Fukushima: On Whose Minds?
October 29th, 2013
I saw this in Bloomberg today, highlighted on Sullivan's blog:
As Tokyo shook early Saturday morning and loud shrieks from mobile-phone earthquake-warning alarms filled bedrooms around the city, one word immediately sprung to mind: Fukushima. Those who don't reside 135 miles away from the worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl won't understand this reaction. But the first thing most of Tokyo's 13 million residents do once things stop wobbling is check if all's well at the Fukushima Dai-Ichi plant still leaking radiation into the atmosphere and the Pacific Ocean.My first reaction to reading this was, “What?” That's not what I do. That's not what anyone I know does. This guy is full of shit. Cell phones did not go off last weekend. The alarm system only activates if an earthquake measuring 5 or greater on the Japanese damage scale hits, and last weekend was a 4. And people here do not nervously scramble to see if Fukushima was set off. Quakes have been so common here for the past few years, people just go, “Well, that wasn't so big” and go back to their business. If one thing springs to everyone's minds when the alarms do go off, it's more likely, “Will this one hit Tokyo?” This brings me back to the days after the big earthquake, when western news sources were reporting on the “panic gripping Tokyo” and the streets being deserted as everyone was “fleeing” the city. Which was, of course, complete and utter crap. The streets downtown were empty because businesses were closed, the trains were not running, and people were not coming to work or going shopping in the center of the city. Few people fled the city, and of those who did, many were non-Japanese who were panicked more from western news sources than anything else. That was such a notable exception that a new word was even coined to describe them: flyjin, a play on the Japanese word for foreigner, gaijin. Japanese people mostly sat tight. And panic did not grip the city. People were tense, concerned—but there was no panic. And now? Does everyone immediately think of Fukushima after every quake and check on Fukushima's status? Don't make me laugh. Fukushima is in the news still, but people mostly ignore it nowadays. I rarely hear anyone talk about it. And after a quake, most people don't check anything, except maybe for a few worriers. The reporter who wrote that dreck actually seems to live in Tokyo. He should know better. My best guess is that he was trying to stir up interest in his writing by adding drama. People in the U.S. seem to be more rattled over Fukushima than do people in Japan—which is ironic, since the levels of radiation in Tokyo have been barely above normal background radiation. In fact, even at the height of the crisis, Tokyo was exposed to no more radiation than is consistently experienced in Denver (due to high altitude), save for very brief peaks. Fukushima, naturally, is much worse. But Tokyo? We're not sweating much here.