Sunday, March 20, 2011

Nuclear Crisis : Separating Hyperbole from Reality....

I haven't blogged much in the past 1 week. The reason is I've spent most of my spare time collecting facts and analysis of the Fukushima nuclear incidents.

Remember H1N1? The fear started when several hundred people died of flu in Mexico. When it broke out and alert levels were raised, suddenly there was a rush to buy Tami-flu. More reports of death from H1N1 in US and Europe. Panic ensues. Pundits on TV call it a deadly strain - a "swine flu" and these people had expert qualifications. Later there was speculation that it would mutate to a deadlier strain and so on. At the height of the panic, Minister Khaw raised the alert level in Singapore and measures to put in place after SARS was activated - people visiting loved ones at hospital had to be checked for temperature, and visit to patients limited to 2 at a time. I have to give some credit to Minister Khaw for he appeared quite calm and was probably moved into action by the fear among the puble rather than reality - he had to putting in precautionary measures to reassure the public. One talking head on CNBC said this flu will sink the global economy.


The H1N1 scare started in May 2009 [my posting on H1N1]. It turned out that H1N1 was just a normal flu. WHO which raised the threat level later came under fire for calling it a pandemic[WHO under fire] and has been criticized for relying too much on experts with vested interest from the pharmaceutical industry. Lets get this clear, I'm not criticizing WHO using hindsight - there was a real possibility that H1N1 could have been a deadly strain since little was known about it at that time. I'm pointing out the tendency of the media today to feed our fears with a deluge of "worse case scenarios", expert opinions and fan our fear to a point that we lost the ability to make sound judgement and take the best course of action.

Lets take the on-going "nuclear crisis" in Japan. Let me ask you what is the most likely outcome of this "crisis"? Actually nobody can say for sure what it is because it is still unfolding.
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"This is worse than Chenobyl because multiple reactors are involved" - pundit on TV.
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While the potential for a disastrous outcome e.g harmful radiation all the way to Tokyo is there are we made to think that these are outcomes are more probable than they really are? For example, our NEA put out a public assurance that there is no danger in Singapore [No cause for alarm here] because some Singaporeans, a very small minority, became fearful that radiation will spread to Singapore.

The panic and fear reached a high on Wednesday when several govts issued warnings and offered transport to bring their citizens out of Japan. When you look at this, there is a tendency to conclude that govts with the best expert advice have made this decision because there is a real danger of something sinister happening. But remember govts are also under pressure to act because they are made up of politicians - also they may be making precautionary moves because they have little to lose and have to be seen as being pro-active. How real is the danger of harmful radiation reaching Tokyo and should you leave if you're in Tokyo? There were many people doing a "wait and see" before Wednesday but once the US & UK govt called for a pull-out, the fear factor rose several notches and if you're a Japanese in Tokyo watching all the foreigners "abandoning" your city, you start to feel some anxiety and later panic. One EU official used the word "apocalypse"[Link] to describe the situation in Japan and the fear index hit the roof....then a whole herd of experts came out to paint more dire scenarios saying the Japanese have lost all control of the nuclear plants. All this lead the public to think that calamity is the most likely outcome of the unfolding saga and if make a decision from all this, you will just run for the exits if you're in Tokyo. All this is happening while the Japanese govt is trying to calm the people and prevent a pandemonium after the triple disaster hit the country. In China, people have emptied the supermarket shelves of iodized salt because of media reports that the consumption of iodine can block radioactive iodine from being absorbed by thyroid glands causing thyroid cancer. There are also reports of people getting ill after ingesting iodine pills out of fear of radiation.

How do we go about to find the "worst case scenario" and the "most likely scenario" given this confusing mix of expert opinions, statement from officials, media fear mongering? It is a challenge to get to the "reality" and filter out all the noise. It is also a good exercise in critical thinking, organizing your thoughts to make the best decisions. We do not know when the next crisis will hit us (touch wood) and when it does we do not want to over-react, under-react or react in haphazard manner. We want to react in a way to get the best possible outcome. So how do we do this?

