Over the last couple of days the media in Japan has been wracked by another nuclear contamination scandal. It turns out that radioactive caesium levels some four times higher than government-set safety levels have been found in the meat from 6 cows from a single farm in Fukushima. Not only that, but some of the meat had already entered the distribution chain when this was found out. Some has been sold and efforts are being made to track down the rest.
Well, how much of a disaster is this really?
Not much, it turns out. Sure, the meat has levels of contamination 4 times the safety limit, but that is starting from a very low base. The safety limits for these things are set at the very bottom of a very large range of possible safety levels. This is done because governments (especially the Japanese government) are concerned about being 'on the safe side'. The 'safe side' is in fact very very very safe, because there is actually very little reliable data (read nil) on the long-term effects of very low-dose radiation in food supplies, leading to very conservative or even paranoid safety levels. In fact you will not be able to find a respectable scientific or medical source that says eating this meat is unsafe. This was reflected in tonight's news. It featured 30 minutes of reports on the 'fear' aspects of the incident: criticism of the inspection system that let the beef slip through; footage of 'contaminated' farms; interviews with concerned mothers; speculations on how much meat may have already been sold; and lengthy reports of government efforts to track down the remainder. In contrast, there was a mere 10-second clip of a medical scientist, who stated bluntly that the eating the beef could not harm human health, and that eating kilos of it would give you no more radiation that you would receive during a chest x-ray.
That contrast, between 30 minutes of fear and 10 seconds of reality should be very instructive.
It tells you all you need to know about the nuclear 'crisis' in Japan.
In a nicely ironic aside, in the last five minutes of tonight's news viewers were given a little glimpse of the real negative effects of the accident at Fukushim. In parliament today Prime Minister Naoto Kan stated that the set goal of a 25% reduction in carbon dioxide levels by 2020 'would need to be revised' as due to the effects of the accident in Fukushima Japan would be unable to rely on nuclear power to the extent it has until now.
Yet another example of how the real problem here is not radiation, but fear of radiation.