It is extremely difficult to link radiation from a nuclear accident to cancer. Part of the problem is that there is no way to determine what level of radiation exposure an accident survivor received. Typically it takes 4 to 6 years for their to be any detectable symptoms, excluding people who had very high doses. Further complications include for childhood thyroid cancer (the most common type of nuclear fallout cancer) are not screened for in the population in general at the same rate as it is for accident survivors, so we find more cancers because we are looking harder.
All this said, the latest news from testing done on 370,000 children from the Fukushima area looks quite distressing. Ultrasound tests have found 137 of these children have developed thyroid cancer. This is 20 to 50 times higher than the national rate in Japan. Some medical experts are saying that it is too soon to tell. Others claim the increase is due to increased testing. Still others are claiming it is not the same type of thyroid cancer we saw at Chernobyl and thus it is not likely from Fukushima’s triple meltdown.
What we know from Chernobyl is that there is a huge range of estimated premature deaths. The WHO/IAEA study estimates 4,000. The NY Academy of Science published report estimates nearly 1 million. And the protection of children, both in terms of evacuation and screening of food in Japan has been much better than in the Ukraine.
What we do know is that renewable energy is cheaper than nuclear and we sill continue to build reactors because a certain group of powerful people make a lot of money from it. And perhaps this (and the associated health toll) is the greatest crime of all.
My enchanting friend and experienced anti-nuclear activist (and author of Solartopia) Harvey Wasserman penned this clever attack on the NYT pro-nuclear power editorial. Which i am pretty pleased with. It appeared several places, including NukeFree.org
In support of the dying nuclear power industry, the New York Times Editorial Board has penned an inadvertent epitaph.
Appearing in the May 2 edition, The Right Lessons from Chernobyl twists and stumbles around the paper’s own reporting. Though unintended, it finally delivers a “prudent” message of essential abandonment.
The Times does concede that “The world must do what it can to increase energy efficiency and harness sun, wind, ocean currents and other renewable sources to meet our ever-expanding needs for energy.”
The edit drew 288 entries into its comment section before it was capped. I’ve posted one of them at NukeFree.org. Overall they’re widely varied and worth reading.
Because the Times is still the journal of record, the edit is a definitive statement on an industry in dangerous decline.
The edit begins by citing the “New Safe Confinement” shield being built over the seething remains of Chernobyl Unit 4. Already “almost a decade behind schedule,” its completion is “a race against time” due to the “decrepit state of the sarcophagus” meant to contain the radiation there.
That we still must fear Chernobyl more than 28 years after it melted and exploded underscores the “nightmarish side of nuclear power.”
That the “vast steel shield” may not be done in time, or may not even end the problem, is downright terrifying, especially in light of the “near-bankruptcy of Ukraine,” not to mention a political instability that evokes horrific images of two hot wars and the cold one.
Amidst rising tensions between Ukraine, Russia and the west, the corporate media studiously avoids Chernobyl. But Belarus and Ukraine long ago estimated its cost to their countries at $250 billion each. One major study puts the global death toll at more than a million human beings.
The Times says Chernobyl’s terror is “more powerful than Three Mile Island before it or Fukushima after it.”
Three Mile Island suffered an explosion and melt-down in 1979. Exactly how much radiation escaped and who it harmed are still unknown. The industry vehemently denies that anyone was killed, just as it denied there was a melt-down until a robotic camera proved otherwise.
At Fukushima, there is no end in sight. Bad as it was, Chernobyl was one core melt and explosion in a single Soviet reactor in a relatively unpopulated area. Fukushima is three core melts and four explosions in American-designed General Electric reactors, of which there are some two dozen exact replicas now operating in the U.S., along with still more very similar siblings.
Spent fuel is still perched dangerously in damaged pools high in the Fukushima air. Thousands of rods are strewn around the site. The exact location of the three melted cores is still unknown. At least 300 tons of highly radioactive liquid pour daily into the Pacific, with the first of their isotopes now arriving on our west coast. Huge storage tanks constantly leak still more radiation. The labor force at the site is poorly trained and heavily infiltrated by organized crime.
