Message is reaching the public – radiation risks have been greatly exaggerated
An important message that has been discussed often by web publications like Hiroshima Syndrome, Yes Vermont Yankee, Canadian Energy Issues, Nuke Power Talk, Neutron Bytes, Atomic Power Review, and ANS Nuclear Cafe has jumped to the mainstream press in the form of a New York Times article by George Johnson titled When Radiation Isn’t the Real Risk.
The article, in a publication whose daily readership and established reputation dwarfs even the best read nuclear focused blogs, informs readers that evacuating the area near the Fukushima nuclear plants and forcing people to remain away from their property for more than four years has caused immeasurably more harm than simply allowing the people to remain in place and letting the radioactive materials naturally disperse and decay.
As Johnson wrote:
But about 1,600 people died from the stress of the evacuation — one that some scientists believe was not justified by the relatively moderate radiation levels at the Japanese nuclear plant.
Had the evacuees stayed home, their cumulative exposure over four years, in the most intensely radioactive locations, would have been about 70 millisieverts — roughly comparable to receiving a high-resolution whole-body diagnostic scan each year. But those hot spots were anomalies.
By Dr. Doss’s calculations, most residents would have received much less, about 4 millisieverts a year. The average annual exposure from the natural background radiation of the earth is 2.4 millisieverts.
Johnson might also have included the fact that the variations in human exposures from natural radiation and medical diagnostic procedures range from a low of about 1 mSv per year to a high of approximately 250 mSv per year. Even the people who received doses on the high end of the estimate would have been well within the existing variations in dose. There is little, if any, evidence pointing to excess negative health effects due to variations in existing radiation doses.
The reason the computed doses are so low is that there was not much radioactive material released. The small amount that escaped was distributed over a large area, with much of it being washed out to sea. The most active and hazardous materials are also the ones that disappear the fastest.
Dilution might not be the solution to routine pollution, but it is the generally accepted, effective solution to the unplanned release of hazardous gases or fine particles.
Unfortunately, decision makers have been taught to believe that radioactive material is especially hazardous and that even the smallest measurable amounts need to be avoided if at all possible. They have been repeatedly told by loud voices that there is no safe dose of radiation. The organizations that have been established as the protectors of public health with regard to radiation have focused on establishing regulations that require their licensees to control radiation doses to levels that are as low as reasonably achievable.
The agencies that have the legislated responsibility for being experts on radiation have not invested enough effort helping agencies charged with other aspects of public safety to recognize the difference between dose standards established to raise the performance bar for radioactive material licensees and radiation doses that are high enough to detectably harm human health. There are at least two orders of magnitude of difference between the two.
Most radiation protection specialists know that current standards are far lower needed to protect health and willingly expose themselves to much higher doses. They tell each other that establishing and enforcing tighter than needed standards is okay because at least it’s “conservative.”
They ignore the important fact that misunderstanding risks can lead to hazardous decision making. In a crisis situation where panic kills and calm, properly focused efforts lead to the greatest chance for survival and recovery, improper prioritization is far from protective.
Crisis decision making has been one of my focus areas for many years. I’ve spend a good portion of my life learning to evaluate hazards and protect people from harm, starting with the Red Cross senior lifesaving course that I took in 1975 in preparation for working as a lifeguard.
As a submarine junior officer, I was trained to be a first responder and leader of casualty assistant teams. My mentors emphasized the importance of promptly evaluating risks and prioritizing actions based on reducing the most immediately hazardous items as rapidly as possible before later addressing less pressing items. Only after taking care of top priorities would we move to items that were merely annoyances needing to be cleaned up.
Because I was a first responder in a nuclear powered ship, my training included an emphasis on understanding when radiation was hazardous to health, when it was a concern to be managed, and when it could be ignored. It’s probably worth noting here that I was transferred out of my first responder role — after nine years of heavily reinforced training and practice — in December 1990.
As I worked my way into positions of increasing responsibility, I learned to coordinate multiple teams of first responders, to write procedures that could be studied in advance, and to prepare quick reference material that could be consulted in emergencies in order to help people in pressure situations take the right paths. Getting the guidance right was vital to producing correct, timely decisions.
