The porous pipeline of science

In his Dec. 6 letter, “Details from scientific sources,” E. Watters claims that I made “a few errors” in my rebuttal. I would argue that we have different opinions based on available data regarding the Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster.

I hope Watters is correct that the radiation that has been released will not harm many people or fish, but having studied the history of the nuclear power and weapons industries, I am less sanguine. We are already burdened with an array of assaults on our health from industrial processes, and increasing types of pollution in the environment are an unwelcome intruder.

I question his reliance for data on the same news and information sources that allowed the disaster to happen while on their watch. The Japan Times reported in 2004 about the earthquake-prone Hamaoka nuclear power plant, but now just a handful of mega-corporations control much of the global media and often ignore serious environmental issues.

Concerned citizens should be aware of the disparity between what industry-friendly scientists and independent ones often conclude from their research.

In the case of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear accident, for example, the International Atomic Energy Agency claims that only a few thousand people may eventually die as a result, whereas other scientists have put the ultimate number near a million deaths.

What is the truth and why the frightful information uncertainty? In our postmodern age, people have rightly lost faith in the established institutions to protect and guide them. Outcome-based science is also the new norm, with political agendas that produce predetermined results. The nuclear industry provides one of the most notorious examples: Nuclear weapons, depleted uranium munitions and nuclear power accidents potentially are putting the lives of millions, if not billions, of people at risk!

Downplaying environmental and health dangers is a cost-benefit analysis and numbers game. As McGarity and Wagner write in their book “Bending Science”: “Science no longer proceeds in a straight and insulated path through a closely supervised pipeline of scientific oversight; the pipeline is instead much more porous and vulnerable to a range of tricks developed by determined advocates to bend science to their own ends.”

Even though a majority of Japanese are anti-nuclear in their political outlook, it appears likely that Japan will be restarting a number of reactors next year regardless of whether the reactors are in areas prone to earthquakes or not.

What a tragedy this is in light of the fact that there are alternatives to nuclear, oil and coal-burning energy supplies. If only we were allowed to arrange our society according to real needs instead of stupidity and greed.

richard wilcox
tokyo

The opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of The Japan Times.