If fear of radiation is the most serious health risk, the cure is simple

On September 14, 2011, the BBC aired a documentary titled Fukushima Disaster: Is Nuclear Power Safe?. Near the end of the video, the host makes the statement that it is quite likely that the main health impacts of the event (leaving aside the direct effects of the initiating earthquake and tsunami) will be traceable to stress and worry caused by fear of radiation. The word modifier that the host did not use, but I will add is “irrational.” Fearing something that has an extremely low likelihood of occurrence is irrational, especially when there are plenty of more likely and more dangerous things to worry about.

Radiation is not a new phenomenon; its impact on human health is perhaps the most formally studied subject of the past 50 years, though many of the studies have not been widely distributed or popularized. The fact is that the negative health effect of low levels of radiation are either zero, positive or so tiny that they are impossible to detect. That should be reassuring to people, even if they continue to believe the nonsensical notion that there is no such thing as zero risk.

It is the moral responsibility of people who understand that fact to share their knowledge widely in opposition to the official pronouncements of the politicians and the professional antinuclear activists. There is NO REASON AT ALL for maintaining an exclusion zone in places where the maximum annual doses are lower than what people in Ramsar, Iran have been receiving every year they have been alive.

The comment thread that is developing at the YouTube site where I found the BBC documentary is a bit distressing, but the best answer to ignorance is knowledge.

I highly recommend reading Dr. Zbigniew Jaworowski’s paper titled The Chernobyl Disaster and How It Has Been Understood. We must learn the public health lessons from Chernobyl and ensure that the terrible history of dislocation is not repeated due to ignorance. The cure to the negative health effects of stress and worry caused by irrational fear is shared knowledge and understanding on which to base rational decision making.

About Rod Adams

79 Responses to “If fear of radiation is the most serious health risk, the cure is simple”

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  1. Daniel says:

    @ Rod

    What do you think is a reasonable background radiation threshold ?

    400 msv a year like Ramsar-Iran ?

    600-700 msv a year like in some south western part of France and parts of Brazil?

    50 msv a year, the limit imposed on nuclear plant workers ?

    20 msv a year, the restriction now imposed for determining evacuation zones in Fukushima (and 1 msv a year for children?)

    10 msv a year like in Denver ?

    • Joffan says:

      Daniel, I’ll take a shot at setting a boundary for this one.

      I regard a suitable restriction for continuous background radiation is 1 mSv per day. So, much the same as Ramsar.

      This is reduced from 3 mSv per day that I would regard as suitable for adults, to allow for children and possible concentration in some food sources, and to leave room for medical radiation uses.

      The thinking behind my limit is that 100mSv causes no harm in adults, and the accumulation period is certainly no longer than one month (probably less than two weeks, from radiotherapy protocols – so an implicit factor of 2 safety). So 100 mSv / 30 days rounds down to 3 mSv/day. And children are generally more sensitive to environmental effects, so allow a factor of 3 for them.

      Alternative opinions and justifications welcome.

      • Carl Lumma says:

        You’re probably right. But probably doesn’t cut it in public policy. For example, genetic factors are probably important. For a population that has been isolated for thousands of years on a island with a very low natural background, I actually think the government’s 20mSv/year limit pretty reasonable. However, I don’t think people should be excluded from hotter areas by law, but rather should be compensated according to a formula like

        (integrate decaying dose rate over 60 years) * LNT marginal risk factor * years of life lost per cancer * GDP/capita

        Then people can choose what to do, and as a bonus you’ll get some great data on real subjects.

        • James Greenidge says:

          But how would this work? It assumes the percentages one is _likely_ to get cancer from man-made ionization but how does one determine it was? Does that include being softly irradiated while working and living in granite buildings? Additionally a trip to Carlsbad Caverns or Denver or wearing a radium dial watch would throw the whole calculus out of whack. Ideally you’d need a same-sited control group isolated from natural background to do any comparisons with, right? Your query brings up a good question: Are there any longevity/natural background studies or stats for these hi-rad places in Iran and Mid-East and South America and Africa (especially where that supposed “natural nuclear reactor” ore strata formation is)? It’d make a nice study, but really, I think folks ought get a grip and worry way more about more potent and present toxins and pollutants hitting their life expectancy everyday — like that blast of bus exhaust in your face than how many rad angels could fit on the head of a pin. Get those folks back home AND pay them for the inconvenience, Japan!

          James Greenidge
          Queens NY

        • Carl Lumma says:

          It looks like we reply to a comment by replying to its parent? Hm.

          Study groups like BEIR and UNSCEAR publish constants that supposedly relate cumulative dose to excess cancer. Such models are highly suspect but do represent the scientific consensus (such as it is) and do provide a dead simple way to conduct the evacuation policy. It’s the ‘Freakonomics’ solution.