The Times itself has reported that a desperate, terrified population is being forced back into heavily contaminated areas. Children are being exposed en masse to significant radiation doses. Given the horrific health impacts on youngsters downwind from Chernobyl, there is every reason to fear even worse around Fukushima.
But the Times Editorial Board follows with this: “Yet it is also noteworthy that these civilian nuclear disasters did not and have not overcome the allure of nuclear power as a source of clean and abundant energy.”
“Allure” to whom? Certainly the corporations with huge investments in atomic energy are still on board. The fossil fuel industry is thoroughly cross-invested. And extraordinary corporate media access has been granted to pushing the odd belief that nuclear power can help mitigate global warming.
But the vast bulk of the global environmental movement remains firmly anti-nuclear. Grassroots opposition to re-opening any Japanese reactors is vehement to say the least. Amidst an extremely popular revolution in green technologies, U.S. opinion demands that nuclear subsidies be cut, which means death to an industry that can’t live without them.
It’s here the edit falls entirely overboard: “Only Germany succumbed to panic after the Fukushima disaster and began to phase out all nuclear power in favor of huge investments in renewable sources like wind and sun.”
Germany’s green transition has been debated for decades, stepped up long ago by Chernobyl. With strong popular backing, the German nuclear phase-out, as in Sweden, Italy and numerous other European nations (Denmarknever built any reactors) has long been on the table. The center-right Merkel government finally embraced it not only because of Fukushima, but because the German corporate establishment decided that going green would be good for business. As energy economist Charles Komanoff has shown, they’ve been proven right.
Despite the predictable carping from a few fossil/nuke holdouts, Germany will shut its reactors, as will, eventually, all other nations. The edit says there may be “an increase in greenhouse emissions,” but it will be “temporary.”
But as some in the respondents section point out, the Times ignores nuclear power’s own greenhouse impacts, especially in the mining, milling, transport and enrichment of radioactive fuel. Not to mention the heat emissions into the air and water from regular operations and periodic melt-downs and blow-ups. Or those involved with the as-yet unsolved management of radioactive wastes, both at exploded sites and where thousands of tons of spent fuel rods and other hot detritus still sit.
The Times does concede that “The world must do what it can to increase energy efficiency and harness sun, wind, ocean currents and other renewable sources to meet our ever-expanding needs for energy.” But the vision of a green-powered Earth is no longer the property of a Solartopian movement. As the Times and other major publications have long reported, Wall Street has thoroughly rejected atomic energy and is pouring billions into renewables, especially photo voltaics (PV) which convert solar energy to electricity.
A technological, financial and ecological revolution is well underway. Maybe the Times Editorial Board should consult its financial section.
The edit then cites a recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report as a reason to keep nuclear energy as “part of the mix.”
But the IPCC report emphasizes atomic power’s negatives, most critically safety, economics, waste and timing. It posits no parallel burdens on the transition to renewables, which it says is both affordable and do-able within the time frame necessary to save the planet.
Even if public opposition somehow dissolved, the technical and economic prospects for small modular or other “fourth generation” nukes have crumbled. With the industry’s history of gargantuan cost overruns and endless delays, this editorial doesn’t bother to argue for them.
For nuclear to “play a role” in fighting climate change, the industry must keep its old, increasing decayed reactors on line. But many of the planet’s 400 commercial nukes are older than that crumbling sarcophagus at Chernobyl.
To read the rest of this great article go here: http://www.nukefree.org/editorsblog/nytimes-pens-epitaph-nuke-power
It is not surprising that people are worried about the radiation from Fukushima coming to the US across the Pacific. There have been several stories about this in the alternative news. One gave a long list of movie stars and personalities who were fleeing Hollywood because of the health effects of Fukushima.
So i asked my toxicologist friend Will to weigh in on this one, and i want to publicize his reply.
Oy. It’s a load of crap, and it hardly takes any thought at all to show that.
I haven’t looked at the Pediatrics article, but I looked at the link you sent. Here are the first three things I considered:
1) Article claims that I-131 levels were 211 times normal on the West Coast within a few days. Consider: Distance Tokyo-Seattle = 4777 miles. 20 mph x 24 hr/day = 480 miles/day. So it takes maybe 10 days for any radiation to arrive if it blows here in a straight line at a steady 20 mph.
