Authorities Scramble to Emphasize Japan's Safety after Earthquake
Tuesday, July 31, 2007 Posted: 12:00 PM JST
The earthquake that hit Niigata earlier this month sent shock-waves around the world because of the damage at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa Nuclear Power Plant. I noticed this myself as I ended up doing more radio reports on the nuclear power plant than I ever did before on a single story. Even more than I did on the 2004 tsunami and the 2005 earthquake in Pakistan, which killed hundreds of thousands of people. The Niigata prefectural government and the Foreign Ministry now worry that inaccurate reporting could cause more trouble than the earthquake itself.
Presentators asked me if the area had been evacuated, if people had been taken to hospital and whether there were large demonstrations on Japan's streets. I became very careful in my reporting.
Some reporters apparently weren't. Italian soccer club Catania cancelled their pre-season tour of Japan because of radiation leaks triggered by the earthquake.
Employees of TEPCO, which runs the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa Nuclear Power Plant, found a July 19 article by an Italian news agency that said that the water leaked was 30 times more radioactive than it actually was.
The Japan Times reported two days ago that a financial news agency in the USA on July 16 incorrectly reported that cracks had been found in the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear reactor. A major newspaper carried the news and had to issue a correction.
The South Korean Foreign Affairs and Trade Ministry actually warned South Koreans to refrain from traveling to Niigata.
Niigata governor Hirohiko Izumida has told reporters that reports have given the impression that Japan was covered in a radioactive fog. He has sent a message to foreign travel agencies promoting his prefecture's safety and highlighting the fact that the earthquake caused only limited damage.
The foreign ministry has been sending out press releases with information about the amount of radio-active material that was leaked after the quake. The latest, dated July 27, was sent out by e-mail today:
The Chuetsu-oki Earthquake in Niigata prefecture, Japan, which occurred on July 16th 2007, caused widespread damages such as collapse of houses and buildings in the prefecture and its surrounding areas as in Nagano prefecture. It also triggered a fire at an electrical transformer and other problems in the Kasiwazaki-Kariwa Nuclear Power Plant.
However, no problems have been confirmed with regard to the safety of the nuclear reactors as four of the plant's seven reactors running at the time of the earthquake were all shut down automatically by a safety mechanism.
Due to the earthquake, an insignificant amount of radioactive materials were released from No 7 unit of the plant into the air, and water containing radioactive materials were released from No 6 unit into the sea. But the effect of the radiation due to the release of radioactive materials into the air is as low as one-10 millionth (1/10,000,000), and that into the sea is as low as one-billionth (1/ 1,000,000,000) of the radiation which normal citizens would receive from the natural environment in a year, respectively. These radioactivity levels of the releases into the air and the sea are as low as one-millionth(1/1,000,000), and one-100 millionth(1/1,000,000,000), respectively, of the radiation which normal citizens would receive during a round-trip flight from Tokyo to New York. Needless to say, the levels are much lower than the legal limit set by the safety standard, and will never affect the surrounding environment. Furthermore, these leaks have already stopped.
In spite of the facts above, it is most regrettable that some news media have reported on the safety situation surrounding the nuclear power plant in an inaccurate or inappropriate manner, and spread of misperception has produced adverse effects on such fields as tourism in Japan.
Japan has provided and shared relevant information with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) since the beginning. Considering the proposal by the IAEA that although it is confident in Japan's ability to perform a thorough assessment of this event, the IAEA is ready to send an international expert team to join Japan in the review, Japan has determined to accept the team from IAEA and to conduct a joint review from the viewpoint of improving international cooperation in the field of nuclear safety.
We believe that this joint review will not only confirm the current safety of the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa Nuclear Power Plant, more objectively, but also will further contribute to the transparency in Japan's Nuclear Energy, and help promote to share lessons leaned from the earthquake internationally.
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