Josef Oehmen and Fukushima – Would I have believed myself?

On the 13th of March, I posted an article called “Fukushima Nuclear Accident – A simple and accurate explanation“. This was early on in the Fukushima crisis when people were desperately hungry for understandable information, and yet there were scarce few good explanations available. The post had been written by Dr Josef Oehmen, a research scientist at MIT, in Boston. I’d stumbled across it when it had just been published on Jason Morgan’s new blog, and thought it was worth re-broadcasting, so I contacted Jason and got his and Josef’s permission to reprint.

The rest is history… Via my and Jason’s contacts and through Twitter and the blogs, it soon ‘went viral‘ , and later the Energy Collective reposted my version (with permission) and this amplified its audience even further. A group from MIT then took over management of the information, and did a few further updates, which I also mirrored. To me, it was an example of the internet at its best — exponential networking of key information.

However, the story doesn’t end there. It also created a huge amount of indignation, including a flood of vitriolic ad hominem comments on this blog that, if I’d let through the moderation queue, would have made your gentle eyes water! As the situation at Fukushima worsened, the MIT NSE group provided updates that improved upon the original information a little, and also toned down some of the stronger conclusions that had proven overly optimistic (I was also guilty of not fully appreciating the seriousness of the situation caused by the 14 m tsunami at Daiichi Plant). This updating of the information was, apparently, was the most heinous of crimes, and Josef himself was cast as the evil (and grossly unqualified) mastermind at the heart of an international conspiracy! (I was, alas, but a mere pawn in artful machinations…). The story was even taken up by New Scientist, although they got some of the detail (e.g., sequence of events) wrong.

So, what does the fiendish genius — with whom I’m since become firm internet buddies — have to say on this matter? Should people have listened to him, or should his article have been rightly consigned to ghastly the abyss of HTTP 404 errors? You decide, when you read this guest post…

Oh, and if you’d like to participate in a little 5 minute survey as part of the follow-up research that Josef is doing on this little drama, click here…

Would I have believed myself? On evaluating the quality of reports on topics that one does not know a whole lot about

Guest Post by Josef Oehmen. Josef is a research scientist in mechanical engineering and engineering systems at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

On Sunday, March 13, my cousin in Japan posted an email I had written to him on his blog in the early morning at 3am EST. The email explained the context of nuclear physics and engineering, as well as discussed the events at the Daiichi-1 reactor until that point. It also featured my very strong opinion that they are safe. By lunchtime, it was the second most twittered site on the internet (you can read the whole story at http://bit.ly/e1It0T). At the end of the day, it had been translated into more than 9 languages (often multiple times), and after 48 hours had been read by several million people. Two weeks into my unwanted and luckily rapidly cooling off Web 2.0 stardom, I have begun working through the trauma and reflecting. Thanks for sharing, you might think. But one question in particular came up that also has some general relevance:

Would I have believed myself if I came across that blog and had no prior knowledge of nuclear physics and engineering? Or asked another way: How do you judge the quality of TV, radio, print and internet news reporting on topics that you are only superficially familiar with?

Read the answer below. And like everything I write, it is rather lengthy!


Working in an interdisciplinary field as an academic, it is often necessary for me to judge the quality of information from areas outside my core expertise and decide whether they are reliable sources worth studying. Also, when you work with students, you start to develop little antennas when you read to judge if the student really got what she or he is writing about, and ultimately the quality of the students work (although you as the supervisor of course know everything better, well, you might not always be familiar with all the details).

So let’s take the example of my email-turned-blog, imagine I was living in Japan, had no idea about nuclear science and engineering (not too big a stretch someone just said), was looking for some info on Fukushima and came across Jason’s blog. Do I read it? All of it? What do I do then?

My approach to evaluating any sort of reports on the internet (and elsewhere) consists of 5 elements.: 2 regarding trustworthiness, 2 regarding the style (as a measure of effort put into a piece, but also a good indicator of the level of understanding of the author of the subject that he/she write about) and 1 element for content (arguably the most difficult to judge if you are not already familiar with the field). I will have to give myself credit on some of the dimensions, so I am asking you ahead of time for your forgiveness of some literary narcissism in the following.

1. Judging obvious fishiness (Trust)

When you surf the web, you come across a lot of stuff that you can safely disregard immediately. So I have two criteria for an immediate go/no-go decision at the onset:

a. Context: What is the context of the information? Blogs can be places where people put great stuff, but also incredibly stupid things (as I said, just Google my name these days). In the case of Jason’s blog, no points for great existing content, but also no minus points for tons of conspiracy theories and UFO posts. 0 points

b. Hoax potential: Would I have believed the whole story, cousin at MIT writing an email, setting up a blog to share it? Probably yes. Story looks interesting enough at first glance and setting up a blog is little enough work. Testing the opposite hypothesis: Why would anyone go through that much trouble of writing such a long text; invent such a boring cover story; and then assign the authorship to a total nobody in nuclear engineering, and not some expert in the field? So again, nothing major in favor, but also not a deal killer, 0 points.

2. Trustworthiness of the author (Trust)

Again, we have two criteria:

a. Past experience in the field. Is the author an authority in the field? Google clears that one up pretty quickly, certainly not. -1 point.

b. Bias, agenda, background: Checks out, engineering guy, MIT, probably has done his homework. 1 point.

3. Style and presentation (Style)

Is the narrative and style appealing? Again, I usually use this as an indicator of effort and level of understanding on the side of the author. Before I send the original email of to Jason, I scanned it one more time and thought to myself “Hm, this has actually turned into a nice piece of writing.” I probably would have had the same reaction scanning the text – well structured, flowing narrative, clear reasoning. 1 point.

4. Quality of the structure of the work (Style)

Does the article follow a logical structure? The article does seem well structured. It introduces the fundamentals, then progresses to describe what happened in Fukushima so far and drawing on these fundamentals. Seems to make sense. However it is not an academic treatise and strongly opinionated. Still, 1 point.

5. Content quality of the work (Content)

Here, since this is the most important category for me, I use a number of criteria:

a. Are the general fundamentals right? Are general engineering and physics fundamentals right that are used in the writing? Are the terms correctly used? Yes, 1 point.

b. Are specifics right? Are specific fundamental facts (e.g. half-life, types of elements etc.) and specific facts (sizes, amounts, temperatures, events) correct to the extent that I can verify them? Yes, 1 point.

c. Is there an uninterrupted logical flow from context and facts to interpretation? For the most part, yes. There are no logical breaks between the context, the facts being discussed in that context and the conclusions that are drawn. In its own little universe, it makes sense, no conclusions falling out of nowhere, no contradictions. However, again, the writing is not objective and strongly opinionated. But still, 1 point.

d. Are the sources given? Does the article contain sources so I could verify the claims and facts presented by the author? No, not in the narrative, not as footnotes. -1 point.

6. Possible next actions:

So, what should I do with what I just learned from reading the document? If we tally up the points for a first impression, we get 4 out of 10 points. And looking at the critical points, one of them is a biggy: No sources so I could easily verify if what the author claims is true or not. So what to do with it?

a. Disregard. This would mean thinking “oh my god, what a load of junk and a waste of time”. No, that is not what I would have done.

b. Use it to build mental model of the problem and investigate further. This means I use my newly acquired knowledge to build a mental model of the problem. What is the relevant context? What are the critical facts I need to know or monitor? That mental model is then tested (can I confirm what was said about the context, can I confirm what facts were presented?), and once that is done, run with it to grow the context (i.e. integrating understanding of spent fuel ponds) and interpret incoming facts (i.e. how dangerous is the latest venting of steam)?

c. Believe and be done with it. The information I just acquired solves my problem. I believe everything and am done with it (in this case, worrying about Fukushima).

As you can probably tell by the length of discussion of the different points above, I would have gone with b. That concludes my therapeutic reflections. And maybe you find the assessment process useful to make a more conscious choice of the news programs in TV, radio, press and internet you decide to support (I did, and that is why I love Barry and his site bravenewclimate).

Where does that leave us?

1. Help people understand the context. If you help people to understand the context, you help them to help themselves in the future. My hope is that the email made a small contribution to helping the general public, as well as some journalists, in building the context to make a better informed assessment of new facts as they come in. Do your part with your family and friends (as I had originally intended…)

2. Take a stand against mass hysteria. The email I wrote contains both an introduction to some relevant physics and engineering, as well as strong opinions about the safety of the plant you may or may not share. One part lives on on the MIT website that was created to provide some more of the same, fact-based and understandable context information; the other part has hopefully inspired a couple of people to also speak their mind in a general atmosphere of panic.

3. Demand balanced and quality reporting. Demand discussions of “possible” and “most likely” scenarios in the news. Call the newspaper editor, TV station and radio station and complain about the garbage that is still put out there. Make a conscious choice regarding your news viewing, reading and listening habits. News shows are out there to produce viewers, listeners and readers that they can sell to advertisers, not quality news. If you don’t demand it, it won’t happen.

About these ads

104 Comments

  1. When your goal is to “take a stand against mass hysteria”, how are you any different than TEPCO and the Japanese government, as far as being a trusted source of information is concerned? When your objective is anything more than simply providing factual information, or a range of possibilities that might explain the observed data, then you have simply become another source that must be questioned, rather than trusted.

    “…stronger conclusions that had proven overly optimistic (I was also guilty of not fully appreciating the seriousness of the situation caused by the 14 m tsunami at Daiichi Plant).”

    Somehow you are very forgiving of your own, admittedly optimistic, biases in the name of “taking a stand against mass hysteria”.

    There are a lot of us out here who just want you to “give it me STRAIGHT, Doc.”

  2. Pingback: Some more info on the nuclear reactor post | Morgsatlarge – blogorific.

  3. Wow, I wish that this little post on critical assessment were posted on the front page of every newspaper in the land and broadcast at the top and bottom of the news. Of course I could wish that critical thinking was taught in US schools but I figured I would wish for something realistic :-)

  4. @Darren Addy, what would you rather do? 1. Calmly assimilate information from knowledgeable sources, sift them and work out an intelligently gathered scenario for yourself, or 2. catch your throat, rush out into the street stumbling, making gurgling sounds in your throat?

