Thursday, March 24, 2011

Some more facts

Update 31.3.2011: I have attached extra figures from March 24 and March 30 at the bottom of this post. 

It seems people are continuing to interpret the confusing news coming out of Japan in ways that are, in my opinion, completely out of proportion to reality. I have heard one account of a whisky shop in Europe that said it would be canceling all contracts with importers and not taking any more Japanese whisky at all from now on.

To me, this seems wrong in many ways, some of which are really matters of individual moral choice. But I do think everybody has a responsibility to at least engage with the facts on this. It is just completely ridiculous to be talking about Japan as if it were a village. Talking about not buying products from the Osaka or Hokkaido because of the situation in Fukushima is like saying you won't buy products from Austria because of a problem in the Netherlands when the wind has been blowing in the other direction.

Below is a image taken from this official Japanese government website showing radiation levels in Japanese prefectures from the 18th to the 23rd of March (all the major foreign governments/nuclear agencies have been saying that the Japanese are being responsible in this situation and so I think these figures can be trusted). It follows on from the post I made previously covering the 15th to 17th and so presents a fairly continuous record. I have marked it with the names of whisky distilleries. The radiation levels are measured in microsieverts per hour. Microsieverts are a thousand times smaller than millisieverts.

Note that the Fukushima and the Miyagi prefecture measurements are not given in the graphs below. Miyagi is the home to Miyagikyo distillery. These are figures relating to Miyagi. Again, we do not seem to be talking about very worrying figures at the moment. Also please bear in mind that different locations in some of these prefectures are going to get different amounts of radiation. The background radiation will differ between prefectures.

To put these measurements in some perspective, one one-way trip from Tokyo to New York would give you and anything in your luggage about 100 microsieverts of radiation. Natural background radiation in the UK ranges from about 2000 to 7000 microsieverts a year (according to this Scottish Government news release). If that higher figure is right, and places like Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Aberdeen do have quite high background radiation levels, I think that means an hourly microsievert level of about 0.79 on these graphs. There are numerous sources of radioactivity in our normal diets. Consider the humble banana.

I make those comparisons not because I am trying to minimise the seriousness of the situation facing Japan following the earthquake and the accident at Fukushima. My son has just been born and I suspect I am more concerned about the radiation right now than the vast majority of people (hence my constant checking of stats like those below). I am no nuclear expert and I may well be being simplistic in my interpretation of radiation measurements (if anybody knows any better please post here/tell me, because I am convinced the best way to deal with this issue is to shine the light of reason on it). But I am trying my best to engage with the real stats and, as I say, I think it is everybody's responsibility to engage with the reality of the situation on the ground, rather than just recycling scare stories that have no foundation in anything other than the word "nuclear".

This is another good page, giving some different unofficial figures and some good context on the situation in Tokyo (which shows that quite substantial jump in radiation) in recent days.

Also, official reports on radiation levels in water:
March 22
March 21
March 20
March 19
March 18

Update: These are the figures from March 24-30. They are not presented in quite the same way. I believe the original figures excluded background radiation, while these show the range of normal radiation (will have to check that interpretation).


Finnegan said...

You say all the major foreign nuclear powers are saying the Japanese government can be trusted re: radiation levels. I sincerely wish the very best for the Japanese people but why should we trust governments that have lied through their teeth about the initial radiation levels resulting from accidents at Sellafield, Three Mile Island and Chernobyl, or the Japanese government for that matter?

buyo said...

I think we have to draw a distinction between different parts of the government structure here. There is a difference between talking about the nuclear industry, the department of government responsible for that industry and diplomatic services whose primary responsibility is looking after their citizens abroad. If you are going to be arguing that the British Govt has instructed its embassy to put its own citizens in danger because of some international pro-nuclear conspiracy then I think we are getting into the realms of conspiracy theory. In this case, all the embassies in Tokyo that I know of have said that the Japanese govt are being responsible. They have not always agreed on their advice but they have said that the Japanese govt can be trusted in the info it is giving out. I am not saying it is completely correct. I am not saying they will not find a massive scandal running up to this disaster (they almost certainly will). I am not saying there will not be an attempt to cover up that scandal. What I am saying is that I do not think it is likely that the figures I am giving here are being deliberately falsified and, to back that up, I am saying that none of the embassies appear to think that either. I think the IAEA has also said the Japanese govt's advice is to be listened to by people over here.

Anonymous said...

All governments lie to their people.

Personally I've not stopped eating japanese food or buying japanese products. I recently shelled out nearly $300 dollars for my first 21 year old Hibiki. If the price goes down further, I not hoping for it to but if it does goes down I'm buying more. I've also bought into Japanese related stocks and shares that have been beaten down from the reaction to this crisis. I bought some really good stocks way way below their net asset values.

My personal view is the Japanese will recover from this in time and since the worst in history of the world has happen and the Japanese have been expecting this since kobe this could be the turning point for the Japanese economy. Why? Because the Japanese government now has an excuse to spend heavily to rebuild public infrastructure where in the past they couldn't and didn't have such a basis for doing so. This spending will create many jobs and hiring this could bring the Japanese out of this 20year depression.


Dude said...

Hello, can I please have an update..?

Nonjatta said...

Update at the bottom of the post.

Nonjatta said...

If I was buying for myself, I would not have a problem. The prevailing wind has been away from the distillery (and landing on my head)and these whiskies are kept in barrels inside closed warehouses so I have no idea how radioactive material could possibly get in. I suppose there is a theoretical issue with water being used to distill whisky now (which I am sure Nikka know all about and will address) but that is not an issue for any whisky being sold now.