The dangers of nuclear power in light of Fukushima

This is a joint post, by Chris Goodall of and Mark Lynas. We make no apologies for length, as these issues can really only be properly addressed in detail.

How risky is nuclear power? As the Fukushima nuclear crisis continues in Japan, many people and governments are turning away from nuclear power in the belief that it is uniquely dangerous to human health and the environment. The German government has reversed its policy of allowing the oldest nuclear plants to stay open and Italy has reportedly abandoned its efforts to develop new power stations. Beijing has stopped approving applications for nuclear reactors until the consequences of Fukushima become clear, potentially affecting up to 100 planned new stations. The mood towards the nuclear industry is antagonistic and suspicious around the world. We think this reaction is short-sighted and largely irrational.

For all its problems, nuclear power is the most reliable form of low carbon electricity. It remains the only viable source of low-carbon baseload power available to industrialised economies, and is therefore responsible for avoiding more than a billion tonnes of CO2 emissions per year. In addition to these unarguable climate benefits, we believe that nuclear power is much safer than its opponents claim. Despite the hyperbolic nature of some of the media coverage, even substantial radiation leaks such as at Fukushima are likely to cause very little or no illness or death. No power source is completely safe, but compared to coal, still the major fuel for electricity generation around the world, nuclear is relatively benign. About 3,000 people lost their lives mining coal in China alone last year. Many times that number died as a result of the atmospheric pollution arising from the burning of coal in power stations.

Although much journalism of the last few weeks has provided careful assessment of the true dangers of nuclear accidents, we thought it would be helpful to pull together the results of scientific studies on the damage caused by nuclear radiation to human health. Our aim is allow readers to put some perspective on the radiation risks of nuclear power, particularly after accidents, and to appreciate the context of the oft-quoted units of ‘millisieverts’, ‘bequerels’ and other measurements. This is a complicated story, because not all radiation is the same – a crucial factor is the timescale of exposure. There is a big difference between the expected impacts of exposure to huge amounts in a very short period, large doses over several weeks, and long-running or chronic exposure.

We examine these three scenarios in turn. The results seem to be quite clear to us: accidents and leaks from nuclear power stations are not likely to cause substantial numbers of illness or deaths, even under exceptional circumstances such as are currently being experienced after the combined earthquake and tsunami disaster at Fukushima. This is an important conclusion given the potential for nuclear power to continue to mitigate global warming, which presents vastly greater risks on a global scale. We are not advocating slackness or complacency, just suggesting that a rational and balanced assessment of the risks of radiation is a good idea. To hastily abandon or delay nuclear power because of radiation risks from accidents such as that at Fukushima is poor policy-making.

Some background

All of us are exposed to radiation every day of our lives. Very little of this comes from nuclear power or nuclear weapons. Other sources are far more important. One example: potassium is a vital chemical for carrying electrical signals around our bodies but a rare, naturally occurring, isotope, potassium 40, is radioactive. The tiny amount inside us produces 4,000 decays of individual nuclei every second. This internal nuclear fission of potassium atoms and from a radioactive natural isotope of carbon is responsible for about 10% of the annual dose received by someone in the UK.

More important sources are the radon gas produced in granite rocks, cosmic radiation and doses from medical equipment. By contrast, and despite the attention we pay to them, nuclear power stations and nuclear weapons are responsible for much less than half of one percent of the radiation typically absorbed by people in the UK. The same rough percentages apply to other countries operating nuclear reactor fleets.

The average background radiation across the UK is about 2.7 millisieverts (mSv) a year. (A ‘millisievert’ is a measure of radiation exposure to the body and is therefore a useful unit to directly compare the radiation received from different sources). People in Cornwall, where there is far more radioactive radon around because of local geology, experience more radiation than in other areas. Their dose may be as high as 10 mSv, almost four times as much as the UK average. In fact nuclear power plants could not be built in the granite areas of the county because the natural background radiation at the boundary of the power station would be higher than is allowed under the strict rules governing the operation of nuclear plants. Cornish radiation isn’t that unusual: parts of Iran, India and Australia have even more natural nuclear fission than Cornwall.

So our first point is that nuclear power is an almost trivial source of radiation, dwarfed by natural variations in other sources of radiation. The second is that exposure to radiation in the UK is tending to rise, but certainly not because of nuclear power or leaks from other nuclear operations. Instead it comes from the increased use of radiation in diagnostic equipment used by health care professionals. One scan in a CT machine will add about 10mSv to a person’s annual exposure – 3 million Britons went through this process last year. Per head of population, the number is even higher in the US.

