Journalism in the Public Interest

Our Reading List for Following Nuclear News From Japan


A Self Defence soldier holds a four-month-old baby who survived the recent tsunami with her family at Ishinomaki, Japan on Mar. 14, 2011. (YOMIURI SHIMBUN/AFP/Getty Images)

If you’re trying to follow the news from Japan, you may be finding that the news is coming out faster than you can actually read it.

We’ve compiled a few resources that we’ve found helpful as we track this developing story. With the news itself overwhelming enough as it is, we’re trying to keep it short so as not to overwhelm with quantity, but feel free to put your suggestions in the comments below.

Resources for news in real time:

The Guardian has kept a helpful live blog going, keeping it up to date but not too cluttered. The New York Times and NPR have also been updating.

As for Twitter, The Globe and Mail's East Asia correspondent @markmackinnon has a good Japan twitter list to follow. The UK's Daily Telegraph (@TelegraphWorld) has another. Energy writer @JesseJenkins has a list specifically on the nuclear crisis. The Japanese government’s press secretary Noriyuki Shikata is also tweeting at @norishikata

How nuclear plants work and what's at risk of happening:

The Wall Street Journal has good backgrounder on how nuclear reactors work and what went wrong in Japan. It covers the basics, including the difference between a partial meltdown (what’s happened so far) and a full meltdown (the situation that Japan is fighting to avert).

The New York Times also has a helpful interactive for understanding some of the technicalities about nuclear reactors. The Washington Post has a map of nuclear plants in Japan that shows the reach of the evacuation zones overlaid with population density (tab 7).

We've also reported on why the storage of “spent” nuclear fuel is a growing safety concern for Japan—a concern related to but separate from fears of a full meltdown.

The public health angle:

The World Health Organization has an FAQ on the health risks of radiation exposure in Japan. About 140,000 people have been ordered to stay home to avoid exposure.

NPR has a short explainer on the iodine tablets being distributed at evacuation centers. We noted that those pills were deemed by U.S. officials in recent years to offer limited protection from the effects of radiation exposure.

About the wider crisis: 

The New York Times has a quick look at the current state of things on the ground right now in Japan: More than 2,700 confirmed dead, thousands still missing, and about 400,000 living in makeshift shelters and evacuation centers.

The Times also has before-and-after interactive satellite images showing the devastation to key locales. And the Big Picture blog, as always, has compiled several sets of incredibly heartwrenching photos.

Nuclear safety concerns outside of Japan:

The Post interactive includes a map of nuclear plants in seismic zones around the world (tab 9). It shows that in the United States, two plants in California are located in areas of "very high" degree of seismic hazard.

We’ve also published a piece on the capacity of U.S. nuclear plants to handle a major natural disaster like Japan's. And given the New York Times piece today on the design weaknesses of the reactors used in Japan, McClatchy Newspapers has a piece on the 23 nuclear plants in the U.S. that use the same reactors. General Electric, which designed the reactors, has defended them as safe and reliable

Harvey M. Solomon

March 15, 2011, 2:31 p.m.

The claim that potassium iodide has limited effectivness in protection against uptake of radioiodine by the thyroid gland is based on a political decision made during the Bush administration to meet the demands of the nuclear power industry. The industry was concerned that the stockpiling and distribution of potassium iodide around nuclear power plants would cause people living in the immediate vicinity of these plants to be concerned about how safe they were. In retrospect, it appears that everyone living adjacent to such plants should be seriously concerned that potissium iodide is available for immediate administration. The effectiveness of potassium iodide in blocking the uptake of radioiodine by the thyroid is a direct function of how quickly it can be administered. The sooner the better. The centralized storage of potassium iodide at a remote location is an exercise in futility as in most instances it will become available long after it is effective.
The issue of administration of potassium iodide is a canard raised by the nuclear power industry. The WHO, the International Atomic Energy Commission and our National Research Council have all agreed that the first level of protection is the administration of potassium iodide to the exposed population. The Japanese are following the world wide standard of practice in their response to this serious nuclear event.
The only real protection from serious accidents at nuclear power plants is to cease building them. Everything constructed by man is subject to failure. Experience has demonstrated that failures at nuclear power plants can have serious consequences.

Frank Stallone

March 15, 2011, 3:58 p.m.

@ Harvey M. Solomon “Everything constructed by man is subject to failure. “

History shows, again and again, how nature points out the folly of men.

reading the first comment, i’m deeply conflicted which is the greater folly operative here: hubris or greed?

@ Harvey M. Solomon

I hope you heed you own advice and move out of your home .. after all it is subject to failure and its collapse would injure or kill you.

Marian Wang

Thank you for the article and especially the links. I keep comig back to say thanks but take off on another electronic detour…  :)

It seems we are about to have all our questions answered, the containment effort is all but abandoned.  Helecoptors and fire trucks are not much hope.

Harvey M. Solomon

Nothing and No-one is perfect.  I don’t know either of them.  Anything human is imperfect.  This week in Japan must be Hell.

It doesn’t even matter right now (to me) the rights and wrongs, or the pros and cons, too many people have died in too many horrible ways.
I just want to watch and learn, and pray.

Tsunami’s are terrible things but nature produces other dangerous environments for nuclear power plants and no one is talking about them.

Tornados certainly would give most of us pause as would a nor’easter or a hurricane.  I live in the kill zone of Oyster Creek’s Nucelar Power plant in NJ.  It is the oldest plant in the nation and has approximately 40,000 spent rods sitting between the Garden State Parkway and U. S. Route 9.  You can see one road from the other so the swath of land is not huge.

It took decades for local citizens to get the NRC to even admit that the plant itself - never mind all the spent storage casks and the first cooling room on the top floor - was not even built to sustain a hurricaine.