    We’re not under attack by Martians, there isn’t an international conspiracy to deprive you of secret information; there’re heroic humans just like you working day and night inside those reactors, using science and reason to tackle a situation none of us likes…

    Use your education, reason, scientific temper Addy, not atavistic fear, to navigate through life… In the long run, we’re all dead, so what are you so fearful of?

  5. Darren Addy

    There is a very old saying. Information is not intelligence. Before it can be useful information should be checked for accuracy and relevance. Unless you are an expert in a field it is probably a good idea to get an interpretation from someone who is knowledgable in the field. This is where supressing hysteria comes in. There are a lot of things we are not qualified ourselves to judge or that we have a totally wrong or incomplete understanding of. The views of others help us put the information in perspective. You must judge each source for how much weight you can put on both the quality of their information and their interpretation.

    Information without context is only noise. This site is good because it provides information, analysis and context. I sure would not want to base my safety solely on TEPCOs status report but I would not without it either.

  6. As someone with a reasonable education in science but with no special knowledge on nuclear reactors, that article was one of the first detailed things I read in the early days of the crisis, and I can tell you exactly what I thought of it when I read it. I thought it was trying much to hard. If stuff seems desperate to reassure me, I am not usually reassured.

    Its easy to single out the damaging horrors that hysteria can bring. But I think the much broader problem is one of certainty. Generally, it seems we like to sound more certain about things than we really should. Whether the error is in claiming we are certainly doomed, or that there is certainly little to worry about, its the same root problem really.

    Now dont get me wrong, people will moan about vague or uncertain reporting too, but personally I find presumptions to be the real enemy, and I would rather an expert, a company, a government etc keep their powder dry by telling me they arent sure about something, than make a claim one day and have to change it the next.

    In regards to this Fukushima stuff, I was extremely bothered by the levels of optimism, certainty, and even denial that were present in the early days of the crisis. I had to spend loads of time learning things for myself in order to feel equipped to wade through the information coming from many sources, and to try to get a grip on when I should take something at face value and when I would need to be more skeptical.

    So I wait with some interest to see how the supporters of nuclear power, the industry and others deal with this stuff in the long-term. There remain many hysterical fears about radiation within the imagination of the public, and there will always be a need to counter that. But if I am ever to take seriously the experts etc in future, I need to see greater acknowledgement of the problems and the negative issues. I’ll wait a long time till I make a fresh judgement, since I want to give everyone a fair chance to come to terms with what has happened at Fukushima, and to get a good idea of the impact that this stuff has had on the environment. I dont know how many months or years this will take, but I will remember to return to this site whenever that time comes to let you know how I think nuclear communication is doing. This is an opportunity to improve things in a meaningful way in this regard, and if it does not happen and many either go into denial or just turn up the volume on the pro-nuclear talk, I think there is a danger of it backfiring and further eroding public trust. Make no mistake, there is much work to be done, for certainly here in the UK the experts that came on the telly in the early days made some mistakes of the usual kind, they were far too reassuring, and left themselves little wiggle room to evolve the narrative as fresh events happened at the plant.

  7. Pro-nuclear advocates are every bit as guilty of hysteria following the events in Japan as the mainstream media. This was not a unique piece.

    Rod Adams, of Atomic Insights, stated categorically early on in the crisis that there simply was no way for there to be any serious effects from the disaster. Not only that, he castigated anyone and everyone who dared question whether this was indeed a very serious event.

    Now, I’m simply not sure what to think. I have read exhaustively about nuclear power and the event in Japan. I was coming around to the conclusion that we need nuclear power in greater numbers. The only thing I can say for sure is that the technology works but that humans cannot be trusted with this power.

    The NP industry and its surrogates bullied anyone who displayed concern and downplayed the crisis at every opportunity (with or without facts on the ground), Tepco dragged their feet on mitigating the disaster with seawater in a vain attempt to save infrastructure, and on and on.

  8. I like the concept of brainstorming. All ideas and concepts should be encouraged, no matter how far fetched (within reason).

    The process of elimination is how we arrive at the consensus of truth. We short circuit the process when we attack people for having the “wrong” idea and it also causes smart people to not participate. It’s a useful tool for controlling the debate, but not so much for arriving at the truth.

    In practical terms, tell me how bad things are up front, then you can impress me with your ability to recalculate and control the situation. Downplay the situation up front, if the situation evolves more dire, your assessment seems deceitful and your solutions appear incompetent.

    We should never be afraid to consider all sides.

  9. Were not “experts” involved in the decisions regarding what would be the “safe” levels of radiation (for humans, infants, pregnant mothers, etc.)? Which “experts” are we to believe, the ones that set those measures of safety, or those who tell us there is no real need of concern now.

    I’m not talking about being hysterical about it, but viewing it as it should be viewed. Gravity (like Plutonium) is not a demon either, but it should still be respected – particularly when one finds oneself on an unfamiliar precipice.

  10. This episode illustrates how difficult it is to communicate sensible information to people in the grips of unfounded, irrational fear. If you say nothing, hysteria spreads (egged on by the mainstream media and their fondness for worst-case scenarios). If you say anything, mistrust deepens.

    *shrug*

    Maybe better basic knowledge of nuclear chemistry and the periodic table of elements might help.

  11. Barry, I thank you for acknowledging the overt optimism in your early posts. Often enough I have seen threads elsewhere deteriorate into flame wars between the fear mongerers and the deniers: both views are absurd (though one of my personal peeves is the attack on solar energy by misrepresenting the costs of both solar and nuclear).

    We need people to suspend their editorial opinions and have a close examination of everything, from correctly judging the risks of nuclear power from human error to natural castrophe and the real costs and difficulties of centuries of waste storage, to weighing the advantages/disadvantages of alternative energy sources. There is simply too much Hollywood accounting going on, and it is refreshing to see someone clear and brave enough to admit to even a minor misjudgment. Nice.

  12. Josef,

    I wanted to thank you for writing at the time that you did. Hindsight is always 20/20 and it is all too easy to look back and say “I should have known” after the fact.

    Through your blog and website I have found other sources that have helped to put the the ongoing story in context for me. I don’t know much about nuclear engineering/physics, but I think I am a reasonably savvy internet citizen. At the time your blog WAS the best source of context and explanation of the situation, it may not have been perfect– but it was the best that there was at the time.

  13. Steve, I think your response is interesting – because certainty is something the pro-nuclear side have struggled to achieve in the face of nuclear opponents being absolutely certain and confident of things that have no evidence for them whatsoever, and often much evidence against them.

    So I hear ya – but I still have no wish to yield the field to the doom-laden opinions that will dominate if the pro-nuclear commentators refuse to commit themselves to clear statements based on their expectations. And “wiggle room” is something listeners will either tune into, and use to downgrade your remarks, or deny that you included when you wish to use it later – or both.

    Perhaps you could give us your impression of the performance of the anti-nukes over Fukushima as well.

  14. Barry Brook: I read that original March 13 article by Mr Oehmen that you posted. It was detailed with both engineering and scientific information, but simple and straightforward enough that I thought I might be able to research some of the background and figure things out for myself.

    I thank you and Oehmen for it.

    My problem is that I can’t find the original article posted on March 13th, only the MIT revised March 15th version. It is difficult then to see what you and Mr Oehman thought at that exact time and which influenced me so much.

  15. When Oehmen’s article first showed up, a friend asked me to comment on it. Told him to not be too reassured. Noticed a couple of minor technical errors indicating to me that Oehmen did not have a solid nuclear engineering background. But, did agree that there was no way Fukushima was going to turn into another Chernobyl. The only stuff likely to get loose were volatiles (like Cesium and Iodine). But, on the whole the article seemed reasonable and did have a lot of good information.

  16. Thank you so much Josef for putting together your original text. And many thanks again to Barry for his incredible information compilation task.

    When the mass media talk about some topic that I *really* know of, I am very often struck by the blatant errors, simplifications, misunderstandings and superficial explanations. Of course, some journalists do better, but the whole media business is about making audience. I can understand why they prefer spectacular titles such as “the Fukushima nuclear plant is out of control” (yes, I read this) rather than facts.

    Josef, your text was a crystal clear explanation of what happened. I would only blame the overly optimistic point of view: your text is clearly written to ensure the readers that they are safe. That is perfectly acceptable for a private communication. For a public post it opens the way to the attacks which you experienced.

    Dogs bark, the caravan goes on. Please keep up the great job!

  17. It seems that no audience is immune to confirmation bias. Those with a desire to hear things downplayed seem to come here, just like conservatives tune into FOX and liberals tune into MSNBC.

    Still, there is no way to see this post as anything but a backtracking, and perhaps a repositioning before more bad news become more public. It seems that others, like Ron Adams, are taking a similar tack.

    I wonder if Barry would care to comment on Ron Adams post over at the Energy Collective, (where Barry has also posted):
    http://theenergycollective.com/rodadams/54496/shaken-flooded-stressed-power-outages-fukushima-daiichi-moves-second-place

  18. For the folks who still think that there is some kind of conspiracy or cover up going on, it is really difficult to pull this off given the nature of radioactivity and the widespread availability of portable instruments that are sensitive enough to detect ionizing radiation down to levels below background.

  19. Joffan, I cant really comment on how anti-nuclear people have done because I dont think I’ve properly read a single article by people on that side since this began, and I’ve also been trying my best to avoid internet comments that descend into open warfare between the two sides. And certainly from what little I have seen here and there, the anti articles have the luxury of taking a very easy path, very emotive and mostly relying on simplified versions of each new story about contamination that comes out. And in the early phase of this crisis, around the time the original article under analysis in this post came out, there was no need for the anti’s to play it any differently. The emphasis was never going to be on them to provide facts and explain what was happening in useful detail. Later, once the full extent of environmental impact is better understood, I will be better able to observe how well they do at presenting facts, but in the shorter term its somewhat inevitable that they dont need to prove anything. The images of explosions and wrecked buildings, and the story at the plant not being over yet is what the nuclear advocates are really battling with right now, the words of the anti-nuclear people cannot do anything like the damage than the basic public perception of events can.

