem, but the reactor melting means it's buggered for use again, not that the whole world is going to expire in a burst of gamma rays

      ...and nothing has been despoiled for generations, just cause they wrap your chips in it doesn't mean it's credible.

    3. Bronek Kozicki Silver badge

      fact ...

      "... that the whole area around the plant is despoiled for generations"

      fact, really? Who says so?

    4. Uncle Slacky Silver badge

      "Meltdown" in this case...

      ;;;refers to melting of fuel *within* the core - it's not escaped, just melted into an unusable blob in the base of the reactor vessel. Three Mile Island did something similar (and without any known health consequences).

      1. Annihilator

        re: Point proven perfectly

        "just cause they wrap your chips in it doesn't mean it's credible"

        I love you :-)

      2. LaeMing Silver badge

        RE: just cause they wrap your chips in it doesn't mean it's credible.

        Over this side of the world you haven't been able to wrap chips in newspaper for decades - the ink was causing food-toxicity issues.

    5. Mad Mike

      Yes, really, really dangerous

      This dam failure caused the deaths of 171,000 people and 11 million people lost their homes. Even with Chenobyl, the figures are massively less and that was a really bad nuclear accident!! Why not lookup how many dams fail per year and you might be surprised. The safety record of the nuclear industry is the best of any electricity generation mechanism. Let's not let facts get in the way of a good story though!!

    6. Mad Mike

      @Hermes Conran

      Looks like a Redtop reader and he's fallen for it hook line and sinker. Even with the radioactive water and plutonium found to date, the amounts are pretty tiny. The area around the plant will be cleaned up within a few years and everything will return to normal. Radiation escaping into the sea is not too big a deal as the sea is immense and the dilution effect is massive. So, very quickly the radiation is so dispersed it offers no real threat.

      People in Edinburgh and other areas such as Dartmoor with large amounts of igneous rock are exposed to higher levels of radiation each and every year!! Ever heard of Radon? Look it up in relation to building in this country.

    7. Anonymous Coward


      "the fact that the whole area around the plant is despoiled for generations"

      Do you have a source for this "fact"? The whole area around the plant is a mess, yes - tidal waves will do that. And there have certainly been releases of radioactive materials from the plant. But I'm not aware of any evidence that there has been significant contamination of the area with long-lived radioactive materials.

      1. Equitas

        People in Edinburgh ........

        are in an area which, volcanic plugs excepted, is generally sandstone.

        Try Aberdeen which is mainly granite.

      2. Vladimir Plouzhnikov

        Clean danger v dirty danger

        I think there is a perception that if you die crushed by a wall of water or drown or suffocate in a coal mine or burn to cinders in an oil fire - this is natural and "clean" and Gaia will look after you, whereas if you die of radiation poisoning, it's dirty, un-natural, man-play-godly, anti-gaian and you will somehow be deader than "normal" dead.

        The radiation is a silent killer - it is so treacherous that you can die 50 or 80 years after being exposed and all that time you won't even know that you're DOOMED!

        1. Anonymous Coward

          it is so treacherous that you can die 50 or 80 years after being exposed

          I'd be quite happy surviving fukushima for another 80 years... Argh I've just been exposed... I see the news is now saying the the radiations is here in the UK as it's been detected in Glasgow...

          skulls icon.

          1. Seanmon


            Radiation is, quite frankly, the last health hazard in the world that Weejies need to worry about.

            (Yes, I am one)

            1. Scorchio!!

              Re: Glasgow

              You should live in Cornwall then, where high and toxic levels of radiation occur naturally. Frequently written off as 'background radiation' in much the same way that unwanted effects of medication are written off as 'side effects and unwanted deaths in war are called 'collateral damage', it must be healthy! It's Gaia!

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: People in Edinburgh ........

          Yes, this "people in Edinburgh speak weird because of the radon" meme should be investigated by Page and Orlowski if they're so keen on debunking common myths and tracing their propagation.

        3. Annihilator
          Thumb Up


          "volcanic plugs excepted"

          Straying way off the point here, but I think this is what was meant. "Old" Edinburgh is pretty much built entirely on igneous (castle) rock. And there's that looming big thing called Arthur's Seat just off to the side.