The importance of good guidance is not limited to the information provided to people on the scene; higher level leaders are often not specialists and “crisis mode” does not provide time for extensive research.
Articles like Johnson’s need to be repeated and promoted. The people charged with regulating “use of radioactive materials to protect public health and safety, promote the common defense and security, and protect the environment,” need to clearly separate regulations designed to hold licensees to a high standard and public safety limits that should be established by determining — in advance of any future crisis — how high radiation doses have to be before they have the potential for observable harm to human health.
Rod – another good article. Hopefully this will help some fence sitters and provide a few good links for convincing some of their friends.
It has been over 35 years and still none of my fellow coworkers from TMI have died as a result of their actions or the radiation received during the accident. I know of two people whose deaths could be loosely contributed to the accident. One was killed in an automobile accident near Allentown PA three days after the accident while taking his family away from the “potential bomb” described on TV and pushed by a misinformed NRC engineer. The other was the grandfather of an HP worker who died from complications of a heart attack caused by the stress, concern, worry brought about by the TV news [HYPE] over the potential explosion.
I do a weekly google search on “fukushima”, and was suprised to see the NYT’s piece. Invariably, the search turns up the opposite.
Rod, I ‘m curious if Johnson is someone you were previously aware of? And have you attempted to contact him? Obviously he was able to get this piece past his editors and into print , so he is definitely worth collaborating with.
I wonder too, if this piece was just offered online, or if it actually saw ink. I do not have access to the paper version of the NYTs in Tehachapi. Heck, they even stopped delivering the L. A. Times here except Sundays. I guess we here in Tehachapi are considered irrelevent.
On another thread I opine that NE either has to stay out out of the headlines, or change the reason it lands on the headlines. This piece by Johnson adds another option.
Along the same lines….
I post at the National Bureau of Asian Research’s “Japan Forum” on Fukushima at times. This is an open forum so anyone can read the posts (link below).
Paul Blustein is a journalist who wrote right after the accident at Fukushima “Why ‘m not Fleeing Japan.” He also wrote “Fukuhsma’s Worst Case Scenarios” and “Shaken Faith” for Slate in 2013.
While I respected what he wrote, Blustein’s Slate articles also unfortunately contain errors.
But yesterday he responded to an economist, Mr. Katz,’s misconceptions with the following with a powerful opening line:
“In all my decades in journalism, nothing has disillusioned me more about my profession than its coverage of Fukushima. And now comes more evidence, in the form of Richard Katz’s post, of the media’s success at perpetuating certain crucial myths about the incident. As someone who has done a fair amount of research on Fukushima, I can’t help but feel frustrated at the stubborn durability of those myths. I hasten to add that I don’t blame Mr. Katz, whose work I generally admire; the fault lies with the media, which has a clear vested interest in propagating its original story lines.
Two story lines in particular get endlessly recycled. One is that, as Mr. Katz puts it, “The government destroyed trust by repeatedly lying to people.” The second is that the accident was potentially so dangerous that it might “force an evacuation even of Tokyo”—a horrific possibility that Japanese officials hid from the public to prevent panic.
… …. …..
1. The Japanese government’s credibility was blown to smithereens shortly after 3/11 by a government official’s egregiously false and misleading statement. But this official was not Japanese. He was American—Gregory Jaczko, the temperamental, shoot-from-the-hip chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
Five days after the incident, Jaczko publicly portrayed the situation at the nuclear plant (specifically, the spent fuel pool in Reactor No. 4) as much more dire than Japanese authorities were acknowledging. His comments stoked a firestorm of condemnation against Tokyo’s ostensible duplicity.
Jaczko’s assessment of the situation turned out to be wrong. And incredibly, even though he learned almost immediately that his comments were highly questionable, he did nothing at that point to correct the record, or try to ameliorate the damage he had done. Only three months later did his agency finally admit that the Japanese had been right all along—by which time faith in Tokyo had been shattered beyond repair.