        • Daniel says:

          Anyone including LNT in their risk assessment should not be given any credit.

          We now know that the Nobel prize winner behind LNT ignored key data and pushed his agenda.

        • Joffan says:

          Your observation about genetic factors is irrelevant, because the principle source of low-level radiation harm limits is Japan, from the atomic bomb effects. So the effect of radiation on the Japanese is fairly well known, no matter how it compares to other nations.

          For someone who believes “probably” shouldn’t drive public policy, you are going even further with your compensation suggestions, beyond “possibly”, beyond “just conceivably” into some undefined area where evidence is not required. The harm you are suggesting compensation for doesn’t exist.

    • Carl Lumma says:

      A dishonest claim is not supposed to hurt scientific understanding 70 years later. An influential claim can effect how hard we’ve looked for certain kinds of evidence, but being good Bayesians, we always weight available evidence by how hard we’ve looked, so this doesn’t matter.

      Health physicists are good Bayesians, aren’t they?

      • Daniel says:

        Bayes is rally neat as it uses inferences and prevents you to get overly stuck in testing design and rigour. Conditional probabilities have great value in risk assessment in the business world.

        Sampling and hypothesis testing is not Bayes’ forte. When we are talking medical testing, with Latin Square Designs techniques for example, Bayes is of little help.

        • Carl Lumma says:

          Bayesian inference (or its alter ego, the “maximum entropy” method) fully generalizes all known statistical techniques and logical principles, from significance testing to the precautionary principle. Bayesian networks are usually appropriate models for integrating evidence over a body of literature on, say, the health effects of low-dose ionizing radiation.

        • Daniel says:

          And how is sampling and testing of subjects going to happen ?

        • Daniel says:

          LNT for example could not be proven or disproved with Bayes.

          Latin Square Designs testing could do the job on LNT and not be contested scientifically.

        • Carl Lumma says:

          Natural background geographically varies by something like a factor of 200. Then there are atom bomb survivors, medical and nuclear industry workers, some folks who happened to live in a certain apartment building in Taiwan, etc. And also, animal models.

          But you’re right, it’s hard to experiment with human subjects. A Bayesian model will quantify how this weakens our confidence in results. Without Bayes, when we see something (like a possible hormetic effect) that doesn’t fit our assumptions, we can attribute it to magic (like the healthy worker effect). With Bayes, we can only invoke such an effect when we state how big it should be AND how confident we are in its size. Bayesian inference automates and enforces what the very best investigators do naturally.

          Health Physics is really asking for modern meta-analysis.

        • Daniel says:

          I see your points. Let’s call this a Win-win situation. I get the big W of course !

  2. Daniel says:

    One point that Dr. Zbigniew Jaworowski’s paper does raise is that the medical community (doctors to be specific) have not grasped a better understanding of radiation and its effect on humans since Chernobyl.

    That I think is disgusting since the real tragedy from Chernobyl, according to Bruno Comby, is the still undetermined number of pregnancies that were terminated at the time by fear of radiation.

    Physicians should have played a role then to stop this madness and are no more better equipped today according to Dr. Zbigniew Jaworowski.

    • DV82XL says:

      The first thing that one needs to take into account when considering the opinion of doctors on this issue is that most physicians are not scientists. Most medical students and residents receive little training in the scientific method.

      This makes all too many physicians very susceptible to accepting the government’s position without question because they don’t have a good grasp of what good scientific methodology is all about and therefor cannot come to an independent conclusion from looking at the research.

      • Bob Connor says:

        But what about all those science classes people take in college? I know about the scientific method and my degree is in nursing. Other people who are doctors, dentists, veterinarians would have the same program so where is the “little training”?

  3. Daniel says:

    So in the documentary we hear again and again that the UN has agreed that fear of radiation was the main cause of damage at Chernobyl.

    Why is the UN so quiet in another crisis ? Where is the WHO (World Health Organisation) and who is its Chairman sleeping at the helm?

  4. sdollarfan says:

    Rod: As much as people like me accept your argument regarding the relationship between radiation levels and human health, there are probably all too many people out there who are just too wedded to their anti-nuke beliefs to change their way of thinking. To them, you and the scientists behind those reports are all just shills for the nuclear power industry and are dedicated to placing the industry’s interests ahead of public health. I have little doubt that this is the kind of thing we would get from the likes of Greenpeace.

    It’s much the same for those of us who are very skeptical of this idea of CO2-induced catastrophic manmade climate change. I could present all the contrary evidence from scientists that I want to which explains why we believe the climate change theory is faulty, but it wouldn’t do any good. I and the skeptical scientists would all be just shills for Big Oil and the fossil fuels industry. Never mind that we probably don’t like paying $3.75 a gallon for gasoline anymore than they do, we would still be just shills.

