More on the Nuclear Fog

By Clive Crook

Still tearing my hair out in frustration at media analysis of the nuclear emergency in Japan, I had word from my friend Peter David (Lexington at The Economist, and a former science writer) directing me to this blog maintained by nuclear engineering students at MIT. It's good, and it's worth a look. Helpful information! It brought my core temperature down a little.

But I still don't know the answer to the question: "If everything that could go wrong does go wrong, what are we looking at?" Answering this does not require full knowledge of what's actually happening at the plant,  which nobody, including the people on the site, appears to possess. It calls for little speculation: in the first instance, I'm not asking for a probability. (One thing we've learned: statements of what's likely or unlikely in this affair need to be heavily discounted.)  I simply want to understand the outer limit of the emergency. My guess is that this knowledge would be reassuring rather than panic-inducing, but in any event it would be good to see the scenario explained.

Under the circumstances it's wrong to single out articles that have driven me up the wall this past few days, since there are so many. With apologies, though, I cannot resist clipping this Reuters piece, Japan scrambles to pull nuclear plant back from brink. (The brink of what? That's my question. No answer, needless to say.) The piece does actually contain some information, so thanks for that, but then it concludes:

"This is a slow-moving nightmare," said Dr Thomas Neff, a physicist and uranium-industry analyst at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Get an expert on the phone, and make a careful note of the most useless thing he says. End your piece with that. I hereby close my collection of Triumphantly Worthless Expert Quotations. I don't see that one being surpassed.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2011/03/more-on-the-nuclear-fog/72574/