Meltdown: the anatomy of a front-page story
Sometimes a single news story overwhelms all others – as in this week's unfurling crisis in Japan. But attempting to disentangle what actually happened is an alarming exercise.
Friday 11 March
What happened: 5.46am – a giant tsunami knocks out power at Fukushima nuclear plant. 8.30pm – Engineers are forced to vent steam, which releases radioactive material.
What we were told: 10.30am – Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan declares a nuclear emergency but insists no radiation has been released. 7.30pm -- A Government spokesman says: 'It's possible that radioactive material could leak but…the wind blowing towards the sea will be considerable'. 8.30pm – The Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), which operates the plant, says there is no danger.
Saturday 12 March
What happened: 7.37am – an explosion bursts through Reactor 1. During the day – the cooling system at a second reactor fails.
What we were told: 1.52am – Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano says: 'We are not in a situation in which residents face health damage'. 9.37am – Official statement saying risk of contamination remains small. TEPCO reports 'a big sound and white smoke'. 11.00am – Mr Edano says that while the concrete outer shell of Reactor 1 is damaged, the steel core remains intact. 12.00 midday – Official statement says radiation levels are falling.
Sunday 13 March
What happened: 4.24am – radioactive meltdowns in two reactors. 5.00pm – 200,000 people evacuated from around nuclear plant. 11.00pm – 22 people confirmed with radiation contamination
What we were told: 12.43am – Mr Edano says radiation is low enough not to affect people's health.
Monday 14 March
What happened: 2.00am – Reactor 3 explodes. 4.00am – 190 people are confirmed with radiation exposure. 3.00pm – Fuel rods are melting in three reactors. 11.00pm – A third explosion.
What we were told:
8.30am – Mr Edano says that radiation remains low and the reactor containers are sound.
Tuesday 15 March
What happened: 2.30am – A fourth reactor is on fire releasing radiation. 8.00am Temperature is rising at Reactors 5 and 6.
What we were told: 6.00am – Mr Edano says radiation readings can 'potentially affect health – there is no mistake about that'.
Wednesday 16 March
What happened: US nuclear commission says fuel storage pool in Reactor 3 has no water in it. 4.55pm – Radiation has reached highest levels yet at Reactor 3.
What we were told: 6.00pm – Government statement says radiation levels should not cause an immediate health risk.
Thursday 17 March
What happened: 8.38am – helicopters start dropping water on the overheating reactors.
What we were told: 11.24am – TECPO says 'the situation is not so good'. 5.37pm – Official statement says three of the reactors are now 'relatively stable'.
- How would you feel if you lived close to the Fukushima Nuclear Plant? Would you trust the government?
- Governments sometimes feel they have to withhold the truth to protect citizens. Is that ever the right thing to do?
- Think of a historical or imaginary disaster and then make an official statement about it. You're not allowed to lie, but you want to cause the least possible alarm.
- Do some research into the Fukushima crisis and decide for yourself: is this a new Chernobyl?
Some People Say...
“Governments lie to their people to keep them safe.”
What do you think?
Q & A
- So how bad is the situation really?
- It's bad – there's a very real danger of a severe radiation leak. But it's hard to be clear about the dangers because there are so many different views about what's happening.
- There are?
- t one extreme, there are those who say that the dangers are being blown out of proportion by the media. At the other extreme, there are people who accuse Japan of a cover-up, and warn that this could be worse than Chernobyl.
- Remind me about Chernobyl again?
- The Chernobyl Disaster was a terrible nuclear accident in the former USSR. Thousands are said to have died as a result. But the disaster is also known for the secretive and dishonest response of the Soviet government.