      3. It wasnt me
        Thumb Up

        Hmmmmm.... I have an idea.

        You comment on the dilution effect got me thinking. Who are the real experts in the dilution effect?

        Perhaps we could put homeopaths to good use and get them to clean up the mess? I quite like the mental image of Gillian McKeith being sent into the reactors. Oh noes, theres no shits for me to examine!

    8. Anonymous Coward

      This really is disappointing.

      The Register is a technical publication and to continue to give oxygen to the wilder speculations and comments devalues the Science and Engineering professions and professionals who participate in them.

      Without doubt there are issues to be addressed and they will be - but perhaps not as all of us would wish.

      While 'we' continue to squabble and shout about 'nuclear accidents' then the public will continue to to think science and engineering is populated by arseholes and incompetents - which it most certainly isn't!!

      Truth to tell, there isn't much to be seen now as far as the nuclear side goes. There is a lot more interesting stuff to be done with regard to earthquake engineering and alternative energy. Given were Japan sits I suspect there will be a re-vitalised interest in geothermal and other power sources.

    9. Aaron Em

      "hundreds of people being poised so far"

      What, they're taking a day off from clean-up to do a gigantic dance number?

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    Spot on

    Although I'm not so sure I share Orlowski's optimism with regards to the general public and their ability to parse all this stuff properly. Look at Germany, where the electorate has made bold gestures to the effect that what they want is the unachievable conglomeration of super-industry, green energy and no nuclear. Same thing going on in some quarters of Japan, although since they're actually in a seismic danger zone and have recently suffered a terrible cataclysm, that's much more understandable. I just have doubts about whether people will reject the scaremongering when it has such visceral appeal.

  4. Jolyon


    "("like a dirty bomb" we were told)"

    Who told us that?

    Also a link to an online copy of the Daily Mail's "Nature's Deadly Rage" would be great if you could provide it; Tim Black couldn't either although he did link to other quoted articles in his similarly themed piece on Spiked.

  5. Riscyrich
    Thumb Up


    Good point, well made....

    Thanks Andrew.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      It is obtainable.

      "All our* power is made from 100% renewables"

      *Where 'our' means the stuff generated here, when there's a shortfall we buy it off the French and don't ask questions.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      1st result Front page spash 12 Mar 2011

      Can't find it in their archive though

    3. David Pollard

      Locating "Nature's Deadly Rage"

      There are searchy-looky thingummies that can do it for you, e.g.

      Registration is apparently required.

    4. Jimmahh


      "Also a link to an online copy of the Daily Mail's "Nature's Deadly Rage" would be great if you could provide it..."

      Err... you did try Googling the phrase; Daily Mail's "Nature's Deadly Rage" didn't you....?

      Because an online version of that copy seems to be the first result


    5. Anonymous Coward


      Well, I live in Germany, and the talk over lunch was of the 24000 year contamination, China syndrome and how long to evacuate the whole of Tokyo. It was rather depressing that I couldn't make headway against this.

      1. Jolyon

        Goo goo

        Yes, I googled. And yes, an online copy 'seems' to be the first result but as you will no doubt have seen, being the thorough sort of person you so clearly are, that's just the (rather impressive) front page. If the text content is available it would appear to be behind a paywall and I am too much of a freetard to take that route.

        1. Vladimir Plouzhnikov

          Asking wolf to guard the sheep...

          "I am too much of a freetard to take that route"

          And you expect Andrew Orlowski, of all people, to help you???? You're not much of a freetard at all, or you would have known better...

          1. Jolyon

            Baa humbug

            Good point.

            No one even knows if he reads comments anyway.

            What was I thinking?

      2. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

        In Japan

        Do they call a 'China Syndrome' a '200 miles off the coast of Brazil' syndrome?

      3. ian 22

        the Daily Mail???

        There's your problem right there.

      4. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

        Germany, eh...

        Well, the discussion to tear down the 8? reactors that were SCRAMed at the news of the JAPAN INCIDENT a couple of weeks ago is now in full swing. Ancillary to this I heard on the radio that Germany plans to import hydropower from Norway. This will replace about 1 nuke. A laudable idea but guess what's first on the list of talking points: NIMBYness regarding the power converters and public fear of the high-voltage lines. Sigh.