These are two important basic numbers to help us assess just how dangerous nuclear power is: 2.7 mSv a year for the average natural background radiation received by the typical person in the UK and 10 mSv for a single CT scan. We will use these numbers to compare the radiation effect of nuclear power and to assess the importance of the very rare but severe accidents at nuclear power plants.

The impact of exposure to very high levels of radiation over a few hours

a) Chernobyl workers (1)

The fire and explosion at Chernobyl in 1986 was the world’s most severe accident at a civil nuclear power plant. It is the only such event which is known to have killed workers from the effect of radiation. About six hundred people were involved in work on the site of the power plant during the first day after the accident, of which 237 were thought to be at risk of acute radiation syndrome (ARS) because of their degree of exposure. 134 individuals developed symptoms of ARS and 28 died as a result. The deaths were generally due to the skin and lung problems, compounded by bone marrow failure. All but one of people killed received a dose of radiation above 4,000 mSv, with one of the deaths occurring after a dose of about 3,000 mSv.

The implication of this is that ARS will usually only kill someone who has experienced the impact of over 4,000 mSv. Indeed, many workers at Chernobyl actually received doses above 5,000 mSv and survived. By comparison, the workers engaged in the repair at Fukushima are being carefully monitored to ensure their total exposure does not go above 250 mSv, less than a tenth of the minimum level at which an ARS victim died at Chernobyl. As at 23rd March, 17 workers had received more than 100 mSv of radiation, forty times the yearly radiation received by the typical UK resident and equivalent to ten CT scans. It has been reported that two workers received radiation burns to the legs after exposure in contaminated water to 170 millisieverts per hour doses in Unit 3 on 24 March (2). To date this remains the only known health impact suffered by Fukushima workers.

But what of the longer term dangers to Chernobyl workers who suffered massive radiation exposures? Of those who survived acute radiation syndrome, 19 out of the 106 died between 1987 and 2006. These deaths included 5 cancers. 87 people were still alive in 2006; 9 of them had been diagnosed with various cancers including cases of leukaemia. The problem with using these statistics to draw definitive conclusions is that the numbers of workers affected by extremely high levels of radiation in the Chernobyl emergency are not large enough to give robust data on the long-term impact across wider groups. But the 20 year survival rate of the workers exposed to the greatest radiation – 82% – and the unremarkable percentage either dead of cancer or living with it – 14% in total, within ‘normal’ bounds – suggests that the human body is usually able to recover from even extremely high doses delivered in a short period of time. (This comment is not intended to diminish the severity of the effects of ARS: many of the survivors have suffered from cataracts, sexual dysfunction, skin problems and other chronic illnesses.)

Fourteen healthy children were borne to ARS survivors in the first five years after the accident. There is no evidence of genetic damage passed to future generations.

b) Chernobyl’s wider early impacts

Several hundred thousand workers were involved in the aftermath of the accident (the so-called ‘recovery operation workers’ or ‘liquidators’). These people’s average total dose was about 117 mSv in the period 1986-2005, of which we can assume the large part was experienced in the first months after the accident or at the time the sarcophagus was being placed over the reactor core a couple of years later. The exposures in this group ranged from 10 to 1,000 mSv. The UN Committee on Chernobyl comments that ‘apart from indications of an increase in leukaemia and cataracts among those who received higher doses, there is no evidence of health effects that can be attributed to radiation exposure’. The suggestion here is that the overall impacts on cancer rates among the people with lower doses – but which are still very much higher than would normally be experienced in the UK – is limited.

This conclusion has been attacked by some groups. In particular, Greenpeace published a report entitled The Chernobyl Catastrophe: Consequences on Human Health in 2006 that estimated a figure for total deaths resulting from the disaster that was many times greater than official estimates. Nevertheless, most scientific reports, including all the many official reports into the accident, have concluded that the long-term effects of radiation on the recovery workers, as opposed to the much smaller numbers working inside the plant immediately after the explosion, have been very limited.

