*News coverage of Fukushima disaster found lacking; Few reports identified health risks to public — Celine-Marie Pascale, American University via Science Daily

” Five years after the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in Japan, the disaster no longer dominates U.S. news headlines, although experts say it is a continuing disaster with broad implications. A new analysis by American University sociology professor Celine-Marie Pascale finds that U.S. news media coverage following the disaster minimized health risks to the general population.

Pascale analyzed more than 2,000 news articles from four major U.S. outlets following the disaster’s occurrence from March 11, 2011 through March 11, 2013. Only 6 percent of the coverage–129 articles–focused on health risks to the public in Japan or elsewhere. Human risks were framed, instead, in terms of workers in the disabled nuclear plant. Pascale’s research has published in the flagship journal for the International Sociology Association, Current Sociology.

Disproportionate access

“It’s shocking to see how few articles discussed risk to the general population, and when they did, they typically characterized risk as low,” said Pascale, who studies the social construction of risk and meanings of risk in the 21st century. “We see articles in prestigious news outlets claiming that radioactivity from cosmic rays and rocks is more dangerous than the radiation emanating from the collapsing Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.”

Pascale studied news articles, editorials, and letters to the editor from two newspapers, The Washington Post and The New York Times, and two nationally prominent online news sites, Politico and The Huffington Post. These four media outlets are among the most prominent in the United States. They also are among the most cited by television news, talk shows, other newspapers, social media and blogs Pascale said.

Nuclear disasters have potentially large-scale and long-term consequences for people, environments, and economies around the globe. Given limited public knowledge about the details of nuclear energy and encumbered access to disaster sites, the media have disproportionate power around the globe to shape public knowledge, perception, and reaction to nuclear crises, Pascale said. Pascale’s article illustrates how systematic media practices minimized the presence of health risks, contributed to misinformation, and exacerbated uncertainties.

Pascale’s analysis initially characterized the risk to the general population in one of three ways: low, uncertain, or high. However, when examining the bases on which these characterizations were made, it was clear that all media characterizations of uncertain risk were subsequently interpreted as evidence of low risk. In two years of reporting, across all four media outlets, there were only a combined total of 17 articles reporting any noteworthy risk from the largest nuclear disaster in history.

Corporations and government agencies had disproportionate access to framing the event in the media, Pascale says. Even years after the disaster, government and corporate spokespersons constituted the majority of voices published. News accounts about local impact–for example, parents organizing to protect their children from radiation in school lunches–were also scarce.

Globalization of risk

Pascale says her findings show the need for the public to be critical consumers of news; expert knowledge can be used to create misinformation and uncertainty–especially in the information vacuums that arise during disasters.

“The mainstream media–in print and online–did little to report on health risks to the general population or to challenge the narratives of public officials and their experts,” Pascale said. “Discourses of the risks surrounding disasters are political struggles to control the presence and meaning of events and their consequences. How knowledge about disasters is reported can have more to do with relations of power than it does with the material consequences to people’s lives.”

While it is clear that the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear meltdown was a consequence of an earthquake and tsunami, like all disasters, it was also the result of political, economic and social choices that created or exacerbated broad-scale risks. In the 21st century, there’s an increasing “globalization of risk,” Pascale argues.

“People’s understanding of disasters will continue to be constructed primarily by media. How media members frame the presence of risk and the nature of disaster has enormous consequence for our well-being,” she said. ”

by Celine-Marie Pascale, American University

source with academic citations available


Japan regulators OK costly ice wall at Fukushima plant — AP via ABC News

” Japanese regulators on Wednesday approved the use of a giant refrigeration system to create an unprecedented underground frozen barrier around buildings at the wrecked Fukushima nuclear plant in an attempt to contain leaking radioactive water.

The Nuclear Regulation Authority said the structure, which was completed last month, can now be activated.

The plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co., said it plans to turn on the ice wall on Thursday, starting with the portion near the sea to prevent more contaminated water from escaping into the Pacific Ocean. The system will be started up in phases to allow close monitoring and adjustment.

Nearly 800,000 tons of radioactive water that is already being stored in 1,000 industrial tanks at the plant has been hampering the decontamination and decommissioning of the nuclear facility, which was damaged by a massive earthquake and tsunami in 2011.

The success of the ice wall is believed to be key to resolving the plant’s water woes.

The 35 billion yen ($312 million) government-funded project, proposed by construction giant Kajima Corp., is more than a year behind schedule because of technical uncertainties. Some experts are still skeptical of the technology and question whether it’s worth the huge cost.

The project consists of refrigeration pipes dug 30 meters (100 feet) underground that are designed to freeze the soil around them. They are supposed to form a 1.5-kilometer (0.9-mile) wall around the reactor and turbine buildings to contain radioactive water and keep out groundwater.

At a meeting Wednesday of the nuclear agency, Chairman Shunichi Tanaka cautioned against high expectations because the success of the project depends in part on nature. “It would be best to think that natural phenomena don’t work the way you would expect,” he later told reporters.

Similar methods have been used to block water from parts of tunnels and subways, but a structure large enough to surround four buildings and related facilities is untested. A smaller wall was used to isolate radioactive waste at an U.S. Department of Energy laboratory in Tennessee but only for six years. The decommissioning of the Fukushima plant is expected to take decades.

Three damaged reactors at the plant must be continually cooled with water to keep their melted cores from overheating. The water, which becomes radioactive, leaks out through cracks and other damaged areas into the reactor basements, where it mixes with groundwater, increasing the volume of contaminated water.

Many experts including Tanaka say a “controlled release” of treated water is the only solution to the water woes, but concerns about ocean health make it a contentious subject.

A test of part of the ice wall successfully froze the ground around it, and officials hope the entire wall can be formed within several months, according to Shinichi Nakakuki, a spokesman for the utility, TEPCO.

TEPCO officials say they hope the ice wall will stop most of the flow of groundwater into the area and allow the turbine basements to be dried by 2020, confining the contamination to the three melted reactors.

Asked at the meeting if the ice wall is worth the cost, TEPCO accident response official Toshihiro Imai replied, “Its effect is still unknown, because the expected outcome is based on simulations.” ”

by Mari Yamaguchi, Associated Press