    And then there are those who believe it the Precautionary Principle which says that any technology, substance, etc. should be banned until it can be proven 100% safe. In my mind, the principle is absurd. Is it possible for science to prove anything 100% safe? Can it be guaranteed 100% safe to get out of bed in the morning?

    Despite my pessimism, I am all for an all out effort (which would include physicians) to educate the American public about the false and overblown claims about nuclear power. The lack of one only aids the anti-nuclear movement. Among other things, the effort should include and emphasize material on generation III and IV plant designs that have addressed issues of safety. It would be nice if the effort would go all the way to the top and include the president, but that is probably just a pipe dream. It should also explain why wind and solar cannot be sources of baseload power for reasons you have already addressed in a previous post.

    The American people need to understand why shouldn’t walk away from nuclear power any more than we have walked away from air travel just because of all the air crashes that have occurred over the years.

    • Jim Baerg says:

      sdollarfan:

      Aside from what Rod just said:

      What we should do to avoid climate change (if AGW is true which you don’t believe) is exactly what we should do for 2 other reasons. 1) fossil fuels are running out & we need to move to alternatives. 2) There a lot of other sorts of environmental damage from fossil fuel use, eg: SO2 & heavy metal emmision from coal burning, damage from oil spills….

      • George Carty says:

        Indeed — coal is too polluting in terms of both noxious emissions and solid waste, while oil and gas are too scarce and geopolitically problematic.

        Here’s an anti-Greenpeace bumper sticker which I designed back in July…

        • Daniel says:

          Love it !!! I will make this thing travel.

        • Daniel says:

          George,

          Your next commercial mission is to figure out a way that we can promote nuclear with cesium powered atomic clocks in our houses.

          No pressure.

        • John Englert says:

          I’ll give ya $10 for one to stick on my bumper.

        • Daniel says:

          T Shirts would fly too !

        • Atomikrabbit says:

          @Rod – There’s a nice “smoking gun” buried in the comments section of the GreenPeace bumper sticker link. You might want to check it out:

          “As for Gazprom, the Polish newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza reported in April that WWF Deutschland, Naturschutzbund Deutschland and BUND (the German division of Friends of the Earth) had between them taken €10 million from the “Conservation Foundation German Baltic”, whose sole funder is Nord Stream AG, the company set up by Gazprom to build a Baltic Sea pipeline to Germany.”

          • Rod Adams says:

            @Atomikrabbit – I saw that and read the article through Google Translate. Interesting. I had heard about it a few months ago and kept looking to see if I could find it reported in any other sources. It is one more scrap of evidence for a case that is already convincing to me, but which I am still struggling to try to build into something that will convince even more people. Please help keep on the lookout – I know you bounce around a lot on the web. Please keep those ears twitching and sensitive for more info on this topic.

        • Speedy says:

          Atomikrabbit, Rod:
          Here’s the press release from Nord Stream:
          http://bit.ly/p8WmT1

    • Marje Hecht says:

      Here is a link to a version of Dr. Jaworowski’s paper that is geared to a more popular audience:

      http://www.21stcenturysciencetech.com/Articles_2010/Summer_2010/Observations_Chernobyl.pdf

    • Atomikrabbit says:

      I’ll drink the Precautionary Principle Kool-Aid when someone convinces me that dihydrogen monoxide (used in its preparation) is always 100% safe.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Drowning

      Lewis & Clark, Charles Lindbergh, and Neil Armstrong didn’t give a damn about no stinkin’ precautionary principle. They were visionaries and world-changers, not bureaucratic government functionaries.

      • John Englert says:

        The Precautionary Principle can be applied to global climate change and nuclear fission as part of the solution. We already have seen the effects of the dispersion large quantities of radioactive debris (atmospheric nuclear tests), but we have no reference in recorded human history of rapid global climate change. If there exists the posibility of human megadeath and loss of many species than the precautionary principle says we should accept the known, but limited risks of possible nuclear accidents.

        • George Carty says:

          That’s the main reason why I’m somewhat sceptical of claims of catastrophic climate change. If the threat is real, then why isn’t every anti-nuclear activist either dead or in prison?

          • Rod Adams says:

            @George Carty:

            I tend to be a little skeptical about the “catastrophic” part, but I point to the old tale about boiling a frog by slowing turning up the heat. The fact that climate change might happen a little more slowly than some people predict does not change the fact that it is a huge risk to the survival of society as we know it. (The Earth will survive. That does not mean it is a good thing to keep fouling our own nest.)

            There is a part of me that hopes that the Chinese, Indians, and others who still burn coal without too much in the way of scrubbers and bag houses keep that up for a while. Dirty greenhouses tend to be less efficient at trapping heat so the ash and sulfur particles are moderating the effects of the CO2 accumulation and giving us a little breathing space in which to build a lot of new nuclear plants. We do not, however, have the luxury of twiddling our thumbs too much longer before there are really serious consequences from failure to take advantage of the natural gift of fission.

