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2011/03/18 / Horace

3 Kinds of Rumors about the Earthquake in Japan

I wrote this blog in a hurry and did not polish the language. I am to be very busy in the coming weeks. After everything is settled, I am going to revise all my English & Chinese posts so that I can get rid of as many mistakes as possible.


After the massive earthquake in Japan, there are tons of rumors spreading in China, some of which are really ridiculous while some others have pretended to be credible very successfully. Generally, we can divide all these rumors into these 3 categories.

The 1st kind of rumor is those which demonstrate the courage and sacrifice of the Japanese people.

Some of the rumors in this category show that quake relief workers have to sacrifice their lives in order to save Japan. One of the rumors tells a very moving story. It says:

The massive earthquake and subsequent tsunami destroyed the cooling system of the nuclear system at Fukishima. The overheated fuel rods would cause a nuclear disaster. In order to rescue Japan from such a scourge, some Japanese soldiers themselves went into the reactor, cut the overheated fuel rods and sent them to the cooling area. Japan was saved, but these soldiers would die in less than 2 hours. Pay our salute to those brave Japanese soldiers!

What a moving story, but the truth is that relief workers never needs to come into the reactor themselves. Workers operate machines to transport water into the reactors through tunnels. There are also a lot of modified versions, some saying many Japanese soldiers died, some saying many American soldiers died and some says many American and Japanese soldiers died because they went into the reactors.

Some stories of this category are of more human-interest. A photo showing a mother and her daughter are separated by a glass wall and are crying is described as a meeting between a mother and her daughter isolated because of excessive radiation. This photo spread on the Web for quite a few days and brought many netizens to tears. However, the truth is that people detected with excessive radiation usually are not isolated. Glass cannot shelter people from radiation as well. No one knows what the photo actually tells. Anyway, it does not tell the story it is now telling.

The 2nd kind of rumor is those which show how fast the nuclear disaster could spread.

One widely spread photo on the Web says that scientists points out that the nuclear leak has already taken place. Radioactive substances would go westward and contaminate a vast region from Fradivostok to Southern China. However, the photo is so crude that many people find it is a fake the moment they see it. Still the picture is widely spread and has caused fear on the Web.

However, another picture is much better made. The picture shows that the radiation clouds could arrive in the North America in only 10 days. According to the picture, it was a professional research institution that made the picture, so it has been widely posted, shared and distributed on the web. Many newspapers also cited the data of the picture to show the devastation of the earthquake and the nuclear emergency. However, the research institution itself posted an article on the Web saying the picture was a forgery out of malice.

The 3rd kind of rumor I am going to talk about today show how to protect oneself from radiation.

One of the most popular rumors is that iodine could prevent people from radioactive harms. It is partly true since it could protect thyroid from part of radioactive dust, but it does not protect the whole body. And overdose of iodine could lead to health problems. Following the myth of iodine is the rumor of salt. Many Chinese people are desperately purchasing salt simply because there is some iodine inside. However, the iodine in salt is so little that it won’t help anything. One man has been reported to have died because he ate too much salt for iodine. One man could only have 70 grams of salt at one time, while you have to take 5-6 kilos of salt in order to get enough iodine to protect the thyroid.

Another is even more appalling. On a newspaper of Taiwan, there is a report saying dejection of dogs could help cure radiation harms. If you eat dogs’ dejection, some substances in your body would combat radiation automatically and diminish the health significance of radiation. Well, eating dejection can really diminish the health significance of radiation since eating dejection alone could kill a person.

I am wondering why there could be so many rumors after the earthquake took place. Perhaps one of the most important reasons is that we know too little about nuclear industry. We tend to be credulous and lose our rationality when we are dealing with something we are not familiar with. Psychologically, those who are inside an emergency, in this case, the quake victims, are usually calmer than those who are watching the emergency, that is, we who are watching the nuclear emergency unfold. However, no matter where these rumors come from and why people overreact so irrationally, with more and more information release, we should learn some calmness so far.


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