2. The Tokyo metropolitan area was never in danger, even if the situation significantly deteriorated at Fukushima Dai-Ichi. That was the conclusion of a worst-case scenario exercise conducted in the weeks after 3/11 that was far more comprehensive and scientific than other, much cruder scenarios that have gotten wide attention in the media. This exercise was conducted by Lawrence Livermore Laboratory for the Obama administration, which was desperately trying to figure out whether it ought to evacuate U.S. military personnel from the Kanto region.
(The rest is at the link)
You forgot to add the link.
oops… here it is:
Rod – I assume you know that George Johnson is the regular bloggingheads.tv diavlog partner of John Horgan…whom you converted before our eyes to being pro-nuclear.
George Johnson also wrote a fantastic book called ‘Cancer Chronicles’ that – amid a multi-faceted examination of the eponymous disease – discusses the hazards of over-interpreting cancer clusters (a favorite cudgel of the anti-nuke crowd)
FYI – that original diavlog you (Rod) had with with Horgan 6-7 years ago was what started my own conversion from being an ignorant skeptic of nuclear power to an enthusiastic advocate. I urge all readers to go back and watch it…
Is Radiation Necessary For Life?
what are your views http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3998763/#SD25
I’d say this sentence indicates the flavor of the preconceived notions that slanted the results.
There is abundant evidence that exposure to ionising radiation can cause cancer, particularly from data on the survivors of the Japanese atomic-bombings and other groups receiving moderate or high doses at high dose-rates
Data from the atomic bomb survivor studies do nothing of the sort. They indicate that there is a reasonably strong statistical correlation between reconstructed radiation doses and the cancer incidence of a single population against a single similar control population. Multiple statistical analysis of the same populations do not and cannot, by design, provide evidence that ionizing radiation caused any of the recorded cancers.
Carcinogens can only be proven by a combination of biology and epidemiology.
One problem I have with many of these studies is that we still do not definitely know what causes cancer. PERIOD. Each week or month another scientist has identified that another type of cancer is caused by or directly related to an inherited gene. The newest method now of curing cancer is to perform a genetic analysis, identify the person’s genetic composition and from this determine the most effective course of action. The hospitals performing this type of “cure” are having excellent results. More and more doctors are publically stating that the cancer you get depends on your genes.
This strengthens my belief that the majority of cancers are caused by the genes you already have as inherited from your mother and father. I feel that in some cases a trigger or a catalyst is then needed for some people to then have cancer, especially for certain types of cancer, e.g. lung cancer and asbestos. Or it could be that the bodies defense system just gets overwhelmed and those with weaker defense systems get cancer and those with strong defense systems do not. I am sure you know someone that has never had any illness worse than the common cold.
The stronger the theory becomes that most cancer is genetically related (and I mean inherited) then the weaker all of these studies that radiation alone (in small amounts) that do not use control groups that are similar genetically become.
This is pure hypothetical opinion. I have no proof and cannot provide any links supporting this “theory.”
Rod & others, I agree that the dangers of radiation have been exaggerated wildly. Strontium-90 is a case in point. If 90Sr is indeed a bone-seeker, then it deposits in the inorganic component of the bone, the hydroxy(l)apatite. It ends up a couple of orders of magnitude further from the DNA than environmental 40K. I thus challenge even the supposition that 90Sr could be a big problem.
I have written a more detailed analysis in my submission to the South Australian Nuclear Energy Royal Commission, Appendix K.
I would appreciate anyone commenting on my analysis, as there doesn’t seem to be anything exactly addressing this issue elsewhere. I give permission for the material in my submission to be reprinted and redistributed anywhere and anytime, to support the use of nuclear energy to combat climate-change.
Greame – I like your submission, lots of useful comparison to put things in perspective. Quantitative comparisons are a complete taboo in the anti-nuke world, for obvious reasons.
On the 90Sr, I think you are wrong. 40K decays in 90% of cases to 40Ar in a beta- decay with mean beta energy of 560keV. 90Sr decays to 90Y with a mean beta energy of 196keV, which then decays to 90Zr with a mean beta energy of 934keV.
