March 15, 2011

Announcement: Daily Updates from My Dad, a Nuclear Engineer

Posted by Evelyn Mervine

Update: All the interviews are now available on a vimeo channel:

For those who do not know, on the morning of Saturday, March 12th I decided to interview my dad Mark Mervine about the Fukushima nuclear disaster because he is a US Navy Commander (USNR, Ret.) and nuclear engineer with decades of experience on both nuclear submarines and nuclear power plants, including a plant very similar to the Fukushima plant. My dad doesn't have specific involvement with the Japan disaster, but I think he has good insights. You can find a full description of my dad's qualifications here. Please note that my dad is retired from nuclear power, so he can speak freely about the matter. Over the past four days, we have conducted four interviews about the Fukushima Nuclear Disaster: 

Interview 1: Morning of Saturday, March 12th, 2011 
Interview 2: Morning of Sunday, March 13th, 2011

When I first asked my dad if I could interview him on the morning of Saturday, March 12th he was extremely reluctant. He said no at first, then after some coaxing by my mom and myself, he agreed. He said, "Oh, all right. But only because you're my daughter."

As some of you know, this is normally a geology blog where I talk about rocks, my thesis research, fieldwork, geology books, geology words, and so on. When my dad and I did our first interview, we thought that my usual readers– generally 100-200 pageviews per day– would be the only people who would listen to the interview. Well, the traffic on my little blog has increased significantly since I started doing these interviews with my dad. For that, I thank you. My dad and I are both honored that you want to listen to us. We hope that this is a place where you can find scientific, honest, clear, and neutral information about the nuclear disaster in Japan and expert analysis of this information by a very experienced nuclear engineer– my dad.

Originally, after the first interview my dad said he would not do any more. But something happened that changed his mind: he watched the mainstream media coverage of the nuclear disaster on Saturday night. He was appalled at the coverage. He found the coverage full of inaccuracies. And he noticed that even when nuclear experts were interviewed, many of them were very biased– often they were very pro-nuclear. Other people interviewed were very anti-nuclear. Other people interviewed had dubious qualifications to discuss the disaster as so-called “nuclear experts.” Very few reports have been politically neutral, which is understandable since this is an emotionally-charged issue. However, we believe that reporters should strive to be neutral and avoid sensation, even on an emotional issue such as this.

My dad and I have also noticed that much of the information on the nuclear disaster comes in soundbites. We believe that this nuclear disaster is too complex to be discussed in soundbites. We also believe that the general public is smart enough to be given the facts and to make their own decisions about the nuclear disaster. To be fully informed about this situation, you need more than a soundbite. We realize that our interviews are somewhat long, but you need more time to understand this situation properly. Thank you for having the patience and dedication to read and listen to these lengthy interviews.

We are also disturbed at the lack of cohesive information being provided– my dad discusses this more in Interview 4. There are so many bits and pieces of information flying around, it’s difficult even for my dad– a nuclear expert– to figure out exactly what’s going on. It must be extremely difficult for the general public to make sense of what’s going on. When good information is not available, false rumors abound. False information is dangerous– people need the correct information, at the correct time, to make informed decisions so that they do not under- or over-react to the nuclear disaster.

Our goal with the interviews on this blog is to provide information and expert analysis of this information in close to real time– on a daily basis. We will strive to present the information in simple English that makes nuclear engineering accessible to the general public. Of course, no reporter can avoid all bias, but we will strive to stick to the facts. We will remain committed to answering as many questions from listeners as possible. When my dad is not qualified to answer a question, he will say so and will not answer it. If we or any of our listeners find an error in anything that we have reported, we will strive to post a quick, honest correction.

To the best of our ability, we commit to this: 

Until the mainstream media is able to do a better job, we will continue to provide daily interview updates about the nuclear disaster. We will take a break from our regular jobs around lunchtime each day (this may be a little flexible depending on work obligations) to become citizen journalists and to record these interviews and post them here. You can look for an interview here every day around lunchtime (Eastern Daylight Time), until announced otherwise. I am officially taking a break from my normal geology-themed posts, which will resume in a few weeks.

One final note: my dad and I are not professional journalists or media experts. I am a busy graduate student and my dad has a full-time job (in private industry, but not nuclear power). We will do our best. We appreciate your suggestions for improvement and your help. I am working on improving the audio– I realize that I am too loud and high-pitched and my dad is too quiet in some of the audio. We will try to get these uploaded to YouTube as well. We do not have time transcribe the interviews, but we will continue to post transcriptions done by readers. I will send pretty rocks to everyone who has transcribed so far, but I’m afraid I will not be able to send rocks to future transcribers. All that my dad and I can commit is to keep reading the news and to take a lunchtime break– every day– to update you to the best of our ability. We appreciate your patience when this site is less-than-perfect.

My dad has also agreed to be interviewed on some podcasts– we will keep you updated about that as well.

If you would like to help our effort, I have a list of tasks below. To those who have already offered help, thank you.

Ways to Help Us: 
-Continue to send us your questions, comments, and news links. Email these to [email protected]. You can follow me on twitter @GeoEvelyn.

-Volunteer to transcribe an interview. Post a comment below the interview that you are transcribing so that there are not duplicate efforts. 

-Upload videos to YouTube. Brad Go has been doing this so far. Perhaps he would like help?

-Improve sound quality. I have received a zillion suggestions for improving interview sound quality. I am currently working with a professional on this. 

-Make a better website for my blog? I think I need a better website. A professional may be willing to do this already, but shout out if you’d like to help as well.

-Advertise these interviews, if you find them helpful. Post links on twitter, Facebook, your blog, your website.  Email your friends and family. Suggest the interviews to news outlets you believe are doing a poor job of covering the news on the nuclear disaster.