    Now I dont mean in any way to suggest that nuclear advocates should just give up, say less, or becoming excessively vague. But I do seriously believe that there are longstanding issues with the way governments, institutions and experts deal with messages of public reassurance, and not just in the nuclear field. Its never going to be an easy task, given existing public perceptions and difficulties with judging risk. But I really think there is additional danger of things backfiring if the reassuring messengers think they have to lean too heavily in one direction in order to effectively counterbalance the hysterical propaganda of their opposition. If we are to try to influence opinion, rather than merely preach to the already-converted, then I believe it may be necessary to meet people in the middle, especially when it comes to their fears. You are never going to convince everyone, but as the years roll by we will see how far people are prepared to go in order to rebuild public confidence in nuclear power. The ‘lessons learned’ phase will have to go further than some people and institutions may be prepared to go, in order to stand a chance of making a serious impact. But Im starting to drift off topic so I will save further thoughts on this for some other time & place.

  20. @gallopingcamel Conspiracy or cover-up is probably way too strong a word, but you should the rational comments and questions that are forever “awaiting moderation”.

    This one probably won’t get through either, but there is this little thing called screen capture technology.

    MODERATOR
    Moderators work is based on the BNC Commenting Rules, which, since you obviously haven’t taken the trouble to read them, I will reproduce below for your benefit. You will notice that, unlike many anti-nuclear green blogs, comments from opponents of the technology are posted on BNC as long as they fall within the Commenting Rules. If not they are edited/deleted with a suggestion for them to re-post in the appropriate thread, citing their references, and/or omitting their rudeness/ad homs etc.
    Rudeness/ incivility/ ad homs are always deleted no matter from whom. I suggest you and live with it or go off and comment elsewhere. As to the Pending queue,(which holds first posts from new commenters and from those on permanent moderation for repeated violations of the Commenting Rules) – Professor Brook makes the decisions there and attends to it in his own time, often late into the night, after he has completed his working day at the University. We also have to sleep sometimes when comments from Europe and North America are streaming in. From my observations, in comparison to some other blogs, moderation here happens fairly rapidly. All but truly awful incivility/ad hom attacks make it through, with advice as to why editing /deletion has occurred and suggestions on how to re-post according to the Commenting Rules.

    BMC COMMENTING RULES
    Comments Policy — I welcome comments, posts, suggestions and informed debate, from a wide range of perspectives. However, personal attacks, insulting/vulgar posts, or repetitious/false tirades will not be tolerated and can result in moderation or banning. Trolls will be warned, and then disemvowelled.
    Civility – Clear-minded criticism is welcomed, but play the ball and not the person. Rudeness will not be tolerated. This includes speculation about motives or what ‘sort of person’ someone is. Civility, gentle humour and staying on topic are superior debating tools.
    Relevance – Please maintain focus on the topic at hand. Do not attempt to solve big problems in a single comment, or to offer as fact what are simply opinions about complex matters.
    Disclaimer — The views expressed on this website are my own or my contributors’ and do not necessarily represent those of the University of Adelaide or the Government of South Australia.

  21. I received multiple request for copies of the original email / blog post by Jason, once more in a comment above. I just uploaded a copy to my publication page: http://web.mit.edu/oehmen/www/ .
    Also let me again thank everyone for their constructive feedback on improving the post two weeks ago, as well as for the support and encouragement since then. And yes, Fukushima turned out worse than I thought on March 12. And yes again, I always had and still have complete trust in our colleagues on site managing the situation and keeping everyone safe.

    P.S.: How do you collect payments from the world nuclear conspiracy?

  22. As we could hardly understand what had really happened we were hungry for any information that make sense. You shouldn´t apologise for anything you wrote before, those information were probably the first one that contained more specific details and its possible consequences. It is up to every reader that should select just information which he or she requires.

  23. It appears to me that the original letter and the modified version on the MIT site are nearly indistinguishable from each other. All of the crucial factors concerning the high melting point of zicaloy, disregard for fuel damage, number of pressure release valves, venting of gases to secondary containment, no risk of meltdown, sockets not matching on mobile generators, use of core catcher, and no health consequences for short lived fission products released to the environment have all been removed from the original document. MIT has also added updates, which have subsequently become outdated and superseded.

    I clearly sympathize with Oehmen’s premature release of information that he did not intend to reach a public audience, but he clearly doesn’t share this burden alone of presenting misleading and faulty information (since these same “facts” have been widely circulated elsewhere, and even on this site). I suppose we’re stuck evaluating information on our own (as he suggests), and relying on an active group of informed readers to correct misleading statements. But in a world where simply saying something appears to take on a life of it’s own, I would hope places like MIT and other sites can be a little more judicious in their statements, and try and minimize the amount of faulty and misleading information out there stirring the pot, bumping into other sources, and risking a second kind of fallout of noise and misinformation that covers over all the important facts and questions that people are asking on the ground, and will likely continue to ask in the future. There are many lessons to be learned from this accident, and if we learn them … we may indeed prevent such accidents from taking place in the future.

  24. I know very little about nuclear engineering, but when someone says, in unqualified terms, “there will NOT be a significant release of radiation at Fukushima”, based on incomplete information of an event that is still unfolding…. my BS meter hits the red.

    No one, and I mean NO ONE, was in any position (and still isn’t) to stage catagorically what the outcome of this crisis will be.
    [deleted ad hom attack]

  25. The information was incomplete and the tone of the letter overly optimistic, but to date it has proved substantially more correct than any of the hysteria posted by the major news networks around the same time.

    I was simply pleased to find an article that did not contain a 20+ point font shouting ‘nuclear crisis’ at me.

  26. I have been ‘liveblogging’ about the Fukushima disaster on a local website. One of my motivations was to try to dispell rumors and hoaxes that caused a lot of unnecessary distress, and also I wanted to provide (technical) details of a very complicated situation in lay terms. I came across Oehmen’s article very early on and I found it an interesting take, but unlike many other sites, I have decided not to post it for several reasons.

    One was that I felt the tone of the article was too certain, considering that the situation at the plant was still very volatile and unpredictable. Another was a low level of slight technical inaccuracies, which (to my knowledge) did not impact on the general storyline but would provide easy ammunition to discredit the article entirely.

    I want to add I had no doubts on the integrity of the writer whatsoever. It seemed to be well meant and it would be the type of story one would circulate privately. From reactions, it seems to have had some success in providing reassurance (warranted or not) in the early days of the crisis. That type of article is unfortunately hard to come by right now.

  27. @EL Mar 29 7:26 PM Thank you for the access to the original post. However, I must disagree with you that the two are “nearly indistinguishable”. They are very different, with the introduction, long sections in the body and the “now where does that leave us?” sections deleted.

    The article at the time was far better than anything else and was very beneficial to me. It helped me on the road to partially figuring out what had happenened and being able to follow the story as it has unfolded.

    However, JohnG 7:40PM is correct in his criticism that “No one, and I mean NO ONE, was in any position (and still isn’t) to stage catagorically what the outcome of this crisis will be.”

    I disagree that the tone was arrogant. It did ridicule then existing MSM accounts of the situation, but not people and their fears.

    All said, I think that Mr Oehmen’s introduction “There was and will *not* be any significant release of radioactivity.” was premature and OBE’d

    OBE = Overtaken By Events

  28. In the 18 days since this began, over 28000 children under 5 will have died of respiratory disease due to the use of non-clean cooking methods (usually wood or cow dung) in India. (Hughes, G. and Dunleavy M. (2000). Why do babies and young children die in India? The role of the household environment. Washington, DC, South Asia Office, World Bank.) How many people have died in Fukushima from radiation? none. How many are likely to die? Based on the best available evidence to date, none.

    What I find offensive is demonising an urgently needed clean energy source. Saying “there will not be a significant release … ” offends most scientists because it is obviously unknowable. But as a maximum likelihood estimator, it is perfectly defensible given a suitable definition of “significant”.

  29. Regular readers of BNC will recognise my name and already know that I have decided, after years of passive opposition, to switch to being pro-nuclear. If individual readers interpret that as demonstrating a bias, then so be it.

    I read Barry’s initial posts regarding Fukushima several times. Events subsequently demonstrated that there was a whole layer of other stuff happening, which meant that he (and I) had to revise his initial prognosis. This Barry did, publicly, promptly, and with an accompanying apology.

    None of this is an indicator of lack of diligence, runaway optimism or worse on Barry’s part – only that much more was happening than had initially been made public.

    I recount this, because it is important to remember and to give credit for the fact that, like Barry, observers often get things wrong.

    The difference between observers, the Great Divide, in fact, is that some are prepared to re-evaluate their opinions in the light of emerging facts. Others hang on, despite crumbling evidence to support their position.

    Thanks, Barry, for not being one of those whose minds are closed to new facts and interpretations of facts. This current setback serves to test not only the initial data, but also those who, like Barry Brook, have taken the time to go public with their thoughts and have been brave enough to do so early, before the fog cleared.

    Barry has passed the test. His initial assessments were prompt, rational and honest, as have been his reappraisals as new facts emerged.

    What’s not to like about that?

    If/when alternative energy technologies are commercialised at competitive safety, reliability and price to any other technology, I am sure that Barry would be amongst the first to offer a fair appraisal and support.

    That is what makes BNC, this site, different from those which do not allow for reappraisal, new knowledge growth changing environment and which may even decline to publish rebuttals of their preferred position.

    We learn together.

  30. By contrast to the main stream news media the original letter by Oehmen has held up much better over time. In fact, we literally witnessed the sequence of potential failures described in the original article (including venting of gases, and so on). The article gave a clear view of what one could possibly expect to go wrong and even described some of the potential consequences. Now that these things have gone wrong the potential consequences seem still to be much closer to Oehmen’s letter than to the typical report from the main stream media. In fact, it is my view that to even compare this to the predictions of high magnitude health consequences made by the mass media is ugly in the extreme. The extent of the original articles optimism is simply not comparable to, for instance, the suggestion that the west coast of the US may need to consider evacuations.