A 200keV electron will easily travel 100 microns (micrometers) end to end on a jagged path. For a 560keV electron this is hundreds of microns. From the micrograph on page 29, the bone cells have a diameter of around 10 microns and a separation (in 3D) of around 50 microns (there are a lot more cells in the slices above and below the section shown). The stopping power (energy loss per unit path length) is lowest at the start of the path, because the energy is highest. Not much of the 40K decay energy will be deposited in the cell it happens to decay in.
This means the energy will be deposited fairly uniformly in the bone, no matter if the emitters sit in the cells or in the matrix. So Sieverts from 40K and 90Sr to the bone are directly comparable.
Another small nit with the comparison of Fukushima releases with the radioactivity of the ocean. The 520PBq number for Fukushima contains all the short-lived stuff like 131I which is long gone. Would be worth mentioning how much of the 520PBq is still there after 4 years, and how little will be left after 100 years.
Thanks for the suggestions, RRMeyer. I certainly didn’t really think about the actual path length of the beta & gamma rays in question and it diminishes my argument. Nonetheless, when a 40K decays, it’s 95% likely to be inside the cell, 10 microns from the DNA. The effect may be less than I envisaged, but I still think it’s present to some extent. The decay within the cell might have a 20% chance of hitting DNA in the first 5 microns, it then escapes the cell and has maybe a 1% chance per micron. The 90Sr has the 1% chance per micron all along.
Your comment about the Becquerels from Fukushima is a good one. Can anyone work out a figure after 2 years, 5 years etc? To some extent measuring radioactivity emission from a single event in Becquerels is like measuring distance in miles per hour. The total number of decays would be a better measure but it would be even easier for the anti-nukes to not understand the comparison.
I don’t think it alters the argument much, but 40K decays to 40Ca with electron emission, or to 40Ar with electron capture. The wikipedia figures for decay energy are 1.33 & 1.46 MeV.
Hi Greame, you are of course right, the beta-minus decay, which happens in 90% of cases, is to Ca40. Decay energy is 1.33MeV, but average energy of the electron is 560keV, the rest is carried away by the anti-neutrino. The electron capture (10% of cases) to Ar40 is even less relavant regarding local damage, because the resulting gamma and x-ray radiation is much more penetrating than electrons.
For stopping powers, there is the useful ESTAR calculator at
http://physics.nist.gov/PhysRefData/Star/Text/ESTAR.html. Assuming the bone cells themselves are soft tissue and have density 1 g/cm^3, we get stopping powers < 2MeV/cm for electron energies between 300keV and 6MeV. So on the maximum 10um within the cell, the electon would loose less than 2keV, or 0.3% of its energy. Even if the cells make only 1% of the tissue volume, the dose for the bone cells would only be enhanced by 30% if 100% of the emitters were located inside the cells.
Another thing to discuss is that cancer of the bone cells is actually extremely rare. A more realistic fear is the proximity of bone tissue to the bone marrow with its rapidly dividing cells. So if we compare the distance of the average Sr atom embedded with the Hydroxapatite to the bone marrow, do we get the same answer? Probably
Nice list of bloggers but you forgot mine. I cover radiation on Deregulate the Atom in two places:
You picked an unfortunate name for your blog. Though I often argue for less onerous regulation of doses that should be below regulatory concern, it is not a good idea to deregulate the atom.
Have you written an honest article about this?:
(The fact that they can’t find the fuel in at least one reactor at Fukushima, it’s not showing itself in the containment vessel)
You are misinterpreting the way the test results have been announced. The muons have shown that the reactor cores melted and are not in the place where they were designed to be when they were solid.
That is no surprise to me, because the cores in a boiling water reactor are located several meters above the bottom of the pressure vessel. There is plenty of room for melted corium to slump down and then solidify. The area where the core used to be would be empty — or full of water — and the area at the bottom of the pressure vessel would be full of solidified corium.
