Monday, August 1, 2011

Nuclear Power and Radiophobia

Radiation and Media Sensationalism  

When you hear the scary stories of radiation it's always about what “could” happen and of remote possibilities that never happen but make a great news story.  The media prays on people's imagination and spread fear so people are clued to their TV’s and buy their papers. There is a term for this called “radiophobia” which describes the irrational thinking and hysteria people have of radiation and a lot of this is due to the media.

I found it astonishing that the media made the Fukushima power plant, which killed no one, the scapegoat for the earthquake that was so powerful it shifted the position of the Earth’s axis by as much as 6 inches and moved Honshu, Japan’s main island, 8 feet eastward and a tsunami over 21 metres high which killed 20,000 people and destroyed 500,000 homes.  When people think of the real tragedy which is the Japanese earthquake and tsunami they only think Fukushima! Fukushima! Fukushima! The media know they can drag the nuclear power bogeyman out for months or even years with misleading and false sensational headlines as few understand radiation.

Two months after the accident I remember seeing two anchors on the American TV news (I forget which channel -  I think it was Fox News) talking in a panic that the radiation from Japan “may” have reached Pennsylvania and be infecting babies!!!  Anyway,  later that night it was proved absolute rubbish but how many parents were unnecessarily stressed by this sensationalism which the journalists obviously knew was false or at least misleading.
Amid crisis, fact whispers and fear screams.

Communication experts will tell you fear is the best tool to get peoples attention and support.  In the days after the Fukushima accident there were nuclear alarmists coming out from the woodwork in every direction.  Dr Helen Caldicott,  a well known anti-nuclear activist for over 30 years,  stated "...hundreds of thousands of Japanese will be dying within two weeks of acute radiation illness" and also stating she wouldn't eat any food grown in Europe because of "radiation" exposure from Chernobyl and Guy Rundle stated "The Japanese crews will slough their skin and muscles, and bleed out internally under the full glare of the world media".  Yet not one person died.

As Dr William Reville (Environmental Radiation Committee of the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland) stated "It is alarming that amateur opinion in the specialised areas of health and radiation would take such strong precedence in the public mind over the considered study of hundreds of scientists." The media are largely to blame by alarmist reporting and by comments from journalists who by and large have no scientific training and so are unable to correctly interpret scientific data. The World Health Organisation has clearly stated that the major health affect of Chernobyl is this very irrational fear. People in these regions suffer depression because they think they have been poisoned yet the World Health Organisation states this is not the case.

Radiology researchers from Hirosaki University in Japan responded immediately to the disaster, travelling south to Fukushima prefecture to measure radiation levels in more than 5000 people there between 15 March and 20 June. They found just 10 people with unusually high levels of radiation, but those levels were still below the threshold at which acute radiation syndrome sets in and destroys the gastrointestinal tract. Fukushima was put as a level 7 nuclear accident,  the same as Chernobyl.  However, the amount of iodine-131 escaping from all the reactors at Fukushima Daiichi was less than 10% of the amount released at Chernobyl, and the release of caesium-137, the next most important fission product, was less than 15% of the Chernobyl total.

Why aren't the 1,200 Americans dying each year from electrocution or the 500 killed annually by asphyxiation accidents  from natural gas or the thousands that die each year in the coal industry on TV news as a devastation. Why aren't chemical plants being closed down after the Bhopal pesticide plant in India released toxic gas in 1984,  killing 3,850 people and leaving another 100,000 disabled.  Peoples priorities of danger perception need altering.  Death from fossil fuels is accepted because it's always been that way. Death from nuclear power is considered mysterious and unnatural. If the world had always used nuclear power and never used fossil fuels, then somebody decided to try burning oil or gas, the first housefire would be seen as a horrifying and bizarre incident causing pointless destruction.  The construction of coal plants with all its pollutants would be considered a monsterous and criminal act.

I understand most people aren't interested in power generation and hear information on the news and take it as fact. For example, if I hear on the news a brand of tooth paste doesn’t work I am going to take their word as I am not interested in studying tooth paste to find out if it's true or not. The media should show some responsibly and not only concerned about sensationalism and ratings.  They should have to quantify the risks with factual scientific data or comparisons and then nuclear power would start to look like a very attractive energy alternative.

Between 1974-1978 the New York Times had annual entries numbering 120 for car accidents which caused 50,000 deaths per year and  50 entries for Industrial accidents which caused 12,000 deaths per year. Radiation had 200 entries per year and caused zero deaths! This is because stories about radiation help sell their magazine because of the fear factor that many people  have due to a lack of understanding. People can't detect radiation such as with smell,  sight,  hearing,  feeling or taste and get scared of the unknown as if its going to creep up on them in the dark.

