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Sometimes, “I Don’t Know” is the Best Possible Response

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Question MarksAs rescue and containment issues continue in the wake of the devastating Japanese earthquake and subsequent tsunami, news outlets have naturally been doing their best to keep their audience updated with the latest developments. Some, however, appear to have started complaining about the public briefings they are being given.

The New York Times today refers to “a series of rapid and at times confusing pronouncements on the crisis,”especially with the status of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant and its damaged reactors. Government spokesman Yukio Edano has the thankless task of fielding questions from journalists, but this is made more difficult by the fact that the Fukushima plant is not actually managed by the Japanese government, but by the Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco).

I understand that with rolling news channels desperate to fill airtime and to be first with the latest developments, it can be frustrating when the information given changes by the hour, or simply doesn’t come. But this is a damaged nuclear plant we’re dealing with, and Tepco can only give information that they have gathered. It would be great to have definitive answers to journalists’ questions about the extent of the damage or if they reactors really are in meltdown, but the uncomfortable truth is we simply don’t know. Tepco don’t know and are not going to sacrifice their employee’s just so the 10 o’clock news can finally put the issue to rest. The situation is fluid, unpredictable and subject to change.

While it’s admirable for Tepco and the Japanese government to be trying to keep the public informed, and while it is the media’s job to ask the questions that need answering, the fact of the matter is that at present, there are simply too many variables to give a definitive answer. This is why the updates we’re receiving can seem contradictory or uncertain. in such a situation, it might be better for all those in authority to be completely honest with the public and admit that they can’t be absolutely certain. “I don’t know” isn’t a cop-out in all circumstances; in this instance, it’s the truth. Nobody knows for sure what is going on in Fukushima, and pretending that they do is unhelpful. Already, the wilder fringes of the internet have hatched some astonishing conspiracy theories that do nobody any good.

Far better to wait for a definitive answer on the nuclear plant’s status, rather than jumping on each new development as though it is the ultimate truth. Nuclear power and radiation can be terrifying, and no doubt the people of Japan and the greater pan-Pacific reason have reason to be concerned. But criticising Tepco and Yukio Edano for information that they can’t possibly provide is counterproductive. It helps no one and does nothing to clarify the situation.

[Image by Jilligan86]


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