    6. Sil_W

      @ somethingmissing

      Your comment about trusting the public to parse all this stuff properly does raise a good question about the democracy we all automatically laud as the be-all and end-all of moral government. What if the public, through ignorance or fear, set themselves on a self-destructive course? Does political morality, and the need to avoid undemocratic rule at all costs, require that the destruction be allowed to run its course?

      1. CD001

        I've often thought

        I've often thought that Democracy, being (supposedly) governance for the people, by the people, is fundamentally flawed by the fact that it's run "by the people" - have you never seen the Jeremy Kyle show?

        (actually I haven't, I have a job, but from what I can gather it's like the Essex chav version of Jerry Springer).

        1. Anonymous Coward

          Re: I've often thought

          The main problem with rule by the masses is that the masses are not always (read: rarely) right. And the IQ average of 100 means that a large proportion of the population will be on the lower side..

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Plato was right

        I'd say enlightened dictatorships/monarchies are probably the best form of government, but the problem with that is that it's much more of a lottery, and there's no way to really guarantee that a good leader won't be replaced by an idiot/tyrant. The problem with democracy, on the other hand, is that it nearly never results in the best possible (or even good) governance, but the upside is that it provides a mechanism through which people are able to signal their consent and approval. So the question is, as you said, whether or not we should go waltzing towards extinction due to our own mass stupidity, as long as our politics retains (broadly speaking, of course) a consensual element. Speaking for myself, I think in general totalitarianism leads more predictably to suffering, and since we're going to go extinct some day any way (and are almost certain, from a Darwinian standpoint, to be 'responsible' for our own demise), at least we can try and reduce suffering on the way there. Not to say I'm a democrat, mind - I find it endlessly infuriating living in a democracy. But it might just be the least worst option.

  6. GavinL
    Thumb Up


    This morning Radio4 had someone on (can't remember his name) that basically said that we were stupid for worrying about the radiation levels and that they insignificant in the grand sceame of things.

    Finally some sence on the BBC.

  7. dr2chase

    Can you do better than this?

    The issue, as near as I can tell, is that there's mess of radioactive water in there, and it appears to be consuming workers' exposure allowance a lot faster than I would like.

    Those would be interesting numbers to know, and I have not heard them reported. If TEPCO has a supply of workers adequate for a year of exposure at current rates, I think things will turn out ok. If they only have one month's supply, I think "Nucular Power Roolz!" is a bit premature. Would be interesting, also, to know if they are training new workers specifically for this job (using similar plants) so as to ensure a steady supply, just-in-case.

    And yeah, this is a PR disaster, and I am more than a little worried that the other likely-better designs are going to be tarred with the same brush. In particular, there's no particularly easy answer to the pair of questions "if these other designs are so safe, why aren't we using them already?" and "if you were sure of this old design, and you're sure of this new design, what's the difference in actual safety?"

  8. Chris Miller

    What is it with science reporting?

    With a few honourable exceptions, news media seem to find it perfectly OK to have science/technology stories covered by reporters who clearly have no knowledge whatever of the subject. This does seem to happen (at least, not very often) in other subjects. Sports reporters are expected to understand the difference between soccer and cricket; music reporters are expected to be able to differentiate between a guitar and a drumkit. No motoring column would ever appear containing a statement such as: "the Whizzo SuperFast has a top speed of 200mph - for comparison, that's twice the distance between London and Birmingham".

    Yet the Times recently lifted a story from the Asahi Shimbun that said: "radiation levels of 500mSv/hr, which is twice the permitted dose of 250mSv", without realising what a howler they had perpetrated. Surely there must be at least one subeditor who passed A-level physics?

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    thorium salt?

    Have they solved the corrosion problems with those yet, or are you seriously suggesting that we build molten salt reactors that need replacing every 4-5 years? World record run is about 4 years IIRC and it had to stop because it would otherwise have fallen apart.

    So while thorium salt solves (more or less) the nuclear problems, it gets defeated by chemistry. Its simply not economical to build a nuclear power station with an expected life of about 5 years.

