The aftermath of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami continues to bring the kind of news beloved of editors: concern over the state of three reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station is grist to the mill for horror story writers. Typical of the genre are the Super Soaraway Currant Bun (with Nuke Cloud Could Reach Tokyo), the Mirror (48 Hours To Stop A Nuke Disaster), and the Daily Mail (Japan In Meltdown).
And events will continue to get the shock horror treatment as long as information from Japan is less than consistent, and the subject has “nuclear” in the title, this latter because, although we know that high radiation levels can do bad things to people, we can’t see them and don’t know what they feel like. So into the void of our knowledge comes a worst case scenario.
Reality, in the meantime, is more prosaic: the station’s number 1 and number 3 reactors may have suffered overheating of the fuel, and hydrogen released when pressure was vented has caused spectacular looking explosions, but the result will almost certainly be that the units are unable to continue generation and there is a big clean-up bill, as with Three Mile Island Unit 2 (TMI2). No need for panic.
What is more worrying is the talk of a fracture in the containment of number 2 reactor. Once again, the information to hand is not certain on events, but if there is a crack in the base of the containment, the most likely outcome is an even bigger clean-up bill. The increased levels of radiation are most likely to be coming from a spent fuel “pond” adjacent to reactor 4, which had been allowed to run dry, with the fuel heating up and causing a fire. There’s nothing to stop the subsequent escape of radiation from such an event.
So the situation is not good, although there has not been the nuclear apocalypse that some hacks have suggested. But there is also the need to keep the public from being too frightened about nuclear power, so the legendarily foul mouthed Paul Dacre has deployed the worldly Max “Hitler” Hastings, self-proclaimed liberator of Port Stanley, to stiffen the backbone of Daily Mail readers.
But the most crass pro-nuclear intervention has to go to Maily Telegraph blogger James “saviour of Western civilisation” Delingpole, who told yesterday that “the fuss about imminent nuclear disaster was greatly overdone” (the situation in Japan then worsened). And to demonstrate how nuclear power isn’t such a big deal, Del Boy got a guest poster to make light of the Chernobyl accident back in 1986.How bad was that? Er, “up to 4,000 people could eventually die of radiation exposure”. And the conclusion? “Let’s not exaggerate. Stick to nuclear. Overall it is clearly a Good Thing”. Yeah, right. Good to see that Del Boy is making as constructive a contribution to the nuclear power debate as he is on climate change.