Perusing through a list of the most popular Japanese blogs, I recently came across one under the category of politics whose title caught my attention: "The man who knew too much about China and Korea" (中韓を知りすぎた男) ranked at number four, with 289,250 monthly hits. I was startled to learn that its author, Tsujimoto Kiichi, is also a relatively famous writer in Japan. More startling, however, are some of the fallacies and absurdities he promotes and that many of his readers buy into.
One of his famous works, published October 2009, is called "Hey! China, enough already!" More recently, in February 2012, he published a blog entry with the original title, "Korea! Enough already!" which is a rant against "shameless" Koreans, whom he does not seem to like very much.
Tsujimoto explains that in December last year, a monument to the so-called Korean "comfort women" was built on the road leading to the Japanese Embassy in Seoul.
This anti-Japanese sentiment, as he refers to it, was propagated into the Korean community in the U.S., where a street in New York's Flushing district in Queens will be renamed in order to commemorate the comfort women. Also, the year before this event, a monument was built in New Jersey for the same reason. He explains that 20 such monuments are planned throughout the United States for Americans to view.
Comfort women ("wianbu" in Korean and "ianfu" in Japanese) were some 200,000 Korean, Chinese, Taiwanese, Filipino, Dutch, Indonesian, Vietnamese and Malaysian women who were coerced into sexual slavery by the Japanese Empire's military during the first half of the 20th century.
Tsujimoto, however, is strongly against the construction of memorial statues and the renaming of streets to commemorate these war victims. He writes.
Don't these people [Koreans] have any shame? Comfort women were not forcibly made to sell their bodies. They applied to do so for money. Documents confirming comfort women's "coercion" do not exist. No matter how many times this argument is made, Koreans just don't want to hear it. Long ago, in order to accumulate foreign money, the Korean government encouraged "Gisaeng Parties"*. In other words, the Korean government encouraged prostitution using its country's young women's bodies to earn wealth. Have they forgotten?
(*Gisaeng are the Korean version of Japanese Geisha; officially sanctioned Korean female entertainers or sometimes prostitutes)
Tisujimoto’s perspective is troubling for several reasons, most notably, because it suggests that the Japanese educational system has utterly failed him and the readers who concord with his perspective. Downplaying this historical tragedy has been a long and well-known issue in Japan. In 2007, the minister of education, Nariaki Nakayama declared, "victimized women in Asia should be proud of being comfort women". The perversity of this comment is hardly worth elaborating upon as it speaks for itself. What is worth pointing out is the brainwashing that began after World War II, when a defeated Japan was able to switch its position from that of aggressor to that of a victim. It is in part this attitude of victimization that has allowed Japan to downplay its atrocities throughout Asia, and which has inevitably led to the formation of individuals such as Mr. Tsujimoto, who are as unaware of their history as a patient afflicted by amnesia.
Despite there being crushing evidence that the government organized and gathered comfort women stations for the foul pleasure of its army, a gargantuan amount of conservative Japanese are either unaware or in denial that such a thing ever happened.
Kim Bok-dong and Lee Mak-dal, two survivors of Japanese sexual slavery recently released a YouTube video that concisely explains their treatment. For the past twenty years, these brave women have staged 1,000 protests in front of the Japanese embassy in Seoul demanding proper recompense for the atrocities committed against comfort women. Although some Japanese prime ministers have apologized, many Koreans think it is not enough. In an article on CNN, the director of the NGO called "Korean Council for the Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery by Japan", Yoon Mee-hyang, stated: "This is a crime that was institutionalized by a country, they forced women into sexual slavery over a long period of time. They need to adopt a resolution at the official level and we need to see legal reparations". The matter is urgent and needs to be resolved before the last survivors pass away in order for justice to be done. In fact, the number of extant comfort women is dwindling: in a report released on 14 March by Yonhap News, two survivors of this historical happening recently died. At present, there are supposedly around 60 victims still alive.