After the 1986 Chernobyl disaster large numbers of people in surrounding populations were exposed to the radioactive isotope iodine 131, largely through consuming milk and other farm products. The human body takes up iodine and stores it in the thyroid. Radioactive iodine accumulates in this small area of the body and gives the thyroid gland disproportionate exposure. The effective dose of radiation to the thyroid among some people in the areas affected by Chernobyl fallout ranged up to 3,000-4,000 mSv.(3)The concentration of radioactive iodine in the thyroid has produced large numbers of cases – probably about 7,000 by 2005 – of thyroid cancer among the millions of people in the affected areas. (4) These cases are highly concentrated among people aged less than 18 at the time of the disaster and the impact on adults appears to be very much less or even negligible.(5) The risk of getting thyroid cancer among the most affected group is continuing to rise even now. The implication is clear: severe doses of radiation twenty five years ago produced damage that is still causing cancer today.

Thyroid cancer is treatable and death rates are low. The number of people who had died of thyroid cancer in the affected areas by 2005 was 15. (6) We have been unable to find a scientific assessment of how many people are likely to die in the future from thyroid cancer in the Chernobyl region but the effective treatment for this disease may mean that relatively few of those affected will die. The incidence of thyroid cancer after Chernobyl could have been very substantially reduced if the authorities had acted to provide the local populations with iodine tablets. The effect of taking these tablets is to flood the thyroid gland with normal iodine, reducing the uptake of iodine 131 and thus cutting the dose of radioactivity. Of those countries closest to the nuclear power plant, only Poland seems to have widely distributed iodine, although this is a well understood and simple way of reducing thyroid cancer risk from radioactivity. Second, the authorities could have banned the sale of milk, which is the medium through which most iodine 131 enters the human body and which is why young children appear to have been most severely affected.

It is notable that the authorities around Fukushima are taking an extremely precautionary approach to iodine 131 exposures in the surrounding populations, both in rejecting milk and distributing iodine tablets. Given the experience of Chernobyl, this seems sensible, even though the real risks of exposure and developing cancer as a result are very much lower.

c) Fukuryu Maru fishing boat

In the 1950s and early 1960s nuclear weapons powers like the US, Britain, China and Russia carried out above-ground explosions of atomic bombs in remote areas. (In 1963 these tests provided about 5% of the radiation dose experienced by people in the UK, over five times the impact of Chernobyl, which added less than 1% to the total dose for the average person in 1986, the year of the explosion). One of these tests was in 1954 at Bikini Atoll, one of the Marshall Islands in the mid Pacific. The device turned out to be much more powerful than expected by the US scientists running the experiment, with an explosive power of about one thousand times the 1945 bombs over Japan. As a result the fallout extended well beyond the exclusion zone established by the US, and a Japanese fishing boat was caught in the aftermath of the explosion.

The 23 individuals on this boat received huge doses of radiation – probably averaging between 4,000 and 6,000 mSv. The fishermen suffered severe radiation burns within hours and decided to return to their home port in Japan. Upon their arrival two weeks later their symptoms were recognised to be caused by radiation and they were treated for ARS. Unfortunately, one of the treatments the fishermen received was blood transfusions using blood which was infected with the hepatitis C virus. One of the crew members died a few months after the explosion from liver disease, which may have resulted from hepatitis as much as from acute radiation syndrome. The other fishermen also suffered disease from the hepatitis C in the transfusions and many of them died of liver problems. This experience complicates any medical conclusions that might be drawn about the immediate or long-term impacts of severe radiation exposure.

As at February 2011, it is reported that of the 22 crew members who survived ARS, nine are still alive 57 years later.(7)The average age of these survivors is over 80. These individuals all seem to have had major health problems during their lives, but the cause may well be the transfusions rather than the radiation. Once again, the main implication of the Fukuryu Maru event is that even huge doses of intense radioactivity can cause surprisingly few fatalities.

d) Hiroshima and Nagasaki

The survivors of the atomic bomb blasts were exposed to high but varying levels of radiation. The death rates of nearly 90,000 survivors have been painstakingly studied and compared with people from other cities, so are a valuable source of information from a horrific real-world experiment. Most survivors endured an exposure of less than 100mSv and for these people there is no statistically significant increase in cancer risk. One study shows, for example, that the number of deaths from solid cancers among those who received less than 100 mSv was 7,647, compared to 7,595 that might have been expected based on the experience of populations in other Japanese cities. (8) The increment of 52 deaths is less than 1% above the expected level, and the result is statistically meaningful because it involves a relatively large group.

