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Bug #37209 closed:withdrawn

Critics Punch Holes in NYT Leaking Reactor Story

 
This bug appeared in a news report published by The New York Times on Apr 7, 2011. View the original news report.
Bug Type:  Other

I saw a complaint about errors in a New York Times story (“Powerful Aftershock Complicates Japan’s Nuclear Efforts” April 11, 2011) on a website called JPquake. I have copied and pasted the claim appearing on the JPquake site’s Journalist Wall of Shame (at http://www.jpquake.info/home/new-york-times-the) below:

Description: Series of shameful fabrication of “anonymous" quotes by New York Times "journalists"  since no heavy machinery haven't even been deployed to work in any of the units yet. Plus, Unit 2 reactor building remains intact and no one (including robots as of April 17th) knows the condition of fuel rods inside the reactor containment vessel which are surrounded by thick concrete. Wish Tabuchi and Pollack had the commonsense to check the actual unit number at Dai-ichi that experienced hydrogen blasts. Certainly not Unit 2!  “

I find the argument hard to believe since I can remember reading numerous reports (one from the Kyodo news agency that appeared in the Japan Times on March 15, 2011 - http://www.japantimes.co.jp/text/nn20110315x3.html) quoting Japanese government officials and others referring to a hydrogen blast occurring in the Reactor 2 containment vessel. Then again I can’t remember what I had for breakfast. Some of the statements made by the media critics at the JPquake site would seem to imply that they are well versed on the ins and outs of nuclear power and proficient in the Japanese language. Since I'm no expert in either subject, I'm at a loss here. After being featured by NHK World as well as in the Columbia Journalism Review the site has gained considerable credibility. I would appreciate it if the New York Times would take the time to review the story in light of the claims made by the JPquake website and clear up any misunderstanding about the article.

Response

JT Cassidy has contacted The New York Times and received the following response.

I got a very prompt reply from Andrea Kannapell at the NYT who said they stand by their reporting. She noted, “The Reactor No. 2 unit was heavily damaged; we said the source said bulldozers were being used outside the reactor, not inside the building. The source we quoted on the likely condition of the fuel rods was the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.” The Times’ article does in fact state, “The Nuclear Regulatory Commission speculated Wednesday that some of the core of the No. 2 reactor had flowed from its steel pressure vessel into the bottom of the containment structure. The theory implies more damage at the unit than previously believed.

 

While a spokeswoman for Tokyo Electric dismissed the analysis, a spokesman for the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency of Japan agreed that it was possible that the core had leaked into the larger containment vessel.”

 

In her email message, Kannapell noted the Times had “a particular source who remained anonymous” and that “the information that source provided proved extremely reliable.”

 

In light of the Times’ response as well as previous (see: reference to Japan Times article above) and subsequent revelations related to this story I would have to say this is not a bug after all but rather a misunderstanding on the part of the reader.

 

Bug History

May 16, 2012 6:30 pm Open JT Cassidy
May 16, 2012 7:36 pm Open: Under Discussion JT Cassidy
May 17, 2012 5:43 pm Closed: Withdrawn JT Cassidy
May 17, 2012 9:14 pm Open: Under Discussion JT Cassidy
May 24, 2012 9:28 pm Closed: Withdrawn JT Cassidy

Discussion Leave a comment

 

Cassidy has contacted the NYT regarding this bug.

May 16, 2012 7:36 pm

Thanks for filing this bug report, Cassidy. Let us know if you've received any response at any point from the NY Times. Our experience with them, based on multiple interactions, is that they're dedicated to correcting errors but their commitment to doing so diminishes over time -- i.e., they are less willing to go in and fix stuff the older the story gets. This is now over a year old so that might be an issue.

May 17, 2012 10:16 am
 

I got a very prompt reply from Andrea Kannapell at the NYT who said they stand by their reporting. She noted, “The Reactor No. 2 unit was heavily damaged; we said the source said bulldozers were being used outside the reactor, not inside the building. The source we quoted on the likely condition of the fuel rods was the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.” The Times’ article does in fact state, “The Nuclear Regulatory Commission speculated Wednesday that some of the core of the No. 2 reactor had flowed from its steel pressure vessel into the bottom of the containment structure. The theory implies more damage at the unit than previously believed.

While a spokeswoman for Tokyo Electric dismissed the analysis, a spokesman for the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency of Japan agreed that it was possible that the core had leaked into the larger containment vessel.”

In her email message, Kannapell noted the Times had “a particular source who remained anonymous” and that “the information that source provided proved extremely reliable.”

In light of the Times’ response as well as previous (see: reference to Japan Times article above) and subsequent revelations related to this story I would have to say this is not a bug after all but rather a misunderstanding on the part of the reader.

May 17, 2012 5:42 pm
 

I reopened this because I believe the JPquake site administrator may want to leave a comment here.

May 17, 2012 9:18 pm
 

I have updated the jpquake.info posting at http://www.jpquake.info/home/new-york-times-the#TOC-2011-04-07

In not-so-brief summary:

1) We were wrong about unit #2. The visible explosions occurred at reactors #1 and #3, but there was a less dramatic explosion heard at #2.

2) We stand by our criticism of the NYT using an anonymous source without providing a good reason for doing so or providing his qualifications beyond a vague "western nuclear executive". Certainly, they gave a reason why this one source was anonymous, but what did this person provide that they couldn't get from a named source? And why not mention the source's qualifications? Nuclear physicist? Nuclear engineer?

3) As far as I can ascertain, there were no broken fuel rods bulldozed at that time, nor were there bulldozers around the reactor buildings. All other reporting I've managed to dig up on the specific claim sites this article as its source.

4) The NYT is correct that they were reporting on speculation by the NRC in regards to the fuel rods condition inside reactor unit 2.

May 17, 2012 9:46 pm
 


I appreciate what Stagerabbit has to say but I’m still inclined to squash (withdraw) this bug and let any unresolved issues anyone has be handled separately.

The Fukushima story is a puzzle to me. I read the announcements from the Japanese government and the power company (TEPCO) but I can’t read between the lines or separate the grain from the chaff in the way those with a more skilled eye can. TEPCO and the Japanese government haven’t been entirely forthcoming with information (like SPEEDI data, etc.) regarding the nuclear disaster and it took solid investigative reporting to bring that fact to light.

The reporters behind this particular story did exactly what they should have done. They used the tools at their fingertips to dig up the missing pieces of this puzzle and put them together in a logical way to suggest what the whole picture might look like. I know exactly where they found those pieces because they told me. One piece comes from a confidential source who has asked for anonymity but it doesn’t resemble wild rumor. In fact it’s consistent with other reports, including an earlier Times article (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/06/world/asia/06nuclear.html?_r=3&hp=&pagewanted=all).

It boils down to a matter of trust for me. I trust these two reporters are being straight here and I have also developed a certain amount of mistrust in TEPCO. I can see where TEPCO might want to conceal this kind of information, but I’m not sure why these reporters would risk exposing it if it were to only blow up in their faces later on as a lie. Even if there was a slim chance that this anonymous source was off the mark, I might still want to be given the chance of hearing what he/she had to say and decide for myself whether or not it fits into the puzzle.

May 19, 2012 2:32 am