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Nuclear Accident in Japan is not as bad as Chernobyl

2011 April 29
tags: ,
by sonicsuns

An email has been circulating recently:

Please watch this video, protect yourselves, and lobby your government for safer energy resources.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TMXvpWoHzeE&feature=share

The video features Helen Caldicott, who talks about the recent nuclear accident at Fukushima in Japan. Here is my response:

It’s not nearly as bad as Caldicott says it is.

Caldicott begins by stating that over one million people have died due to Chernobyl, despite what the claims of the World Health Organization and the IAEA. That’s a bold place to start from; the WHO and the IAEA are prestigious organizations. Why should I trust Caldicott more than them? Although there is ongoing controversy over how much cancer etc. in the surrounding areas was or will be caused by the Chernobyl disaster, the scientific community pegs the number of people killed as closer to ten thousand, rather than one million. ( http://www.unscear.org/docs/reports/2008/Advance_copy_Annex_D_Chernobyl_Report.pdf )

The report that Caldicott cites for the “over one million” figure is called “Chernobyl: Consequences of the Catastrophe for People and the Environment”. While it is true that this report was published by the New York Academy of Sciences, it was not peer-reviewed by the Academy, and has received inconclusive and critical reviews. ( http://rpd.oxfordjournals.org/content/141/1/101.extract )

Caldicott states that “Japan is, by many orders of magnitude, worse than Chernobyl”. But most disagree:
http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2011/04/fukushima-chernobyl-rating/
The amount of radiation released into the the atmosphere by the Fukushima incident is “10 percent of what was released by Chernobyl”.
http://www.npr.org/2011/04/12/135353240/fukushima-vs-chernobyl-what-does-level-7-mean?ft=1&f=1001
“So far, Fukushima Dai-ichi has released about one-tenth of the amount of radioactive material that escaped Chernobyl, according to an official from the International Atomic Energy Agency.”
http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/apr/12/japan-fukushima-chernobyl-crisis-comparison
“The government says the Chernobyl incident released 5.2m terabecquerels into the air about 10 times that of the Fukushima plant.”

These figures indicate that Chernobyl was an order of magnitude worse than Fukushima, not the other way around. We should further note that a significant amount of the released radiation has been blown out to sea by the wind, thus reducing its impact.

http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/04/12/us-japan-fukushima-idUSTRE73B1RH20110412
“(Reuters) – Japan on Tuesday raised the severity level of its nuclear crisis to put it on par with the 1986 Chernobyl accident, the world’s worst nuclear power disaster.  But for all their criticism of how Tokyo Electric Power Co and Japan’s government are handling the crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, experts agree with them on one point: Fukushima is not another Chernobyl.” (emphasis added)

Caldicott references GE designers who allegedly resigned because Fukushima was too dangerous. She does not offer proof.

Caldicott states that each nuclear reactor contains as much long-term radiation as a thousand Hiroshima-sized bombs. She makes it sound like the reactors will therefore lead to thousands of times more deaths than Hiroshima, which is absolutely false. (It’s also worth noting that the Hiroshima bomb caused most of its deaths from relatively short-term effects. Modern-day Hiroshima is no longer dangerous.)

Caldicott claims that the United States used uranium as a weapon in Fallujah, and that 80% of the babies born there are deformed. But again she offers no evidence. The actual deformity rate is 15% ( http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/dec/30/faulluja-birth-defects-iraq ), and it’s not clear if uranium was used as at all in Fallujah, let alone whether uranium usage is the main cause of the deformities.

Caldicott claims that “Turkish food is extremely radioactive”. She offers no proof, and the claim is (probably) untrue. Much Turkish food was radioactive in the year following Chernobyl. Turkish food in modern times, as far as I’m aware, is perfectly fine.

Caldicott claims that “40% of Europe is still radioactive” without clarifying how much radiation she requires. We should note that even sunlight is a form of radiation (which is why too much exposure can eventually lead to skin cancer). Reasoning from that, we might conclude that the entire Earth is “radioactive” as a result. But when most people say “radioactive”, they mean “significantly radioactive”. As Caldicott does not define the amount of radiation she deems significant, the 40% claim is baseless.

Finally, let’s note this rebuttal article from the Guardian: http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/georgemonbiot/2011/apr/13/anti-nuclear-lobby-interrogate-beliefs

Caldicott made some other statements I don’t know how to evaluate, but I bet many of them are wrong too.

UPDATE:

It is now June 2011, and new facts about Fukushima have come to light.

New York Times: Radiation Understated After Quake, Japan Says
ABC: TEPCO admits new reactor meltdowns
AlJazeera: Fukushima: It’s much worse than you think

Update 2:

It is now May 2012, and the BBC reports that cancer rates have not gone up following Fukushima, according to a new report from World Health Organization. It also reports that, of the 25,000 workers involved at the accident site, exactly zero of them have died of radiation-related causes. Though it also says “The findings contradicted a report published by the WHO in February, which said the risk of cancer for those living near the nuclear plant had risen.”