I don’t think Chris is misinterpreting the way the test results have been announced by the press. Every press source in his reference link is reporting the fuel has left the “reactor” and also likely the containment. Leslie Corrice has written extensively about this chronic false reporting on his blog, especially by the Japanese press. If anyone reads those news reports they will believe “it has been announced” the fuel has left the reactor (pressure vessel) and likely containment also. The muon tests, in fact, did not look at the large empty volume at the bottom of the reactor pressure vessel to see if it contained corium. What is being reported in the press is intentional misinformation or pure speculation.
Is the speculation confined to one side? Rod answers as if his conclusion about where the melted core has ended up is indisputable. Is that in fact unquestionable? I am not disputing his conclusion, as I simply don’t know. I’m just confused whether Rod is offering a hypothesis, or a known fact.
poa, I’d rather not get into he said/she said here. If your concern is what did the Unit 1 muon tests actually show (as in what they looked at and what they did not look at), so you can draw your own conclusion, your best source for archived technical data is Les Corrice’s blog:http://www.hiroshimasyndrome.com/.
His left sidebar has subjects divided up by categories, and there is one on “melt throughs”. But it appears it has not yet been updated with discussion of the U1 muon tests. Les is responsive to “contacts”, try that, he will surely have some technical links to the actual muon tests on U1. Hope that helps.
Now I really don’t get it. Its my understanding that the muon tests are important because of what they didn’t show. Namely, the melted core. As of the 28th, I see nothing at your link that addresses where the core may be. So, I assume its anyone’s guess, and Rod’s assertion is in fact a hypothesis, just as asserting that the core has penetrated the bottom of the vessel would be.
I probably forgot to include a link back to my October 2012 post titled Radiation probes indicate NO melt through at Fukushima Unit 1.
That post explains my interpretation of reported indications from an earlier attempt to determine the conditions under the reactor pressure vessel using a radiation detector. My hypothesis is a result of combining those indications with the muon survey, plus the known results from the core melt event at TMI.
Others can feel free to examine the evidence and reach their own conclusions. I’ll stick with mine with an increasing level of confidence.
Ok. So, best case….
Core is at the bottom of the containment vessel. What do you do now?
Core has melted through the bottom of the containment vessel. What do you do now?
In my opinion, the vast majority of the core material is in the bottom of the pressure vessel, not the containment. This is not really a technicality, though it might seem like one.
The pressure vessel is the steel container that would normally include both the relatively small amount of material that makes up the radioactive heat source called the “core,” all of the supporting and control structures, and a large volume of water that, when heated and under pressure, is the working fluid of the steam plant in a boiling water reactor.
If the core never left the pressure vessel, even in the extreme cases at Fukushima where the cooling water was gone for a lengthy time, assumptions about potential catastrophes associated with nuclear reactors would have to be completely revised.
Even if the core did melt through the pressure vessel, there is a very robust containment vessel that would also need to be penetrated before the catastrophic scenarios painted by nuclear energy opponents — and some within the nuclear industry — would be created.
If the core is refrozen at the bottom of the pressure vessel, as is the case with my interpretation of the available evidence, the clean up at the plant will still be a lengthy process. It will, however, be one that is pretty similar to one undertaken at TMI, but perhaps 5 -10 times more extensive due to more extensive contamination and two additional affected reactor cores.
This is from the March 23rd entry of the Fukushima Accident blog on Les’ website
•Tepco releases preliminary Muon images of F. Daiichi unit #1. Though blurry and difficult to visualize, the two Muon tomography units have separate images showing that most, if not all of the unit #1 core melted. Detector #1 shows no evidence of any of the melted then re-solidified material (corium) in the core barrel, while detector #2 indicates that some of the corium might still be there. The shape of the dense, steel-reinforced concrete Primary Containment Vessel and the reactor vessel side-walls are more clearly shown in both images. The Tepco handout says the relocation of the mass from its undamaged location agrees with prior Tepco computer simulations. However, the two images give no indication as to where the re-solidified corium might be currently located. Japan Times reports a Hosei University professor saying the images do not show the bottom of the reactor vessel, where the corium might have pooled and cooled. However, many Japanese news outlets are touting the images as proof of the core having melted completely through the bottom of the reactor pressure vessel’s bottom head and accumulated on the concrete floor below. There is nothing in the Tepco release to support this conjecture.
