Misreporting Fukushima: A Failure of Science Journalism with Global Repercussions?

Monday, February 20, 2012: 9:45 AM-12:45 PM
Room 118 (VCC West Building)
The Tohoku great earthquake caused thousands of deaths, almost all as a result of the tsunamis, and caused extensive damage to food and water supplies, medical services, power, and communications. Whole towns in Japan were sluiced away by one of the greatest natural disasters to strike a major industrialized nation in a century. But the world's focus was drawn to a potential disaster at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant and the prospect of losing control over its nuclear reactors. According to a recent study, the reporting on Fukushima led to a global drop in support for nuclear power. Six industrialized nations — Germany, Italy, Switzerland, Thailand, Malaysia, and Japan — announced plans to curtail or cancel their nuclear programs despite pressures to reduce fossil fuel–based power generation. Why did global reporting shift from one of the biggest earthquakes in history into a story of nuclear risk? Why does the invisible menace of nuclear power catch the imagination in global reporting unlike other conspicuous tragedies such as earthquakes, population displacement, or destruction of other major infrastructures? Instantaneous global communication now offers an opportunity to get accurate information, scientifically based advice, and valuable informed commentary in seconds. While 24-hour commentary can be noise rich and data poor, this is not inevitable. What steps could be taken to communicate the risks of damage to major infrastructure and avoid a communication meltdown during major disasters?
Julia Wilson, Sense About Science
Michael Hanlon, The Daily Mail
Tracey Brown, Sense About Science
Mark Henderson, The Times
Elizabeth Dowdeswell, Council of Canadian Academies
Nuclear Policy: A Global Environmental and Legal Perspective
Albert Yuan, San Lian Life Weekly
Seismic Quackery, Earthquake Prediction, and Panic
Ramesh Sadhankar, Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd.
A Technical Perspective
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