Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Radiation and risk

Since the Fukushima plant began spewing radiation, everyone in Tokyo (and, it goes without saying, everyone closer to the plant) has been trying to work out what experts say about radiation doses – more relevant to us in Tokyo are low but continuous radiation doses (via food, since mostly air-borne radiation is too low to matter). On the whole I'm not worried, but one expert doesn't seem to agree necessarily with another – and when it comes to food, nobody seems particularly clear. Because I was attempting to get as accurate as possible assessment of this myself and finding conflicting data from different "experts", I suggested to the editors that a brief article on who is an "expert" on radiation and how can we analyse expert opinion would be good for the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan in-house magazine. Gavin Blair wrote the piece in this month's issue and above is my layout and illustration for the print edition. For the simple illustration I took a dice image and added the radiation symbols: the "danger" or "safety" is of course a risk assessment, but also a risk assessment is the accuracy of different experts. Hence the throw of the dice.

I had wondered about believing sub-atomic-level physicist and string theorist Michio Kaku ("we came close to losing northern Japan"); journalist and green campaigner George Monbiot (who converted to being a supporter of nuclear power after Fukushima because of its overall safety); Chernobyl researcher Tim Mousseau – who is nevertheless partly contradicted by Chernobyl researcher and previous colleague Sergey Gaschak (one of whom must be nearer the truth); nuclear industry insider Rod Adams on his reassuring Atomic Insights blog; or Tokyo University medical researcher Professor Kodama who relayed the dangers he saw in a speech to the government here. Gavin Blair made it into proper article.

Also in the issue: Kazuma Obara's secretly taken photographs from inside the damaged Fukushima station.