2) Article says hypothyroidism among newborns increased 16% from March 17 to December, and was 28% above normal during March 17 to June 30.
Consider: Quake was on April 11. Why are they looking at the period starting March 17? Even if they could only get data for a chunky period, like monthly or quarterly, there’s no way the starting date should be 3/17. The only reason I can imagine is that they cherry-picked the lowest point they could find in the period preceding the quake, and dishonestly compared to that. In any case, it would take pretty high exposure to produce a substantial increase in newborn hypothyroidism among babies born right after the quake. It would take a period of exposure to produce the hypothyroidism; it’s not as if radiation produces a sudden dramatic hypothyroid effect. This is the same crap that I debunked for you a year or two ago, and it won’t go away.
3) I clicked the “measurements” link and quickly found that the article misrepresents the information at the link. It was not UCB scientists who found “alarmingly” high levels; all of their data showed detectably increased, but still extremely low levels. It’s this guy Kaltofen who supposedly found high levels. The article says he found higher levels in “only two” “isolated US soil samples,” as compared to “control samples.” It doesn’t say how many samples were taken, what it means to take “control samples” when deposition occurs nationwide, or anything like that. And I don’t think it says where the higher-level samples were from, but that hardly matters; how would high levels accumulate in just specific spots in the US, after dispersion over 5-8000 miles? Fukushima couldn’t have contaminated specific points in the U.S. substantially more than other points, aside from presumably somewhat higher contamination in the West. I didn’t pursue this to the original data, because all three of the first things I looked at turned out to be false claims or wild misrepresentations, so it’s not worth looking into this any further.
Just to show how ridiculous the article is, think about this: how would “movie industry” people know any more about this than the rest of us do? This isn’t some kind of secret that movie industry people would be let in on, and the rest of us wouldn’t. This is obviously wacko conspiracy thinking.
Chernobyl was a health disaster. Fukushima very likely will turn out to be a health disaster as well, in Japan. But this article is total nonsense, and I’m not concerned about health issues in the US resulting from Fukushima. There are plenty of good arguments to make against nuclear power; don’t waste your time on this one.
This is one of those times when i am happy to rest on science as a truth model. I have to wonder about the motivation of the authors of this article. Did “Buttercup” who is credited with writing this article (always a bad sign when a news story is signed with an alias) think no one was going to fact check? Is this just a story to draw excited but gullible readers to the site?
It is quite frustrating that people are really suffering in Japan around the Fukushima disaster and we are instead focusing on where it is not happening and pretending it is a huge problem.
[Mostly Edited by Judy Youngquest]
“We don’t hope for accidents” was the phrase i said perhaps a thousand times at various anti-nuclear events before the Fukushima triple meltdown. Often critics of nuclear power would theorize that a major accident would be a game changer and cripple or kill the nuclear power industry. But those of us who had studied the problems of nuclear power, especially the tremendous suffering that Chernobyl had wrought, knew better than to wish these problems on anyone. It has been exactly three years since the the earthquake and tsunami that catalyzed the disaster on the east coast of Japan. And while this accident has been a tremendous setback for the nuclear industry, i hold to the sentiment i had expressed so many times before it.
I wanted to do a quick post on a handful of commonly misunderstood aspects of this accident to mark its dark anniversary. The first point is that the biggest and most comprehensive study of the Fukushima meltdowns places responsibility not on mother nature, but on the Japanese government and the utility which ran the reactor.
“What must be admitted, very painfully, is that this was a disaster ‘Made in Japan’,” Concluded the chair of the special independent commission of the Japanese parliament. “Its fundamental causes are to be found in the ingrained conventions of Japanese culture: our reflexive obedience; our reluctance to question authority; our devotion to sticking with the program; our groupism; and our insularity.”
You will hear nuclear apologists talk about how such a tidal wave could never have been foreseen or the size of the earthquake was unprecedented. But this panel, initiated by the parliament itself, which had broad subpoena power and interviewed over 1,100 experts, politicians and utility staff concluded differently.