        • Brian Mays says:

          If the threat is real, then why isn’t every anti-nuclear activist either dead or in prison?

          Oh George … we can all dream, can’t we? ;-)

          If you can arrange that, then I’m fully on board, in spite of my scientific scruples.

          While we’re dreaming, can we include all those folks who sincerely (but foolishly) believe that solar panels or wind tinker-toys will do anything to counter this threat?

        • Joel Riddle says:

          @Rod,

          Regarding the dirty particulates, you have probably already seen this possible geo-engineering fix, right?

          http://www.techflash.com/seattle/2009/10/video_nathan_myhrvold_explains_how_to_save_the_world.html

  5. Rod Adams says:

    @sdollarfan:

    Sorry, but I do not agree with you regarding CO2 induced climate change. Human operated machinery is dumping about 20 billion tons of CO2 per year, every year into the atmosphere. There is an inexorable rise in the average CO2 concentration that has been steadily increasing since the beginning of the industrial age. Ocean focused scientists have also measured some disturbing trends in the average pH with the effects being most prominent in the vulnerable but biologically productive shallower areas near shore.

    The vast scale of the dumping cannot be compared in the same thought process with the minuscule quantities of radioactive material that are causing such consternation in the wake of Fukushima.

    If you have done much reading here on Atomic Insights, you should know that I strongly believe that skepticism about CO2 hazards and irrational fear about radiation can be traced to the same source – a desire by the establishment to maintain the dominance of hydrocarbon combustion in our industrialized economy. In one case, the effort is designed to distract customers about the dangers of excessive consumption in the other case the effort is designed to spread FUD about a potent competitor that can permanently capture market share from fossil fuel in many instances.

    • Nardox says:

      What is a good “nuts and bolts of fission 101″ primer for the unscientific? I’d really like to know more about it because Atomic insights regulars seem to think radiation is harmless but then i see articles like this –

      Experts: Possibility of evacuating parts of Tokyo can no longer be ignored — Fukushima ‘worse’ than Chernobyl (VIDEO)

      it makes me think that there really is a problem and perhaps the northern hemisphere will see a dramatic population dropulation in the next 10 years. Which is a good thing, because i have yet to find a social problem which is made better by adding more people to it.

      • Rod Adams says:

        @Nardox – you misunderstand. None of us think that radiation is harmless but that radiation below certain levels poses an acceptable risk that might even be a positive contributor to good health. I am confident that every technically qualified person who comments here will readily acknowledge that too much radiation is very dangerous.

        If you want to understand the issues, you can follow some of the related posts listed at the bottom of the above.

      • Daniel says:

        @ Nardox,

        For starters you can do Wikipedia on Alpha, Beta and Gamma radiations.

        You will find out that the much malignant Plutonium is an alpha emitter and of no risk to humans.

        Then you can dig on the 3 measures to protect yourself from radiation : Shielding, Distance and Time

      • Andrew Jaremko says:

        @Nardox – IMO an excellent starting point is Bernard L. Cohen’s online book The Nuclear Energy Option. It’s very readable. Chapter 5, How dangerous is radiation?, talks specifically about radiation. He uses the unit “millirem” rather than the more modern SI unit “millisevert”, but the conversion is straightforward: 100 millrem = 1 millisevert. I suggest reading the whole book; I found chapter 8, Understanding risk, most illuminating.

      • Brian Mays says:

        Nardox – If you have questions about radiation and want to know more, a good resource to consult would be the Radiation Answers website, which has been prepared members of the Health Physics Society, the professional society of radiation safety experts in the US.

      • Rod Clemetson says:

        For a quick graphic guide to radiation dose levels check out this link
        [...] http://www.ritholtz.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/radiation.png [...]

    • Daniel says:

      @Nardox,

      I remember that Rod was looking forward to a new book on radiation from Oxford press that was to be released around July 21. We never had any feedback since from Rod.

      I was waiting to buy the book, but I do not recall the title and I was waiting for Rod’s comments.

      • Rod Adams says:

        @Daniel – my “early onset” memory issues prevent me from being able to recall the work you are describing. Even my favorite search crutch is failing me this time.

      • Daniel says:

        Therefore you admit to being a carbon unit like the rest of us ?

    • Brian Mays says:

      I strongly believe that skepticism about CO2 hazards and irrational fear about radiation can be traced to the same source …

      Rod – Yet, it’s funny how few organizations there are out there that do both. They’re either like the Union of Concern Scientists, who promote fear of radiation, or the American Enterprise Institute, who challenge the “consensus” expressed in reports by the IPCC.

      I suppose that this “source” sure is crafty to avoid funding one group to do both jobs. But if that is the case, then this “source” ends up supporting groups on both sides of each issue. Bizarre, isn’t it?

