Ted Rockwell, one of my favorite nuclear energy professionals, recently shared the following comment on an email list that was discussing a recent report about the National Academy of Sciences effort to learn lessons from Fukushima.
This fact should be stated loud and clear, right up front:
In every “nuclear disaster”. radiation injured few if any people, whereas overplayed FEAR of radiation had disastrous impact, ruining the lives of thousands. A recent study showed that people who refused to evacuate Chernobyl were happier and outlived the evacuees by 20 years, while the evacuees themselves were depressed and suicidal.
There is nothing else that is as central to the issue as that one fact. It should not be skewed by unreasonable premises. In addition, the impact of unwarranted fear of radiation has caused massive avoidable use of fossil fuels, to the detriment of people and the environment.
Ted Rockwell, November 26, 2012
I might be wrong, but I would guess that Ted’s reaction was stimulated by the following passage contained in the NAS study background statement:
Additionally, the Japanese government estimates that up to about 2,400 square kilometers (930 square miles) of land might need to be decontaminated to reduce radiation exposures to acceptable levels. The cost of decommissioning and decontamination is likely to run into the tens of billions of US dollars (trillions of Japanese yen) and could generate millions to tens of millions of cubic meters of waste.
That may be what Ted was thinking about when he wrote “should not be skewed by unreasonable premises.” The scary cost and waste mass numbers associated cleaning up the Fukushima area to “acceptable” levels could be reduced by changing the rules of the game, which have been established over many years to ensure that nuclear energy is a loser.
Instead of spending virtually unlimited amounts of time and money to achieve standards for doses that are politically considered to be “acceptable”, we should spend what would amount to far less time and money reviewing the science. An honest review would allow decision makers to recognize that tens of thousands of people have been exposed to far higher levels of radiation dose over lengthy periods of time.
Those accidentally or naturally exposed populations have been extensively studied and found to have small or no measurable negative effects, even when exposed to levels that are several times as high as those in the evacuated areas near the Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Station. The US NRC investment of our tax dollars into the NAS effort to learn lessons could be better spent by first directing work that would provide a sound basis for determining what an “acceptable” dose really is.
This topic always makes me want to ask a few hard questions.
Should the people who are professionally rewarded for spreading fear, uncertainty and doubt about radiation be held accountable for their actions, even if they did not “intend” to harm anyone?
If people do not trust experts who are employed as nuclear energy professionals when they reassure people about the low level of radiation risk — please consider the fact that employment provides at least some evidence that the professionals retain the respect of their peers — why do they trust self-anointed experts like Arnie Gundersen, Robert Alvarez, Chris Busby and Helen Caldicott when they spread stories that have been selectively slanted to cause panic for profit?
Here is something else to consider. Linfen is the central city in an area in China that was once known as the most polluted place on earth. Some even call it China’s Chernobyl. However, it was not the site of a “nuclear disaster”, it is a place where there are an unusual concentration of coal burning furnaces.
Linfen remains an unhealthy place to live, but it has not been evacuated. Instead, the Chinese have made investments in better technology, shut down a number of coal burning furnaces and worked to clean up the environment. Though things are improving, there are still elevated levels of pollution that cause negative health effects. A similar story could be told about Pittsburgh, PA or even London, England.
In my opinion, this dichotomy can be partially explained by the fact that coal interests have worked for many decades to teach people to accept coal smoke (perhaps grudgingly) as a necessary evil associated with better living — compared to not burning coal.
In contrast, nuclear energy interests have been pretty quiet and allowed the field to be dominated by people who work hard to teach people to fear even the tiniest quantities of radiation. Interestingly enough, the public has received reassurances that radiation doses received as a result of coal smoke or natural gas extraction are quite harmless.
What do you think?
Report of ICRP Task Group 84 on Initial Lessons Learned from
the Nuclear Power Plant Accident in Japan vis-à-vis the ICRP
System of Radiological Protection – Highly recommended reading for all policy makers!