  31. @John Bennetts “We learn together.”

    Very true, and sober reflection through hindsight is a vital part of this process. Some of us have been guilty of undue optimism while there were insufficient facts to support this, and many others of equally undue pessimism and/or histeria.

    The main problem of course is that immediately after a natural disaster peoeple do not want to hear “We don’t know yet what the consequences will be” even if this is the most rational response.

    As John says, sites like this are different because they allow and encourage rational discussion and reappraisal. They are also different because their focus is information, not “infotainment”.

  32. John G @ 7:40 am said:
    “I know very little about nuclear engineering, but when someone says, in unqualified terms, “there will NOT be a significant release of radiation at Fukushima”, based on incomplete information of an event that is still unfolding…. my BS meter hits the red.No one, and I mean NO ONE, was in any position (and still isn’t) to stage catagorically what the outcome of this crisis will be.
    [deleted ad hom attack]

    I took it to mean that there would be no significant release of radiation that would pose a threat to the general public outside the necessary evacuation zone. That remains the case at this point.That the workers at the plant have been exposed to relatively high levels is true but radiation experts claim there is little likelihood that they will suffer permanent ill-health, because precautions have been taken to ensure that does not happen. However I concur with one thing you say:
    “No one, and I mean NO ONE, was in any position (and still isn’t) to stage catagorically what the outcome of this crisis will be.” And NOONE includes you and the worst case scenario presenters.

  33. Darren Addy @6:45 am
    Your attack on the moderators of this blog was un-called for and un-warranted. Many permanent commenters on this site appreciate that BNC hosts a civil conversation and reference backed scientific discussion – and the blog is better for it.

  34. With tens of thousands of deaths and hundreds of thousands displaced by the earthquake and tsunami the authorities in Japan decided to add another 40,000 evacuees with an initial 10km evacuation zone, later extended to about 200,000 with a 20km.

    This made it utterly obvious that the authorities with relevant knowledge believed there was a credible risk of a serious radiation release.

    [deleted personal appraisal of a person's motives, ad homs]
    Since then the discussion has been dominated by technical details of precisely what happened, harping on the fact that the credible risk did not in fact eventuate.

    [deleted personal appraisal of a person's motives, ad hom]
    It is still a very obviously a massive regulatory failure in Japan.

    The inevitable consequence is that regulatory supervision and consequent costs of nuclear power will significantly increase.
    [ad homs, personal appraisal of people's motives]
    MODERATOR
    Further comments from you that continue to violate multiple BNC Commenting Rules, (regardless of several reminders) will be completely deleted. BNC has zero tolerance for personal attacks on any commenter.
    The main point of your comment stands.

  35. A friend sent me this article many days after it had been published. I’d any of you had been watching Rachel Maddowa show on MSNBC you would have learned the same basic technical details about the reactors. I did not appreciate the optimistic tone of the article and did appreciate the wait and see attitude presented by Maddow. This is a wait and see
    Moment. We cannot predict the outcome. However, knowledge can save us all from panic and I think not panicking is the best plan at the moment.

  36. Josef, I learned a lot of useful information from your original post. Watching the unfolding situation it was clear that your opinions were not being completely fulfilled and I needed to keep assimilating more information. My own post, far less viral than yours but still read by a few folks, suffered from some of the same mistakes. With Barry’s assistance I posted a better version and made a clear note that it had been updated to reflect the worsening situation.

    Your post was useful. It was also too optimistic. You addressed that and now are engaging in self examination. Well done. I would be so amazingly impressed if such character were ever on show by nuclear opponents, many of whom are prepared to say just about any old thing, and let it stand forever, long after the facts have proven them incorrect. We do indeed learn together, beautifully put John Benetts.

    Since my presentation in March with Barry I have four more speaking engagements on the topic in the next 6 weeks, including to some highly unexpected audiences. I think Australian’s are really beginning to suspect that we have been fed a lot of tosh on nuclear power for decades, and are really keen to see critical examination of that. Voices that are credible over time know when to point out that they were wrong. It’s something I intend to do, and applaud you for having done the same.

  37. The question that struck me from the title of Mr. Oehmen’s piece here was, essentially, so what?

    What purpose could be served, that is, by addressing the question of whether he would have have believed his own writing?

    And indeed after observing what I regard as its faux sophistication (purporting to catalog all the factors one should consider before lending belief, and then assigning “points” for or against his effort), the only logical conclusion became clear:

    Simply put, this was Mr. Oehmen subtly suggesting that it was wrong [ad hom deleted] to give full credence to what he wrote originally. Despite the absolute categorical nature of his assertions in same about some of most important issues imaginable for millions of people.

    Now I realize that this comment might be tagged as “ad hominem,” but, again, what is Mr. Oehmen’s piece other than an extended disquisition on the mentality of those who read his piece and believed him?

    And it would take no more than minutes to find any number of comments on this site that have not been banned personally taking anti-nuke power critics to task, and indeed ridiculing them in a real ad hominem fashion, as opposed to my comments here.

    Very possibly—indeed hopefully—this Fukushima event may prove to be *the* single most dangerous scientific/technological thing of its kind in Mr. Oehmen’s professional life. [ad homs, personal attack deleted]

    MODERATOR
    BNC has only recently(since the huge increase in traffic) been moderated. Please point to any comments, from that period on , which appear to ignore ad hom/incivilities addressed to individuals as opposed to comment on positions of various “camps”. Volunteer, part-time moderators may at times miss such remarks, especially on Open Threads where the rules are more relaxed and which are less closely monitored.

  38. as a non-science person, I want to thank you for all of the detail that has been provided.

    There are people in the blogosphere who thrive on spreading panic and disinformation. They will take some of the facts and feed this to their followers, which in turn is fed to others, and all with the intent of creating panic etc. (the conspiracy theory types).

    Thanks to the original article, I was personally able to remain calm but take each crisis one day at a time. Yes, at first there was over-optimism, but the fact is that one has to divide up each of the events that have taken place.

    For example, the first event was the earthquake. The equipment shut down as expected, and the back up generators began working as expected. No one had anticipated the huge tsunami which was about 12-14 metres in height. The generators were placed high enough to withstand about 10 metres, not the height of that tsunami. This was problem nr. 1

    Each subsequent event seemed to be a follow-on from the tsunami, but one thing caught my eye regarding the explosion in one reactor, where there appeared to be human error involved. In that reactor, the rods were exposed for something like 140 minutes.

    It is this rod exposure that I believe actually changed the potential outcome. I am not sure if this is the same reactor where there are unexplained leaks, but would be interesting to see if this is the case. I think it might also be the same reactor where there is evidence of plutonium leaks.

    Either way, the explanation here, and on the Adams site has been helpful to this inexperienced person, in putting the accident in perspective.

    There is a lot that can be learned as a result of the nuclear accident at Fukushima. However, one thing is certain, it is better to not panic than to have people heading for the hills because of a vast over-reaction to the event.

  39. I will always remember being charmed by the core catchers that did not exist at Fukushima One, as well as the “hermetically sealed” second (or, as Oehman liked to put it, “third”) containments that were having seawater pumped into them. That’s some hermeticism! How many “points” ought to have been added to the article for these artistic masterstrokes, Doctor Oehmen does not venture to guess[ad hom deleted. Personal attacks /opinions on a person's motives violate BNC Commenting Rules.]

  40. I liked JO’s summation with one reservation. In determining whether there is bias one needs to explicitly ask the question ‘Is there objective, peer reviewed evidence elsewhere which refutes the position being presented?’
    I make this point not because I am opposed to any of JO’s content. In fact it is rather refreshing to see his assessment processes articulated rather than ‘trust me; I’m an expert and you better believe me’ approach which has been all too evident in recent times.
    Having worked for over 20 years as a health professional in an Australian regulatory agency, I am aware that any objective, systematic review of the published literature should be verifiable and repeatable by 3rd parties. Specifically, answers to all the following need to be provided viz.
    which databases were searched?
    what time periods were covered?
    what search terms were used?
    what boolean logic was employed?
    how many citations were retrieved at each stage of the search?
    what selection criteria were used to include/exclude papers for further analysis?
    Unless all details of the search are disclosed one cannot preclude the possibility of ‘cherry picking’. Most people seem to be entirely unaware of this.

  41. You may be surprised to learn that I’m not anti-nuke in the slightest, although I have strong reservations about the industry. I am very much anti-propaganda on technical issues, though, from either side.

    As I wrote the original piece at Genius Now, that’s probably important (my name is Greg Burton, btw – the raspu10 has to do with a basketball site I comment on). Today I wrote to the editor-in-chief of the MIT student paper (at his request) that it may possibly be sheer coincidence that the specific details of this situation match classic astroturfing. It is, however, somewhat improbable.
    [ad hom, personal opinion of a person's motives deleted]

    As I wrote, I asked MIT for specific information about my concerns, and that was not answered. Had they answered it, I would have published the response – as I did when I was able to talk with someone close to the NSE department.

    Like Dr Oehmen, I would rather be focusing on something else. In my case, that would be disaster mitigation and resiliency planning. Nuclear energy as a whole is rather down the priority list, since climate change, political turbulence, and geologic shifts all are far more likely to be proximate causes of such disasters.

    As Taleb points out probability goes out the window once a black swan event happens. Unfortunately, such events are increasingly likely in our world. Under these circumstances, accurate information is more valuable than reassurances, and mistakes rapidly become disinformation, intentional or not.
    MODERATOR
    Personal attacks on integrity, assertions of a person’s motivations, ad hom remarks made about any contributor or commenter are not tolerated on BNC – see Commenting Rules.
    In answer to one such imputation, made by this commenter, please read this:

    Barry Brook, on 15 March 2011 at 5:04 PM said:
    I have never received a single cent (i.e. $0.00) — personally or to my university — from the nuclear power or uranium industries. Indeed, I pay to run this website out of my own pocketbook. I am doing this because I think it matters. I care deeply about environmental sustainability, mitigating climate change, and providing abundant low-carbon energy to current and future society, whilst minimising our global environmental footprint.
    Please stop questioning my integrity, and calling me a shill. Not only is this false, it is also grossly unacceptable behaviour.