Step 1: Gather all the facts. The plain facts.
Step 2: Analyse it scientifically. To figure what you know and don't know.
Step 3: Work out how the situation will evolve - worse case, best case, most likely case.
Step 4: Monitor the situation to see where we are headed and act at the "right" time i.e. when there is some clarity.

The facts surrounding the nuclear incident is collected at this wikepedia page[Link] - much of it is factual, what temperature was measure and when, which reactors are known to be damaged (cracked), and specific problems with each reactor and so on. The next part, the analysis is difficult if you're not an expert you have to rely on an expert. Suppose you're are a IT manager managing a large IT project and somehow there is a system failure involving the database system and you're no expert in database so you talk to the expert to understand fully what happened before you can make a decision. For the Fukushima incident, there is no lack of expert analysis given the scale of this event and public interest in it. Next you follow what the Japanese are trying to do to see where we are headed.

The wikipedia page provides a summary of various solutions used and the effectiveness of these solutions[Link]. Right now the focus is to cool down the reactors and the spent fuel pools. While the whole situation is dynamic, there is no sign that it is a lost cause. Even if the cooling fails, and a meltdown occurs, containment of those nuclear reactors will limit the amount of radiation in the air. There is some fear that these are damaged leading to more radiation leaks. There is also the problem of spent fuel rods kept in pools of water - when the water level falls these fuel rods are exposed to the atmosphere and radiation is leaked. They are firing water from water cannons to into the pools to prevent this from happening. If cooling fails, and a meltdown ensures, they have the option to do what the Soviet Union did in Chenobyl and that is to encase these nuclear reactors in concrete. Most of the massive amount of radiation from the Chineobyl incident spread because of the explosion of the reactor - there is no possibility of this happening here as the reactor design is different.

During the early part of the week, the media and pundits stepped on the "fear creation accelerator" focussing on the possibility of disastrous outcomes while ignoring possible solutions and options. For example, pundits played up the risk of the SFP (spent fuel pools) running out of water in reactor 3 causing the rods to be exposed to the atmosphere and releasing massive amounts of radiation into the atmosphere. The Japanese fixed this with a relatively simple solution of spraying water into the pool from fire trucks. There were also pundits who claimed the Japanese authorities were not transparent (and dishonest) further fanning fear and suspicion surrounding the situation.

"I prefer not to speculate about the future, but as days go by, the risk of a total meltdown is reducing" - Graham Andrew, IAEA, 18 March 2010.
Nobody can say for sure how this crisis is headed. As of today, the risk of a total meltdown has been reduced. However, if one was listening to some segments of the media earlier this week, disaster was the only possible outcome. Fear and panic itself would have caused a disaster Imagine the mess created by millions fleeing Tokyo in a haphazard manner - the sick, old and invalid left behind, food & water distribution disrupted - would have led to more deaths much worse than the worst case meltdown that would have led to reactors being entombed. It also shows us the importance of leadership we can trust - the Japanese Minister Yukio Edano held 5 press conference every day[Link] to update the nation on the dynamic situation (compare that with the initial handling of SARS outbreak).
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I hope the Japanese succeed in getting the nuclear reactors under control. Extraordinary crisis requires extraordinary leadership, extraordinary sacrifice and extraordinary courage. In the confusion and fear, it is hard for people not to panic and flee but most of the Japanese in Tokyo stayed calm despite all sorts of scares. If another group of people are put through a crisis, the response may be completely different (e.g. Hurricane Katrina, were people fought, robbed and looted).

46 comments:

Anonymous said...

we are not japanese, understand?

try to make us one, we rebel

Anonymous said...

We live in an inter-connected world,and any upheaval of economic, natural disaster or geopolitical event can be exaggerated and exacerbated by hyperactive 24/7 media.
You are right,let`s get the facts before we jump. But can we stay calm when we see the stock markets around the globe crashing? Even so-called professional money managers begin to bail out first and ask questions later.