In January 1992, the New York Times published an article stating, "army documents found in the library of Japan's Self-Defense Agency indicated that the military had played a large role in operating what were euphemistically called 'comfort stations.'" This news had been previously propagated to Japanese citizens via Asahi Shinbun's newspapers. Prior to this, Japanese scholars had already written on the topic: Yoshimi Yoshiaki and Tanaka Toshiyuki, to name a few, wrote extensively about forced prostitution under the Japanese Empire. Nevertheless, Mr. Tsujimoto (the author of the blog post) continues his rant with statements such as, "Anti-Japanese Koreans have quite some nerve to teach falsehoods regarding history, having a statue of a prostitute built in a foreign country."
In a less than intelligible argument, Tsujimoto explains, "whereas Koreans often praise their country, the number of Koreans who have been fleeing their country in recent years has surged. According to a survey, 67.8% of interviewees answered 'if I could be reborn, I wouldn't want to be born in Korea'. It is said that Korean emigration has breached the 2 million mark in the United States only."
Tsujimoto forgets to mention that Japan's case is similar: there are 1.5 million Japanese emigrates living in Brazil and 1.2 million living in the United States. He also forgets to mention that Japan consistently ranks as one of the worst OECD countries for life satisfaction, with one of the highest suicide rates in the world. Although some data may differ, ranking South Korea as being slightly higher or lower, this point is certainly not something the blogger can boast about or wave in the face of others.
Evidence of social dissatisfaction in Japan exists but is often swept under the carpet. An interesting book regarding the way social dissatisfaction affects its citizens is Michael Zielenziger's Shutting Out the Sun: how Japan created its own lost generation. In it, the author explicates the Japanese disorder known as hikikomori, which is not found within other cultures and which the Japanese government only very recently has reluctantly acknowledged. "Sixty years after the end of World War Two," Zielenziger writes, "contemporary Japan is at peace, but everyone who lives there knows something is wrong."
It entails seclusion from the outside world for months, if not years or even decades. "Despite repeated investigations by Japanese and other Asian psychiatrists, this withdrawal syndrome has been found in no other culture, not even in neighboring South Korea, which shares so much of Japan's Buddhist and Confucian past, as well as its state-guided model of economic development." It is primarily the result of extreme dissatisfaction with socio-economic conditions. Spilling out his painful saga, former hikikomori Kaz Ueyama says, “to survive in Japan, you have to kill off your own original voice.” Feeling powerless and not wanting to take to the streets and protest (as is often the case in Europe and North America,) many hikikomori prefer manifesting their unhappiness internally rather than externally.
The powerful sentiment of not being “normal” like everyone else is one of the prime moving causes for hikikomori, and is likely one of the reasons that stimulates ultra-nationalists such as Tsujimoto to pen up a book or a blog entry.
A very similar, controversial figure is Kō Bunyū. Kō was born in 1938 in Taiwan, but currently resides in Japan. He has written more than 100 books regarding Taiwan’s, mainland China’s and Korea’s debt to Japan, who he argues, owe much of their culture and success to the land of the rising sun. He played down Japan’s war crimes and prompts his readers to ponder questions such as, “where else in the world can you find a country that was unable to recover for 300 years after being invaded?” He refers to the Japanese Invasions by feudal lord Toyotomi Hideyoshi in the late 1500s, alluding to the fact that the Japanese colonization of Korea (1910-1945) was quintessential in the peninsula’s rapid development and economic surge following World War II. This point is certainly debatable and there are many arguments for or against it. What should be noted is this neo-nationalist rhetoric that emerged in Japan and its former colonies to which many subscribe. It is the same current of thought which underpins Tsujimoto Kiichi’s and his acolytes.
One question arises: why was Korea unable to obtain justice for this crime following Japan's humiliating defeat in the war? One answer is, during the Tokyo trials which lasted from 1946 to 1948, many Asian countries that were colonized by Japan had no representatives of their own. In his book, Embracing Defeat, Pulitzer Prize winner J. W. Dower writes,
It was especially perverse that no Korean served as a judge or prosecutor, although hundreds of thousands of colonized Korean men and women had been brutalized by the Japanese war machine - as "comfort women," as laborers forced to work in the most onerous sectors of mining and heavy industry in Japan, or as lowly conscripts in the military. Korea was not a bona fide sovereign nation at the time, nor was it clear when it would be. For the duration of the Tokyo trial, Japan's former colonial subjects remained under alien occupation in a land divided between the United States and the Soviet Union. They were not allowed to judge their former overlords and oppressors or to participate in preparing the case against them.