  42. Josef Oehmen,
    Many thanks for doing a wonderful job communicating to the general public.

    There were several issues in your presentation that bothered me (I am a physicist with a minor in chemistry). For example you assume that the explosions captured so dramatically on TV were caused by hydrogen that was formed by the dissociation of water.

    If the accounts of injecting sea water for core cooling are correct it seems impossible that the temperatures required for thermal dissociation could be achieved.

    Is it not more likely that the hydrogen resulted from chemical reactions between metals (e.g. Zircalloy) and steam?

  43. @gallopingcamel: “Is it not more likely that the hydrogen resulted from chemical reactions between metals (e.g. Zircalloy) and steam?”

    Hydrogen here results from radiolysis of water. In other words: fission decay products hitting water molecules break it into pieces. This gives all sorts of by products, including H2.

  44. The question is never how much radioactivity is released, it is whether someone (or how many) will receive a dose large enough to be harmful in some way.

    Three Mile Island released lots of radioactivity, but the dose to nearby residents was very low.

    The Wiki entry I find to be rather good on this:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Three_Mile_Island_accident

    We need to be careful with release versus dose. Throwing large quantities of radioactive noble gas xenon in the atmosphere sounds scary but if you look at the actual dose numbers they are tiny.

    IMHO we are better off talking about dose and never gross releases of radioactivity, it avoids the standard media confusion.

    All this has made something painfully apparent: people don’t understand how a nuclear powerplant works, they don’t understand radiation, alpha beta gamma, Sieverts and Curies. Hopefully the Fukushima event will make people read up more about the basics of nuclear technology. It was in doing this that I became a strong proponent of nuclear technology. And the more I read today, the better I like it, the more I read about coal pollution and real solar and wind performance, the more I like nuclear.

  45. Raspu10, my moderators are making many subjective judgement calls each day, and people will naturally disagree with individual decisions, but I trust – and rely on – their decision making. I don’t see much of the material they prune or delete, nor do I need to. Their decision on moderation is as my decision. The alternative is that all comments close – because an unmoderated science blog is unacceptable to me.

    I disagree with you on two points, 1) that I was misleading about Josef’s credentials, and 2) that criticizing the quality of the article on the basis of those credentials constitutes anything other than an ad hom. It is, at least by my definition of the term, and arguments by authority equally carry little weight with me.

    My observation to you is that you are too prone to read conspiracy into circumstances that have more parsimonious explanations, and if you’d bothered to take the time to look over the accumulated material on the BNC site before effectively labeling it as astroturfing, your theories would be much better grounded.

  46. @Raspu10 “As Taleb points out probability goes out the window once a black swan event happens.”

    In other words, after an event happened, its probability is 100%. Very useful indeed :-D

    “Unfortunately, such events are increasingly likely in our world. ”

    By definition, black swan events have an extremely low probability of occurring. Claiming that they are more likely is absurd.

  47. A comment on the media. I know they came in for a fair bit of criticism from comments on this site but I think most of them have had a very tough job, especially early on. Most journalists would have had little technical expertise to draw on and it would take quite a while to sort out which “experts” were credible and which were just over confident charismatics. Added to that was the fog of war style lack of specifics from the coalface. After the first week had passed I found the journalists, at least those on Australian media, to be more responsible and balanced in their reporting. However in the world before http and google I imagine this journalistic learning process could have taken years, if it even happened at all. So bravo for the Internet and all that it has enabled.

  48. Asking people to enter your blog and to converse with you and your guests should be considered in the same way as inviting people into your home.
    Most decent people would never enter a person’s house, and abuse the other guests. Discussions occur, differences of opinion arise but only the most uncouth would stoop to invective, verbal attacks on a person’s credibility and downright rudeness and incivility. They would be banned from entering your house thereafter and quite rightly so.

  49. i find it a bit funny that you started analysing now why some of your prosepcts were wrong (obviously), instead of just saying, okay guys, we were wrong.
    that’s it. let’s go on discussing about the subject again.

    i think that most people wouldn’t care so much about that the prospects were wrong at this point as Barry stepped back from some of the points every now and then and tried to build in new facts. which was a good way, but it turns out now, that there simply are no facts. at least no facts scientist work with, which is reliable facts and numbers.

    it is exactly that notion that makes me suspicious if someone is a ‘professional’ scientist. science seems to become an end in itself. all of a sudden the discussion is not about Fukushima and nuclear power anymore, but about anylysing how people reacted to the initial post and why and so on. it is not just ‘a little bit worse’ than your prospect, infact it seems to be much worse and i totally go with shelby here, when he says it is better to reckon with the worst and then calm down piece by piece if the situation really turns out to be harmless and not so bad. it just harms your credibility and is counterproductive to your goals, which are making people believe that nuclear power is the thing. i was a very aggressive person here in the beginning, then calmed down a bit as a lot here seemed to make sense and gave me a wider perspective on some of the stuff happening. after that i stopped posting but just read and followed as there was not much to say and it was just so many information out there and nobody could say what was right and what was wrong. now that the situation obviously turned out to be really bad and out of control (plutonium leeks out into the ground, etc.) i have to read this halfhearted excuse by Mr Oehmen (which i understand from a human being point of view… for sure everyone has to care about his one integrity in a way to stay sane). but i find it a coquettish how he for example jokes about not getting a paycheck from the nuclear power industry and that he is not part of a conspiracy. yes, thank you. we got that long ago and actually: who cares? you don’t want to be in the focus? then get out of it. i think it is awkward that on one hand Mr Oehmen complains (and he is right with that! no doubt…) that this one email to his family got such a big thing and he wonders how this could happen and he would like to get a bit of his peace back (though this is my own interpretation, i admit) but then on the other there is a picture posted right beside his latest statement, so that everybody now knows how this person, who is wondering how this all could have happened, looks like. please, Mr Oehmen, don’t be surprised if a stranger starts talking to you the next time you are in a supermarket.

    this is just distracting at this point. it is not over at all.
    and it is not about what you said anymore. not at all. i thought that this blog got further already. and now it takes a huge step back in focussing on individuals.

  50. Pingback: Josef Oehmen and Fukushima – Would I have believed myself? « BraveNewClimate

  51. I live in western Japan and have friends and relatives in Tokyo. I was very worried about what was happening at Fukushima, and was somewhat relieved to read Dr. Oehmen’s original article, but mainly glad to get some solid, factual information. It helped me form a frame of reference for the information that began to pour out of my tv.

    I have read the comments here, but not Dr. Oehmen’s follow-up article.

    The Fukushima crisis is not over and is not yet what one could call stabilized. Only after the situation begins to definitly improve will I perhaps feel interested to read it.

    This BNC blog is great. I visit daily, and clip quotes from it frequently. I recommend it to my blog visitors as a reliable source of both information and interpretation of what is happening at Fukushima. Many thanks to Barry Brooks and everyone involved. The comments are great, too.

  52. Dr. Oehmen, I’m not interested in whether you (or anyone else) would have believed your original article.

    I’m more interested in knowing what you think is happening now in Fukushima, what your predictions are now, and any suggestions you have for people living in the area and/or in Tokyo, or any suggestions you have for what TEPCO should do. I think they’re out of their depth, for instance. What do you think?

  53. I want to compliment Barry for his very effective running account of the Fukushima Dai-Ichi accidents. You have provided a reasonable voice in a sea of hysteria. If, as your critics suggest, you have sold your soul to the Devil, you made an exceptionally good deal, one which the Devil would no doubt regrets.

  54. I don’t like the kitegen at all. Grossly impractical design. They’ve been attempting this for decades with nothing but computer renderings to show for. We built molten salt test reactors in the 50s, 60s 70s, they worked well and problems were quickly solved. We also built lots of LWRs and they work fine. Fukushima is the worst LWR crisis so far and yet no one is killed by radiation. In the face of a 20000 + death toll earthquake and tsunami, that just shows how robust the technology is, even in quadruble beyond design basis accident, old primitive 1960s technology gen I containment BWRs. All the newer BWRs in Japan are fine. Shows we need lots more new reactors with advanced passive and non-electric cooling functions.

  55. “In the face of a 20000 + death toll earthquake and tsunami, that just shows how robust the technology is, even in quadruble beyond design basis accident, old primitive 1960s technology gen I containment BWRs”

    The death toll comparision is irrelevant and is missing the point in question.

  56. Coal v. nuclear

    “Relative to watts produced, coal kills 4,000 times more people than nuclear power,” Grist contends. “Our pervasive sense that nuclear is more dangerous, when the opposite is so clearly true, comes at least in part from a cognitive bias called the ‘availability heuristic’ – memorable events that are easier to think of, like nuclear disasters, tend to seem more common.”

    http://www.grist.org/list/2011-03-24-for-sheer-deadliness-nuclear-cant-hold-a-candle-to-coal-gl

  57. @Francois are you seriously arguing that the opportunity for cascade failures does not increase with increasingly complex and interconnected systems? A fair number of system scientists would disagree with you on that, as would an observer without bias either way on this particular issue.

    I happened to talk with someone working on uranium-enrichment plant design while stranded in an airport Sunday. Of interest was his description of the modeling done for disaster prevention. It was of interest that the industry now models for cascade failures in a far more substantive way than was done even half a decade ago. This points out that at least some of the industry not only recognize the issue, but are also willing to do more than mouth simple lip service to the concept.

    @Barry Our problem here is that whether intentionally misleading or not the original post was picked up by a fair number of people simply because “MIT scientist” was included in the credentials without specification. That’s an empirical fact, borne out by a large number of discussions with people who did just that. The entire article was presented as an argument by authority. If unintentional, this discussion could have easily been avoided – I don’t see how pointing that out, or that confirmation bias may well have been involved, is per se an attack upon you. My beliefs about your motives are beliefs – the description of events that led to them are separate, and can be verified. While I remain open to having my beliefs challenged and perhaps changed, the sequence of events that led to my reading remain, and distortions of those events are both disturbing and inappropriate.

