Not news, but a comment (informed one, it seems) on the Great Tokyo Water Scare by a Western blogger, Lewis Page. In the second half of his article, he gives a textbook example of how the media, with some careless reporting, can give a false impression that is quite enough to sow disquiet, anxiety and fear in a whole lot of people, especially in the matter of radioactivity. Can you spot it? (Key points underlined for your convenience.) Blogger Counting Cats in Zanzibar, which is where I found the link to The Register article, comments, “I expect it’s something to do with the unique way it’s funded. TV news is, as I think I’ve probably said before, inherently tabloid in nature.”

Tokyo tapwater – THE NEW GROUND ZERO!!! Fallout!!! Chernobyl!!!Then theres the matter of the tapwater in Tokyo. Two days ago, levels of radioactive iodine-131 were found in the citys water which were above the safety limit for baby milk calculated on the basis of a years consumption: in other words, if babies drank such water for a year constantly they would have a tiny, minuscule extra risk of thyroid cancer.One should note that iodine-131 has a half-life of 8 days: it disappears almost completely within a matter of weeks. The Fukushima reactors have not been generating any more of it since they scrammed nearly a fortnight ago, and the residual core heating which is causing it to be emitted has plunged to tiny proportions of that seen in the days after the quake

via Fukushima scaremongers becoming increasingly desperate • The Register.

It continues…

There was never any chance whatsoever that levels of iodine-131 in the tapwater would remain noticeable for a year, which is what would be necessary for any effects at all on the city’s babies. It was really quite irresponsible of the authorities to recommend that infants shouldn’t drink it. (One can’t help noticing that the first such recommendation reportedly came from the city authorities, belatedly followed by the national government. The Tokyo city governor is from the national opposition party and is facing a tough re-election battle. He had previously sought to use the Fukushima situation to cast his political rivals in a bad light over the deployment of Tokyo’s elite Hyper Rescue firefighters.)

The spurious water announcement, of course, caused pretty much everybody to stop drinking from Tokyo taps and there was a run on bottled water. This was reported globally under such headlines as “Tokyo Water Works is new ground zero” (since retracted, but the Google cache will show you the guilty organisation for a while) even as the announcement came that, of course, the harmless minuscule iodine-131 spike had passed.

There is no sign of the madness abating: reporters are now in a desperate battle to breathe life into the Fukushima non-story, and are resorting to increasingly outrageous methods….

MacKenzie tells us that “Fukushima fallout nears Chernobyl levels“. Normally that wouldn’t matter: unfortunately this article is now all over the internet.

(I think it might be referring to information that was quoted in the Asahi article I referred to a few days ago here.)

… in the case of radio-caesium, … nobody has ever been able to show that this isotope has any health consequences at all: huge amounts were emitted from Chernobyl, but no discernible illnesses have resulted…

Anyway, one meteorologist has decided to try and work back from the worldwide readings to calculate possible emissions figures from Fukushima. It is these figures that New Scientist tell us are “nearing Chernobyl levels”.

Fortunately we can go straight to the source here, and find that in the judgement of Gerhard Wotawa of the Austrian met office (and of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organisation) emissions of iodine-131 from Fukushima could be approximately 20 per cent of those from Chernobyl.

It should be needless to say there is not a hint of a suggestion that anybody will be giving milk with significant levels of iodine-131 in it to children, as happened to about 18 million youngsters after Chernobyl, causing them a tiny increased chance of later developing thyroid cancer (which, unusually for cancer, is easily cured – though you need supplies of radio-iodine from nuclear reactors to do so).

Sadly it does appear to be necessary to say that.

The “fallout” which is “nearing Chernobyl levels” is presumably the still more harmless radio-caesium, which Wotawa theorises may have been emitted from Fukushima in amounts “20-60” per cent of those seen at Chernobyl.

Page has written several articles on the Fukushima crisis. He has not written anything more recent than this one (March 25), but he seems completely unfazed. I wish I could share his boundless optimism, but events today continue to hamper attempts to re-start the cooling system at the damaged No. 2 and No. 3 reactors.

Fukushima’s toxic legacy: Ignorance and fear

Food, water samples OK, Hyper Rescue Super Pump in action

Fukushima: Situation improving all the time

Food, water samples OK, Hyper Rescue Super Pump in action

Fukushima one week on: Situation ‘stable’, says IAEA
Shameful media panic very slowly begins to subside

Fukushima on Thursday: Prospects starting to look good

‘Worst probably over’ says Australian prof
By Lewis Page • Thursday 17 Mar 2011 13:48