It is sad that in this day and age, when information is freely available and countless official records are at the world's fingertips, there should be neo-nationalist individuals such as Tsujimoto Kiichi and their avid followers. But alas, this should not be surprising either. Following-the-leader is a game in which an overwhelming majority of Japanese have participated for millennia: as Zielenziger explains in his book, Japan is still largely a "group-oriented authoritarianism - where basic civil liberties are ostensibly guaranteed, but real choice is absent." He quotes the historian Sheldon Garon as noting, "the U.S. occupation could never eliminate the prewar household membership and constrained individual choice, not unlike the gonin-gumi of the feudal period in which members of every five family groups were obliged to monitor the behavior of the other four." It is almost as if the spite and vexation that individuals such as Tsujimoto feel for Korea derives not from a true hatred, but from the fear of being judged by their peers for not conforming to the general conservative attitude that, as Tsujimoto Kiichi and Kō Bunyū argue, Korea was and is “the lowest of the lowly.”
Emergency Numbers Update:
Local Japan Emergency dials:
171 + 1 + line phone number to leave a message
171 + 2 + line phone number to listen to the message
Australia - Consular Emergency Centre: 1300 555 135 (within Australia) or +61 2 6261 3305 (overseas)
Ireland - Irish Department of Foreign Affairs: 01-418 0233
Italy - +81 (0)3-3453-5274 or +81 (0)3-3453-5142
Republic of Korea - 001-010-800-2100-0404
New Zealand - New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade: 0800 432 111 (within NZ) or +64 439 8000 (overseas)
Philippines - Embassy’s emergency landline +81-3-5562-1570, +81-3-5562-1577, and +81-3-5562-1590 (email@example.com)
United Kingdom - FCO helpline: +44 (0)207 008 0000
United States of America - 1-888-407-4747 or 1-202-501-4444 (JapanEmergencyUSC@state.gov)
The Sendai shore has been laid to waste. Hakodate has become a ghost port. Much of Sukagawa has been swept away after the collapse of the Fujinuma dam. The nightmare that struck the Tōhoku region in Japan on 11 March, at 05:46 UTC (14:46 local time) is unprecedented in Japan’s seismic history. For two, excruciatingly long minutes, an 8.9 Richter scale megathrust earthquake made the islands tremble, devastating cities, ports, and putting a country to its knees. Experts say this tremor was one of the top five most powerful earthquakes the world has ever seen. This was followed by more than 70 smaller aftershocks, one of which was as strong as 7.1 on the Richter scale, Al Jazeera reports.
Located between three tectonic plates – the Eurasian, Filipino and North American plates - and frequently influenced by a fourth – the Pacific plate – Japan is a land that is accustomed to numerous earthquakes every year: in the last ten years, 29 violent tremors were recorded and in the three days preceding this massive earthquake, three smaller shocks occurred.
The March 11, 2011 tragedy was far more powerful than the September 1, 1923 Great Kantō earthquake (7.9 on the Richter scale) which obliterated Tokyo, causing widespread damage to the entire Kantō region and claiming 140,000 lives. It was also much more intense than the January 17, 1995 Great Hanshin earthquake, which caused 6,434 people to lose their lives, costing a total of $100 billion – the most expensive natural disaster in history according to Reuters News.
The capital of Japan’s Miyagi Prefecture, Sendai was the hardest hit. Although the epicenter was reportedly 130 kilometers (80.7 miles) off the east coast of Oshika Peninsula, at a depth of 24.4 km (15.16 mi) under the seabed, the quake rapidly reached Tokyo 380 km away (236 mi) and was reportedly also felt in Beijing.