So, its safe to say nobody knows exactly what has happened to the melted core.
But hypotheses based on the nuclear energy expertise, such as Rod’s, are far more convincing than the FUDista’s fearmongering based on worst case scenarios. I have been reading up on the Australian anti-nuke fanatic, Brett Stokes, and its alarming that people like him have been given a podium by the media. His specious claims are extreme and shrill. A mathmatician, he proffesses to be a “scientist”, but the “science” he offers is the “science” of alarmist semantics and unsubstantiated claims of personal loss due to the Fukushima “fallout”. Gads, this issue has attracted some real jackasses, with the media providing amplification of unabashed braying.
“So, its safe to say nobody knows exactly what has happened to the melted core.”
As long as this statement is qualified with “just based on the muon test”, the statement is true. The muon test only showed the U1 core material was not in its normal location. If you swallowed a marble, had just a stomach x-ray, and the outcome of that was “it’s not in your stomach”, that is all you know “based on the stomach x-ray.”
As far as “nobody knows exactly…”, well with the amount of speculation, and a lot of that based on some relatively good science, engineering, operations, (TMI experience) etc one of the speculators will turn out to be the most right. So at this point pick your most trusted source. When they actually get a chance to look in and see, that person will be the guy hollering “I told you so.” the loudest.
The Week has a similar article out: Why the Fukushima evacuations were sometimes worse than radiation. It looks like the Week article has another source than the NYT one: it’s based on a report from the Fukushima Medical University in Plos one.
Interesting: two different articles about radiation not being the biggest danger in a given situation in just a couple of days.
Oh, and something interesting in Forbes about research on bacteria in extremely low radiation environments, that I can’t reach now to link. I found it through the NEI Nuclear Notes blog list.
If you can convince these kids then I’ll believe you. Until then, there is no safe dose. Which makes you an omnicidal nuclear industry shill.
Your video is a sensationalized “schlockumentary” about birth defects in Belarus and Ukraine claimed to be due to Chernobyl. The problem is that such defects are simply not associated with radiation; they are associated with things like infections, vitamin deficiencies, maternal stress (including fever, which is why pregnant women are advised not to use hot tubs), chemical toxins (including prescription drugs like Minoxidil) and the like. The only illnesses traceable to off-site radiation exposure from Chernobyl were a few cases of thyroid cancer.
What you’re essentially saying is “Look at these poor kids, isn’t nuclear just TERRIBLE?”. But there’s no connection. It’s the fallacy of appeal to popularity, or the un-sympathetic nature of the purported villian.
What they or you decide to believe or disbelieve does not change the truth. There are millions of people exposed to high natural background radiation in places like Kerala, Guarapari and Ramsar. They don’t have high levels of birth defects.
What projection! In practice, Greens (most notoriously Amory Lovins) prefer to burn coal rather than use nuclear power. All those who do are complicit in the radical and dangerous transformation of the climate, with mass extinctions an inevitable consequence. It is Greens and other anti-nukes who are the omnicides. That includes you.
The implication of your video is an implication only. Should I desire, I could compile a video of deformed and handicapped children in my own area of residence, and attribute the handicaps to the huge windfarms we have in our area. Ridiculous? No more ridiculous than the premise of the video you offer. We don’t know where these kids were born. We don’t know their parent’s history. The only thing tying these kids to Chernobyl is the video’s title.
Stick around. No doubt you’ll be insulted, but you might just learn a thing or two in the process. One thing is for sure, you won’t getaway with pawning BS “evidence” off on EP, like that ridiculous video you offered.
Recent Comments from our Readers
The Clinton Nuclear Plant also in Illinois was shutdown essentially for almost 2 years before it was taken over by…
Good Podcast – Very informative One thing that was not discussed is how to deal with a particular fear that…
Renewables people are masters in marketing. Unreliable intermittent generators whose output is all over the place, and usually badly correlated…
Looking at their lineup, Westinghouse seems bound and determined to keep Gen IV in its “place” which is apparently the…
So they are developing a scaled down version of the AP1000, which is a scaled up version of the AP600,…