      • Rod Adams says:

        @Brian – Confusion and controversy can result in inaction. That tends to favor the dominant, established fuel sources.

        • Brian Mays says:

          Rod – Action is not necessarily a good thing, in and of itself. A cattle stampede is an example of “action,” but I wouldn’t call it a constructive or desirable one. Often inaction is preferable to making a serious mistake.

          For example, some quick and foolish actions result in the US government throwing half a billion dollars into a toilet in the form of a company with manufacturing costs for a product that are twice what the market will bear. It’s difficult to argue that this was a good idea, but guess who was full of nothing but praise and was calling for even more?

          If that’s their idea of action, then I have to say no thanks. I would prefer inaction.

        • Rod Adams says:

          Let me rephrase – controversy about climate change along with effective sales jobs regarding unreliables (aka renewables) and FUD campaign against nuclear combine to result in increased fossil fuel sales. Complex? Sure, but so are most effective long term sales and marketing campaigns.

    • sdollarfan says:

      Rod:

      I understand your concern about mankind’s continuous dumping of CO2 into the atmosphere and the effects on climate that you and many others believe it might have.

      Let me begin by saying that my background is not in climate science (my degree is in computer science), so what I say here is based on my understanding of what I’ve heard and read from the skeptical scientists in the climatic, atmospheric science, and meteorology fields.
      One of the best skeptic sites is http://www.wattsupwiththat.com.

      The Earth’s climate is an extremely complex creature, and scientists are VERY long way from understanding all of the things that effect climate and cause climate change. Besides CO2 levels, other things that need more scientific reasearch and need to be considered include:

      a) The varying output of the Sun’s heat energy (which is at a lower level right now causing some to actually fear that the Earth may start cooling off in the years ahead — remember you heard it here first). Scientists monitor the number of sunspots on the Sun’s surface to get an indication of how active the Sun is. The more sunspots, the more active it is. Solar scientists haven’t been seeing many sunspots lately, and it has them worried.

      b) The effect that cosmic rays bombarding the Earth from space have on cloud formation and how those clouds affect the Earth’s warming and cooling.

      c) The effects of ocean phenomena known as the Atlantic and Pacific Decadal Oscillations which have both cold and warm modes that affect weather and climate. The PDO went into cold mode some years back.

      d) The varying distances between the Sun and the Earth over time and the variation in the tilt of the Earth on its axis.

      Understanding the above and listening to the skeptics gives me the impression that the AGW theory is an oversimplification of the issue.

      Dr. Richard Lindzen at MIT (who, as far as I know, has no connections to Big Oil or the fossil fuels industry) is one of the most well-respected skeptical scientists on this issue. He probably put it best when he was testifying before Congress some time back.

      He said that the root of this issue is just how sensitive the Earth’s climate is to CO2’s greenhouse gas effect. During his testimony, he said that he believes that the effect has been significantly overstated by the alarmist scientists and that a doubling of CO2 levels in the atmosphere will AT MOST produce an global average temp increase of 1 degree celcius. (I will suggest here that we will probably either run out of or quit using fossil fuels before the doubling happens — but I could be wrong.) In contrast, the Middle Ages Warm Period of 900 to about 1300 A.D. was about 2 degrees celcius warmer than today (at its peak) according to many scientific papers (see http://www.co2science.org).

      Irregardless Rod, I am 100% pro-nuclear and fully support the replacement of our fossil fuel power plants with nuclear ones for the environmental reasons outside of the AGW theory. The sooner we have generation III and IV nuclear plants up and running in place of fossil fuel plants, the better.

      • Daniel says:

        Climate change is one thing.

        However, ocean acidification is happening and is having devastating impacts on marine life and our food supplies.

  6. Carl Lumma says:

    YouTube is ground zero of a de novo conspiracy theory about the Fukushima disaster, so the comments should be no surprise. Jaworowski, like many intelligent people who find a hole in the scientific consensus, gets sloppy and goes too far. But his paper is well worth reading. Higher-quality versions of this excellent documentary can be obtained via torrent.

  7. DV82XL says:

    In my opinion, two parasitic cultures have grown around nuclear technology, both artifacts of Cold War paranoia: first is the radiation protection industry and professionals working in the field that depend on the continued acceptance of the the linear-non-threshold dose-response model, despite the fact that this model has been thoroughly discredited on multiple occasions; the second the nonproliferation bureaucracy. The latter having no more of an evidentiary foundation than the former, but is similar in that a host of people depend on its assumptions for their jobs.

    The most dishonest, manipulative research I have ever seen has been published by radiation epidemiologists who are proponents of the LNT assumption. Their hundreds of publications and involvement in national and international radiation protection agencies have put them in a position of power and control within research establishments. They have continued the deception in spite of the overwhelming published, scientific data that clearly demonstrates how wrong the LNT assumption is.