However, the tsunami triggered by the earthquake had equally devastating consequences: 10 meter (33ft) waves poured over the Japanese coast, inundating towns, causing damage to railways and roads, swallowing up everything in its path including cars, boats and trains. The hardest hit areas were the coasts of Fukushima, Miyagi, Tōhoku, Ibanaki, Sendai and Iwate. Four trains that operate between the Miyagi and Iwate prefectures have disappeared; one ship was found after several hours of searching.
The combined catastrophe of these two natural disasters has left a reported 4.4 million households without electricity according to Tohoku Electric, and more than a million without water. Although it is difficult to assess exact figures at this moment, there are an estimated 1,000 deaths in Miyagi prefecture.
People throughout the country have been stocking up on water and food provisions in the event of more earthquakes. The image to the right shows an emptied out convenience store and was posted on Facebook by a netizen.
At 09:30 UTC, Google released the Google Person Finder in an effort to collect information regarding survivors and their locations.
Yonhap News sounded the alarm for 130 South Koreans that are unaccounted for due to power outages, and reports that the Korean consulate in Sendai is trying to establish contact with some 4,500 Korean nationals living in the region. For Korean nationals who do not speak Japanese, the South Korean government has provided a toll-free emergency number (). China’s National Tourism Administration (NTA) said that the 4,578 Chinese nationals who were part of 215 tour groups in Japan had all contacted domestic travel agencies, reporting no death or injury. The international community has expressed its deepest condolences for the victims of the disaster and has prepared rescue teams to help the Japanese situation: China and South Korea, as well as the U.S. and the UN have all promised to send an avalanche of aid to alleviate the country with the world’s third biggest economy. As a result of the earthquake, the Yen has devalued and the Tokyo Stock Exchange also underwent a selling panic that left Nikkei down by 1.7 percent, The Washington Post wrote. Government spending for the country’s reconstruction is said to only add to Japan’s fiscal troubles and soaring national debt.
Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant Explosion
Although an enormous conflagration caused havoc in the petrochemical plant in Miyagi and in the Ichihara refinery, the bigger tragedy within the tragedy was the explosion of one of the nuclear reactors in Fukushima prefecture on 12 March at 15:36 local time. The Japanese government has declared a state of emergency as the cooling systems at Fukushima Nuclear Power Plants I and II have suffered severe failure, causing meltdowns and radiation levels above the allowable limits. Other nuclear reactors throughout the country are said to have been automatically shut down upon seismic oscillations.
Reuters has reported danger of a severe radiation leaks after an explosion has blown off the roof of Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant I, which released a large white cloud (see the footage here). However, Al Jazeera’s Live Blog has announced that the explosion might have been caused by hydrogen ignition: this may not necessarily have caused radiation leakage.
An operator working for Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO) who was frantically trying to reduce the reactor’s pressure levels was inevitably affected by the explosion. He and another coworker have been transported to a hospital. Japan’s Jiji News reports a total of 4 injuries with one bone fracture, and radiation leaks in a 20 km radius from the plant. All efforts are being made to evacuate the residents of the area: more than 45,000 people have already been brought to safety.
Jiji News has also released an article saying that one hour exposure to this radiation is equivalent to the limit of radiation an ordinary person can be exposed to in an entire year (1000 Microsievert – a unit of radiation dose).
The Japanese satellite Akatsuki, launched May 21st 2010, was intended to go into Venus' orbit on Monday to study the planet's atmosphere and surface. However, as it traveled around the sister planet, it lost contact with earth.
It is still not clear whether the probe can be recovered or not at this point. It is currently in "Safe-Hold Mode," which allows the apparatus to transmit information regarding its location at low speed. Akatsuki automatically activates this emergency mode to restore its stability, and uses its solar panel to independently generate energy.
Although coming back in contact with the satellite here on earth will take some time, Akatsuki will use its low-gain antenna to communicate new information regarding its present location. The space probe, Hayabusa, returned to earth earlier this year also in "Safe-Hold Mode," bringing back grains of dust from a small near-Earth asteroid.
