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This report is taken from PN Review 200, Volume 37 Number 6, June - July 2011.

A Letter from Tokyo C. E. J. Simons
Every foreigner living in Japan has a story to tell from the 11 March earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear disaster. The only contribution I could make to the collective Tokyo narrative and the surreal atmosphere in the city was to appear repeatedly on a Russian English-language satellite news channel, refusing to be drawn into comparing the Fukushima nuclear crisis to Chernobyl, and trying to explain why everyone should stay calm. A little learning is a dangerous thing, but not as dangerous as 24-hour rolling news.

The devastation and suffering in the northern prefectures of Miyagi, Fukushima and Iwate are unimaginable, and one month later, acute deprivation in the north continues. Yet the international news media thrive on crises of more sustained uncertainty and danger, and the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station provides the perfect chum for their feeding frenzy.

Paranoia among satellite TV journalists can spread panic more effectively than almost any mechanism in human history. Fortunately, in a nuclear crisis, this paranoia can be countered by the former paranoia of an avid science-reading Second Cold War youth obsessed with the difference between the A-bomb, the H-bomb and the neutron bomb, and the technological odds that the Reagan administration could actually deploy a space-based anti-ICBM laser or KEW.1 Fire can fight fire. My generation didn't grow up with the fake psychological reassurance of school duck-and-cover drills, but a far more effective series of deterrents - some literary, some low-budget, but all with long half-lives in ...

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