Anonymous said...

what I am interested to hear is..first person talk. leaders should tell us what they would do for the country with their money before they ask what the country will do for their bank accounts.

Anonymous said...

so, is the PM trying to tell us to go eat more sushi?

Anonymous said...

when you come down from your high places and say...yes, WE WILL EAT WITH YOU, then and only then there shall be progress or wld you rather, EAT YOUR WORDS?

Anonymous said...

aiyah, I think they better stick to fine dinning lah HA HA HA

Chee Ming said...

Media pundits like to play on the fear factor of the audience; Audience, for some reason, likes the scare the hell out of themselves. I guess it's shows that the lizard brain of the audience is working well and fine.

The same can also be said to a pandemic, a crisis, 2012, end of the world and the list goes on...

Anonymous said...

If disaster strikes Singapore, 100% confirm we will have plenty of looting, robbing, raping and fighting. Within 24-hrs, old fart will order martial law with curfew from 6pm to 7am everyday and mobilise his personal gurkha battalion to establish defensive perimeter around Oxley Road and Bukit Timah.

Anonymous said...

want to be the cock and talk cock? show me YOUR money.

Knower said...

The truth is that we have smart crooks now in government, media and particularly in the financial industries. These players are using their expert knowledge to shake the status quo so that they could preempt market conditions and create the scenario necessary for huge profits to be made in such volatile situations. The reality is exxagerated for one reason: so they could profit from the markets. In the last asian fianncial crisis, George Soros spoke of this. He sculpted the scenario to take place by him merely prophesing how the future situations in the markets would unfold. What does this mean? This mean, there is no democracy. Democracy is now in the hands of smart crooks who are using their positions of influence to profit from the non-accountable capitalistic economic model that we now live in today.

What does this mean for us? Be careful how you use your money. As these large institutions such as Merryl Lynch, AIG, Lehman Brothers, etc. are ready to go bankrupt and still draw out a severence paycheck by the millions without any accountability. The reason why governments can't do much is because the financial institutions has gotten so complicated by euphemisms that even Obama needs to reemploy the same group of advisors to advise him to fix the very sub-prime crisis that happened in America; caused by the very people he is hiring who had created it in the first place.

What does all these augur for us? The world we live in today is now more volatile. Save your money as much as you can and clear your debt as soon as you can.

There is no rule presently that prevents any of the local banks in Singapore to raise interest rates on the HDB loans that couples are drawing out over the next 20 years indefinitely.

hayek said...

East Asian do not loot. Even when flood and earthquake devastated China in the most backward region, no looting occur.

I can never be too sure about non East Asian.

But if Singaporean East Asian loot, we will have to thank PAP for succeeding in corrupting us to such debase level.

Anonymous said...

Actually don't have to talk about the nuclear fallout.

Just look at the haze which had happened quite a few times in the past, sometimes even reaching hazardous levels.

Can our government do anything to prevent it? Despite having well paid and talented ministers?

So even if the nuclear fallout comes to Singapore, will it not just be like the haze, except that it is many times more deadly?

So what to do? Just pray lah.

hayek said...

"If disaster strikes Singapore, 100% confirm we will have plenty of looting, robbing, raping and fighting."

You must be an idiot. I repeat East Asian do not loot, not even during major calamities. There may be small scale isolated event but looting in definitely not part of our culture.

I cannot be too sure about FT.

Anonymous said...

just like saying we don't litter. why bother to fine right?

Anonymous said...

Dear Mr Lucky

//
I have to give some credit to Minister Khaw for he appeared quite calm
//

Wow. Love the way you spin "piss in the pants paralysis" as "calm". Good job!

Btw, NSP intends to field a Christian woman in a SMC. Please make sure she never shows her face again in civil society... remember ... reality has a liberal bias!

Anonymous said...

what I am interested to hear is..first person talk. leaders should tell us what they would do for the country with their money before they ask what the country will do for their bank accounts.