Data analysis thus far suggests that Akatsuki is not broken. It will be confirmed whether the satellite successfully entered Venus' orbit or not on the morning of December 8th, Yomiuri News reported.
Akatsuki is Japan's first satellite to orbit Venus. Although Russian and American satellites have also reached Venus, their atmospheric data of the planet is limited.
The satellite's development and launch cost approximately $300 million.
Japan’s Foreign Minister, Seiji Maehara (前原 誠司) resigned this Sunday upon allegations of accepting a ¥50,000 ($607) political donation from a South Korean national resident in Japan, Reuters has reported.
Mr. Maehara, potential successor to Prime Minister Naoto Kan, argued it had been accepted unknowingly from a childhood friend he knew long before entering politics, Asahi News quotes him as saying. If done intentionally, accepting these donations violates Japan’s law. This measure is intended to prevent foreign powers from influencing Japanese domestic affairs.
I apologize to the Japanese people for stepping down after only six months and provoking distrust over a problem with my political funding, although I have sought to pursue a clean style of politics - Mr. Seiji Maehara
Just two days earlier, Mr. Maehara said his ministry was reviewing the ODA (Official Development Assistance) to cut Japan’s aid to China, Mainichi News reported. The ODA’s goal is to assist developing nations with socioeconomic infrastructure. However, China has recently overtaken Japan as the world’s second largest economy, thus making the assistance moot. Mr. Maehara– also known as a “China hawk” – has recently criticized China’s increasing investment in military build-up. Prime Minister Naoto Kan of the Democratic Party (DPJ) was quick to back Maehara in this decision.
This resignation is a blow to Mr. Kan’s already vacillating government. According to Reuters News Agency, Kan is struggling to prevent the DPJ from collapsing, thus calling the nation to anticipated elections. He is also facing antagonism from the opposition, which is reluctant to implement his fiscal reform that aims at increasing sales taxes to 5% in order to cover Japan’s enormous public debt.
Natsuo Yamaguchi, of Japan’s center-right opposition party, the New Komeito (NKP) said:
The Kan government has lost the confidence of the people. There can only be a resignation of the entire cabinet or a dissolution of the lower house.
This is not the first call for a general election that Mr. Kan’s government has faced. Opposition to the party is not surprising: the DPJ became the ruling party in 2009, defeating the rightist Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) which had been in power for nearly 54 consecutive years since 1955.
Apart from a soaring public debt, Japan is currently struggling to hoist itself from an economic slump and is battling the high costs of its super-aging-society.
Out of sheer curiosity, I recently wrote a short program in PHP that computes a list of the most used kanji (logographic Chinese characters used in Japanese) on the Japanese daily, Asahi news. The program scans the page where the latest articles are listed, takes those entries, stores them in an array and enters each link. It then looks at the article, strips out all unnecessary characters leaving only the kanji and outputs the results in reverse order by most used.
This is useful in several ways. First, if one would like to hone his Japanese newspaper reading skills, by knowing which kanji appear most often in the daily, one can focus on learning those kanji combinations first and work his way down to the more obscure combinations afterwards. Second, if this program is executed over time (ex. once a day for a year), it will return a fairly comprehensive list of kanji that one should focus on learning for the sake of newspaper comprehension. Lastly, some may find it interesting from a technical perspective.
The 50 most used Japanese kanji on the 2/22/2012 edition of Asahi online are:
The 20 less frequent are:
This is also an excellent tool for improving one's reading of long strings of concatenated kanji, such as 無職小野沢昌智容疑者 or even longer, 地域経済産業活性化対策費補助金.
You can see the code here. The script execution time takes several minutes so if you decide to run it, please be patient. Also, please use it with care as it does put some strain on Asahi's servers.
