Media Coverage On Fukushima Disaster Minimised Presence Of Risks, New Analysis Says

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Fukushima Power Plant
Workers conduct measurements inside the primary containment vessel at Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO)'s tsunami-crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant No. 2 reactor in Fukushima prefecture, northern Japan, in this handout image taken and released by TEPCO March 27, 2012. Reuters/Tokyo Electric Power Co/Handout

Health and environmental risks brought about by the 2011 Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster continue and leave affected areas unfit for habitation. After analysing at least 2,000 news articles about the calamity, a sociologist from the American University believes that U.S. press coverage curtailed the actual magnitude of the hazards.

AU sociology professor, Celine Marie Pascale, led the analysis on more than 2,000 news stories from four major media firms which include The New York Times, the Washington Post, The Huffington Post and Politico.  Since the tragic incident in 2011 until the second anniversary in March 2013, thousands of articles featured the aftermath of the deactivated nuclear power plant. However, only 6 percent of which covered the apparent impacts of the radioactive spills on the environment and on the overall population.  

Pascale, who studies on risk in the 21st century, finds it unbelievable that media coverage on the contamination risk to the public was minimal and conservative. She said that some news articles by respected news agencies even claimed that radiation coming from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant is less hazardous compared with radioactivity from cosmic rocks and rays.

Prominent media companies are often relied on and referred to for current events worldwide. Therefore, it is important to know how mass media contribute to public awareness on matters of utmost concern. According to Pascale’s study, there were three approaches used in minimising the actual threats of the radioactive spills in the news reports. One is exclusion of relevant concerns raised by specialists and by the affected communities; another is making radiation levels appear tolerable or in some cases undefined because of lack of substantial research.   

Findings in this study remind the public to be analytical of the news to avoid lack of information and misleading reports, particularly on risks involving disasters.  As of March 16, 2015, the Tokyo Electric Power Company, Inc. (TEPCO) announced that more than 90 percent of the radiation contaminated water will be treated by the end of May 2015. TEPCO is re-evaluating the risk of other possible contaminants as well, airborne or solid waste.   

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