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  1. I’m surprised that you did not point out the major error in the article, where the author states, ” The Chernobyl standard for safe return of people from a radiated zone was one millisievert per hour, while in Japan the government has set the standard at twenty.” Those dose rates are per YEAR, not per hour. Other problems with the article abound–relating dose rates to those in Tokyo while not noting that they were far below those considered hazardous, and discussing the doses to workers at the plant without indicating that they were unlikely to result in any health effects. The article exploits the impacts on a relatively small group of people, while essentially ignoring the approximately 20,000 people who died from the tsunami and around 200,000 others who were evacuated for reasons having nothing to do with the nuclear accident.

    Without getting into a debate about the historical aspects of the “safe dose” issue, I think the NYR article is a disgrace, and Prof. Ignatieff ought to be ashamed of himself.

    1. @oldnuke

      I am willing to grant a simple typographical/proof reading error for the per hour versus per year statement, though I recognized it and have discussed it on various email lists.

      In the excerpt I read, it was clear to me that Prof. Ignatieff did not ignore the people who died in the tsunami or those who were temporarily evacuated because of infrastructure damage in areas that did not get any contamination. He stated in several places that the casualties and destruction he witnessed were NOT the result of the events at the plant or the release of contamination. He also noted the contrasts between “no go zones” and areas that experienced evacuations that were fairly quickly rescinded, where people were allowed to return and rebuild.

      The risks of traveling into an irradiated zone may be negligible, but it takes time for your preconceptions to adjust. You expect the foliage to be bare, the rice paddies dry, the trees skeletal. In fact, nature looks normal.

      It is the invisible hazard of radiation that keeps Namie empty, but it was the visible force of the earthquake and tsunami that destroyed much of the town.

      Between the earthquake and the tsunami, which struck about thirty-five minutes later, Naoki Kobayashi, a city worker, then twenty-seven years old, was racing through the streets with a loudspeaker, telling people to escape. He was driving back to higher ground when he saw, in his rearview mirror, the wave roaring up behind him, chasing him like a pack of dogs.

      He made it to safety, but his family’s house was washed away, and he didn’t know where his mother was until she turned up at the municipal office later that night and he loaded her onto an evacuation bus. Four years later, both he and his mother are still living as evacuees.

      I think Professor Ignatieff would be relieved to learn that his preconceptions about radiation hazards were wrong and instilled by a purposeful PR campaign. He and others might be angry, but at least their anger would be directed in the right direction with the possibility of have some positive effect instead of being directed against nuclear energy with a frustrating sense that there is nothing he can do to help the people of Fukushima.

  2. Also lurking in the background, but not mentioned, is the fallout accident to Japanese fishermen after an H-bomb test. The bomb was more powerful than calculated and the cloud carried up particulate from the island coral, I believe.

    I remember reading of it in the Readers’ Digest at the time, a widely read popular publication.

    1. @Howard Schaffer

      Yes the 1954 Castle Bravo test played a big roll in stimulating the fallout debate, encouraging formation of BEAR I, and damaging AEC credibility. No only did they fail to protect the Marshallese islanders and Japanese fishermen, but they didn’t seem to have a good handle on their testing and design program.

  3. Thanks, excellent analysis as usual. I agree that the special status of radiation in the public perception of danger can only be explained by how useful such a misconception is for the most wealthy and powerful industries that have ever existed.
    However, it must be said that without evacuation, the lifetime doses of some residents in the most contaminated areas around Fukushima Daiichi would have exceeded 50 or 100 mSv, a dose range where an increased cancer rate has been found in some studies (but not in others). Even then, the risk must be put into perspective. According to ICRP 100mSv would translate to 0.5% additional fatal cancer risk, knocking maybe a month off your life expectancy. Who would leave their homes and go into temporary accomodation for 4years+, for the benefit of theoretically living 1 month longer? Mandatory evacuation is completely unethical.
    Air pollution cuts live expectancy by a year in major western cities and by 5-10 years in pollution hellholes like Beijing and Delhi. Nobody gets evacuated. Many people don’t even give up smoking, which costs 5 years of life expectancy.

    1. Thank you for your lifetime dose estimates for the most contaminated areas around Fukushima. Do you have a reference? I would find that useful.

      Your comparison of Fukushima to Beijing, etc., is spot on. Apparently, it’s OK to expose 10-20 million people to a larger risk, but it is absolutely unacceptable to expose a few tens of thousands of people to a lower risk. The double standard is astonishing.

      1. Moderator, I wrote another comment which isn’t being shown yet, it seems.

        Could you also remove this comment and the ‘test’? Sorry for this. Thanks.

    2. 50 to 100 mSv per lifetime — or about 1 mSv per year — is not harmful. Studies showing potential harm in such doses are for prompt doses, not for extended doses. The fact that there are demonstrated differences in biological effect based on dose rate is strong evidence that LNT is incorrect at low doses.

  4. Re: “…That’s because they keep getting reminded that they are supposed to be afraid of even the smallest amount of radiation or radioactive material.”

    But whose fault is this — really? It sure didn’t take BP Gulf very long to “Ad-ucate” Gulf residents and businesses to forget a long coastline of oily birds and stained beaches and tainted shellfish and a dozen or so dead and maimed workers — light-years far more physical and environmental damage than Fukushima ever caused. It’s high time the nuclear community wisens up to just how fossils dig themselves out of PR holes. Also, I don’t ever let the media slide in supposedly having “uneducated” or “ignorant” statements about radiation and things nuclear. They know _exactly_ what they’re saying and doing by slipping in FUD poison pills into their print and newscasts. Simply put, most the media have coy anti-nuke “green” agendas too.

    James Greenidge
    Queens NY

  5. Keep in mind that one of the reasons Prof Iggy forced a Canadian Election in 2011 was that Big Oil’s ruling Fascist Party of Canada was planning on giving away Canada’s $23B investment in Candu tech to some party cronies in the Oil business basically paying them to take it.

    Iggy lost, and they did.

    The beneficiaries of the largess affectionately known as Gaddifi Engineering for their ties to the former dictator promptly sold the tech to the Chinese, who now have 3 Candu reactor projects on the go.

    1. Indians have basically reverse-engineered the CANDU heavy water reactor. They are building their own, have some advanced designs and state that they will export them (some day).

      Canada still has a good shot at working with the Chinese … the fuel-burning modification to the EC6 (forgot the name).

      Still think CANDU may be the most impressive technology developed in Canada.

  6. I think it would be better served to write “It is the invisible fear of radiation that keeps Namie empty”. The levels of exposure are too low to be correctly described as a hazard.

  7. Speaking about “involuntary risks”, a few weeks ago, a good friend was almost killed during some surgery by a drug called succinylcholine. He was supposed to wake up within minutes after the surgery but was out for an additional four hours and needed a breathing tube. When he did wake up, he was still completely paralyzed and unable to breathe. Later, he was told that his body could not metabolize that drug. There are much safer drugs with a better safety record, but the patient is never given a choice. I would have chosen morphine which has been safely used for hundreds of years.

    It is my understanding that between one and two hundred thousand Americans are killed every year by avoidable medical errors and bad reactions to synthetic drugs.

    I googled succinylcholine and found that it worked well 97% of the time and,

    “Despite its adverse effects, including life-threatening malignant hyperthermia, hyperkalaemia, and anaphylaxis, it is perennially popular in emergency medicine because it has the fastest onset and shortest duration of action of all muscle relaxants.”

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