The Fukushima “Underground Nuclear Explosions” Hoax

Lately we’ve seen a spate of Fukushima-related hoaxes which have gone viral, one of which claims that the Russian navy detected two underground atomic explosions at Fukushima on Dec 31, prompting the Russian gov’t to order protective measures. We’ve gotten a lot of emails about it from people who are worried, and who have also been hearing the other alarming (and untrue) stories.

As far as anyone can tell, this one was just totally made up by a well-known conspiracy fabulist, who claims to be the leader of an ancient apocalyptic religious sect. It’s probably better to consider him a humorist, though.

The story, “Underground Nuclear Explosion At Crippled Japan Atomic Plant Shocks World,” appeared on Jan. 2, and was immediately aggregated on a more widely viewed news site, which itself has been alleged by the Southern Poverty Law Center Hatewatch Blog to have ties with white supremacists, and which has published other unintentionally amusing articles from the same source like “US Earthquake Weapon Test Fails Again, Destroys New Zealand City.”

The “underground explosion” article contains no actual citations or sources for the claims, includes a photo of the “explosion” which is actually of Unit 3 from March 2011, a “nuclear fallout map” which was itself immediately debunked as a hoax when it first appeared back in 2011, and something we’ve never seen before, a map showing the supposed “Fukushima melt-through point” in the Atlantic off Argentina. Some might consider this proof that the author has a good sense of humor.

The story spread from there, with many widely-read sites taking it perfectly seriously despite the total absence of evidence. This includes the FARS News Agency, a “semi-official” Iranian organization, which was also punked last year by The Onion.

Some sites reworked the story a bit, combined it with some of the other unsubstantiated rumors, or escalated the story into “Putin orders Fukushima to be wiped from the map.”

Snopes finally weighed in on Jan 5, calling the story bunk , and observing that professional conspiracy sites habitually repeat totally unsubstantiated stories like these, “creating the misleading impression that such material is being reported by multiple legitimate news sources.”

This is one of the more important lessons, and something we hope everyone takes to heart: just because a web site LOOKS like a legitimate news outlet doesn’t mean it actually is. Lots of them do no fact checking whatsoever and will publish anything likely to capture clicks, the more outrageous the better. Caveat Lector.

About the Author

Azby Brown

Azby Brown is Safecast's lead researcher and primary author of the Safecast Report. A widely published authority in the fields of design, architecture, and the environment, he has lived in Japan for over 30 years, and founded the KIT Future Design Institute in 2003. He joined Safecast in mid-2011, and frequently represents the group at international expert conferences.