Fears of radiation play havoc around the world

Japanese opponents of nuclear power march through Tokyo. Picture: APIn the aftershock of the Japanese tragedy neighboring countries are getting worried and scared about their proximity to the unfolding catastrophe. Fears of radiation contamination are spreading fast over two sides of the Pacific.

Rumors spread on Russian Far Eastern territories

The maritime city of Vladivostok in the Russian Far East lies approximately 620 miles northwest from Tokyo. Locals pay close attention to news coming from Japan. On the one hand Russian media keeps sending negative messages playing havoc on their audience. On the other hand there is a more cynical and skeptical blogosphere, that tries to calm people down and stop the panic.

Rumors spread at the speed of a tsunami. People believe the most absurd statements of the media and speculations of friends. Some people support the rumor that the price for flights from Vladivostok and Sakhalin Island to Moscow has jumped significantly, or were all sold out. Such rumors are spread virally according to the following scenario: “my friend’s/mom’s friend said …” In fact, if you go to the official site of the leading Russian air carrier Aeroflot, you can purchase a ticket from Vladivostok to Moscow for 200 euros one way on the upcoming dates. You can also find a ticket from Tokyo to Moscow for 500 – 700 euros. Prices are not very different from those before the tsunami.

Russian authorities are saying that there is no need to panic; radiation does not blowing in the direction of Russia. Citizens are too suspicious to trust those statements; they react in the following manner: “if the authorities say that all is well, expect trouble.” Locals are frantically monitoring the wind direction hoping that it will continue taking away the radiation cloud to the Pacific. Bloggers have begun to act on their own. In a manner of distrust to the government they started taking measurements of background radiation, spreading this information on the Internet. Some “netizens” even created a radiation crowdmap site that allows people to track the background radiation in areas close to Japan. Thus, bloggers can upload their measurements online. Vladivostok news portal VL.ru uploads pictures of radiation measurements every day. However, these precautions are insufficient in stopping the massive panic.

Vladivostok residents go even farther in their panic; they frantically buy iodine products from pharmacies, red wine and seaweed from stores. But it is still unclear how these products will stop radiation poisoning. People believe that local officials have run away, thus leaving its residents to their fate. This information was refuted by local authorities later on: no one has left.

Hunger in Japan?

Panic Buying caused by Fukushima, the earthquake and tsunamiThere are also rumors that store shelves in Japan are empty leading to mass hunger. International media maintains this fear by reprinting scary photos of these empty shelves. In fact, this information is far from reality. Bloggers from Japan refute these statements posting various videos of Japanese stress full of food. There are empty shelves in stores, but this is because long-term storage products have been taken to the most affected areas. You can still buy fresh meat, fruit, dairy products and other food without any difficulty

Here is one of these videos:

American West Coast is scared too

On the other side of the Pacific people panic about the possible danger of radiation as well. The Wall Street Journal reports on the increased demand for the Iodine pills in drug stores on the West Coast of the US. Speculative prices on these pills high rocketed in online stores, thus contributing to the general hysteria.

European and American officials as well as the United Nations assured that Americas have nothing to worry about. President Barak Obama tried to calm down the panic; nevertheless people still worry for their future and health. As one internet user pointed out, that “Chernobyl went for thousands of miles and they still have stuff radiated in parts of Germany. Saying it won’t spread is like saying if Mount St Helen’s were to erupt the Ash Cloud wouldn’t make it to Europe. 2 reactor cores are exposed one of them containing plutonium, which will make Chernobyl look like a sneeze and step one in a meltdown is core exposure but you say it won’t travel here?”

These rumors create and maintain feelings of hopelessness and helplessness. Official and unofficial sources claim that the background radiation is fine, and there is no need to be scared or panic. However it feels like the general distrust of everything that authorities and the media say cannot be eradicated in Russian Far East as well as in the US. People prefer believing in some idle gossip rather than common sense.