In Tokyo, the orders of one appetizer provider fell more than 90% from previous years, according to a report by Jiji Press. In Happo-en, a popular wedding venue in Tokyo, over 60 reservations have been postponed and at least three have been canceled. “Self-restraint” was cited as the primary reason for all cancellations and deferments, Jiji Press reported.
with the extensive coverage of the disaster zone, jishuku has become a way for people in Tokyo to express solidarity at a time of crisis [...] Jishuku is the easiest way to feel like you’re doing something, though perhaps there isn’t much thought put into how much these actions make a difference overall.
After the catastrophic earthquake (Japan's Meteorological Agency revised the magnitude to 9.0 on the Richter Scale) on March 11, the condition of the nuclear plants near the quake-struck area has become the focus of the international community.
On March 14, at 11:01 am, a hydrogen explosion occurred at Unit 3 of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant. According to the International Atomic Energy Agency, the control room of Unit 3 remains operational. However, there is now fear that reactor N. 3 may also burst.
Two days ago, an explosion occurred at reactor N.1 of the same plant. Four workers were injured while attempting to fix the situation at the facility; three more reported subsequent injuries from other on-site incidents. In addition, one worker was exposed to higher-than-normal radiation levels. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) posted on its website:
The Japanese authorities have classified the event at Fukushima Daiichi Unit 1 as a level 4 "Accident with Local Consequences" on the International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale (INES). The INES scale is used to promptly and consistently communicate to the public the safety significance of events associated with sources of radiation. The scale runs from 0 (deviation) to 7 (major accident). - IAEA Japan Earthquake Update (12 March 2011, 21:10 CET)
At least 190 people have been exposed to the radiation released from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant explosion, according to Asahi News.
An article in the Italian newspaper, La Repubblica, quotes French experts who confirmed that the white cloud that was released from the explosion at Fukushima Daiichi, charged with iodine-131 and caesium-137, released a dangerous quantity of radioactive material in the air.
On 13 March, the French embassy in Tokyo warned its nationals to leave the Tokyo area "for a few days," due to the threat posed by the Fukushima nuclear plant and potential risks of more earthquakes throughout the archipelago. A day before, the Hong Kong government issued a Black Outbound Travel Alert (OTA), urging people to avoid traveling to Fukushima prefecture. The U.S. embassy has also called for its citizens to evacuate Tokyo, and according to Yonhap News, South Korea has issued a Level 2 advisory for areas around the plant and a Level 1 advisory for Tokyo and Chiba.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Edano Yukio said there was a "low possibility" of a dangerous radiation leak, adding that water was still being pumped into the reactor to cool it down. TEPCO, the operator of Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant, stressed that although the nuclear plant framework and the reactors had burst, the core was still intact.
However, the situation is still precarious. A Yomiuri News report said that after the 9.0 earthquake struck Japan, 11 nuclear reactors of two operators, TEPCO and Tohoku Electric Power, performed automatic shut down due to strong shakes. And according to Japan’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA) and both operators, only No. 3 reactor of Fukushima Daini (i.e. "the second”) Nuclear Power and No. 1 and No. 3 reactors of Onagawa Nuclear Power Plant achieved stable “cold shutdown” state, which implies that the remaining eight reactors require continuous cooling. This will require careful handling.
Some Japanese experts are not optimistic about the current situation. Aritomi Masanori, director of the Research Laboratory for Nuclear Reactors in Tokyo Institute of Technology, believed that the No. 3 reactor is in a more threatening state than that of No. 1 reactor. He said that the water level inside the pressure vessel has not increased after the operator started pumping seawater as a coolant. This could signify that the steel reactor container might have been damaged, and the black smoke during explosion could potentially contain radioactive material.
As per the explosion of No.1 reactor on 11 March, before the first explosion occurred (15:36 Japan time), as much as 170 cm of the fuel rods were reportedly exposed above the water from 10:04 to 15:28, according to information from the Office of Japan’s Prime Minister.
In view of the scarce information available, Goto Masashi, a former Toshiba engineer who specialized in designing containment vessels of reactors, warned that the cooling system was the core of the problem. He repeatedly urged Japanese government officials to disclose more information regarding the reactors, such as temperature inside the vessel.
