6827 The Scientific Community's Public Response to the 2011 Tohoku Earthquake

Sunday, February 19, 2012: 3:30 PM
Room 213 (VCC West Building)
Miho Namba , Science Media Center of Japan, Tokyo, Japan
On March 11, 2011, the east coast of Japan was struck by a major earthquake.  The earthquake measured magnitude 9 on the Richter scale.  More than 20,000 lives were lost, mostly due to the tsunami that followed the earthquake, as it destroyed whole villages and towns to their foundations.

On top of this, three nuclear reactors lost power, causing a core meltdown, and the release of radioactive materials into the atmosphere.

I would like to take this opportunity to look over how the Japanese media reacted to this disaster and how they worked with the country’s scientists on the issue.The devastating earthquake struck Japan during the day, meaning that everyone saw live footage of the tsunami approaching land on TV.  Those in front of a TV screen watched mother nature’s power as she ate up whole houses and farms.  News kept rolling in about the extent of damage, including the fact the earthquake damaged one third of Japan’s land, local governments along the seacoast lost administrative functions, and that all three nuclear reactors at Fukushima had been badly damaged. While TV and newspaper companies put all of their effort into reporting about the current situation, damage, and Fukushima, there were many misunderstandings, particularly in regards to Fukushima, which lead to public distrust over the media. Amidst all of this, a number of scientists took a stand and turned to social media tools to get the right information out.  A huge jump in Twitter users in Japan changed public opinion.  However, even here it became apparent there were good and bad communicators, leading to further public distrust in some cases.  These scientists were accused to saying things in favor of those at the centre of attention. But the problems from the disaster have only just started.  It has been reported it will take several decades before the situation at Fukushima settles down.  In this presentation I would like to explore what has happened up to now, and how we can go about in improving science communication.