Tracking down and squashing “5 lethal doses” myth

Several times during the past couple of days, I have encountered comments from a variety of people who have claimed that a document released as a result of a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request proved that the accident at Fukushima resulted in 5 people receiving lethal radiation doses.

That claim does not match the official reports from Japan, the World Health Organization and the International Atomic Energy Agency, all of which have stated that there were no immediate radiation related casualties and that there is only a small probability of any radiation related health effects over the lifetime of the people who received exposures.

I queried Atomic Insights commenters and received a link to the supposed source document.

It is a copy of a March 16, 2011 email with the subject line of “Morning status call item” from a US Nuclear Regulatory Commission staff member to another. There is a bullet in a list that contains the following warning at the top of the list:

Events in Japan (caution regarding maturity and reliability of following information)

One bullet in the list states:

“Japan reports 5 persons have received lethal radiation doses”

I queried Scott Burnell from the US NRC Office of Public Affairs about the email. I received the following prompt reply.

Time has shown the first couple of weeks after the accident were marked by a pronounced lack of verifiable information. An e-mail from that time, attempting to relay news with a clear statement of its unconfirmed status, cannot be treated as the last word on the matter. The definitive, independent Japanese review of the accident concluded there were zero radiation fatalities from the accident.

Scott Burnell
(Emphasis added.)

Please gently correct the people who have mistakenly believed the rumor. They had a basis and a reference, but the document was clearly marked to provide a warning that it containing immature and unreliable “fog of accident” information.

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