~ This post was written by team member Caroline Sharp
When Cindy first approached me about contributing to this project, I was pretty sure I knew about as much about Chornobyl as the next person, which is to say, next to nothing. Okay, so maybe (as our recent foray to The Grove demonstrates) a little more than the next person, but still nothing to hang my hat on. My journey in educating myself of the subject has been heartbreaking, rage-inducing, and really illuminating; not just about the situation at Chornobyl, but the human condition in general.
The recent events in Japan have put my Chornobyl education into very sharp focus: you know that place where you know just enough to be really frightened, but not quite enough to actually know what you’re frightened of? I’m a pretty resourceful person, and I want to know all the facts, so I thought I’d share some of the results of my research into what’s actually going on at the Fukushima Nuclear Plant. In moments of international crisis like this – misinformation can spread as fast (or faster if it’s particularly sensational) than the real story, and for non-experts, such as myself, it can be frustratingly difficult to separate fact from fiction.
NPR has been interviewing experts of every stripe for days. They have accumulated all their stories, interviews and commentary into this primer.
Mother Jones, a political news periodical, has gotten a lot of attention lately for it’s investigative pieces that seek to explicate complicated current events (the protests and instability in Egypt and Libya, the demonstrations and political maneuvering in Wisconsin, the budget debate in Washington, etc.) for the layman. They have a really excellent piece that makes the very complicated subject of nuclear science easier to grasp, and they’re updating it regularly as news from Japan comes in.
One of my favorite daily reads is the tech blog Gizmodo. They have a pretty well-documented interest in Chornobyl and in nuclear power in general, and they have a comprehensive breakdown of events as well. This article also has a whole mess of links, to Boing-Boing, the BBC, Salon, Al Jazeera, The Atlantic and more! It’s a black-hole time-suck of really good science lessons.
A significant link on the Gizmodo page is to this Salon article, which thoroughly debunks a viral blog post that you may have seen by a Dr. Josef Oehmen at MIT. MIT is currently hosting this blog post, they have not taken it down, but I would say read it with a grain of salt (or at least read it with this Salon piece.)
On the subject of misinformation, this map has been going around (before you look at it, know that it’s a hoax – I’m only including it so you’ll know what it looks like in case someone sends it to you or you see it come up in your research):
It purports to be an estimated trajectory of nuclear fallout from the Fukushima plant released by Australian Radiation Services and has their logo, but they don’t claim it and the map isn’t hosted or displayed anywhere on their website. (Another key factor that reveals this to be less than savory, is in the legend. A real fallout map wouldn’t be measured in RADs. RAD is a medical term that stands for Radiation Absorbed Dose, meaning how much radiation is absorbed by an individual, not how much material is in the air or how radioactive it is. http://www.nrc.gov/about-nrc/radiation/health-effects/measuring-radiation.html) I would be very skeptical about any source of information that includes this map.
For me, knowledge is the best antidote to fear. These are uncertain times in general, and after the tragic events in Japan over the last few days it is even more important to make sure we have as much knowledge and awareness as possible.