While the people of Japan want an end to nuclear power, the government and the business elite of the country want nuclear power to continue and are doing all they can to make this possible. In a little reported story, Japanese prosecutors have decided to drop all charges against the government and the nuclear utility TEPCO for the problems caused by Fukushima. [Update August 2015: After being let off the hook twice before, 3 Top TEPCO executives are being charged, because of the ongoing deaths associated with Fukushima.] This means despite hundreds of billions in damages, tens of thousands losing their homes and unable to return to their land and worsening radioactive pollution in the Sea of Japan and the Pacific, no one will be held responsible for this disaster.
“But no one died.” Conveniently short sighted US Americans love to remind us of Fukushima. Except that this is not true. The provincial government and the local police are now estimating that the fatalities associated with the meltdowns exceed the number of people killed by the earthquake and tsunami in the prefecture of Fukushima. This is 1,656 who have died prematurely as of Feb 2014, because of Fukushima. These are not green groups with an agenda of stopping nuclear power, these are the local bureaucrats and law enforcement folks watching the premature deaths of people in their neighborhoods and counting them.
Similarly depressing is the report that 136K people from the Fukushima prefecture are still displaced. Many will never be able to return.
So don’t wish nuclear accidents on anyone. But if they do happen, go out and organize and stop nuclear power in your country. Over the last three years, citizen efforts have pushed governments to end nuclear construction and phase out reactors in Mexico, Italy, Belgium, Venezuela and Switzerland.
The big win for safe energy activists world wide is Germany where there will be a complete nuclear phase out by 2022. Where the largest nuclear construction company in the world, Siemens, is phasing out of building reactors. And where on a sunny summer day over half the country’s electricity comes from solar power.
[This post has been proofread by GPaul]
Yes, things are very bad at Fukushima but it’s not the Apocalypse
Blogpost by Jan Beránek
There have been a number of news stories recently about the radiation escaping into the ocean at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant that have raised great concern. Some are worried about how escaping radiation may or may not be affecting ocean eco-systems around the world.
Since Greenpeace has been working on the Fukushima nuclear crisis since it first began in March 2011, we can offer some thoughts on people’s concerns.
We have sampled sealife along the Japanese coastline, both from the Rainbow Warrior and in conjunction with local fishermen and Japan’s food cooperatives.
You can find some of the results of our independent measurements on our Radiation Surveys – Fukushima webpage.
While we don’t have a marine biologist on our team, we have a number of radiation specialists whose findings and assessments we share with scientists and academic researchers.
There are many reasons to be concerned about the continuing impacts of the disaster on people and the environment. These include the ongoing leaks of contaminated water from the damaged Fukushima reactors into the ground and ocean, the unresolved issue of how to reliably store huge volumes of contaminated water, as well as the massive amounts of radioactive material produced by the decontamination efforts in FukushimaPrefecture.
Then there is the plight of over 100,000 evacuees. Their lives are in limbo. After nearly three years, they still have not received proper compensation from either the government or the corporations responsible for the accident.
Many people have been exposed to significantly elevated levels of radiation. Thousands of square kilometers have been contaminated and will be for many decades to come by radioactive fallout from the accident.
Then there are the challenges of dismantling the whole crippled nuclear power plant whose melted reactors still have lethally dangerous nuclear fuel inside them.
These alone are enough to conclude that the situation is really, really bad.
However, there are also stories that exaggerate the risks and create news of potential catastrophies that are well beyond reality. Given that people’s trust in public authorities has been shaken (and not without a reason!), one can often find alarming but unconfirmed information on social media.
Most recent have been the stories of rumours about ongoing nuclear reactions inside the crippled Fukushima reactors and vast radioactive contamination of the Pacific Ocean and US West Coast.
We have checked these stories and our conclusion is clear: these are not stories based in fact. For example, while unprecedented amounts of radioactive cesium have ended up in the Pacific Ocean, significantly contaminating sediments and fisheries along the Japanese coastline, there is no plausible mechanism that could transport significant levels of contamination across the Pacific to reach beaches in the US or Australia.