    The problem with nuclear reactors is ECONOMIC... You can make them a) safe and expensive or you can b) make them run for a long time.

    The main problem after a meltdown is ECONOMIC, it will cost a bloody fortune to keep the reactors safe, while at the same time they don't generate money.

    The problem with accidents is also ECONOMIC. As it stands now over 1% of civil reactors appear to suffer a partial core meltdown for some reason or another before they get de-commisioned. Now you can argue causes, and the number of deaths until the cows come home. However, insurance companies don't give a toss about why an accident happens, they will just use historical data (aka facts) to predict the real-world odds, and unfortunately they are not very good, so getting comprehensive insurance for your local power-plant is going to be bloody expensive.

  10. heyrick Silver badge

    OMG, Orlowski and comments?? ;-)

    I think perhaps a more telling thing would be to ask if anybody has learned, either to distrust the media or to scream when ever somebody mentions radiation... Sadly I wonder if the nuances of this will be missed on the majority.

    Example? I buy HiChu sweets (Japanese import). I offered one to a friend, who asked "it isn't radioactive, is it?". Gah!

  11. Steven Jones

    Not a stupid question

    'Instead we heard from a Green who wondered why the reactor hadn't been built "above tsunami level"'

    That's actually quite a reasonable question. The US has several nuclear facilities built on bluffs by the coastline. That way they can be above tsunami level yet still use seawater cooling. Of course there is an increase in energy usage for pumping the cooling water, but it's relatively modest. Also, the local geology has to be taken into account and it is undoubtedly more expensive to carve a platform into a cliff side, but it's far from a silly idea. Of course a higher tsunami wall could have done the job too as would properly protecting the auxiliary generators in waterproof buiuldings (as the EPR did).

    These are perfectly sensible points, and what can definitely be said (at the least) is that the tsunami danger was underestimated or, as some of us might think, compromised for cost reasons. Following the 2004 tsunami it was evident just what tsunamis could do (and the US has done a safety review). Did the Japanese review those too? The Japanese nuclear regulatory authorities have had notoriously cosy relationship with the generating companies.

    1. John G Imrie Silver badge

      Tell your friend

      No, it's Ready Break that makes you glow. I remember those TV ads ;-)

    2. Vulch

      Such as?

      Japan is basically a mountain range sticking out of the sea. It's either pick a site on a relatively flat coastal strip, or carve out a huge ledge from a 45 degree slope. Pick your aftereffect, tidal wave coming over a barrier or the whole plant coming second in a "survive a landslide" competition.

    3. spencer

      No comments!?

      Think Mr Orlowski only turns them off when he writes pro record label pieces.

      1. Steven Jones


        I have seen no signs of landslides following the tsunami. Indeed there were some who filmed from hillsides not that much above the level of the tsunami It's certainly expensive to carve out a ledge 30 metres up a cliff, but subject to checks on local geology, it shouldn't be subject to landslides. It's not like China where the hillsides are so often made of loose soil.

        If it turns out that the geology isn't suitable, then fine - but it's still not a stupid question to ask.

        As for an afterthought, then that's simply not true. They just built to an inadequate standard. You don't design plants like this to one-in-a-hundred year standards, but to much higher ones - perhaps one in ten thousand.

        Quite simply they got it wrong.

        1. Liam Johnson

          @Steven Jones

          "You don't design plants like this to one-in-a-hundred year standards, but to much higher ones - perhaps one in ten thousand."

          Sure, if you have the data, go ahead.

          Quite simply they got it wrong. But next time they will be more cautious - on the scale of things, adding an extra 10m of wall around the plant would not have been an impossible expense. In the meantime we shouldn't be overstating the problem of that miscalculation.

          Engineering accidents do happen, and sometimes people die and sometimes whole regions are contaminated, with health effects for years to come. This is not one of those accidents.

          Look at a list of industrial disasters on Wikipedia. You have the likes of Three Mile Island which caused 0 deaths and 0 injuries alongside the Bhopal disaster will killed thousands, injured 100s thousands and is still not cleaned up. Without the word “nuclear” in there, would anybody sensibly think of lumping these two together?


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