After the Chernobyl accident in 1986 an enormous headline in New York Post stated: "Mass grave - in Kiev 15 thousand human bodies pushed down by bulldozers into the waste pits", while National Enquirer described a mutant chicken 2 metres high, caught by the hunters in the forests close to Chernobyl. 
The United Press International reported 2,000 deaths after Chernobyl which received wide play, and the wire service did not retract its story until almost a month later. The report was based wholly on the word of a single unidentified source in Kiev whose story could not be confirmed.

In August 1994 the New York Times published an article regarding the seizure of 10 ounces of plutonium at Munich airport.  It claimed "A tiny speck of the fine powder can cause lung cancer in anyone who inhales it, and a small amount in the water supply of a large city like Munich could kill hundreds of thousands".  This information  was replicated by other news media and anti-nuclear groups. The Herald (Glasgow, Scotland) stated that 10 ounces (283,000 milligrams) would be enough to contaminate all Germany's drinking water.

However,  from a study at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory:

"..if 10 ounces of plutonium were introduced into a reservoir, only about 3 milligrams (one part in 100,000) would be dissolved and suspended; the rest would be immobilized in sediments. At 0.0021 cancers per milligram ingested, if all that dissolved plutonium were ingested (an unlikely occurrence), by whatever number of people, one would expect 0.006 additional cancer deaths. The actual occurrence of even one additional cancer death would be remarkable.

Even if a kilogram of plutonium were introduced into a reservoir, it would be unlikely to reach concentrations that could cause acute health effects or even significantly increase the risk of death from cancer. " ( posted an article in August 2013, attributing it to the BBC, claiming the sea outside the Fukushima nuclear plant is so hot it is boiling due to a toxic waste leak.  The only source for the information were two photos posted by someone on Twitter claiming the "steam" visible above the water outside Fukushima in the photo meant it was boiling.  The "steam" turned out to be plain old "fog" and the BBC had nothing to do with the story but was mentioned to make it appear more credible.(See
    In June 2011, three months after Fukushima,  a pro-nuclear politician won in a landslide election to be Governor of the Aomori prefecture in Japan. Aomori has 1 nuclear reactor and had 4 more planned. A pro-nuclear mayor who supports building a reactor in his province won a landslide election against his anti-nuclear opponent in Yamaguchi Prefecture.   Then in August 2011 a pro-nuclear Prime Minister was elected in Japan,  Yoshihiko Noda,  who stated he would reduce reliance on nuclear energy but never get rid of it completely. 

    On 15 April 2012 a pro-nuclear mayor named Ishihara who promoted coexistance with nuclear power won an election against 2 other anti-nuclear candidates who didn't want to restart the Hamaoka reactor in Shizuoka Prefecture.  Ishihara won 12,018 votes, well ahead of the 6,840 for Katsuhisa Mizuno and the 1,891 for Haruhisa Muramatsu.  Voter turnout was 76.69 percent.  It's amazing that 30,000 protesters against nuclear power seem to have more power than the rest of the nation.  The polls and images that the media choose to promote are all of Japanese protesting nuclear power.

    The former President of India, 
    Abdul Kalam, stated recently that if the world had abandoned the advancement of large scale passanger ships because of the Titanic or jumbo jets because of aviation disasters the world would be a very different place.  Three major accidents in the nuclear industry over 50 years is no reason to abandon it either,  especially with thorium reactors now being planned (see "Nuclear Technological Advances" tab on the menu to the top right).

    Nuclear reactors have also been roaming the world every day  without any problems. Nuclear ships from all countries are welcomed into 150 ports in 50 countries. They have travelled nearly 150 million miles without a serious incident. Navy reactors have twice the operational hours of our civilian systems and the United States alone has 200 nuclear powered ships.

                                                           Nuclear Meltdowns

    There have been three nuclear power plant meltdowns:

    1979 – Three Mile Island in United States with no deaths or sicknesses.
    1986 – Chernobyl in the Ukraine in former USSR with 56 deaths and increased reported thyroid cancers by 4,000 people (9 people dying from this thyroid cancer).
    2011 – Fukishima in Japan caused by massive earthquake (8.9 on Richter scale,  the biggest earthquake in recorded history in Japan and 5th largest in the world) and Tsunami with no deaths or sicknesses.


    1. Nice title for your blog, and nice content in this post

      However, this post lumps together too many topics and is way too long.

    2. You count Chernobyl as one of three meltdowns. Now, core melting was anticipated as solid-fuelled reactors' characteristic vulnerability long ago, and much effort was aimed at making this kind of failure harmless to operators and neighbours. So how could Chernobyl have done so much more harm than the other two meltdowns?

      The answer is, it wasn't a meltdown. It was a reactor explosion, of a kind anticipated in detail by Dr. Edward Teller and his Reactor Safeguard Committee in the early 1950s. You can read up on this in Judith L. Shoolery's biography of him.

      By learning, and teaching, the lessons of Chernobyl 35 years ahead of time, Teller made sure all countries outside the former Soviet Union never took a similar chance.