The nuclear reactor crisis at Fukushima Daiichi has been upgraded to a 7 on the International Nuclear Events Scale. That’s the same rating as Chernobyl. It’s interesting to me, though, how these two events can share the same rating, but still be quite different in several important ways.
For instance, Chernobyl released a lot more radioactive material (Fukushima has still only released 1/10th of Chernobyl’s radioactive output) in a much shorter period of time. The slower pace of Fukushima, combined with the Japanese government’s significantly more open and responsive approach, means there have been fewer significant health impacts caused by Fukushima so far.
But the differences don’t all work in Fukushima’s favor. It’s likely to take longer to get this crisis under control, and Fukushima cleanup crews will have to deal with a lot of contaminated water that wasn’t present at Chernobyl. Because of that, there’s a possibility that these two disasters could look more similar over the long-term view than they do right now.
I do believe that truth is a good thing. And to the extent that the flood of bloody videos pouring out of Egypt, Syria, Bahrain, Libya and elsewhere right now document the truth, they are important. As commercial cable news networks (at least, in the US) evolve into something more like entertainment channels than the news outlets they began as, our access to these ugly streaming truths matters even more. Distant shots of missile drops are less likely to inspire empathy than a YouTube clip of a man in Libya whose lower jaw has just been blown off, who is still shouting for freedom. And yes, that video exists; the tireless Twitter chronicler Andy Carvin at NPR (@acarvin) tweeted it last week, along with many other videos like it. (I don’t know how he does it; I could not keep up his tolerance or his pace.)
But human beings do not have an endless capacity for empathy, and our capacity is less so in the mediated, disembodied, un-real realm of online video. At what point does access to war gore become harmful to the viewer, and at what point do each of us who observe this material for the purpose of reporting the story around it, become numb or begin to experience secondary trauma?
“I keep having to remind myself that we’re bearing witness,” Andy told me recently, when we were discussing how the volume of material was affecting him personally. “Otherwise, I think I would’ve lost my mind.”
Photos: Officials in protective gear check for signs of radiation on children who are from the evacuation area near the Fukushima Daini nuclear plant in Koriyama, March 13, 2011. Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano confirmed on Saturday there has been an explosion and radiation leakage at Tokyo Electric Power Co’s (TEPCO) Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. The biggest earthquake to hit Japan on record struck the northeast coast on Friday, triggering a 10-meter (33-foot) high tsunami that swept away everything in its path, including houses, ships, cars and farm buildings on fire. (REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon)
The videos above (one from Japanese TV, one from the Russian network RT) show a plume of smoke emerging from the damaged reactor at Fukushima Daichi Nuclear Power Station in Japan on Saturday: an explosion blew the roof off of a building and destroyed the outer walls of a reactor. Officials have expanded the evacuation radius around the plant to a 12 mile radius, and are distributing iodine to populations nearby, to help offset possible radiation poisoning. Below, a shot from NHK TV of the damaged building (thanks, Yamara, via BB Flickr Pool).
Officials said late Saturday that leaks of radioactive material from the plant, which began before the explosion, were receding and that a major meltdown was not imminent. But severe problems at two nuclear plants close to the epicenter of the quake forced evacuations of tens of thousands of people from surrounding areas, hampering efforts to search for survivors and forcing Japan’s leadership to grapple with two major crises as the same time.
Early reports are that radiation levels receded after the explosion, and that a worse disaster may have been averted. Still, the incident is being described as the most significant nuclear disaster since Three Mile Island or Chernobyl, in global impact. The Fukushima disaster now has its own Wikipedia page.
Breaking: Amira Al Hussaini at Global Voices: “Bahrain police have just launched an attack on protesters at the Pearl Roundabout.” She has a Twitter roundup, and you can also follow NPR’s Andy Carvin right now for fast and furious RTs from people who are there, apparently being teargassed and shot with rubber bullets and/or other forms of ammunition. It is 3AM there; the demonstrators were sleeping; news crews are are nowhere to be found.
Marilyn Terrell of National Geographicpoints us to the photo above making the rounds on Twitter and Facebook today, and explains:
Citizens linking arms in front of the Egyptian Museum to prevent looters from entering. I found this photo on Twitter, posted by @theplayethic, who also tweeted, “Power memes in #Egypt. Reports of soldiers roaming damaged Cairo museum, armed criminals in suburbs.”
Margaret Maitland, an Egyptology student at Oxford University, examines Al Jazeera video to assess what has been damaged during rioting at the Cairo Museum. She thinks the damaged objects include items from Tutankahmun’s tomb.
Would-be looters broke into Cairo’s famed Egyptian Museum, ripping the heads off two mummies and damaging about 10 small artifacts before being caught and detained by soldiers, Egypt’s antiquities chief [Zahi Hawass] said Saturday.
Ben Tripp sez, “Rise Again, my zombie apocalypse novel (reviewed here by Cory) is in bookstores today! In honor of the occasion, I wish to direct readers to my downloadable sheet of zombie wounds. Print them on full-sheet sticker paper, then cut, peel, and stick. You can also find some zombie eyeglasses on the site for the instant undead look.”
I was listening to NPR’s All Things Considered yesterday and this segment had me so enraptured I nearly had to pull over my car for safety.The story of a family’s dog and her addiction to getting high on toads.
The link goes to the written article, but the audio version (linked on page) is produced with well-chosen background music and narrative that it is the best way to experience Lady the Toad-Sucking Dog.