    I understand, and sympathize with, the sense of being surrounded by people hostile towards nuclear power without understanding it, and the defensive mind set that comes from that. Given that, and where things are now, I believe that publishing Dr Oehmen’s material in the way you did winds up hurting the credibility of “green nuke” advocates far more than it helps. It has done nothing to help the credibility of MIT or the NSE department at a time when legitimate academic expertise is under broad attack in many fields. I find this unfortunate, regardless of motivation.

  58. (opinion)
    The reasoning behind death toll vs Nuclear Plant problems is wrong.

    Fukushima must be analyzed in a context of a nuke-plant-in-trouble scenario. Whatever happened around, name it floods or plague around it, is not matter of nuke security. Nuke security must stand by itself.

  59. Coal has a spent fuel problem too; it is called coal ash. I wonder how many square miles would have been poisoned if Fukushima was a coal plant. instead of a nuclear plant.

    A life time of coal ash washed in land for six miles seems more damaging than the nuclear plant damage so far. Oh yeah, the daily emission over forty years from a coal is just mass murder.

    We have two choices to power our planet; coal or nuclear. It seems to me that the nuclear option is the safer option, but I could be wrong.

  60. @ draaft. People died in this tragedy, if Japan had no nuclear plants more people would have died before the tsunami due to fossil fuels and just as many would have died during the tsunami. Workers in control rooms in nuclear plants are safer than farmers and fishers near the shore.

    People dying is NOT irrelevant when fossil fuels kill hundreds of thousands per year and natural disaster tsunami kills 20000 +.

    We are talking real deaths here. 9 moment magnitude quakes are NOT safe and 14 meter tsunamis are NOT safe.

    Perspective is important. Opportunity cost is important. Closing nukes means more fossil fuels which kill certainly. While I agree that lessons can and MUST be learned from Fukushima, nuclear safety does NOT stand on its own, isolated from everything else. You must always think in terms of alternatives. Make no mistake. Nuclear can always be made safer by investing more. Unfortunately there are limited funds, funds can also be spent on building tall tsunami dikes around population dense areas and this can save many lives whereas the nuclear radiation killed no one and is not likely to kill many. It shows that design of the plants has been done with adequate risk analysis.

    In a world of limited resources, we must make decisions. Delaying nuclear construction means killing peoply by fossil fuels. We must do what we can on safety but you can’t protect against all disasters.

    The fact that people disagree with this line of argument shows that people are not aware of risk assessment and the fact that we live in a world of limited resources but unlimited desires.

    I don’t see how this is counter-productive. I feel people do not know rational risk assessment and do not know enough perspective. The media does not care about perspective. If you look at the media coverage you’d almost think all the misery is caused by the Fukushima plants while in reality, the real deaths and misery are caused by a devastating tsunami and earthquake.

    Finally I would like to note that newer plants were not in trouble. The newest already have passive cooling for emergencies. So yes for new build this must be stressed. Nobody is building 1960s technology mark I containment BWRs with full electric power requirement for decay heat cooling.
    MODERATOR
    This conversation id beginning to stray off-topic. Please continue on Fukushima Open Thread2.]

  61. Moderator

    I would say that Ms. Perps comment of:
    Ms. Perps, on 29 March 2011 at 4:58 PM said:

    Is just a personal attack and should be deleted. Same sauce for the goose and the gander.
    MODERATOR
    Borderline comment but in the interests of equity it has been edited.

  62. Before I post my ideas on the topic of this thread, I would like to say civility is starting to decrease again. No matter how strongly you disagree with someone or think their points are wrong or bogus, address the points and not the poster. I wouldn’t proscribe mild chastising, but not strong direct attacks. The moderators are not here all the time.
    MODERATOR
    Thank you William for pointing this out again. I do go back over the overnight comments but do miss some as there are pages to wade through. I tend to skim through Open Thread as the rules are relaxed (and the comments often very long-winded) – however, the civility rule applies to all comments wherever posted. If anyone picks up any violations of the BNC Commenting Rules please bring that to our notice.

  63. I’d read these and then opine; I’ve been realizing that almost everything we read about how the reactor should function under stress is from the original design spec and design changes required in the US.

    But what’s actually involved is the actual reactors installed and maintained as they have been.

    These are — rather different in practice than in theory. We don’t know much about the actual condition, but there is some information in this bunch:

    http://www.google.com/search?q=site%3Awww2.jnes.go.jp%2F+trouble+individ

  64. Let me correct that, China has halted all plans for review, and what I was remembering is a little better than the Mark III– China is still building mostly Gen2 reactors:

    http://www.world-nuclear.org/info/inf63.html

    “… more of the Generation-II CPR-1000 units are under construction …. Only China is building Gen-II units today in such large numbers, with 57 (53.14 GWe) on the books.”

    Also GenIII+ plants, like those pictured here:
    http://www.skyscrapercity.com/showpost.php?s=90578b5b4bc81e3c114a25d21c434d90&p=59241357&postcount=739
    MODERATOR
    Hank – this is getting off-topic – I have asked the original commentor to re-post in Fukushima Open Thread 2. Perhaps you could do the same. Thank you.}

  65. Seems to me after all is said and done concerning the general subject matter of this thread is that, as regards hyperbole, factual errors, and then especially categorical forecasts that are proven wrong within days if not hours, one should hold pro-nuke people like Oehmen to the same standard one holds anti-nuke people.

    Therefore the question is what would be the judgment here about an anti-nuke writer who penned a piece sharing the characteristics of Oehmen’s original?

    Does anyone believe they would be thanked here for at least contributing something to the discussion?

    Maybe so, but I have a hard time seeing it.

    We humans have a marvelous facility for not perceiving double standards.

  66. Barry, keep the faith… Don’t let the mass hysteria wear you down.

    The US industry has fully ramped up, despite the incomplete technical data on the extent of the damage caused by the multiple beyond DBA events.

    The media reports still remain a concern… Which should be and has already been blamed on the Utility spokesmen… (not qualified to technically speak on what they are releasing…) This is a huge hole in driving the media hysteria.

    Beyond that public hysteria, it’s spawning a complete legislative (political) hysteria here in the US. Elected officials without any technical knowledge are also grabbing the moment to get a spotlight. Much like the media reporters are selectively picking facts.

    It has been a long ride so far with incomplete technical data. There is no predictable endpoint based on the existing reports. The real design issues behind the event will take months to reveal.

    The event still seems to be following accident protocol and responding to immediate concerns in my opinion.

    The US Industry will respond… or the NRC will shut down operating plants or require modifications as appropriate. That I am sure of. That is a historically based opinion post TMI.

    Things will change in the US Nuclear Industry as the result of this event… The event has already made the US Industy jump and “try” to analyze beyond design achilles heels based on early technical reports.

    The initial required NRC response actions have already resulted in alot of man hours expended to anlayze or answer concerns beyond the design basis of the existing plants. This is just the beginning though as more technical details are revealed.

    Current actions are centered on verifying or demonstrating existing Severe Accident Management procedures can be implemented as revised/enacted after 9/11 in the United States.

    What worries me most is the US political base ultimately drives decisions. Not technical facts or knowledge, much like after TMI. This is the vulnerability for the US Nuclear Industry.

    The media and the US political base stopped the nuclear industry here for over 30 years following TMI without much knowledge or fact.

    Beyond that, all this event is covering up the more important world decisions currently being acted on by the US and NATO, such as what is happening in the Middle East. It’s providing a huge smoke screen for political ambitions/aims/goals.

    It’s a sharpened double edged sword for those to push those political ideals. “Anti-Nuke” or “Middle East” political solutions.

    “Never waste a crisis to push the current agenda forward”. A perfect storm for the political based masses.

  67. Re People Complaining about Moderation

    I am puzzled and maybe a bit concerned about people complaining so much about the moderators here. I am a new poster here, coming in after Fukushima, and this is the first blog I have followed or commented on. I avoided them like the plague because I remembered sifting through dozens or hundreds of messages of vitriol in a USENET flamewar just to get to something interesting. That was when most of the internet traveled on T.1 lines at best and the posters were restricted to the major universities and students. It is now orders of magnitude bigger and the pool of posters changed dramatically from a few hundred thousand students and professors to hundreds of millions of people, many of who lack the ability or desire to tell fact from opinion or sometimes even outright fiction. The potential for rancor and venom to completely overrun information and knowledge in such an environment should be self evident.

    The moderators here are working hard to provide a place for rational discussion and exchange of ideas. To create an environent where opinions can be informed by facts and not the other way arround. A knock down drag out fight can be had anywhere and while a discussion can devolve to an argument going the other way is seldom going to happen. The only way to keep a civil environment is to guard it ruthlessly. They have said they are new at moderating all this traffic. I doubt any of them are professional editors. They will get things wrong, miss stuff, over react and over correct after a bit they will get very good at it or give in. So far I think they are doing well. We as readers and posters are just going to have to live with their learning curve.  

    I think this posts piece on critical evaluation of information is great. The scoring is a bit pedantic but if it helps people evaluate their source information I am all for it. On that subject there is a wonderful book by Dick Heuer that talks about cognitive bias or why we are more likely to believe one bit of information but not another. Anyone who wants to evaluate information in as honest a manner as possible should give it a look. 

    https://www.cia.gov/library/center-for-the-study-of-intelligence/csi-publications/books-and-monographs/psychology-of-intelligence-analysis/PsychofIntelNew.pdf
    MODERATOR
    Thank you for your support. Yesterday, after a particularly nasty couple of personal attacks ,which hit the Trash bin (to spare our dear readers as much as me:)I seriously thought of quitting my voluntary post:) You are right – I am on a learning curve and I am also a fallible human.