    And as far as I can see the NPT has done nothing to stop the spread of weapons except in the minds of the functionaries of the bureaucratic apparatus it precipitated, but has created all sorts of onerous rules that have increased the administrative overhead of nuclear energy without doing one damned thing to slow proliferation.

    Ultimately these two concerns are joined at the hip, both feeding off each other and tag-teaming the fears of all things nuclear. While it is clear that outside forces are at work against the adoption of nuclear power, we should not ignore the impact of special interest groups nominally inside the nuclear field itself.

  8. George Carty says:

    Does anyone here have any good ideas on how to combat fearmongers? (Not just on the nuclear energy issue, but on any issue where the opposition’s argumentation is based on fear.)

    • Daniel says:

      From Hilary Clinton today on a speech on nuclear at the UN:

      … The fear of nuclear contamination casts a long shadow. Six months later, Japanese authorities are still working to bring the reactors to a cold shutdown. The towns in the immediate vicinity are still unlivable ….

      We have a long way to go.

      • James Greenidge says:

        Someone with a atomic repute ought publicly call her on the carpet for that.

        James Greenidge

        • Atomikrabbit says:

          Hillary has to go by the official government dogma in terms of Fukushima.

          I have not been a particular fan of the Clintons (especially her husband’s cancellation of the IFR), but I want to point out in all fairness that she also emphasized,

          “The Obama Administration is committed to nuclear power as a component of our secure energy future, and we recognize that nuclear power is a vital contributor to the world’s growing energy needs. It is, therefore, not an option that we simply can take off the table.”

          http://blogs.state.gov/index.php/site/entry/clinton_high_level_meeting_nuclear_safety_unga

          There is room for responses at the end of the page. Here is your chance to provide her with feedback, education, and guidance. Be nice! I don’t think the interns reading it will forward anything but the most erudite and concise responses.

        • Daniel says:

          Atomikrabbit

          Here is my post to Hilary Clinton:

          Madam,

          I once heard that you were considered one of the top legal minds (top 5) in the US. I cannot recall the source or the context, but I have no doubt regarding your intellectual capacities. I see no reason why you could not become one the top 5 influencers of the only proven massive carbon free source of energy.

          People in many parts of the world are living with background radioactivity in excess of 600 msv a year. Still, innocent Japanese citizens are evacuated from their perfectly safe homes on a threshold of 20 msv a year.

          TMI was an industrial incident where no one died from radiation. The same is occurring in Fukushima. The earthquake and ensuing tsunami were devastating. But 5 miles up the sea cost, 5 other reactors were exposed to the same forces. Nothing happened there.

          There is only one lesson to be learned from Fukushima: 40 year old reactors could not withstand the forces of nature but 30 year old plants did.

          It is time for your administration to allow the construction of clean, affordable and abundant nuclear energy.

          Thank you.

      • Daniel says:

        Atomikrabbit

        I just sent a note. I’ll see Monday if I make the cut as everybody has gone home for the week-end.

  9. Yokohama Michael says:

    Hi,

    I’m living in Yokohama and have been reading and reading since this stuff went down. I have been fighting the good fight against the fear-mongers all around me, and have become fairly confident when talking about radiation levels in general in Fukushima and Japan. But recently people have been sending me articles and videos about specific ‘dangerous particles’, especially iodine and caesium. Can somebody direct me to some reading I can do to assure people that their children are not being given cancer by iodine-137 and caesium-137 coming from Fukushima? I would be really grateful.

    • Jerry says:

      This is a good summary: http://www.unscear.org/unscear/en/chernobyl.html

      Quote: “there is no clearly demonstrated increase in the incidence of solid cancers or leukaemia due to radiation in the exposed populations. Neither is there any proof of other non-malignant disorders that are related to ionizing radiation. However, there were widespread psychological reactions to the accident, which were due to fear of the radiation”

      My personal take:
      Iodine has a short half-life of 8 days, it radiates at a high rate, and therefore is dangerous, and can cause thyroid cancers if we don’t take potassium idodine tablets. However, the short half-life also means it’s only a problem in the weeks after the accident, then it’s virtually gone. Cesium has a long half-life of 30 years and is therefore not very dangerous, at Chernobyl no clear evidence has ever been found that is caused any illnesses.

  10. Carl Lumma says:

    @Michael A useful rule of thumb is that a radioactive substance is essentially gone after 10 half-lives (1/1024th of it remains). I-131 (I think you meant) has a half-life of 8 days. It stopped being produced on March 11th, when the reactors scrammed. 80 days later, no matter where in the world the wind carried it, it was gone.

    Research shows that not only could iodine supplements have helped those living near Chernobyl, quarantining milk products for a few weeks could have prevented the vast majority of the < 10,000 thyroid cancers associated with the accident. We must remember that the former USSR was a society already on the brink of collapse. I was in Eastern Europe in 1986 just before Chernobyl, and it was an experience I will never forget. In Japan 2011 the situation is very different. The government has been monitoring foodstuffs for I-131 since the accident.