Yes, there are detectable traces of those radioactive isotopes in US waters, but they are at very low levels, and their contribution to radiation doses is far below the natural background radiation level.
This does not necessarily mean they are completely safe (no radiation dose is low enough to be 100% safe), but the additional risks they present to living organisms, including humans, are negligible. Certainly, these levels are not causing radiation sickness, deformities or mass deaths of ocean life.
That is why we continue to focus on the big post-Fukushima problems in Japan itself. This is where you can occasionally still catch a fish whose contamination exceeds the official standards.
While the frequency of such catches has indeed fallen since 2011, they still occur and send a reminder of the ongoing risks and need for precautionary measures when it comes to seafood from Japan’s northeastern coastline.
But to repeat: the idea that contamination from Fukushima presents a risk to the coastal waters and their ecosystems of the US or Australia is seriously over-stretched.
Jan Beránek is the leader of Greenpeace International’s Energy Campaign
The following is the beginnings of a blog post i wrote on this topic, which gets at a few more Fukushima myths needing to be debunked.
There are numerous places where you can find completely wrong things about Fukushima. Several of them are websites which are claiming to be reasonable voices trying to protect the environment. One story (from the Voice of Russia) claims the mysterious steam over Fukushima is a pending spent fuel meltdown, which will release 89 tons of radioactive waste on the US. Another from the European Union Times claims that there have been new underground explosions at Fukushima and that
[N]ew reports coming from the United States western coastal areas are now detailing the mass deaths of seals, sea lions, polar bears, bald eagles, sea stars, turtles, king and sockeye salmon, herring, anchovies, and sardines due to Fukishima radiation.
This is the classic failed environmental reporting, in that it assumes causality with too short a time horizon. Mass deaths of these sea creatures would have to be caused by something else, and there are many reasons to believe they might be. Here is a fine piece documenting how Fukushima is dangerous still but not ready to explode just yet. So dont worry too much about the mysterious smoke which has been reported emanating from the melted down reactors. Which is not to say there are not lots of completely legitimate things to be concerned about in the Fukushima aftermath.
There was a script we were supposed to be following in Japan after 3/11/11. It went something like this.
There would be a parliamentary study of what went wrong and Fukushima. The nuclear regulator which was very cozy with the nuclear utility would be blamed, it would be disassembled and new “tougher” regulator would take it’s place. The government at the time would be blamed for it’s poor handling of the disaster, and it would lose control of the nation in the upcoming elections. The utility responsible for the accident TEPCO would lose so much money it would be nationalized. All the reactors in the country would be closed (because local government are involved in these decisions in ways they are not permitted to be in the US). There would be huge demonstrations against nuclear power by the normally complacent Japanese people.
Then good things (from the industry perspective) would start happening. Two of the safest reactors would be re-opened to show Japan was not anti-nuclear and to prove that the country could not run without at least some of them being online (47 others remained idle). Fearing China militarily and a weak economy, the Japanese would elect a pro-nuclear government. Less than one year after the Fukushima triple meltdowns the utility would announce that they had attained the status of “Cold Shutdown” and that clean up efforts were moving forward apace. It would often be reported that “No one died at Fukushima” There would be expert reports on blackouts if Japan did not return to nuclear power. More reactors would be approved for restart under new stricter rules. Some small number of renewable projects would be built. Japan would continue to export reactor technology. Tokyo would win the hosting privileges for the 2020 Olympics and everything would be back to normal.
But this script has gotten a bit derailed. It turns out that not only is Fukushima not under control and getting cleaned up. It is getting worse. One problem is water. The quantities of radioactive water which the utility is trying to store are huge – over 200K tons is currently in onsite tanks and the quantity is growing. Increasingly these tanks are leaking. But dont be fooled by the idea of tanks holding this poisoned water. It has always been TEPCOs plan to dump radioactive contaminants in the ocean. It has done this repeatedly since the meltdowns and has been lobbying for permission to continue. While TEPCO currently permits about 600 tons of radioactive water per day to go into the ocean. Fishing in the area has been suspended indefinitely.
The new tougher nuclear regulator has requested the government take over from TEPCOs failed effort to address the accident, which is likely a good thing, because TEPCO is looking at the problem from a “how do we spend as little as possible on this” perspective.