Above 200 mSv of total exposure, the effect of the radiation becomes a little more obvious but it is not until the dose was greater than 1,000 mSv that a major increase in cancers occurs. Over 2,000 mSv, the risk of a survivor of the bombs dying from a solid cancer is approximately twice the level of risk in non-affected cities. But, even at this very high dose, the number of people dying from solid cancers was 18% of all bomb survivors, to which should be added the 3% of people dying from leukaemia. Compare this, for example, to the UK, where about a quarter of all today’s deaths are from cancer, presumably because of other factors.(9) So it is fair to say that even severely irradiated Japanese atomic bomb survivors appear to be at less risk of developing cancer than normal British people.

e) The effects on soldiers exposed to radiation at tests of nuclear bombs

US and UK research has shown that soldiers experiencing radiation in the aftermath of tests of nuclear bombs, such as at the ‘Smokey’ test in Nevada in 1957 have not had higher than expected incidence of cancer. Although this group seems to have experienced more leukaemia than would have been predicted, the number of other cancers has been lower. The overall death rate from cancer is not higher than in a control group.(10)

Severe exposure over longer time periods

In the previous section we looked at single catastrophic events that caused high doses of radiation, showing that only very high doses, perhaps ten or hundred times the yearly amount received from background sources, substantially affect the risk of future cancers. The same is true of less intense individual events that are repeated many times over a period, even though these events may add up to very high levels of total exposure.

a) Radiotherapies for cancer

Highly targeted bursts of radiation are used to kill cancer cells in radiotherapy. As a result the patient receives very large total doses of radiation over the period – perhaps a month – of the treatment. The amount of radiation received may be as much as 30,000 mSv, many times that sufficient for a fatal dose. This amount does not cause acute radiation sickness because the patient is given time to recover between the doses, allowing damaged non-cancerous cells to recover, and because much of the power is directed at specific internal sites in the body, where the radiation does indeed cause cell death. (That after all is the point of radiotherapy – to kill the cancerous cells in the patient’s tumour.) Some of the radiation reaches other healthy parts of the body and does seem to cause small increases in the likelihood of development of another cancer. But, as the American Cancer Society says, ‘overall, radiation therapy alone does not appear to be a very strong cause of second cancers’.(11) For this reason, radiation overall cures many more cancers than it causes in today’s populations.

b) Workers manufacturing luminous dials for watches

A classic study by Rowland et al in 1978 investigated the incidence of bone cancer among workers painting luminous dials on watches with radioactive paint before the second world war. (12) Workers ingesting more than 10 gray, a measure equivalent to more than 100,000 mSv, had very high incidence of bone cancer. Those taking in less than 10 gray had no cases of bone cancer at all. In his book Radiation and Reason, Oxford University Professor Wade Allison comments that this is ‘a most significant result’ because it shows a clear demarcation between the level of longer-term exposure that seems to cause obviously enhanced cancer risk and that which does not.(13) The threshold – 10 gray – is a level never likely to be now experienced by anyone as a result of nuclear power. It is far greater, for example, than the exposure of any workers fighting the fire at Chernobyl.

The impact of chronic enhanced background radiation

Thus far we have tried to show that only very high levels of radiation, such as are very rarely ever encountered, will tend to produce statistically significant increases in cancer and other diseases. The last category of exposure is to very long-lived elevated levels of exposure. With the exception of thyroid cancer, and high levels of radon gas if the victim also smokes (see below), raised levels of radiation appear to have a small effect on the likelihood of cancer or other diseases. In fact, some people say that small increases in the total amount of radiation received per year have no impact whatsoever on illness rates, or that some dosages of elevated radiation can even be beneficial.

The standard way of viewing the impact of radiation on human health is called the ‘linear, no threshold model’ or LNT. LNT assumes that increased rates of cancer seen in populations such as the atomic bomb survivors can help us predict the degree of cancer arising from radiation at much lower levels of radiation. The theory says that there is a straight line relationship: simply put, if a 1000 mSv dose gives 10% of people cancer, then a 100 mSv total exposure will induce the disease in 1% of the population. With this model of the relationship between radiation and cancer, all incremental doses are bad, from whatever base level, because they add to risk. But the evidence from many studies is that it is difficult to show any unfavourable effect from elevated levels of exposure. For example, people living at higher altitudes in a country generally get more background radiation than those at sea level because of greater cosmic ray density. However we could find no study that showed that these people experience more cancers or other radiation-related diseases. In Ramsar, Iran, naturally high background radiation delivers a hefty dose of 260 millisieverts per year to local residents, a hundred times higher than 2.7 mSv/yr experienced by the average UK citizen, and also ten times higher than doses normally permitted to workers in nuclear power stations. However, there is no observed increase in cancer in this or any other area where levels of background radiation are up to two orders of magnitude higher than normally observed. (14)

