October 2, 2011

What Happened to Japan?


Has anyone else noticed that apart from stock market reports, Japan has disappeared completely from the news?

              This past March when Godzilla attacked northern Japan resulting in a massive earthquake and serious damage to a nuclear power plant, the story dominated the news. There was no getting away from it. Not the Godzilla part of course—they kept that well under wraps—but the looming nuclear meltdown. It had the potential to be a far worse disaster than Chernobyl (this time without being hidden away in some remote region of the Ukraine), and one that threatened not only Japan, but much of the world. Within a few short days, the sea water around the plant was already showing highly elevated radiation levels, and radiation levels in milk started to climb on the West Coast of the U.S.

              A small crew of intrepid workers was frantically trying to get the cores of the four damaged reactors under control before they suffered complete meltdowns, and—

              And suddenly the story was gone. The general perception in the media may have been that people were getting bored with the story. Folks didn’t want to hear about bummers like impending nuclear doom with their coffee in the morning. Besides, other things were happening. There was a hurricane that resulted in major flooding on the East Coast, the world economy was a mess, another presidential election season was getting underway, there was a big 9/11 anniversary to celebrate, and a few juicy sex scandals required hourly updates. And don’t forget the new fall television season was looking like it was going to be a doozy! Add in professional sports and all of those things, as I’m sure you’ll see immediately, had to take precedence over some dumb nuclear accident in some foreign country.

              It’s not as if the story was simply bumped down to fourth or fifth priority. It wasn’t just that the ABC Evening News and USA Today stopped covering it in favor of more cute puppy pieces and stories about single working mothers who are also kick boxers. It was blacked out completely. It disappeared from the Times, the Wall Street Journal, CNN, NPR, everywhere. The general consensus among the public seemed to be “Well, those fellows must’ve gotten everything under control and everything will soon be back to normal in Japan. If there was any real problem, they’d be reporting it, right?”

              Well if you do a little research you’ll find that pretty much the only places that have continued to cover the story are The Guardian out of the U.K. and (sad as I am to admit it) assorted bloggers. According to those reports, the situation isn’t well in hand. In fact, it’s only getting worse.

              About a year before all this happened, a friend of Morgan’s moved to Japan to take a job at a university north of Tokyo. After the earthquake she fled with her family for a few months, thinking she’d return after things were back in order. When she returned, however, the city where she’d been living was too contaminated, so she came back to the States. Radiation levels across the country are far higher than were ever officially reported. The trees and grass in Tokyo are dying for no obvious reason. Only a month ago did government officials finally acknowledge that yes, three of the reactors suffered complete meltdowns. Worse still, they burned through the floors of their containment units and deep into the earth. According to physicists, when that happens, should the cores reach the aquifer, they might well begin setting off uncontrolled nuclear reactions deep beneath the earth’s surface. By what few accounts are available, this is exactly what’s happening right now. This is not good news. And, to most of the world, this is no news at all.

              If you look at photos of what plant and human life around Chernobyl looks like now, you’ll get a sense of what Japan will look like in a few years—only much, much worse.

              Most people aren’t aware that in 1999 there was another nuclear disaster in the Ukraine, because that one disappeared from the news after only one day. It starts to make me wonder who has this kind of power. Who could crush this story so universally? Agreeing not to reveal FDR’s wheelchair is one thing; this is a little bigger than that.

              Now, I’m hardly what you’d call an environmentalist, and I don’t pay much attention to energy issues. I don’ t even have anything against nuclear power. But I do like giant monsters and what they leave behind. I enjoy a world-wide disaster as much as anyone, so I want to know what the fuck’s going on here.

              There’s of course been a lot of talk about renewable forms of energy (my god I type that phrase and I feel myself getting bored already). People seem to realize that sources like wind and solar aren’t going to fill the energy needs of seven billion people—especially when assholes insist on complaining that a wind farm will ruin the view from their deck. What’s left is nuclear power. Sure it’s potentially deadly, but hey, what isn’t potentially deadly nowadays, right? Besides if you think about it it’s only very very rarely that nuclear disasters make entire countries uninhabitable for hundreds of years. As a result, with the energy situation in the world being what it is, it’s important that nuclear power remain an option. But it won’t remain an option if a little snafu like the one in Northern Japan makes people think that it’s, y’know, a bad thing. So it’s important from a public relations perspective to keep the occasional glitch out of the public consciousness. Look at the Gulf oil spill, right? Tell everyone that everything’s fine, that all the oil just went away or evaporated or something, and that was the end of it. People filled up their cars without guilt and the oil industry turned record profits. Simple as can be. The nuclear industry realizes this, as do the people who grant the licenses and okay the inspections.

              Look, we gotta lessen our dependency on Middle Eastern oil, right? Get those crazy Muslims off our back? Don’ t you want what’s best for the American people, too? I knew you did. Sure, Japan was a big story and the whole country’s gonna be a dead zone in a decade, but if you can just make everyone look in a different direction for a little while (“Oh my god! Amy Winehouse died!”) everything will be A-OK. I wouldn’t suggest taking a trip to Osaka any time soon, though. No reason, really. I just wouldn’t suggest it.


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