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Thursday, March 17, 2011


I know that disasters and tragedies sell papers and boost ratings.  But I find it inexcusable that most of the media reports dealing with what is going on in Japan lack even the most basic contextual reference points for laymen to be able to understand how bad things really are.

Some reports are tossing around meaningless terms like 'low level radiation', 'higher radiation levels', etc., when talking about the amount of radiation that has been released.  And others are including values without helping the news audience understand what those values actually mean.

Unlike hurricanes, tsunamis, and to some extent even earthquakes, radiation is precisely quantifiable.  Which makes it all the more egregious that the people in the know aren't consistently sharing the radiation values... and even when they are, the media isn't passing them along in a meaningful context.

I have found the chart below to be helpful in figuring out what the reports actually mean (source):


I've been to Japan many times, and have visited the museum in Nagasaki that sits next to 'Peace Park' (the ground zero point of the A Bomb explosion there). 

Radiation is to the Japanese as the Holocaust is to Jews.  It is so much more than any historical or scientific explanation can ever touch or define.  It is a wound in the national psyche that will never fully heal.

I can't imagine being Japanese right now.

Posted by David Bogner on March 17, 2011 | Permalink


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This is the most fascinating yet most dreadful thing I've read. Thanks Trep (though not sure "thanks" is quite the right word) for enlightening us. Your comment that radiation is to the Japanese what the Shoah is to us is very profound. I hadn't thought of that aspect at all.

May Hashem have mercy on them all.

Posted by: anneinpt | Mar 17, 2011 10:21:51 AM

And Ynet had an article yesterday about there may be a sushi shortage in Israel. I cringed. Yeah, because we should be worried about whether or not we have enough sushi to eat with nearly 2 million people displaced.
How completely thoughtless.

Posted by: Naomi | Mar 17, 2011 10:39:36 AM

I find much of TV coverage in the US goulish an ill-informed,quite a combination. Well clothed,fed and paid US reporters among people who have lost everything turns my stomach,as does encouraging radiation panic.

Posted by: ED | Mar 17, 2011 3:33:17 PM

For added confusion, folks will use the wrong measurements, wrong terms and talk about "X times normal!" without saying what measure of normal they're using. (I nearly had a heart attack when they told me folks had tested positive for radiation sickness... no, it was exposure, you twerps....)

No idea what other folks' news are doing, but every main stream source I've heard is calling in "college kids against nukes!" and the "Association for blaming every death in my family for the last 70 years on nuclear power, and suing!" (I wish I were joking.)

Posted by: Foxfier | Mar 17, 2011 5:41:38 PM

I am not ignoring the tragedy but I must say that I am impressed with Japanese engineering. If you look at the enormous size of the original quake, the tsunami and the aftershocks- it is amazing that more didn't come tumbling down.

I have wondered about the safety of the people who are trying to stop the meltdown and whether they are sacrificing their lives to save others. What sort of protective gear do they have and is it enough. Such a sad situation.

Posted by: Jack | Mar 17, 2011 8:47:40 PM

This provides context without the details themselves. What ARE the exposure levels in Japan right now?

Posted by: Sarah | Mar 18, 2011 2:04:22 PM

greatly depends on where you're at, and the measurements vary. (The reports of a "Navy ship" being exposed to "a month's worth of radiation" were only sort-of accurate-- the deck crew was exposed, when you got deep enough into the information.) I haven't heard of any measurements that are high enough to get on the chart, though.

Posted by: Foxfier | Mar 18, 2011 4:10:15 PM

"Radiation is to the Japanese as the Holocaust is to Jews. It is so much more than any historical or scientific explanation can ever touch or define. It is a wound in the national psyche that will never fully heal."

This is a really bad analogy. As unfortunate as it was, the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaky ended the war on the Pacific, a war of conquest, enslavement and murder unleashed by the fanatic, death-worshipping japanese militaristic aristocracy, with full agreement from the "divine" emperor and widespread support of the japanese people. A war that could have lasted for who knows how long, with casualties reaching the millions.

If you want to make some comparison to the holocaust, that would be the wholesale murder, rape and torture of the chinese, philliphino and korean peoples by the japanese army (just the Nankin massacre claimed the lives of around 200.000-300.000).

Posted by: Sérgio | Mar 19, 2011 4:20:13 AM

I find that the news coverage of the Japanese disaster(s) quite frustrating: little real information, the same pictures over and over again, ...
Such coverage just creates an impression of helplessness that helps no one.

Posted by: Ilana-Davita | Mar 20, 2011 10:25:58 AM

Hope you are ok, it is so unusual for you not to write for such a long period.

Posted by: yaffa glass | Mar 21, 2011 1:48:11 PM

Randall Munroe (of XKCD fame) also made a radiation chart, which includes the radiation released from the Fukushima reactor:

Posted by: Av | Mar 21, 2011 3:08:28 PM

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