  68. I can tell you exactly how I reacted to the article by Josef Oehmen. I got to his article on this website, because a friend’s daughter living in Japan linked to it. Her comment was “it is hard to stay calm when you see things blowing up :/” in response to one of her friends being reassured by it. This was made on March 14. I responded to her link the same day and said:

    “This is a good general explanation of what is going on, with a few minor errors. I think the tone should have indicated that this is a very serious nuclear accident. There will be no massive release of radioactivity, but there might be significant releases. This is worst than Three Mile Island, but much less serious than Chernobyl. The cleanup is going to be much more difficult than indicated. The whole containment structure is contaminated. It is going to cost a lot of time and effort to clean this up.”

    That was my assessment of the article and the situation at that point in time with my limited knowledge of what had occurred and my Nuclear Physics background. I learned a lot more over the next days and weeks. The next couple of days brought the whole spent fuel problem into focus. I had never read about the SFPs being a problem in a nuclear accident. What I initially read did not sound good. Information was lacking or uncertain on the actual state of the pools. I could see that enough radiation could be released locally to almost preclude the operators from controlling the reactors or the SFPs. What would happen then I had no idea. By Wednesday I checked back with that friend’s daughter to find out where exactly she was in Japan. Her parents had already persuaded her to leave, and since she lived within 60 kms of the plant, I concurred. Not that my opinion would have mattered. This is what I wrote:

    “Hi ####, I’m glad you are trying to get out. I have been monitoring technical sites, some of them very pro nuclear and this is the most serious nuclear accident since Chernobyl and has the potential to get to that level. No one really knows. Tokyo background levels went to twice natural yesterday, but returned to near natural today. Here is a site that is monitoring counts per minute (cpm) [link not important], which is a crude measure, but gives you some idea of what is going on there. Take care and pray for westerly winds and the efforts of the nuclear workers. I hope I haven’t freaked you out, it is just they don’t have control of the situation and no indication when they are going to. Radiation levels are not dangerous yet, except local to the reactor and a few spots outside, but this is a dynamic situation.”

    Now that was more pessimistic than it actually turned out to be, but given the uncertainties and lack of information I thought it was a fair assessment of the possible risk. As I have learned more over the last few weeks, I would reduce my assessment of the potential risk, but not that she should have left. Just the emotional strain of dealing with the earthquake, the aftershocks “wants to get off this ride. It shakes too much”, the tsunami disaster, the rolling blackouts, the empty store shelves, reactors “blowing up” and worried parents would be enough to convince a lot of people to leave for a while, regardless of the physical risks. I hope she goes back when things settle down and a proper assessment of the situation has been made. She really likes Japan. And I salute the people of Japan who have been dealing with this crisis in a much calmer manner than I think would have occurred almost anywhere else in the world.

    Now after giving my reaction to the nuclear situation, which you can assess as being reasonable or not, I will make some comments on what I have thought about what has happened on this website. As my response to my friend’s daughter indicates, I thought the assessment by Josef Oehmen was on the optimistic side with not enough emphasis on the negative aspects or possibilities. I didn’t know at the time that this started as a personal email to a family member. As such, I don’t fault it. It was his personal assessment. Once it went viral, he had some obligation to correct it, which he did. He kept the same tone, which I had disagreed with, but if he changed it too much, he could have been accused of rewriting history. I guess the above is a bit of a mea culpa and I have no real problem with that. He could have been more critical of himself, but I think others are making up for that in the comments.

    Now this site is pro-nuclear and I see some bias in favour of the pro-nuclear position, but not excessively so in my opinion. They have commenting rules, that people more use to the free-for-all of other sites, may not be use to. There was even problems moderating the site due to volume. I think they have done a reasonable job, but that may be because none of my posts have been deleted or modified, that I know of, though I have been warned about drifting off topic and told to post on other threads, if I want to continue on a particular topic. I have complied.

    I also thought Barry took a little too long to agree the situation was more serious than his initial assessment. Maybe by a day or two. During this period the situation was changing rapidly with a lot of uncertain information. With all that was going on and the other things he was doing, I don’t fault him too much. I think he wanted to be sure of what was happening and what the new situation was, but that is imputing motivation to someone, which isn’t allowed here. ;)

    Anyway, that is my thoughts on the matter.

  69. Apropos of Mr. Oehmen’s original piece William Fairholm wrote:

    “I didn’t know at the time that this started as a personal email to a family member. As such, I don’t fault it.”

    You know, Mr. Fairholm, I had overlooked that in my above posts so critical of Mr. Oehmen. (Or at least what criticisms passed the moderators.)

    Yes however, I think once it went viral—esp. given it was presented as coming from a “scientist”—that he should have put out amendments/disclaimers or etc. right away, and prominently.

    And yes too I’d bet that if it turned out to have been spot in terms of what did happen he would be pleased.

    But … you’re still right about his mindset when he penned the original, and I think that does weigh lots in his favor: He was writing to a family member. He ought to be accorded lots of slack.

    Good observation, sir, and a good dose of apology to Mr. Oehmen. Not total, but substantial.

  70. This event is beyond TMI, and is currently classified correctly. That I would bet on.

    In my opinion, the only reason it would get beyond Chernobyl in classification is the ultimate land based release area.

    Technical data released currently only supports localized land based area issues of public concern. I fully recognize this event is not over and reserve final judgement on it’s classification or effects. The area of coverage could grow, depending on the efforts ongoing at the site to contain the current multiple release problems.

    Currently though, referencing the release data released, it does not yet approach Chernobyl for land mass area affected long term.

    This event may indicate an industry wide analysis weakness for multiple large reactor site release and exposure calculations though. A weakness we all should consider.

    This assumption may be traced back to an original industry based assumption, 1 reactor, 1 accident, design basis accident.

    At the Fukishima site, we have multiple reactors affected with multiple beyond design basis accidents. This results in mutiple reactor releases and a complete new out come for those calculations.

    Validity of the reported data and that assumption is a problem that is confounding even those that would attempt to predict the current damage or outcome.

  71. Pingback: Top Posts — WordPress.com

  72. Pingback: Some intelligent comments on the Fukushima nuclear crisis

  73. A personal email to a family member can justifiably contain excessively optimistic reassurances. One would not chastise a friend or relative or even a medical professional for being excessively optimistic prior to surgery, even if the surgery were serious.

    The post was ALWAYS clearly marked as such, even on this site, however a conspiracy is about the only thing as exciting as a nuclear disaster . . . and in this fantastic story, the two combine to something so extraordinarily exciting that the internet and even to an extent the mainstream media could surely never let it slip by unnoticed.

    I came to this site with a limited understanding of science because I was seeking out some truth in the midst of a mass nuclear hysteria. I knew enough about the science and about the media to take the hype with a grain of salt. I live in Brisbane, and in our fair city, we lost only 1 life to the recent flood, but the media hyped it up to such a frenzy that my family and friends from elsewhere were in a desperate panic, concerned for my welfare. It looked to all the world like the flood was consuming the entire city. It was certainly serious, and there is no doubt that it affected the people in the Lockyer Valley in heartbreaking ways, but in Brisbane it was not the end of the world as we know it. We’ve cleaned up, and life moves on. After the recent earthquakes, I was actually contending with suggestions from my colleagues that the end of the world was nigh. Should we give in to hysteria, or look to science for a rational explanation?

    In the light of the events at Fukushima, I again turned to science. Not having a strong background in nuclear physics, I went looking for a reliable source, but one that was easy to understand. I settled here because the overview is simple enough that I can understand it, and the articles and comments provide useful links which give me the choice and opportunity to seek out a deeper understanding if I require it. Opinions must be backed by facts, and nobody so far has indicated that I can’t form my own.

    My frustration in any debate, is when one side is too certain, almost to the point that they will not budge, but if the opinions are shifted in line with the facts as they come to hand, I will find the point of view credible. That was certainly a risk on this site in the early days, but that stance was modified fairly early in the unfolding saga as soon as actual information was released. For this reason, I return to this site for the balanced scientific analysis – an analysis which is almost entirely absent elsewhere. You simply can’t argue with facts, and when the facts become available, they are posted. I find it frustrating that there is still the suggestion that this site is biased when I can trawl through the comments and see so many differing views. If I saw evidence of an unfair bias, I’d simply leave.

    Like any rational adult, I took the original post and this site in general as nothing more than a starting point and to jog my mind about the technical issues concerned. I then went further to better understand the way the modern reactors work. The science presented here seemed to make sense, and the information is presented rationally and calmly. That which was presented as fact was referenced, and so I accepted the facts – but as in anything, the opinions I form must be my own. I have noticed a general tendency on the part of those we may well call pro-nuclear to be overly defensive, but it is entirely understandable in the light of some of the anti-nuclear comments I have read. The polarisation is common in any debate. Certainly a middle ground is required, but the middle ground can’t be reached unless we take in all the comments for and against, and a rational position can’t be found without considering the weight of evidence. I don’t think anyone on this site has ever said that nuclear power is entirely without risk – certainly not in the posts I’ve read. All I’ve read is that it’s safer than you might think, it’s safer than it was, and on the whole it’s safer and cleaner than the alternatives – and the events at Fukushima have not led me to believe otherwise. In a disaster of this magnitude, there has still been no widespread danger. The drama unfolds on the site – as would be the case with any facility, and until such a widespread disaster occurs, and it can be proven to be more destuctive than an oil spill or other toxic leak, I’ll continue to consider the moderate stance taken by Barry and his suspected co-conspirators as entirely reasonable.

    I think it’s a terrible shame that it was necessary for Josef to write a subsequent post teaching the world how to think critically when nobody is calling the doomsayers and mainstream media hypsters to similar account.

  74. Long ago and far away, around the time the Daiichi units were finishing construction I was a Nuclear Engineering student. I bailed out based on a decision to pursue another career, but I have a fair grasp of both the engineering and the physics involved.

    Within an hour of the earthquake and associated tsunami I set out to get status on my son and his family who live well to the south of Fukushima. After many long hours he was able to reach an active internet drop and let me know he, his wife, and his son were fine, but very worried.