20/3/11 11:42

do what some leaders do, preach it and pocket the tithes.

Anonymous said...

Mr Lucky

//
While the potential for a disastrous outcome e.g harmful radiation all the way to Tokyo is there are we made to think that these are outcomes are more probable than they really are?
//

Why do you think the Fukushima 50 went back into the nuclear plant despite knowing its certain death. To save the company money?

Yes, Tokyo is safe for now. Thanks to stoic, heroic Japanese plant workers, soldiers and firemen.

//
The Japanese fixed this with a relatively simple solution of spraying water into the pool from fire trucks.
//

SIMPLE?!!!
Ha ha ha.

I think you should stick to WP-bashing.

Anonymous said...

no,no,no....eat your holy bread secretly LOL

Anonymous said...

Why in hell are we increasing ministers' salaries this year when they have clearly underperformed? Are your flats cheaper? Why in hell are they paid millions when they can't even fix the haze issue for us? Fucking stupid Singaopreans. I hope PAP milk you guys like a cow. No, now it has gotten to such level where they can even milk donkeys out of you daft and scary cat Singaporeans. From the momnet you were born in this country, you have learnt more about fear and control than graciousness. You have learnt more about greed than any other race on this earth. You dirty ugly fucking daft Singaporeans.

Anonymous said...

Your writing on japan is off the mark. You should live there first before reading articles and coming to a conclusion. You talk so much about the mechanics of Beethoven symphony but you didn't even listen to its song. With regards to this article, you're pathetic.

Anonymous said...

nah, Japanese sushi tastes better. that's why our highfalutin ministers eat it quietly while we poor commoners gotta settle for stale bread from the heavens ha

Anonymous said...

yum yum...HAHAHAHA

Anonymous said...

Goh Chok Tong is pathetic. He use to compare us to Swiss standard of living, now he has switch tack and is comparing us to the Japs. Let me see here. The only people in this country who is enjoying uber Swiss standards is the [fill the blanks]. Your guess is as good as mine.

Anonymous said...

Stoic like the Japanese? If PM feeds us with sashimi everyday maybe we will be more stoic..lol

They are a homogenous people with a proud history and we are a plate of rojak who has to run better, cheaper and faster.

In a small island, how not to run better,cheaper and faster across the causeway? lol

Anonymous said...

singaporeans love to eat sashimi...

pm should be very happy :)

Anonymous said...

LOL

Anonymous said...

Dear Mr Lucky,
i don;t fully agree with your article.
Because you wrote it with the benefit of some hindsight on 20th March when things seem to have improved slightly.
The main reason why your article makes no sense is you work on the basic premise of a scientist, gather the facts and analyse.
The problem is YOU HAVE NO MEANS to gather the facts, unless perhaps you are the CEO of Tepco. Or you are one of the cohort of Fukushima 50.
The facts are, the facts in real-time, is not available to the normal public. It's gone through numerous massaging at the Tepco level, at the japanese level, at the american's level and so on.

Without facts it is not wise to insinuate that a certain party is fanning the flames of fear. Likewise without facts, one can't fault a party for being specifically calm about the incident.
We simply don;t know, we can't possibly know. In fact we will never know unless you have a friend working in the nuclear plant itself.
Therefore, i think your article is of no or little value, it is just too theoretical.

rex

Anonymous said...

One long load of crap.You must think that the intelligence is stupid.

Anonymous said...

Put a price to stoicness, singaporeans sure bite.

Anonymous said...

was watching the news...all parties and out to bait their fishes....first time see so many "smiling faces" as they go round baiting..hehe..

mediacock interviewed one auntt..she said...no competition, where got excitement and satisfaction of winning.

hehehe...I think we need to feed her with Japanese sushi to win her vote...hehehe

Anonymous said...

LOL

Anonymous said...

no wonder I see the q so long outside of ichiban. saliva drip drip drip can't wait to eat Japanese sashimi and be like them...stoic :)

Anonymous said...

