Fukushima: The Knock-on Effect

The ongoing crisis at Fukushima and the other stricken Japanese nuclear plants will have effects that we couldn’t have possibly foreseen before the earthquake struck – effects that could profoundly change the way some industries work.

First, there’s the hit that the nuclear industry itself has taken. Nick Clegg has already warned that the push towards more atomic power stations in the UK could be halted. There are safety concerns, he insists. I don’t agree. Fukushima and it’s brethren were forty years old, hit with a 8.9 scale earthquake and a twelve foot high tidal wave, and still managed to hold containment for over a fortnight. Unless Mr. Clegg knows more about the British weather than the rest of us, I can’t see how his concerns apply. Nuclear power is not the ideal solution to our power needs, but it’s an important addition to the post-oil mix, and not one that should be ignored because of groundless worries over multiply redundant safety features.

There’s more. Sendai district, home to the Japanese semiconductor industry, has been effectively shut down by the earthquake. Sony, Toshiba and Panasonic have all closed down factories there. This is going to have major implications down the line for the wholesale electronics market. Lens makers have also been affected by the disaster, and Nikon and Canon have both closed their factories due to earthquake damage. There are going to be shortages of high-end cameras, LCD displays, car engine management components, just to name a few examples off the top of my head. In the short term, anything with a chip in it could be subject to short supply. Have a look around you now, and think about how many objects depend on a microprocessor. Your phone. Your PC. Maybe your watch. The till at the place where you buy your morning coffee. This is terrible news for the Japanese economy, and isn’t going to help the global market one little bit.

The crisis is hitting closer to home, too, in the industry in which I work. The production of high-end digital tape formats like HDCAM has also halted. At the time of writing there are maybe two weeks of global supply remaining, with no sign of when it’s likely to resume. This is likely to be the kick in the pants that the video industry needs to go completely tapeless, producing programme deliverables either on drives or directly into client servers. That changeover needs to be quick and brutal. I predict the collapse of the digital tape market, as customers migrate en masse to a new way of working. Again, rotten news for the Japanese market – although hard drive manufacturers should probably brace for a surge in demand.

We have our knickers in a knot about the radiation coming out of Fukushima, but we’re not thinking about the ways in which the compression of the world’s third largest economy is going to effect each and every one of us. Japan needs our help – but we need Japan too.

As ever, hit up this link for donations and info about the ongoing situation.

The News From Japan (and what’s really going on)

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I mentioned last week that I was bothered about the way the awful news from Japan in the wake of the earthquake/tsunami/nuclear emergency trifecta was being reported. Turns out I’m far from the only one. The Japanese are bewildered and angry by the way the Western news media have been focussing on the drama at Fukushima to the near-exclusion of reportage on the very real and growing humanitarian crisis elsewhere. Worse, the focus, particularly on American news networks, has been to talk not about how the incident is affecting the Japanese, but how it is likely to impact on American lives.

This shouldn’t surprise anyone who’s seen American news programmes. They are shockingly insular. Foreign news is either a sixty-second sidebar, or non-existant. The rolling news networks have had to address wider concerns as a way of filling time, but even then the coverage is one-dimensional, and astonishingly ill-informed.

Take a look at this footage of pundit and harridan Nancy Grace, arguing with a weatherman about the likely spread of a plume of Godzilla farts to the California coastline.

Danny Choo writes an informed, comprehensive and geek-friendly blog about Japanese culture, and he has been tenacious in both logging the flawed coverage, and pointing out just how skewed from the reality it can be. Images like this give the lie to the fact that the population of Japan is evacuating in a mad panic. His must-read list of the most wildly speculative bits of news coverage includes, I’m sad to say, posts from the BBC News website, whose reporters really should know better.

I am not for one instant trying to belittle what has happened to Japan. On reading around I am more and more impressed and amazed with the way the Japanese are simply getting on with their lives and the job of reconstruction in the face of disaster. They deserve better and truer representation from the world’s news media then the lazy sensationalism that appears to be the norm.  These are tough times for Japan, and they don’t need this nonsense.

You can donate or get up-to-the-minute and accurate news about the events in Japan right here.

+++UPDATE+++

X&HTeam-mate Elina has pointed out to me that there’s an ever-growing list of bad reporting (including the Nancy Grace piece) up at The Journalist’s Wall Of Shame. Well worth a look. Thanks, Elina!

(Heart)Breaking News

I’ve stopped watching the 24 hour news channels. I’ve contemplated switching off Twitter. In the face of a developing drama like the one that is engulfing Japan, I’ve come to the conclusion that there’s very little information coming out of rolling news sources, and a whole lot of conjecture, speculation and plain old stirring the pot.

We have no way of knowing what’s going on at Fukushima. Really, we don’t. Until Japanese authorities give us updates, we’re in the dark. But because the 24 hour stations have to say something, and because the nuclear emergency on the north-eastern coast of this beleaguered nation seems to be the only news story worth telling, (regardless of the awful ongoing crisis through the rest of the country) we get guesswork. An endless stream of experts, rolled on to give worst-case scenarios based on the tiny scraps of information they’ve been able to glean. We get what ifs and deadlines. If I hear the phrase “The next [vague time period] is crucial”, I’m going to scream.

And of course, it’s an ideal time for both pro and anti nuclear lobbies to pitch up a tent and start proselytising. You get scare stories and I told you so’s banging up against safety records and unforeseeable circumstance. I think I know less about nuclear power now than I did when I started.

Facebook and Twitter have always been home for the sudden appearance of rumour and conjecture dressed up as fact. I’ll make myself clear right now. Anyone on my feed that starts talking about how this is payback or divine retribution gets an instant unfollow and a report. I’ve already had to refute the outrageous map doing the rounds that claims to be from the Australian Nuclear Authority, stating radiation levels that the Fukushima plant will never come close to coming across the Pacific in a plume of death. This is the sort of environment in which pranksters thrive, and I think we all should all know not to feed the trolls by now.

Look, I don’t want to make light of the horrible situation that’s going on at the moment. Part of the reason for closing off the news feeds is because the images coming out of Japan are so unbearable. But I think it’s best to at least take a step back away from the torrent. You’ll never be able to slake your thirst if you try to drink from a full-on hosepipe. Developing news is just that. I’m allowing myself a daily update from a trusted source, and that’s it.

The best that we can do is to donate, keep Japan in our thoughts and prayers, and not, however inadvertently, spread harmful rumours and outright lies.

The best place I’ve found for donations and contact information is Google’s centre: http://www.google.com/crisisresponse/japanquake2011.html

Let’s keep our fingers crossed, and don’t believe the hype. Stay strong, Japan. We’re with you.