Chernobyl, Fukushima, radiation — Oh my!

  1. I get it.
  2. How bad is radiation anyway?
  3. How ‘hot’ is Chernobyl?
  4. What about Fukushima?
  5. Evacuation stress has killed more than the radiation would have!
  6. They’re resettling the 20 mSv zones
  7. What about the natural radiation at RAMSAR!?

1. I get it.

Like you, I used to be suspicious of nuclear power. I mean, anything that can evacuate a town for centuries has got to be bad, right? But recently I learned that government policies around Chernobyl and Fukushima have been too strict. Other than a short evacuation of a few months after a nuclear accident, there’s no significant reason society should abandon the whole area. In that way they’re about as bad as an Australian bushfire, except you don’t have to rebuild all the houses! Radiation at Fukushima and Chernobyl is just not that high. But first we need to look at the numbers.

2. How bad is radiation anyway?

Before we look at the numbers, let’s remember that if it wasn’t for uranium and thorium, life on earth would not exist. They keep the earth’s core hot and spinning which powers the magnetic field that protects the atmosphere from being blown away! If you ever wished uranium did not exist, you just wished away life on earth. Natural uranium breaks down into radon gas that leaks out of the ground and gently irradiates us: just a little. This happens without human interference. This is called natural background radiation and it is all around us.

Because there are 3 types of radiation (alpha, beta and gamma) and they hit the body in different ways, scientists have broken down the effect of radiation on the body into an equivalent unit called Sieverts.

  • A Sievert is dangerous
  • 8 Sieverts will kill you
  • But milliSieverts are used to measure medical procedures that can save your life, and are also used to describe the natural background radiation in units per annum. The average natural dose is 2.4 mSv per year
  •  MicroSieverts (μSv, or millionths of a Sievert) measure daily exposure levels.
  • How much radiation is too much? A handy guide.
  • Charles Sturt University’s “Radiation Safety Committee” says that around the world some rare places have 50 milli-Sieverts (50 mSv) a year of natural radiation, with no discernible health impacts.
  • 50 mSv per year. Remember that number.
  • This means that areas hit by radiation 25 times higher than the average natural background radiation are still relatively harmless.

3. So how ‘hot’ is Chernobyl?

But the World Health Organisation (WHO) explains that Chernobyl’s 270,000 residents that stayed within the SCZ (Strictly Controlled Zones) only received 50 mSv over 20 years! That’s only 2.5 mSv a year! In other words, there are places that are naturally 20 times hotter than Chernobyl!

So why did they evacuate Chernobyl? Worldwide, government policy about radiation has been influenced by a few suspicious papers decades ago that simply assumed there was no safe lower level of radiation. It’s an assumption extrapolated mathematically down to very low levels of radiation that is often not verified by empirical science. It’s called the Linear No Threshold model and just assumes there is no safe lower level. Many scientific academies now question whether this old mathematical model survives modern scientific observation. (See my LNT page). But because of some scientific power plays back in the day, it’s the model that informs government policy. It is behind the ‘guesstimate’ that the 1986 Chernobyl disaster will eventually kill 4,000 people. The reality may be far, far lower. As the wiki says:

“The number of potential deaths arising from the Chernobyl disaster is heavily debated. The WHO‘s prediction of 4000 future cancer deaths in surrounding countries is based on the Linear no-threshold model (LNT), which assumes that the damage inflicted by radiation at low doses is directly proportional to the doseRadiation epidemiologist Roy Shore contends that estimating health effects in a population from the LNT model “is not wise because of the uncertainties”

In comparison, coal kills 2.7 million people a year, or nearly 52,000 people a week! Even by the over-conservative ‘no safe limit’ model, coal kills about 2 Chernobyls every day! But that’s based on the LNT. It turns out the 1,200 ‘babushka’s of Chernobyl’ who returned to live there shorty after being evacuated are outliving those who left! It seems evacuation stress is worse than radiation.

The side effects on nature are interesting. Evacuating the Chernobyl area has created  an unintended wildlife sanctuary where nature is thriving. It appears nature can endure the presence of a little extra radiation far better than it can if we were there! The Ukraine plan on leaving it abandoned for another 200 years, but in reality they could move back into the area, and probably only quarantine the ‘red forest’ area that was most exposed to more fallout.


4. What about Fukushima?

So what about Fukushima? As The Breakthrough Institute says:-

Let’s crunch the numbers. UNSCEAR estimated the average radiation doses that would have been incurred inside the 20-kilometer evacuation zone in the first year after the accident, had there been no evacuation: the highest was Tomioka township’s 51 millisieverts.8 The Committee also reckoned that 80-year lifetime doses in contaminated areas will be two to three times the first-year dose. (Radiation levels drop quickly because of radioactive decay and weathering.)9From there we can reckon the dose people would have received from fallout had they lived their whole lives in the evacuation zone: about 100-150 mSv in the most contaminated townships, substantially less elsewhere in the zone. Natural background radiation in the United States averages about 2.4 mSv per year, so 150 mSv is about equal to the lifetime background dose of a typical American.

Others estimate about 20 mSv / year. Either way, it’s lower than Charles Sturt’s natural hot spots at 50 mSv / year!  Indeed, The Breakthrough Institute says that thyroid cancer rates are lower in Fukushima children than other areas, the seafood is safe to eat, the evacuation zone is mostly habitable, and the Fukushima death toll will be too small to measure.



