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Seven weeks after the disastrous earthquake and tsunami that ravaged Japan and precipitated the worst nuclear catastrophe in history, the media blackout continues. The crippled Fukushima reactors persist in spewing radioactive waste in the surrounding environment, but apart from occasional blips in the mainstream media we have little indication as to the real extent of the danger.
Today, for instance, we have the following dramatic headline from Bloomberg News:
Radiation Readings in Fukushima Reactor Rise to Highest Since Crisis Began
Radiation readings at Japan’s Fukushima Dai-Ichi station rose to the highest since an earthquake and tsunami knocked out cooling systems, impeding efforts to contain the worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl.
Two robots sent into the reactor No. 1 building at the plant yesterday took readings as high as 1,120 millisierverts of radiation per hour, Junichi Matsumoto, a general manager at Tokyo Electric Power Co., said today. That’s more than four times the annual dose permitted to nuclear workers at the stricken plant.
But beyond that cursory blurb we have very little in the way of concrete information. It’s worth noting that the permalink for the above story is entitled “Tokyo water radiation falls to zero for first time since crisis.” Isn’t that a bit twisted, considering the ramifications of the headline? Yes, it might be true that iodine-131, cesium-134 and cesium-137 have fallen to undetectable levels in Tokyo’s water supply, but isn’t the real story the fact that they were even there to begin with? Shouldn’t a responsible media cover the potential health consequences of any of these radioactive elements being found – at any level – in the public drinking supply? And these radioactive materials were found in the drinking water of Tokyo, then aren’t they still being found in localities nearer to Fukushima?
The complete dearth of reliable, comprehensive information on the state of the reactors is leading to some interesting consequences. Via Reader Supported News, which has done an excellent job collecting of updates on the reactors, we learn that independent groups – including Greenpeace – have actually started collecting their own data on the extent of the radioactive contamination:
Al Jazeera: Crowdsourcing Japan’s radiation levels
The disaster in Japan has kicked all sorts of activists into high gear – volunteers helping people clear out their tsunami-battered homes, green energy proponents picketing the offices of Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO) and a bunch of DYI-ers who are roaming Japan with hand-made Geiger counters (a hand-held device used to measure radiation), recording radiation levels. You read that last part correctly.
“We were getting frustrated with what was being reported in the media, what was being released by TEPCO, what was being released by the government,” said Sean Bonner, co-founder of Safecast.org, which is currently partially self-funded, partially funded via a Kickstarter fundraiser.
“The information was just kind of unreliable, not updated frequently, no way to fact-check it… So, we just started thinking: What happens if we go get numbers ourselves? Like, is that an option?”
Meanwhile, Greenpeace has sent one of its ships in an attempt to gather data about radiation levels off the coast of Japan. So far, they have been prevented from doing so by the Japanese government:
Now we are getting closer to Fukushima, the Japanese government has begun obstructing our efforts to do independent research. The sparse data published by the government and TEPCO is not enough to understand the real risks of the continuous leakage of radioactive water in the sea.
The Japanese people are in great need of independent information on the radioactive contamination of their seafood supply. Therefore, we are planning to do research on the radioactive contamination of seaweed, fish and shellfish.
Despite this great need for information, the Japanese government today refused a permit to do research within the territorial waters of Japan. We are allowed to conduct research outside this 12 mile zone, but this is not the area where the Japanese catch their fish and collect their seaweed.
Obviously, there is a large element of danger involved in obtaining data on radioactive contamination in the vicinity of the Fukushima plant. But given the lack of information available through official channels, ordinary citizens are forced to take drastic measures. The situation at Fukushima could potentially affect millions of people around the globe, and in the Internet era of shared information and alleged government transparency, it is reprehensible that the relevant information is not being shared with the public — if it is even being collected at all, that is.
The kind of citizen activism we are seeing from Greenpeace and Safecast.org is precisely what is needed in more abundant supply throughout the world. For far too long we have allowed government and corporate entities to act as absolute authorities, controlling the strings and decided what is best for the public at large. While there is nothing inherently evil in allowing government to fulfill that role – it is, in fact, one of the main reasons governments exist – as it stands today there is virtually no distinction between any national government and the vast corporatocracy. As a result, we have little choice but to take matters into our hands when matters of such vital concern are at stake.
Simply put, the modern corporation and the governments that it controls cannot be trusted to act in the public interest. If a circumstance exists in which a choice has to be made between protecting the public and increasing short-term profits, it must be expected that profits will be chosen every single time. It’s simply the nature of the game. So it is all the more important that we acknowledge the heroic efforts that are being undertaken today by independent organizations and individuals in Japan, because these are the only such efforts that will ensure the continued march of human progress and development.