A Natural Experiment: The Fukushima Reactor

 First of all - What is a natural experiment? Wikipediea defines it rather well HERE.

Basically natural experiments are based on events as they happen rather than events that are planned.

The study of disease and infection are the most common uses of a natural experiment. The most famous related to a study in the 1850's that discovered the cause of a Cholera outbreak in London was due to foul drinking water.

So how does this relate to the drama unfolding around the Fukushima Daiichi reactor complex in Japan, and all the other 55 nuclear reactors in Japan for that matter.

Well, I think there are three important natural experiments that can be conducted here. There are certainly, many more.

Here are my Pet three:

  1. The first and most important would be, of course, related to the any potential health issues to the local population.
  2. The second would be concerned with the resilience of Japans nuclear infrastructure to this massive earthquake.
  3. The final one involves an assessment of the accuracy and honesty of the reporting that has gone on. 
So why these three and what should they cover? 

Without a doubt the first two are probably under way and brainpower massively more capable than that of the humble Billothewisp are formulating their criteria. 

But hey! this is my blog so this is what I think they should be considering.

The first natural experiment would consider the health consequences.
  • How many people died from the damage caused to the reactors?
  • What was the total radioactive release? 
  • What are the short term health consequences from these releases for the local population?
  • What are the long term health consequences from these releases for the local population?
  • How long lasting will these affects be?
  • How effective was the mitigation put in place by the Japanese authorities and how appropriate was it to the situation
The second natural experiment relates to the Japanese Nuclear Reactor Fleet
  • How many plants were affected?
  • How old were the worst affected plants?
  • What was the cause of issues that arose?
  • What was the real danger to the public?
  • What level of control was maintained over the reactors?
  • What were the chain of events that lead to the reported problems?
My final natural experiment, I regret to say unlikely to get done. Today's news may well be tomorrow's chip wrapper but the damage from propaganda and irresponsible reporting can last for years.

First here is my opinion of the reportage so far:

The reporting around the unfolding events has (to say the least) been lurid. Many of the reports have started from a pre-supposed position without any factual backup. The majority of the reportage has been inaccurate and sensationalist.

In true news-hack style, many of the worlds news agencies has not let the truth get in the way of a good story.

But that is just my opinion.

So what should out natural experiment consider? Bullet pointing what should be done in this case is less clear, but here are some ideas.

  • First we should  let the media frenzy die down for a while. Then our natural experiment can begin by analysing the news reports and comparing them to the actual events, and the actual potential scenarios.
  • We could trawl through them for accuracy and consider such aspects as event reportage accuracy and the accuracy of the quotations and their context. The end result of this would allow the general population to gauge the integrity of the various news bodies and verify their accuracy (or otherwise). These are essential aspects for future informed decisions by the worlds population.
  • We can also judge the accuracy and "reasonableness" of the various experts quoted by the media.
    Those who provided accurate information can be applauded. Those who mislead or grandstanded on issues they knew little could be named and shamed. Again very important for the general public for future news assessment.
Meanwhile the chaos and trauma in the rest of Japan with its ever mounting death toll (now in excess of 10,000) has been virtually airbrushed out as the news media focus on the drama surrounding  the Fukushima Reactor complex.

I wait for the first results from the first two natural experiments with anticipation. It would be good if someone also did the third experiment, but I am afraid that is unlikely.

It appears our world press loves to make a drama out of a crisis. But the Japanese Earthquake, a crisis several orders of magnitude greater than the Fukushima drama was simply not compelling enough for them. 

Too mundane. 

Just another natural disaster. 

But a a sub issue in the main context of the Japanese Earthquake tragedy, a crippled nuclear reactor  - is much more juicy.


pete said...

You're not that far off:


BilloTheWisp said...

Hi Pete,
Well, I never ditch comments. Even if your site generally propagates just about every fear mongering piece of claptrap that does the rounds in the anti-nuclear lobby.

Last week 30 coal miners died. During the Tsunami (actually at Fukishima) an Dam burst killing at least eight people and sweeping away many houses.

You must have found 3 Mile Island a great personal trauma. But really Pete, you DONT glow in the dark. No one died or will die from 3 Mile Island. If you want to really risk your life, try sweeping the floor in a garage with an asbestos roof.