This video was produced by the World Nuclear Association (WNA). It shows that the predicted health consequences of nuclear accidents are often orders of magnitude greater than the actual, measured health consequences of the accidents that have occurred. Instead of the “worst case scenarios” of hundreds of thousands to millions of people getting sick and dying, Chernobyl produced a few dozen casualties, a few thousand illnesses, and few, if any, additional long-term radiation related illnesses.
Fukushima will result in no casualties and no long term radiation related illnesses, because the key mistakes that were made in the initial response to the accident at Chernobyl were not repeated. Worker doses at Fukushima were controlled so that no one was exposed to dangerous radiation doses. The public was sufficiently informed about radiation releases so that no one drank milk that was contaminated by I-131.
Unfortunately, the most important lesson from 25 years worth of intense international study of the Chernobyl accident has not been learned. That accident had very real social, economic and health consequences. Those completely avoidable consequences were due to the way that governments, the antinuclear movement, and the media chose to react.
Government edicts led to permanent relocation and the associated stress and economic disruption. The antinuclear movement created tales of hundreds of thousands of deaths and promoted those stories relentlessly (and continues to do so). Sensational media reports of catastrophic predictions were never followed with calm, reasoned reporting of the actual results.
As a result of those actions, people have continued to live in fear of a boogyman that has never arrived. People who have been repeatedly told that they are condemned to an early death often make choices like smoking, excessive drinking and reckless behavior that allow the predictions of illness and early death to become self-fulfilling.
The WNA video overlooks the fact that there are many people who have purposely inflated the potential effects of nuclear accidents and produced scare stories for hire. Some of those scare stories are actually published as official government documents by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. There are plenty of economic motives for fighting the beneficial use of nuclear energy and for exaggerating the effects of the few accidents that occasionally happen.
Nuclear fission is the only reliable source of power that does not produce air pollution, greenhouse gases, or ocean acidification. It is the only reliable source of power that uses an abundant, densely concentrated source of fuel that can be found in almost every country. It is extremely disruptive of the economic world order because it offers a viable path for reducing and possibly eliminating the negative effects of depending on the Earth’s limited base of stored hydrocarbons.
Based in large part on my personal history of operating nuclear propulsion reactors and studying commercial plant operations, I recognize the enormous value of atomic energy, the low probability of accidents and the relatively low consequences of an accident even if all of the effort to prevent accidents fail. (I do recognize that accidents which will inevitably happen; no human designed and operated technology is perfect.)
It is painful to live in a world where the knowledge that my life of experience and study has provided seems to held by only a tiny minority of people, even within my own chosen profession.
The saving grace that helps to keep me sane is the fact that our vastly improving communications tools provide us all with a low cost, effective means of sharing knowledge with people who also have the ability to share to different groups of connected people. Through social media and networking we can spread the word and overcome the dominance of the advertisement-supported commercial media – even though the economically motivated opposition to nuclear energy can afford to purchase a whole lot of advertising and a large number of politicians.
Please help do your part to calm the fears, ease the stress, and end the disruption to people’s lives at Chernobyl and at Fukushima.