This is a sudden question out of the box. But does any brothers on this site knows where I could get more information about having a child? Could someone point to a site or a link that tells me what sort baby bonus or any sort of support we, singaporeans have in having a child? Every bit helps as I'm going to be a father in 7 months time.

I would have asked someone I know but I'm an orphan.

Anonymous said...

Great Minds Discuss Ideas; Average Minds Discuss Events; Small Minds Discuss People.

Anonymous said...

Does lucky like sashimi?

Anonymous said...

he likes chicken rice...haha

Diamond said...

I agree with Lucky that in alot of crisis like these, there's always tendencies for 24/7 media & social networks to spread false exaggerations than reality and facts on the ground. Someone from Yokohoma was fed up with the hyperbole that he actually started a hall-of-shame for irresponsible journalism. See example that were called out..

http://bit.ly/ehZSHQ

OTOH, wikipedia is also not 100% foolproof. They are written by volunteers, and while it has the appearance and tone to sound factual, one can never take that as a gospel of 100% truth too. Of course, if any disaster were to happen in SG, I will be the first one to read ST propaganda. So the crux is still - every individual needs to apply their critical thinking, curiosity and judgment to decide where truth lies.
Because cover-ups always exist whenever a disaster of such scale happens. See what someone exposed :

http://bloom.bg/iibVkD

I can only hope that in crisis like this, that my leaders are honorable, with integrity and will do the right thing. That of course, will require us to sort the Men from the Mice.

Anonymous said...

leaders must eat sashimi. otherwise, not enough stoic spirit to perform hara kiri.lol

Anonymous said...

Form NHK news, No gases to be released from No. 3 reactor.

My understand, Tempreture goes up and Pressure goes up too. If no gas, that mean no pressure.

Just pouring water can cool down a nuclear reactor ??? Hahahaha

I really don't know who to trust.

Anonymous said...

Worries not if our talents remain with us.
Many fellow countrymen, experts and laymen, bloggers included, have assured us that Sin is too far for the radiation to affect us.
Anyway even if it does comes in large doses to our homes, there is nothing we can do. Can we?

patriot

Anonymous said...

I had always had a lot of admiration and respect for the Japanese. You must understand the majority are Chinese here. Typical Chinese behaviours are "you die your business", "I will only protect myself and my own property", "touchwood, don't anyhow say", can take advantage must take, cannot lose out to others", etc. So do not expect too much unless the person truly loves GOD.

Anonymous said...

Extraordinary times calls for extraordinary leadership .... my foot.
Every crisis either real or staged has been used by the Powers That Be (PTB) to control and cull population ... To put in place patriot acts n all manners of Internal Security to control and "Fix" the sheeples and political oppositions..... japanese media just like CNN CNBC BBC are all mind control weapons of mass destruction put into every living room and every sleep walking zombie's head to further mind fuck us.... If they report differently from time to time and these channels are on your same mainstream media cable box, then i suppose its the elites having their occassional turf wars. Most of the time they collude on price, fake competition etc under the banner of Free Trade Agreements & globalisation and mostly agree amonsgt themselves that we the sheeple should be Royally F***# from our behind since those colonial days.
So please watch and listen to news with care....even seeing is not believing much less listening......
And when u see bush and lewinski Clinton appeal for billions of doolars in aid...... beware!!!

Anonymous said...

Fearmongering is the best way to control the masses.......

Anonymous said...

Why in hell are we increasing ministers' salaries this year when they have clearly underperformed? Are your flats cheaper? Why in hell are they paid millions when they can't even fix the haze issue for us? Fucking stupid Singaopreans. I hope PAP milk you guys like a cow. No, now it has gotten to such level where they can even milk donkeys out of you daft and scary cat Singaporeans. From the momnet you were born in this country, you have learnt more about fear and control than graciousness. You have learnt more about greed than any other race on this earth. You dirty ugly fucking daft Singaporeans.

20/3/11 19:26

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