    It seems that the foreign journals and news sources had nearly immediatly discounted the 10s of thousands of people who were in danger from the effects of earthquakes, tsunami, exposure, starvation, and physical wounds. They began beating the drum of the Fukushima “Nuclear Horror”. I cast around for a good way to explain what I was reading and hearing on NHK, the official channels, emergency channels, and rational sources of informaton, when I encountered your email turned blog. It was perfect!

    Using the criteria you’ve stated above, and based upon what I was able to garner from emergency channels, official media, the incoherent babble of the “main stream media”, and then drawing upon my background, I gave your article a 6, and decided it would be useful as a tool to help inform my family members who were potentially in harms way about making informed decisions.

    I spread it on twitter, and passed it along to my son, and discussed any questions he had using the article as a basis. It did a great deal to offset the hysteria that was pouring in from all sides around them, a virtual tsunami of fear mongering and yellow journalism.

    As always, situations change, things get better, and things get worse. Anyone who has worked an emergency knows this, and prepares for it. The fact that things progressed and became worse at units 1 and 3 were just some of several possible outcomes. How fast power could be restored, logistic support restored, cooling be restored (especially in the spent fuel storage) were all things you could not account for in your email at the time of writing. There was nothing wrong with what you wrote.

    Experienced emergency management teams anticipate the hype and drama that modern “journalists” bring to the situation, and are prepared to discount these elements. Unfortunately the most common reason for bystanders to make bad decisions that lead to their harm is the lack of accurate information, causing them to flee when it’s unnecessary and panic when there were still options available to them. We see this in wildfires and similar emergencies constantly. If the various detractors here believe they could have done better at the time then they’re welcome to try at the next opportunity. If they’re smart, they’ll have learned something more than how to self-aggrandize by tearing down other’s work.

    Thank you for putting your email together for your cousin, and your cousin for posting the email to a blog, and to Barry for posting it here. It was a valuable tool for me and mine.

    Regardless of the sometimes idiotic feedback you receive on the Net, most of us know you did well. Thanks again for your efforts!

    Kind Regards,

    Larry Oliver
    @tweetingdonal

  75. Pingback: While Japan frets over nuclear fears, garbage piles up in cities – Washington Times

  76. @Ms. Perps,

    “And NOONE includes you and the worst case scenario presenters.”

    Not one single time have I even SUGGESTED what the outcome might be. It is very[ad hom deleted] on your part to imply otherwise.

  77. Barry made the mistake of posting his picture on this page of BNC – http://bravenewclimate.com/2008/08/31/so-just-who-does-climate-science/

    Take a look. Can there be any doubt? No wonder he quickly became the “internet friend” of the “fiendish genius” “mastermind”, i.e. Josef Oehmen, and was his co-conspirator extraordinaire in that horrible plot to make an informed expert opinion on the events at Fukushima available during a time when it seems so much of the rest of what was available was less informed and less expert.

    Re the people who attacked Barry for being too optimistic or whatever they were attacking him for. One such was Alex Smith, host of the “Radio Ecoshock” podcast.. He was one of the attackers who suddenly announced he felt differently after Barry said he’d changed his initial assessment to a slightly darker view. Many posted similar statements that day.

    Alex went off after that, trumpeting the assessment of Helen Caldicott. Now there’s an opinion for you….

    I heard the infamous Richard Lindzen giving his opinion on Bloomberg Surveillance, a US economics analysis podcast, to the effect that no one should take what climate scientists are saying now seriously because some of them once believed Earth was about to enter another ice age.

    I sent the host of the show, Tom Keene, an email to remind him of this quote from the economist Lord Keynes: “When the facts change, I change my mind, what do you do, sir?”

    Personally, I look to experts for their opinion. I don’t expect to receive the truth from on high.

    I found it very odd that The Energy Collective felt it had to distance itself from the Oehmen piece. My conclusion was that hysteria that Fukushima must be a titanic catastrophe in progress had set in so firmly it had become mainstream wisdom among whoever decides what is published there, and because Oehmen was so far out of line with that by then conventional wisdom The Energy Collective thought they’d appear to be hosting disinformation or propaganda at a time when it was important to be putting out the truth. Keep in mind that The Energy Collective will publish climate science denial, even though any editor I’ve talked to claims to understand how serious climate change is and that it is real.

    Can we donate to help out with the expenses of running the site? Put up a prominent button somewhere, like a PayPal link or something I will notice when I’m stumbling around……

  78. David Lewis, funnily enough, “Radio Ecoshock” were happy to interview me back in February 2009 when the fires were raging through Victoria. BNC was apparently bookmarked by Alex at that point. I guess I’ve since been taken off their Christmas card list…

    As to PayPal donations, my thanks for the kind thought, but as I’ve said to others in the past, I’d rather pay for the running of the site myself on principle. That is, I don’t want to be seen to profit from this venture in any way, because I do it for non-monetary reasons. Indeed, it’s fair to say that I get more than enough reward out of the work by having people read my posts and for them providing a wonderful stream of comments that really makes this blog alive (even if I don’t always agree with them!). That community input makes me feel rich indeed.
    (Oh, and I don’t get any $$ from the Google Ads that run — this is how WordPress extracts their pound of flesh for their otherwise largely free [and excellent] hosting service — I just pay them for domain redirection etc.).

  79. @david homes and some others…

    i can remember the times here, when people similar to DH were posting how shameful it is by the media to just report about the nuclear desaster which is going on.
    not about the tsunnami or the earthquake anymore. just concentrating on this one topic.

    for some reason most of those people are now not even talking about Fukushima anymore (nor Tsunamis or earthquakes). those people got totally excited about what Barry said or did or not said and not did or Mr Oehmen’s motives.

    in short: who cares. it is not over yet. there are other things to talk about.

    it is out of interest right now. just as much as some people wished to have a philosophical analysis of the events out of the discussion, this is something which now became bigger than the actual discussion which should be – following the rules – based on facts.

    the moment the situation turns out to be more or less hopeless (that is a bitter word, i know), it seems the discussion swings back the side which was a topic for some people here, but they have been told that we should talk about the subject and not focus on Barry or Oehmen. this can be done a forum for sociology. or you can turn this into one.

    i understand the need though of Barry and Mr Oehmen to defend or excuse themselves as they have been the people who got attacked personally.

  80. and Mr Holmes, it is close of being cynical of you to ask for donations for the site, while people in Japan need all the money they can get, while this site here would have never got the traffic it’s got without the events.

    just glad to see Barry behaving with integrity.

  81. Sophia
    I think Mr Holmes was just suggesting that , as Barry pays for running this site out of his own pocket, some people might like to help with expenses. Nothing cynical – I think that maybe there was a bit of a communication problem as I think English is not your first language (you are very good at writing it though).

  82. @Cyril R, on 30 March 2011 at 6:10 AM said:

    Cyril, first, sorry for the late reply. Moderators, out of topic, but just to answer Cyril.

    I do agree with “all” your arguments, don’t take me wrong. I am just pro-nuke general public, but wondering how arguments are affecting people. Denying is not the best solution, even if it is fair.

    Sarkozy and France actitude is a big response to this issue.

    So, I agree with you. But politics are a must in this case.

    Maybe, just maybe, if there was an international comitee ruling all this “globaly”, about safety, then all the doom press would be outruled. Clear international procedures, radiation levels for evacuating, and so on. This may be an opportunity.

    Again, politics come in again, as you cannot push every country to agree to this rules.

    But just wanted to say that I do agree.

  83. Don’t you worry, France has such a huge financial interest in nuke power and America is worried about oil/gas security that they will do all they can to make sure nuke comes out on top again (I think at any cost, cover-up).

    Don’t get me wrong, I am please France is going in. It has built up lot of expertise and France tends to do civil projects properly (railways etc). It therefore should be of great help.

  84. @Josef Oehmen

    If you feel the need to reasure people who are in fear of death and you find that dancing the polka on the balcony may do the job, you dance the polka on the balcony.

    Whether what you posted was entirely technically correct or not is utterly irrelevant. What is considerably more relevant is the fact that it actually comforted a very large number of people world wide and it did not result in actual danger to anyone at all.

    That is way, way more in both respects than can be said of the vast majority of professional publishing on the subject. Don’t you dare questioning the righteousness of any last word in your original post.

    It did good.

    Parrot

  85. Josef,

    I like your treatment about assessing a case, but I think more can be added on assessing the validity of a case like the one you made.

    To me, the responses of both the critics and those that agree are important. In particular, I want to know if the issues raised by opponents addressed or merely dismissed. The way criticisms are addressed is very important in my assessment of a controversial case. Those who ignore valid criticisms don’t have much credibility. Unfortunately, politicians often conform with this description.

    On the other hand, minor corrections can be made by those who are informed and build on the understanding of all involved. This website provides an interaction parallel to an intensive peer review process. Actually it is far better than the formal review process of only two or three reviewers who may or may not happen to agree with the case made. PhD examination is an example of a similar process. In my experience of being involved in research degree administration, examiners commonly have more criticism for the parts of thesis that are outside their areas of expertise.

    In contrast I have looked at other websites where the quality of posted comments is far more emotional. I looked at http://www.monbiot.com/ for example. The responses were very negative and lacked substance. Unlike BNC, however, their criticisms were not answered and the comments have since been removed. (I am not inferring that he is unreliable as a consequence, but that he could have removed the best measures of the quality of his content).

    On the BNC website I find that those who disagree with Barry still continue to read and post comments. This is another positive indicator that meaningful and productive discussion is taking place.

    The other advantage of the BNC site is that people provide links, so it is possible to look up issues of interest in greater depth. In short, it provides an excellent model for community engagement on controversial issues.

    To others who have commented above, discussion of whether Josef Oehmen or Barry Brook were too optimistic are disappointing. They provided the best information that they had at the time. The worst case scenarios, like threats of nuclear explosions, seemed to be incredible then and remain so. I have not read any defense of such claims and I would attribute this to them having no substance to such claims.

  86. Pingback: Would I have believed myself? On evaluating the quality of reports on topics that one does not know a whole lot about | Josef Oehmen's Private Homepage

Leave a Reply (Markdown is enabled)

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s