5. Evacuation stress has killed more than the radiation would have!

The Breakthrough March 2015 continues…

The mandatory relocations from the Fukushima evacuation zone, which are responsible for much of the accident’s cost and all of its cataclysm, owe more to apocalyptic expectations built into regulatory standards than to objective health hazards from fallout. Those hazards are well within the range of risks we negotiate in ordinary life. It might be time to reconsider policies that require precipitate or long-term relocations, which carry their own risks. Hundreds of people died from the stress of the Fukushima evacuation, and thousands more were uprooted from their homes over radiation doses that would almost certainly never affect their health. Instead of requiring people to leave, it could make more sense to give them the information they need on radiation exposures and likely health risks, and let them make their own decisions.
The Breakthrough March 2015


6. They’re resettling the 20 mSv zones

Authorities should go in an fence of the areas around the reactor that really are quite ‘hot’, and then let the whole region be rebuilt. But at least they are returning them to areas below 20mSv a year. But they are still locking up the 50mSy zones.

7. What about the natural radiation at RAMSAR!?

Why haven’t you asked about Ramsar? What terrible nuclear accident happened there? Well, are you in for a mind-bending bit of data. It’s a massive government cover-up involving corporations that don’t want a terrible nuclear accident reported……. ok. I’m being sarcastic.

Ramsar’s radiation is natural. It still comes from uranium decaying in the environment, decaying into radon gas that we can breathe. But because it’s natural, no one has been able to spin a conspiracy theory around covering it up. Dr Helen’s tinfoil Hat brigade cannot rant against nature, can they? Remember Chernobyl’s SCZ was 2.5 mSv / annum, and Fukushima’s between normal 2.5 to 20 mSv /a. So what’s Ramsar got?

The highest background radiation in an inhabited area is found in Ramsar, primarily due to the use of local naturally radioactive limestone as a building material. The 1000 most exposed residents receive an average external effective radiation dose of 6 mSv per year, (0.6 rem/yr,) six times the ICRP recommended limit for exposure to the public from artificial sources.[23] They additionally receive a substantial internal dose from radon. Record radiation levels were found in a house where the effective dose due to ambient radiation fields was 131 mSv/a, (13.1 rem/yr) and the internal committed dose from radon was 72 mSv/a (7.2 rem/yr).[23] This unique case is over 80 times higher than the world average natural human exposure to radiation.

Epidemiological studies are underway to identify health effects associated with the high radiation levels in Ramsar. It is much too early to draw statistically significant conclusions.[23] While so far support for beneficial effects of chronic radiation (like longer lifespan) has not been observed, a protective and adaptive effect is suggested by at least one study whose authors nonetheless caution that data from Ramsar are not yet sufficiently strong to relax existing regulatory dose limits.[24]   From the Background radiation wiki 

If Helen’s tinfoil hat brigade cannot explain why these people are not dropping like flies, she should publicly retract all her anti-science books and stop making a fool of herself!





3 Responses to Chernobyl, Fukushima, radiation — Oh my!

  1. Rigby says:

    The point is, the radiation doesn’t go away, it remains for centuries and builds up to lethal limits in plants and animals Are you saying Madame Curie didn’t get her cancers from the radiation? As for Ramsar, over the years those who couldn’t tolerate the high levels died off, leaving the more tolerant ones. In Arnhem Land there are areas designated by the locals as unlivable, because people who lived there got sick. They are where uranium is close to the surface. It’s a bit like pesticides, a little doesn’t hurt, we are told, but it accumulates in bodies until it does have bad effects, like UV radiation, sugar…you can get away with taking poisons into the body for a while, but eventually you pay for it. But even on economic grounds nuclear energy is crazy, compared with using sunlight and wind and waves it’s outrageously expensive and takes ten years to set up. the generators are hellishly expensive, on-going maintenance is even more expensive, the plants only last a few decades and de-commissioning is hellishly expensive and nuclear waste dumps are very dangerous, despite your article. Of course the oil industry wants nuclear, because that gives them another decade at least of oil profits, whereas a solar array giving base load power can be set up in a matter of months at a thousandth the cost and requires little maintenance. It’s a dangerous con, especially when the reserves of accessible uranium are already depleted. The planet’s core is useful only so long as it stays at the core, to contemplate bringing the same forces to the surface of this tiny rock in space is certifiable madness.

  2. Eclipse Now says:

    You had a big rant without any backing in science, any numbers, or even any links to typical Greenpeace agit prop. Just nothing. As I answered on the blog, you lack any real *data* backing your anti-nuclear stance. In summary:-

    American LEGISLATION makes nuclear expensive, but other countries are not facing this issue.

    BREEDER reactors will eat the actinides (longer lived nuclear waste), and be massed produced, and China are planning an assembly line GenIV nuke cheaper than coal in just 6 years!

    SOLAR THERMAL: just asserting it is ready for prime time doesn’t make it so. It’s exponentially more expensive than nuclear.

    FINAL NUCLEAR WASTE (fission products) are only radioactive for 300 years: vitrify them into ceramic tablets and drop them in the ocean! Radiation from them will halve every 15 cm, meaning a fatal dose becomes a non-issue with just a few metres of water. But if the ocean is not palatable, just bury them in a bunker for 300 years. Done.

    Sadly, many groups quote Dr James Hansen on the problem of climate change, while ignoring his stated *solution*.
    He says:
    1. Believing in 100% RENEWABLES is like believing in the Easter Bunny or Tooth Fairy. (Yes, he’s aware of all the ‘studies’ that say we can, but still thinks storage is ridiculously expensive and cannot do the job).

    2. The world should build 115 reactors a year*
    (*Note: on a reactors-to-GDP ratio the French *already* beat this build rate back in the 70’s under the Mesmer plan. 115 reactors a year should be easy for the world economy. France did it *faster* with older technology, and today’s nukes can be mass produced on an assembly line.)

  3. Eclipse Now says:

    Oh, and uranium from seawater could run the world for a billion years because it is constantly topped up by erosion.

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