The LNT model is controversial because it is based on statistical assumptions (which reflect a very precautionary approach) rather than observed biological effects of radiation – it would predict higher rates of radiation-induced cancer in Ramsar where radon levels are exceptionally high despite no evidence of these occurring in reality. It has been criticised because the body can repair most DNA damage caused by radiation, and cells have mechanisms that perform this healing role on a constant basis. An analogy would be blood loss: whilst losing half a litre of blood (such as a blood donor might) causes no health impacts whatsoever, losing 5 litres of blood would be fatal. In this case clearly there is a threshold for harm, so a ‘linear no threshold’ assumption is biologically incorrect.

There is one important exception, however, to the rule that increased background radiation presents no additional health problems. In many parts of the world, particularly those with granite rocks close to the surface, radon gas represents the most important source of natural exposure to radiation. Radon is a short-lived radioactive element that arises from the decay of fissile uranium. As we said above, for the UK population as a whole the average total absorption of radiation is about 2.7 mSv per year but many people in Cornwall receive much more, largely from the pooling of the gas in their homes and workplaces.

Studies have suggested that this increase has a very small effect on the incidence of most cancers and other illnesses, although the research is not yet definitive about the precise relationship between radon gas exposure and rates of cancer. However, radon does have an observed effect on lung cancer occurrence, particularly among smokers, and this effect increases with the typical densities of radon in the home. In homes with the highest radon levels, the chance of a smoker getting lung cancer rises from about 10% to about 16%, according to one study.(15)

The US National Cancer Institute concludes: “Although the association between radon exposure and smoking is not well understood, exposure to the combination of radon gas and cigarette smoke creates a greater risk for lung cancer than either factor alone. The majority of radon-related cancer deaths occur among smokers.” (16)

a) The impact of living near a nuclear power plant

Several studies have shown ‘clusters’ of solid cancers and of leukaemia around nuclear installations in the UK and other countries, although the vast majority show no relationship between the two. (17) In particular, the incidence of childhood leukaemia appears to be marginally higher than the national average in some areas close to nuclear sites and at some locations the rate of such cancers appears to rise with closeness to the site. (This suggests a risk that is related to the dose experienced by the child, and thus in line with LNT theory).

This is a worrying finding and much research has tried to find out why the chance of cancer appears to be slightly higher in these places. But the issue is this: why should there be an increased risk of cancer around nuclear sites when the aggregate level of radiation exposure is so low compared, for example, to parts of Cornwall? Similarly, why do we not see higher incidences of childhood cancers around large coal-fired power stations, which emit far higher levels of radiation than nuclear sites as a result of the radioactive material contained in the coal being dispersed from the chimneys? And, as a separate point, why have some of the rates of higher-than-expected cancer fallen at some sites when radiation levels have remained approximately constant?

Scientists working on this issue have no convincing explanation for the higher rate of childhood cancers in these clusters. But many experts now believe that what is known as ‘population mixing’ may be responsible for the observed increase. Mixing occurs when a new population, such as those recruited to construct or operate a nuclear power station, arrives in the area. This may, one theory goes, cause unusual infections in the area and the end result of some of these infections may be childhood leukaemia.

To repeat: the clusters of cancer around some nuclear sites for some periods of time appear to suggest a worrying relationship between nuclear power stations and cancer. But the relatively low levels of radiation at these places, compared to around coal-fired power stations or areas with high natural background radiation, makes it extremely difficult to see how radioactivity could cause the higher levels of cancer.

b) Workers in defence industries exposed to radiation

Oxford’s Professor Wade Allison reports on a survey of a huge number (174,541) workers employed by the Ministry of Defence and other research establishments.(17) This study found that the workers received an average of 24.9 mSv above background radiation, spread over a number of years. But even though this amount is small when expressed as a figure per year, the large number of people in the study should enable us to see whether there is any effect on cancer incidence of low levels of incremental exposure. (Any increase will be much more statistically significant than any additional cancers in smaller groups.) In fact the survey found that the workers suffered from substantially less cancer than would be expected, even after correcting for factors such as age and social class. (The mortality rate for all cancers was between 81% and 84% of the level expected). This suggests that the increased radiation they experienced delivered no additional cancer risk at all.

