This morning, I received a text message about an earthquake in Japan. I had not heard about this so I immediately went to Google News to find out what had happened. Here were Google’s headlines:
Japan trying to fix nuclear plant cooling problem
Nuclear emergency as Fukushima cooling system fails after Japan quake
Quake triggers shutdown of nuclear generators
Japanese PM declares atomic power emergency
Japan declares emergency at nuke plant; no radiation leak now
Quake-hit Japan declares nuclear power emergency
As you probably know by now, news agencies are reporting that this is one of the largest (9.0 Richter) earthquakes in history. Hundreds are reported dead; trains have stopped operating; some airports and highways are closed; tsunamis have caused major damage along the coast of Japan; an oil refinery is on fire; a ship and a passenger train are unaccounted for; cell phone service in Tokyo is out. In other words, this is a major disaster with all of the attendant death and devastation one would expect.
But what does Google report? Nuclear disaster!
Get a grip, guys. Nuclear reactors across Japan shut down automatically, as designed, when instruments detected an earthquake. Yes, at one reactor emergency power to operate the cooling system failed so they had to switch to battery power; they have enough battery power to keep the reactor cooled until backup generators are brought on line and the reactor is shut down gracefully. End of nuclear story.
It took Google about an hour to recognize that, perhaps, the wide-spread catastrophe in Japan was more important than a nuclear reactor that performed as designed during an earthquake.
On Monday, March 14, The Wall Street Journal put the matter in perspective:
“Even while thousands of people are reported dead or missing, whole neighborhoods lie in ruins, and gas and oil fires rage out of control, press coverage of the Japanese earthquake has quickly settled on the troubles at two nuclear reactors as the center of the catastrophe…
“If a meltdown does occur in Japan, it will be a disaster for the Tokyo Electric Power Company but not for the general public. Whatever steam releases occur will have a negligible impact. Researchers have spent 30 years trying to find health effects from the steam releases at Three Mile Island and have come up with nothing. With all the death, devastation and disease now threatening tens of thousands in Japan, it is trivializing and almost obscene to spend so much time worrying about damage to a nuclear reactor.”
You can read the whole article here.