March 16, 2011
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Where’s the Fire?

I’ve received some pushback from journalists, arguing that science reporting of the reactor troubles in Japan is not really appalling and inexcusable. The best that can be said, though, is that most of the data published on Saturday by an Australian high school teacher could, by Monday afternoon, be found scattered in the newspapers.

Here’s another example. Everyone has heard by now that a new problem is the fire in reactor 4’s spent fuel storage. Every major paper in the world, I think, mentions this in today’s edition. But nowhere do I find any answers to a simple question:

The first thing you learn about fires in school is to ask, “what is burning?”

Another good question:

Yes, this is Japan. The Prime Minister has already assumed responsibility. But I assume that there is a senior engineer on the scene who is in charge. Who? What is his or her authority?

I would like to think that this is an engineer who can pick up a phone today and, instantly, reach any expert and any leader. Got a question for the President of the United States? Line 3. Want to hash ideas out with the world’s top nuclear physicists? We'll have them standing by on line 4. Need an airlift? Need a fleet? Need the largest bulldozer in the world? Need a new cell phone battery?

But if any reporter has asked who is in charge, and what they can do, I’ve not seen the news.