Japan news: Please tell us what we want to know

A hypothetical conversation with an online news story upon awaking this morning …

TOKYO – Workers scrambled to deal with a new source of high radiation at a stricken nuclear power plant Wednesday.

Yikes, that’s bad.

Radiation levels momentarily peaked at 5,389 gigasomethings, but officials said the level was down to 3 at the plant’s gate within a few minutes.

Oh, that’s … better? Wait — where was the big boost? At the plant? A little ways away?

Foreign tourists and some local residents fled Tokyo as the radiation level reached 400 times what a normal person would be exposed to if he stood naked in a chemistry lab for three hours.

Wow, Tokyo? The radiation has reached that far? That’s horrible.

Joe Expert, director of nuclear policy for the Nuclear Power Producers University Institute, said the amount of radiation was still well short of any level that would be harmful for humans.

“The only way this could affect humans outside the plant would be if the boric core rod iron were to reach temperatures that would melt the fourth containment unit,” Expert said.

OK, that’s … reassuring?

The 50 remaining workers fled their posts at the plant as radiation levels rose.

Holy crap. That’s terrifying. What happened next?

Unease continued in the capital.

“We’re really worried,” said one resident.

That tells me nothing.

Officials later said the 50 workers had only temporarily gone inside and that the operation to pump water into a stricken reactor was not interrupted.

I’ll flip over to the news on TV …

“We could feel the shaking in our Nagoya office for a good … oh … 15 … 90 seconds. It was really scary, and I was once 300 miles from a 6.0-magnitude earthquake in …”

Click

“… not Three Mile Island, but maybe Chernobyl …”

Click

“… California residents have bought 4 million doses of iodine …”

Which is unnecessary and potentially harmful. Click.

Obviously, this is a fast-changing story and very difficult to report. But when people check in, they want to know this:

1. What happened since they last checked in?

2. What are the reasonable threats to (A) workers at the plant, (B) the long-term habitability of the land around the plant, (C) people within 20-30 miles, (D) Tokyo and other major population centers that would be nearly impossible to evacuate?

“Meltdown” tells us nothing. “Serious” tells us nothing. “Radiation levels rose” tells us nothing.

And most of the stories we’re seeing today tell us nothing.

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