    I must disagree with Jerry that Cs-137 is not dangerous. It is extremely dangerous. It emits a nasty 662keV gamma ray, and its chemical similarity to potassium means it tends to hang around in the body. While it's a lot less radioactive than I-131, that's actually a bad thing. It's still active enough to be a problem, but not active enough to go away quickly (30 * 10 = 300 years).

    Fortunately, only 10 pounds of Cs-137 were released in the disaster, dispersed at the atomic level into the atmosphere. A real live conspiracy theory has formed on YouTube about Fukushima, and the rhetoric often includes stuff about "particles" or "hot particles" or even "chunks of fuel". All of this is pure, unadulterated horse excrement.

    One nice thing about the 662keV gamma ray is that it's easy to detect. It's possible to estimate Cs-137 contamination from a car or airplane, or on foot with a cheap counter. The bottom line is that essentially all of the exclusion zone is now safe to inhabit. Living in even the worst spots would increase lifetime cancer risk less than many common lifestyle choices (according to prevailing assumptions in health physics… if radiation hormesis exists, it may even be beneficial).

    Of course, having abandoned one's house and property for several months can be really destructive. And in my opinion, evacuation probably was warranted. So the damage of the accident is very real. But how does it compare, if we consider it the cost of all the electricity the plant produced to date? In fact it compares pretty favorably to other common energy sources like tar sands and MTR coal. That is: this rare accident site comes out about on par with operation as usual in the oil industry… Something to think about.

    877,692 GWh from 600km^2 (exclusion zone) = 1,400 GWh/km^2
    " " from 83km^2 (area deemed unfit for rice planting by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries as of Aug. 29) = 10,575 GWh/km^2
    Syncrude's most valuable tar sands claim, using generous assumptions and numbers right from their website: 6,700 GWh/km^2
    (tar sands are the source of 20% of US oil imports – we import more oil from Canada than from any other nation)

    Sorry for the length, -Carl

    • Wayne SW says:

      Carl, keep in mind that when dealing with uptake of radionuclides one must also consider the biological half-life as well as the physical half-life. A common oversight in dealing with 137Cs contamination is to focus on the relatively long physical half-life, and overlook that the biological half-life in humans is relatively short, about 70 days. So that is the operable factor in estimating internal doses. Unless one is exposed to a continuous source of 137Cs intake so that an equilibrium is established, most people will experience a declining internal exposure from a singular release (e.g., core damage) of 137Cs. The relatively long physical half-life of 137Cs (and 90Sr) is the driver in terms of environmental remediation and the establishment of exclusion zones.

      • Carl Lumma says:

        Wayne, that’s why I specifically mentioned the biological residency of Cs.

        • Wayne SW says:

          I did not see where you specifically mentioned the 70 day biological half-life. You said 137Cs is “extremely dangerous” and alluded to its physical characteristics, things like gamma emission energy and physical half-life, and you did the arithmetic to show the 300-year time for the 1024 factor reduction. I also saw your notation that it tends to “hang around in the body”, and while an appropriate colloquialism, did not precisely define the “hang time” in suffiicient detail to allow a judgement as to whether it was long or short.

          My point was that the physical properties of a given radionuclide are only part of the picture. If a bio-system does not accumulate the material to any degree, or does not retain it for too long, the only things left on the table are external exposures, which are manageable with relatively straightforward strategies.

  11. Bob Connor says:

    Maybe the “low level” is “nothing to worry about” but isn’t there at least one place in Fukushima, that is one of the stacks used to vent the torus, where there is maybe a chunk of fuel and the radiation reading is Very High? I have heard that if one were to take one of the spent fuel rod bundles out of the water that it would kill everyone nearby in 5 minutes – is that true? About that chunk, could they pour concrete on top of it to contain the radiation? If I lived in the area I would feel better if the fuel rods were in dry storage, just in case one of those high up pools were to have a leak.

    • Jerry says:

      Why would the fuel bundles being exposed to air be a problem? They were exposed for several weeks, which is why they melted down in thde first place. First they didn’t pump enough water (using fire trucks) into the cores, then TEPCO made some mistakes, such as having a malfunctioning gauge that led them to believe the water level was higher. At one point they even decided it was better not to flood the core entirely since it had melted down anyway and water could increase pressure.
      Pouring concrete or other materials on it is problematic while it’s still hot. When they dumped tons of materials onto the Chernobyl core, most of it melted or caught fire due to extremely high temperatures. Also there was concern of the extreme weight of it (lead, boron, rocks) damaging the entire building below it. The most effective thing eventually turned out to pump liquid nitrogen into the basement below the core, which cooled the core and the “fire” there and brought everything under control. With Fukushima being so close to the sea, using water to cool it is probably the best option.

