Loose Lips, Loose Nukes

We have reached the stage of the "Japanese nuclear meltdown" emergency where the off-hand comments of obscure government officials are enough to set off panic. In this case, the Surgeon General of the United States (do you even know their name?) has suggested that people stock up on iodine as a "precaution" even as other parts of the government say don't bother. Well, it's one or the other.

The fear that a nuclear cloud could float from the shores of Japan to the shores of California has some people making a run on iodine tablets. Pharmacists across California report being flooded with requests.

State and county officials spent much of Tuesday trying to keep people calm by saying that getting the pills wasn't necessary, but then the United States surgeon general supported the idea as a worthy "precaution."

U.S. Surgeon General Regina Benjamin is in the Bay Area touring a peninsula hospital. NBC Bay Area reporter Damian Trujillo asked her about the run on tablets and Dr. Benjamin said although she wasn't aware of people stocking up, she did not think that would be an overreaction. She said it was right to be prepared.

On the other side of the issue is Kelly Huston of the California Emergency Management Agency. Huston said state officials, along with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the California Energy Commission, were monitoring the situation and said people don't need to buy the pills.

Does anyone remember back in the early days of the post-9/11 color coded alert system when there was a Code Orange for a nerve gas alert, or some such? A reporter asked Tom Ridge what people could do to prepare for an emergency and he made some off-hand comment about buying duct tape? There was a run on hardware stores! One guy even covered his house with plastic sheeting and duct tape! That doesn't mean Ridge's information was bad, but it didn't take much for him to set off a round of panic buying.

For whatever reason, American media and politics are inordinately focused on Japan's damaged nuclear reactors, which have yet to kill anyone yet. Not saying the situation is dangerous and in flux, but is there any doubt the Japanese are going all out to prevent a catastrophic meltdown?Meanwhile the tens of thousands of dead and displaced are already fading to the background, at least in major American media.

I have no idea whether the Japanese reactors are going to kill us all, or not. The Free Will brother in law is a nuclear engineer, and he has so far been pretty sanguine. I'll take that over anti-nuke hysteria any day.

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