Goto pointed out in a press conference on March 13 that using seawater as coolant is not appropriate given the design of the reactors; rather, a high power pump is required. The sudden increase in pressure in addition to the high temperature within the vessel could lead to severely adverse consequences.
Goto said that the out-datedness of these facilities was one of the several causes of the explosion, and admitted that the magnitude of this earthquake had exceeded all precautionary assumptions that had been postulated during their design. The pressure in the containment vessel rose to about 1.5 to 2 times the level it could sustain, he added. Toshiba supplied reactor units 3 and 5 of Fukushima Daiichi Reactor, while General Motors furnished reactor unit 1.
The Fukushima disaster has prompted many European countries to scrutinize domestic nuclear safety. German Chancellor Angela Merkel staged a crisis meeting with key ministers on Saturday, before the second explosion occurred, wherein she emphasized the importance of nuclear safety within Germany and within the EU at large, AFP reported.
As if mother nature had not punished the Land of the Rising Sun enough, after 52 years of inactivity, the Shinmoedake vulcano erupted in the southern island of Kyushu on March 13, covering the sky with a blanket of soot.
Contributing writer: Andreas Rosendahl Hansen
The catastrophic quake and following tsunami that hit Japan the 11th of March has received extensive media coverage all around the globe. The scope of the catastrophe is enormous and thousands of Japanese along the Northeastern coast and even the inland have lost their homes and have limited access to water, food and shelter due to broken down infrastructure; aid agencies from all around the world are struggling to to reach those in need and assess the scope of the situation.
One incident in particular has captured the attention of worldwide media: the situation at the Japanese Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. While the media coverage has been intensive with numerous pictures of collapsing structures and interviews with nervous Japanese officials, the information flow as to what has really happened and to what extent Japan is experiencing a nuclear hazard has been very nontransparent and fraught with exaggerations and hyperbole.
To explicate my point, I will firstly compare the situation at Fukushima with the biggest nuclear disaster in human history – Chernobyl – and in doing so, I will evince whether or not a disaster of the same magnitude could occur in Japan. Second, I will look into the media coverage of the situation and assess whether or not the media has a bias in cases such as this.
If one wants to compare Chernobyl and Fukushima, the overall construction and layout of the plants is a good place to start. Dr. Josef Oehman, Ph.D and research assistant at MIT writes the following about the construction of the Fukushima plant:
The plants at Fukushima are Boiling Water Reactors (BWR for short). A BWR produces electricity by boiling water, and spinning a turbine with that steam. The nuclear fuel heats water, the water boils and creates steam, the steam then drives turbines that create the electricity, and the steam is then cooled and condensed back to water, and the water returns to be heated by the nuclear fuel. The reactor operates at about 285 °C. (…)
The core is then placed in the pressure vessel. The pressure vessel is a thick steel vessel that operates at a pressure of about 7 MPa (~1000 psi), and is designed to withstand the high pressures that may occur during an accident. The pressure vessel is the third barrier to radioactive material release.
The entire primary loop of the nuclear reactor – the pressure vessel, pipes, and pumps that contain the coolant (water) – are housed in the containment structure. This structure is the fourth barrier to radioactive material release. The containment structure is a hermetically (air tight) sealed, very thick structure made of steel and concrete. This structure is designed, built and tested for one single purpose: To contain, indefinitely, a complete core meltdown. To aid in this purpose, a large, thick concrete structure is poured around the containment structure and is referred to as the secondary containment.
In other words, the containment structure is built to withstand and contain a meltdown indefinitely. The nuclear power plant of Chernobyl had no such containment, as all Soviet nuclear power plants were built with the development of plutonium in mind. The plutonium was from the uranium fuel rods of the power plant, but in order to avoid contamination of the plutonium, the rods had to be changed relatively often, which made a hermetically sealed containment inconvenient. This meant that when disaster struck, radiation was leaked directly into the atmosphere.