But the Abe governments real problem is that reality is not following the script. The mainstream media is picking up that the situation is getting worse (and the government efforts will likely have little more efficacy than the utilities). Not only is the situation not well contained, if sea water is not endlessly pumped into the areas where the reactor fuel has burned thru the bottom of the plants we are looking at another series of explosions and releases at Fukushima. There are still about 100K people who are displaced because of the meltdowns alone. And the efforts to dismiss health effects are being countered. And while Japanese PM Abe is heading off to try to secure Tokyo’s Olympic bid, back home critics are demanding he declare a state of emergency.
Declared or not, there is a worsening emergency at Fukushima and it is knocking some of the worlds best paid PR people off their clever script.
Most people don’t follow the news in Japan, but some encouraging things are happening in the wake of the Fukushima accident. It turns out my pessimistic forecasts about the current pro-nuclear government and it’s ability to restart nuclear reactors closed after Fukushima were overly pessimistic (usually not my problem). There are several things which are happening in Japan which make the worlds former third largest nuclear power (after the US and France) seem like it is almost completely retiring from this field, as Germany has, despite it still having a pro-nuclear government and a technophilic culture.
The first thing is that Fukushima is increasingly not under control. The US press carries little about this, but in the last week 3 of the 7 newly built underwater storage takes at Fukushima have failed, dumping high level radiation into the sea again. Over 120K liters had leaked, before this third leak was discovered. These tanks have failed in fairly rapid succession, increasing the chances that all these tanks will fail in the near future. Thus with over two years experience and billions invested, one of the worlds largest utilities can not manage one of the simplest aspects of this disaster and the situation is deteriorating. TEPCO also does not know why the tanks are failing. In addition to this the plants cooling system has failed twice in the last two weeks. While not news in the US, this does influence public acceptance in Japan of the restart of reactors.
The second factor is the new nuclear regulator seems to be taking it’s job seriously, despite having a distinctly pro-nuclear bias. The NRA (no relation to the US gun lobby) has released a draft proposal for the conditions needed for restart of reactors. This includes installing filter vents in more than half of Japan’s 50 reactors. Something which will cost significantly and delay restart of these reactors by years. While the NRA has given reactor companies a 5 year grace period to build second remote control rooms for reactors, Japanese nuclear utilities will need to include this additional cost in their calculations about restart costs.
The NRA has not been lenient with regard to fire proofing cables in reactors. The regulator is not giving reactor operators a pass on this one. This means in the case of older reactor designs the entire plant will have to be rewired. This upgrade likely makes the restart of these older plants financially impossible. And even for newer plants (many of which are waiting to hear if they are on active fault lines, with the new expanded 400K time horizon for seismic activity) this upgrade could take years.
The final news is that Japan is ditching it’s highly effective government mandated energy efficiency programs this year AND there will be a 6.7% energy surplus in 2013 AND this is with 48 of 50 nuclear power plants off line. What this means is that the utilities (contrary to last years dire black out forecasts with these reactors off line) dont need to restart reactors to handle the nations energy needs.
So a slightly tough regulator plus new slow regulations plus no urgent need for the reactors to come back online plus continuing problems at Fukushima plus 160K people still displaced from their homes because of Fukushima equals likely long delays in restarts.
Things look little better for the nuclear industry here at home. Former US NRC chair Gregory B. Jaczko said that the problems of the current US nuclear fleet cannot be fixed by upgrading them and the fleet should be phased out and replaced with new technology. He also said he was opposed to reactor life extension, which is perhaps the most important remaining fight in the US. Add to this the recent GAO report pushing the NRC to expand it’s 10 mile emergency evacuation radius, which would make siting new plants more difficult and I think these last 5 reactor blocks under construction in the US will be the last full sized reactors built in this country (and they might not even all get finished).
Oh and did i mention the costs of renewables is dropping below most fossil fuel (and especially nuclear). And private investors are staying far from nuclear projects, since government guarantees for these investments are shrinking most places except the UK and France.
After 3 decades of fighting this beast, it is comforting to see it slowly dying.