March 11, 2015
A new analysis finds that U.S. news media coverage of the Fukushima disaster largely minimized health risks to the general population. Researchers analyzed more than 2,000 news articles from four major U.S. outlets.
Four years after the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, the disaster no longer dominates U.S. news headlines, though the disabled plant continues to pour three tons of radioactive water into the ocean each day. Homes, schools and businesses in the Japanese prefecture are uninhabitable, and will likely be so forever. Yet the U.S. media has dropped the story while public risks remain.
A new analysis by American University sociology professor Celine Marie Pascale finds that U.S. news media coverage of the disaster largely minimized health risks to the general population. Pascale analyzed more than 2,000 news articles from four major U.S. outlets following the disaster’s occurrence March 11, 2011 through the second anniversary on March 11, 2013. Only 6 percent of the coverage — 129 articles — focused on health risks to the public in Japan or elsewhere. Human risks were framed, instead, in terms of workers in the disabled nuclear plant.
“It’s shocking to see how few articles discussed risk to the general population, and when they did, they typically characterized risk as low,” said Pascale, who studies the social construction of risk and meanings of risk in the 21st century. “We see articles in prestigious news outlets claiming that radioactivity from cosmic rays and rocks is more dangerous than the radiation emanating from the collapsing Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.”