Another difference is the system of moderation in the two reactors. All nuclear power plants today operate using nuclear fission, wherein a neutron is absorbed into the nucleus of a uranium isotope causing it to split, releasing heat in the process. This heat is then used to boil water, which drives turbines producing power. In order to control the reaction, control rods that absorb neutrons are inserted between the fuel rods (this is what moderation means). That is not all: in water-based reactors like Fukushima, the coolant itself helps absorbing neutrons. However, in Chernobyl, the reactor was moderated with flammable graphite. That meant that when an explosion shattered the outer casing, graphite fell into the reactor and fueled the fire causing radioactive smoke to spread. This fire lasted for thirteen days and all the while radioactive material was released into the atmosphere.
Also, it is important to stress that all the reactors at the Fukushima plant have been shut down and this happened as soon as warnings about the earthquake started to come in. The reason why the reactors still need cooling is the residual heat generated by the fission products.
Essentially, the chance that the Fukushima incident will evolve into something as bad as Chernobyl is virtually null. The containment is built for the sole purpose of keeping radiation and heat from a meltdown inside. Also, the whole construction of the Fukushima reactor is such that a meltdown (a situation, where all the fuel melts together and start generating huge amounts of heat and radiation) cannot happen. I encourage anybody interested in the matter to read Dr. Josef Oehmans assessment of the situation, which also explains the explosions that has happened in all three reactors. Even if the containment should fail, the release of radiation will be greatly retarded by the fact that the Fukushima reactors are moderated by water and not flammable graphite.
Anyone following the situation in Japan closely will undoubtedly have noticed the strong one-sidedness and anti-nuclear bias in the media coverage. While some critique, such as Iouli Andeevs critique of the spent fuel deposit, and former member of the Japanese Nuclear Safety Committee, Dr. Katsuhiko Ishibashi's critique of building plants near fault zones are undoubtedly justified, reactions to the situation have been verging on the hysterical. Even before the damage and hazard level of Fukushima had been properly determined, German chancellor Angela Merkel announced that she plans to shut down all German nuclear power plants built before 1980 and Japanese are migrating south from Tokyo in the thousands due to a marginal rise in radiation levels. The Fukushima plant has endured the fifth largest earthquake in the history of man and a following 10 meter tsunami and while the situation remain uncertain and Japanese authorities are struggling to keep the situation under control, the IAEA is, at the time of writing, yet to disclose any information that there has been any radiation leakage that poses any major health hazard to even the local area. In any case, even if the Fukushima incident should turn out to be a major health hazard, there is virtually zero chance that any German plant, or any European plant for that matter, would ever be subject to a natural disaster of such magnitude. Furthermore, use of terminology in the press such as ‘nuclear explosion’ when referring to the explosions due to hydrogen buildups in the vented steam and the frequent mentioning of radiation danger without assessing its hazard level has contributed with nothing other than undue panic and taken the focus away from the thousands of Japanese who are in real danger and immediate need of shelter, medical attention and aid.
There is no doubt that the situation at Fukushima remains extremely serious. Workers are still struggling to keep water levels sufficiently high and unconfirmed rumors hints at a leakage from the containment shell of one of the reactors and cooling by helicopters were canceled due to rising radiation levels above reactor three. However, no matter what the situation in Fukushima will evolve into, the population of Japan has the right to unbiased and accurate radiation hazard assessments and information related to the incident, so they do not have to endure unnecessary worries in an already excruciatingly difficult situation.
[The Japanese] play up suicide as Americans play up crime and they have the same vicarious enjoyment of it. They choose to dwell on events of self-destruction instead of on the destruction of others … [Suicide] meets some need that cannot be filled by dwelling on other acts.
the hero’s obsession with death, furthermore, is placed in a historical setting. He feels his future to be a burden. Accordingly the prospect of death on the battlefield and even in an air-raid is attractive to him.
if there were a link between increased educational participation and lower suicide rates, then young adolescent suicide rates should have dropped after the war. … In short, suicide rates for this group do not seem to be affected even by dramatic changes in the overall educational system.
in a man’s attachment to life there is something stronger than all the ills in the world. The body’s judgment is as good as the mind’s, and the body shrinks from annihilation.