The plant is right at an inlet of a shallow Bay that is open to the Atlantic Ocean at Barnegat Lighthouse.  Hurricanes have been to NJ in the past and certainly Nor’easters are regular visitors.  This plant is a powder keg and if it ever let radiation into the air, for six months of every year the often swift southerly winds would blow the radiation right up to and into Manhattan with a few hours.

The people who live here are not the rich and famous and don’t have access to journalists of the first rank.  We don’t really even have our own television stations but are forced to rely on NYC or Philadelphia depending on where we live. 

Our lives are relatively humdrum and as a result we are never visited so the story of Oyster Creek stays hidden beneath the line.  But we are here and that 1960’s plant which just received yet another ten year extension to operate, promises it will start to shut down in the year 2019.  But to date so many promises seem to be forgotten because of political connections and donations that it makes many of us wonder in the currect drive toward developing even more nuclear power plants, if this very antiquated situation won’t get bailed out once again.

I have been to hearings and have found it amazing frankly that the major defender of permitting this plant to continue to operate - without even a proper cooling tower - is the NRC.  To a man, they are in those jobs to defend the industry and I for one have never once seen a single NRC employee even admit to the slightest validity of my neighbors’ deep concern about our living in a highly dangerous environment. 

This is a problem with many current scientific efforts.  People desgn things that on paper to many sound so wonderful but not one of these projects ever fills out legally required forms predicting the things that could go wrong with the proposed ingenuity.  Those forms don’t exist and people who might have qualms about cloning or artificial intelligence quickly get moved to kook status.  Industry and government money supports all of these “advances” and in order to keep the money flowing, people quickly learn they must all sing from the same page if they are to remain gainfuly employed.

So come journalists and see this little part of the NJ shore that no one ever talks about and understand why I haven’t been sleeping too well since that mind-blowing set of waves hit Japan.  We sit off the continental shelf and should the earth under the water decide to drift, we, too, could be staring at a Pale Horse on waves.

Our plant is the oldest and apparently uses saline Baywater to do its cooling job.  They don’t own that water - or the Atlantic Ocean - and yet I who would need to put in two year’s worth of effort to put in a bulkhead for a boat am watched over as are all civilians around here while that plant sits in a legal fly-over zone.

If we have lawns we no longer can legally use nitrogen in fertilizer because of the damage it in fact does during run-off periods when the stuff hits the baywater.  But Oyster Creek is to quote a friend of mine “straining the life out of Barnegat Bay”  on a daily basis when it takes in 1.4 billion gallons and subsequently returns very warm water into that Bay we citizens must not touch with a speck of nitrogen.  Something is wrong with this picture and it isn’t the new law about fertilizer.

It’s time IMHO to look at nuclear power with a blank slate in hand.  The only nation I know of that has found a way to dispose of those irradiated spent rods which will remain that way for ages, is France.  They wrap their rods up in concrete and dump them right into the English Channel.  Brilliant this is not so if we intend to go on with this the most dangerous methods of obtaining energy, let us start from square one and hear ALL of the voices - not just those involved in profiting from it.

helen holmes

That is absolutely awful. I don’t think that this is the forum for such an intellegent communication of imformation.  The last few days the press has been skirting the real issue.  I know that I don’t require one-tenth of the electricity that I see most people consume.  That we want our “lights to come on when we flip the switch” is a kindergarden argument for taking such risks with the lives of human beings. I don’t want new clothes just because someone says the styles change. I don’t need to replace my car because it needs to be repaired on schedule. I like my clothes, my car gets great gas milage and is loaded (18 yrs old) and I don’t believe for one second the marketing ploys that I will be happier if I replace them. The energy that is wasted is wasted in the name of growth and profit.

Maybe the Sierra Club, or make an appt. with your Senator (yes that can be done).  Doesn’t Hilary Clinton live in New York?  I don’t know, you have probably tried all you can think of, and then some.

I’m not an activist, nor would I call myself Green, I just had hard choices to make and I learned along the way that I was happier with myself when I lived a more simple life.

Your comments are very clearly valid.  I may not have the ears that need to hear it but you deserve a response.  I’m sorry your home, your family, your nieghbors and you, live under this stressful shadow.

ProPublica,  Please write the article, the fears that are just skimming the surface of the ordinary person are real, and they should not be ignored.

Thank you for putting up this wonderful list.

A friend in the Nuclear field suggested that you add this link to the list:

It is one that many in the US nuclear energy field trust.

Allen Gerhardt

March 29, 2011, 8:17 a.m.

If you are tired of the same rumors and rhetoric being batted back and forth from the media visit for updates and background information or

Well, here we are almost 9 months since the initial nuclear meltdowns in Japan…and are things getting better?  No.

The best sources for the latest news on how the radiation in Japan is affecting the children, the land, their society, and the U.S., may I recommend:  (and they have others listed on this site)

I can add 2 more sites with excellent information on Japan’s nuclear crisis and how it’s affecting the United States:

www dot nuclearhotseat dot com   (excellent interviews in the “BLOG” section)

www dot nuclearcrimes dot org

Commenting is not available in this section entry.
This article is part of an ongoing investigation:
Nuclear Safety

Nuclear Safety

With the disaster in Japan, we're investigating questions about nuclear safety.

The Story So Far

Following a massive earthquake and tsunami in Japan, hydrogen explosions rocked three reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. Radioactive spent fuel stored in pools was also affected, especially at one reactor—the plant has a total of six—where multiple fires erupted. Evacuation orders were issued, potassium iodine tablets distributed, and plant employees used seawater and external electrical power to cool the stricken reactors, three of which had a partial core meltdown.

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