Random Wednesday Journalism Rant

I’m fascinated by the disappearance of the Malaysian airplane. All this communications technology onboard the thing, and nobody has been able to use that to pinpoint the place where we can find it now. So strange. Such fertile ground for talk of terror, or war, or other exciting reasons for 200+ people to vanish from the sky in their flying metal tube.

This was refreshing to read, though. From “Cutting Through the Bullshit Surrounding Flight MH370″:

Sprawling news organizations struggle to feed 24-hour news channels and constantly updated blogs with the meager rations available—each morsel is sniffed and inspected and toyed with hour after hour until every last drop of flavor has been extracted. And when the facts run out, you can always rely on the efforts of experts cum storytellers, who will be happy to spin yarns from the thinnest and most fragile of threads in exchange for a bit of exposure.

Such a great quote. A solid article, too, and worth reading in its whole. But it’s a shame that it had to come from a publication that not even a week ago also published this account of a visit to the town of Tomioka, six kilometers south of Fukushima Daiichi. Matsumura Naoto, one of the very few people still in the town, talks about the ongoing operation to remove fuel rods from a storage pool at the stricken nuclear plant:

“If they screw up, we’re all in big trouble. I imagine they’ll put the fuel in containers inside the pool and then pull those out. If they drop one of those and there’s a leak, then everyone here’ll be dead from radiation exposure”

Everyone. Dead. Now this is just a quote from a justifiable angry local resident, so I cannot come down hard on this guy for what he has to say. But Vice, on the other hand, lets us know where the death could come from: “One of the dangers of a broken fuel rod at this point would be a very sudden release of krypton-85, a cancer-causing isotope in the local vicinity.” 85Kr is a beta emitter with a half-life of about 10.8 years. Scary stuff to be sure, but the article doesn’t provide the details of how it is going to travel the six kilometers to Tomioka to kill all the residents.

Or, for that matter, the details on how they have managed to survive so far. Numbers listed in this Wikipedia article state that 180 PBq of 85Kr made its way into the global atmosphere from warhead tests last century, and another 180 PBq or so from Chernobyl. Totally vaporizing every single fuel rod at Fukushima Daiichi and blowing that into the air would probably add a similar amount once again. This is not the likely outcome of “a broken fuel rod,” though.

Tomioka lost 256 residents to the quake and tsunami—1.6% of the town’s population. No word yet on how many Tomioka people have succumbed to radiation poisoning. But I don’t think Vice will be reporting on that anytime soon.

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