What to do with my Tor commentators (2), and why no one understands Fukushima radiation.

[Update: Is it commentators or commenters?]

I couldn’t figure out which one of these to discuss (out of so much going on the world), so I am going to say a little about both.

What? Nothing about the GOP primaries, the atrocity in Afghanistan, rising gas prices and how much Obama can or can’t actually do about that? Nope. Nothing. Read enough of the real news, and soon, you are just left in despair.

I was hoping that one or two individuals who left comments about my earlier, IBM Japan, post, would get back to me with more credible identities. They asked some weighty questions in their posts, but I can’t deal with people who are calling out from the shadows, with silly e-mail addresses. You know, the kind that start out ajdlkajfdl or something. Here is your chance to dialogue with little old me, from your perch in Japan or the U.S. (not the Netherlands!), and you done went away.

The Times has a Revkin blog post up about the radiation issue, which is going more to what I would want to see written about it. What I find on the Japan-side expat blogosphere is very flat. As I say, two dimensional. On the one hand, there are writers who refer solely to pure science. They either minimize or make fun of the people who show any concern about radiation in food, or the background radiation levels in Tohoku. They sit with their keyboards, far away from the action, and poo-poo anyone who appears in the media or on the internet, expressing fear about Fukushima Dai’ichi or nuclear power in general.

The other side, of course, are people who are attributing a whole host of catastrophes to The Radiation. And, where the catastrophes are not manifest, then itemizing all the ways that potentially this radiation has despoiled the land and put all their health at risk. From the earliest days of Fukushima, this is what has interested me. To me, the change (I can’t say earth-shattering or “sea change” or anything of the sort without sounding like a bad pun, so just “change”) has been how the Fukushima disaster has driven into the locals in Tohoku, how cheap their lives really were. When the big nuclear disaster hits, you sit there and realize that you’re living next to the granddaddy of public nuisances, and you’re really, really stuck.

Here in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, they of course had the 1979 Three Mile Island incident (TMI, before that meant “too much information”). March 1979 isn’t exactly forgotten here, but I would say it was a crisis that was managed well, only because it didn’t become a major explosion. Reactor #2 had the partial meltdown, and was put out of commission. But the plant is still there, and you can see it from Route 76. There is no “stay away zone”. For many years, a picture of a cooling tower was scary enough. But can you imagine a plant with the roof blown off, or something.

Fukushima is like a Chernobyl. The meltdown was big and bad enough, that it sent plenty of radioactive stuff into the air. This is how people understand it. They don’t want other people, hundreds of miles away, reminding them how safe it all is. It’s like telling a New Yorker that the vast majority of jumbo jet flights are not hijacked by terrorists. It’s about a bad thing happening, and, now, this risk, which was not so apparent before–even it is was present before.

When you look at how the nuclear power arrangement had been made in Japan, it was a political deal where more hardscrabble regions of Japan were given the opportunity to host a nuclear power plant in exchange for the jobs it provided, plus some side cash. There was not a lot of talk about the “what ifs”. It was probably understood that the side cash represented the fact that there were risks, but I wasn’t there. Probably, there were also a lot of understandings and assurances, too. Jobs, cash, and assurances of safety, in return for cheaper electricity for Kantou city people to have airconditioning.

This all changed with Fukushima. Once a bad scenario played out, everyone got to see what happens in such an event. As a result, most all of Japan’s 54 nuclear reactors are offline. Why? Because of concerns about what happens when any one of them blows. I don’t get the sense that the Japanese are poo-pooing each other about the fear of radiation. It’s more like, everyone understands that the previous arrangement, the political arrangement of having these plants, and the money, the juice, and how it was supposed to all work, is finished. To me, the code for this is: fear of radiation.

It may be that few people in Tohoku have trouble in the future specifically because of Fukushima radiation. It may be that more people in Hong Kong or Colorado are exposed to stronger background radiation than in Miyagi Prefecture. But the idea that some Japanese people are going to tolerate a nuclear facility in their environs, under the old deal, is done. And why? Because of the potential for a radiation disaster, which is shorthand for, “hey, runners of Japan, you just showed us how cheap our lives are to you.”

For all the brilliance that some of the Japan-side bloggers attribute to their own figuring out about terabecquerels and whatnot, I can’t see how they miss the basic, human equation, that most people don’t like to be devalued. Especially when an example of the possibilities is starkly in front of them.