    • Joffan says:

      The most likely explanation for the high reading is that those are the stack filters. Much contaminated dust from the bulding will be caught there, leading to a radiation hot spot. (No chunks of fuel involved). The removal of those filters will need to be done with careful preparation and shielding, but there is no reason to doubt that that can be safely acheived.

      How radioactive a spent fuel rod is depends on how long it has been out of the reactor. Dry storage, which uses air cooling to take away the decay heat, is not used until somewhere in the range of 1-5 years after removal.

  12. Yokohama Michael says:

    Thanks for the answers everybody. I have seen some of the ‘conspiracy’ type videos on youtube. I wonder if somebody should make some measured and rational reply video. I cannot help the feeling that the public attitude to nuclear power for the next two decades will be decided by how Fukushima is perceived. Youtube will let any old trash on but a lot of people are not aware of an alternative point of view.

    • Daniel says:

      Part of the conspiracy occurred in Yokohama when a triathlon was canceled in April doe to unbased fears of radiations. The triathlon took place last week end.

  13. James Greenidge says:

    Where O Where is nuclear energy’s Carl Sagan???

    James Greenidge
    Queens NY

  14. Septeus7 says:

    Well, in the meanwhile most of the lefties are reading stuff like http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2011/09/guest-post-will-tokyo-be-evacuated-due-to-fukushima-radiation.html claiming that we have a full “Chine Syndrome” in progress.

    I’m frankly hoping that someone could email NNadir the link and let him have at them. Naked Capitalism is one of top 10 economics blog sites (according to Forbes) that reaches more people than Democracy NOW.

    I frankly don’t know what do as there seem to people whose entire lives finding the most misreported articles on nuclear power and stream rolling people with hyperlinks that seem to support what they are saying.

    Rod, you do excellent job for most ordinary people but compared to absolutely vicious nature of the lies being told by Chris Busby and Gundersen we need NNadir’s approach in this situation.

    We can’t be passive and left these people do their thing because if we do then we will become Germany.

    • Wayne SW says:

      Well, you’ve alluded to the major problem, right there in your post. It’s easy for the anti-nukes to lie. It’s the coin of their realm, and more or less in their nature. We who are trained as engineers, scientists, and technicians value truth over falsehood. Those professions don’t lend themselves to lying by nature. We are indoctrinated with the notion that we have to be honest and truthful, to report our data and analyses in a forthright, truthful manner. Telling the truth means something to those who value it, but by and large it isn’t as sensational as spinning a yarn based on nothing more than conjecture embellished by lies.

      We value our reputations and good name, and so are compelled to speak the truth, as unremarkable and boring to the popular media and public as it may be. Anti-nukes often feel no compunction over distorting facts and ignoring truth. They know they can err grievously and get away with it because the popular media will not hold them to account for their mistakes and falsehoods. No similar standard is applied to the positive message. It is met with suspicion, ridicule, and downright contempt. In many ways, it has become a world gone mad.

      • Daniel says:

        Let’s throw around some numbers here. Only 4 % of the US working force is in an engineering or science related job.

        Get the point ?

  15. Marje Hecht says:

    There is some very useful new material from Edward Calabrese about how Nobelist Hermann Muller lied about his research results and started the LNT myth in 1946:
    http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2011-09/uoma-urp092011.php

  16. James Greenidge says:

    >> Bob Connor September 19, 2011 | 5:52 PM
    >> I have heard that if one were to take one of the spent fuel rod bundles out of the water that it would kill everyone nearby in 5 minutes – is that true?

    It’s funny how the nuclear (uneducated) mystique makes anything radioactive outrageously and insidiously lethal. There’re plenty of “innocent” non-nuclear stuff out there that even in small quantities will put you away a lot faster or more horribly than hundreds-pound fuel rods. If you mix a bottle of ammonia and clorine bleach together in a closed space it’ll do the job to anyone there way sooner than five minutes. No need to demo in India.

    James Greenidge
    Queens NY

  17. Scott Day says:

    Thanks again Rod, I needed this after being outright attacked by a colleague today (re my nuclear position). This presents precisely how I feel, there is a lot of hysteria going on out there and if we choose to abandon science we do so at our own peril.

  18. desegnac says:

    ‘The fact is that the negative health effect of low levels of radiation are either zero, positive or so tiny that they are impossible to detect. That should be reassuring to people, even if they continue to believe the nonsensical notion that there is no such thing as zero risk.”

    Did you meant:

    That should be reassuring to people, even if they continue to believe the nonsensical notion that there is such a thing as zero risk.

    THE FEAR provides numerous jobs for radiation protection establishment, too. Hm !? Thus, beware of unsuspected consequences.

    In general, the very existence of THE FEAR is an indication of utter (emotional) disregard of facts and an effective brainwashing (propaganda!!!)