Chinese looking to improve dissemination of knowledge amid nuclear crisis in Japan

13:07, April 01, 2011      

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Chinese citizens have remained calm with no signs of public panic, in spite of an announcement from Chinese authorities on Thursday that "extremely low levels" of artificial radioactive iodine have been detected in 25 provincial-level administrative regions throughout the country. The areas, which include the nation's capital Beijing, the coastal metropolis of Shanghai and the inland city Chongqing, would not be under threat from the radioactive material.

According to observers in Beijing, the calm displayed by Chinese citizens indicates that, besides the transparent disclosure of information, the spread of knowledge from both officials and non-governmental institutions has begun to pay off. One of the "by-products" of Japan's nuclear crisis, which is the source of the low-level radioactivity in the air, is the improvement of public awareness of dissemination of practical knowledge and scientific information in China.

Radiation concerns caused panic in mid-March across the country, prompting people to flood into grocery stores and supermarkets to buy iodized salt, due to rumors that the iodine contained in salt would help shield them from radioactivity.

The situation eased after the government ordered the securing of salt supplies and after experts confirmed that salt was almost useless in countering the effects of radiation.

A recent post on the Internet was representative of the public's response on the issue. "The panic was understandable. We need knowledge to quash rumors and relieve unnecessary anxiety," the comment read.

State-owned China Central Television kept inviting specialists almost every day to explain the facts about nuclear power to the public. The station has been conducting interviews since it began to broadcast news about the crisis at Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, which was caused by an earthquake and tsunami off the northeastern coast of Japan on March 11.

China Mobile, a leading telecom operator in the country, helped issue two short text messages to hundreds of millions of users to quash the rumors that had triggered the salt-buying spree.

Ma Lanfang, a 34-year-old citizen of Nanjing, the capital city of east China' s Jiangsu Province, did not join the "salt rush" to buy extra salt. She read the two messages-one contained facts and experts' views about iodized salts, while the other was a statement from the China National Salt Industry Corp. regarding sufficient supplies.

Weibo, the Chinese version of Twitter, has helped eradicate wild rumors and popularize scientific knowledge.

A group of science enthusiasts, including a post-graduate student of biology, a doctorate degree holder in environmental chemistry and a PhD student of physics, from the Science Squirrels Club (which known for its popular website, hosted a two-and-a-half hour online discussion on the international effect of the Japanese nuclear crisis through Sina Weibo on March 15.

The panel answered questions from Internet users, which ranged from major symptoms of radiation exposure to the consequences of a possible reactor meltdown.

Two days later, the Club hosted another online discussion via Sina Weibo on iodized salt. It also posted essays about the radiation threat, the calamity in Japan and past nuclear crises on its website. The articles were written and translated by experts on climate, chemistry and physics.

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Source: Xinhua
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