More on Fukushima

How dangerous are the levels immediately next to the Fukushima boundary fence? The power plant operator TEPCO issues data every day from measurements taken at one of the gates to the plant. (18) On March 27th, about two weeks after the accident, the level had fallen to about 0.13 mSv an hour – and was continuing to decline at a consistent rate. (In the course of writing this article, the number rose to about 0.17 mSv an hour but then started to decline again.) If someone stood at that point for a year, he or she would receive about 1.1 Sv. This is a very high level – about 400 times background level in the UK – but would not necessarily have fatal effects. Professor Allison argues in a post on the BBC News web site that a figure of 100 mSv a month, or 1.2 Sv a year, would be a good level to set as the maximum exposure for human beings before real risk was incurred. (19)

Radiation intensities obey the inverse square rule: as we move away from the source of radiation, the level of radiation will decrease by the square of the distance. (This excludes the impact of fallout from an explosion or of radiation carried in plumes of steam). Thus a reading obtained 2km away from the plant will be one hundredth of the level at 200m distance. In other words if the plant were in the UK, with its average background dose of around 2.7 mSv per year, and the monitoring at the Fukushima gate is 200 metres from the source of the radiation, then the level of incremental radiation would be no greater today than the background level at a distance of 4 kilometres from the plant. Since much of the radiation emanating from Fukushima is iodine 131, which has a half life of 8 days, the level of contamination of the surrounding area will continue to fall rapidly.

The effect on water supplies in Tokyo and elsewhere

The authorities in Tokyo recommended in mid-March that infants were not provided with tap water after levels of radiation rose to higher than usual levels. The peak level reached at a Tokyo water supply plant was 210 becquerels per litre and this prompted the decision – anxious parents were provided with bottled water instead. (A becquerel is a measure of the number of nuclear fissions, not a measurement of the dose of radiation absorbed). Children will be most susceptible to the effects but an infant drinking this water for a year will absorb the equivalent of about 0.8 mSv of radiation, or less than a third of normal absorption by an adult in the UK. (20)

There are significant divergences between different country approaches to radiation in water. The European limit for radiation in public water supplies is set at 1,000 becquerels per litre, nearly five times that declared ‘unsafe’ for infants by the Tokyo authorities. (21) In one study carried out by the British Geological Survey in Tavistock, Devon, private water supplies were found to contain as much as 6,500 becquerels per litre, and no ill effects have been reported.(22)

Although this is not directly stated, we can assume that the large majority of this radioactivity in British water is derived from the decay of radon. This means that in the UK, the level is likely to remain at a roughly consistent level year after year. But in Japan the radiation is more likely to be from the decay of iodine 131, which has a very short half life. So the radiation in Japanese tap water will quickly fall, and already appears to be doing so. Thus the risk of any radiation damage, even for very young children, from drinking tap water in Tokyo is not just small but infinitesimal.


Overall the average UK person ets approximately 0.2% of his or her radiation exposure from the fallout from nuclear plants (and from nuclear accidents) and less than 0.1% from nuclear waste disposal. This compares to about 15% from medical imaging and other medicinal exposures and about 10% from the natural decay of potassium 40 and carbon 14 in the body. Naturally-occurring radon is many hundreds of times more important as a source of radiation than nuclear power stations and nuclear fallout. Even for those who believe in a direct linear relationship between radiation levels and the number of cancer deaths, the effect on mortality of normal operation of nuclear power stations would be impossible to discern statistically and in our opinion is likely to be non-existent.

It can only be in the event of a serious accident that we have any reason to be really concerned about nuclear power. We have tried to show in this article that even when such accidents occur the effects may be much less extensive than many people imagine, particularly given the constant media coverage devoted to Fukushima. Chernobyl killed 28 people in the immediate aftermath of the disaster. All these people had experienced huge doses of radiation in a short period. Mortality since the accident among the most heavily dosed workers has not been exceptionally high. And many studies after Chernobyl have suggested that – with the exception of the thyroid variant – cancer rates have only increased very marginally even among those exposed to high doses of radiation after the accident.

While reported rates of other, non-cancer, illnesses may have risen, researchers seem to think that much of this rise is due to the impact of other factors, such as the need to evacuate from the area, increased smoking, drinking and other risky behaviours, or even the wider effect of the breakup of the Soviet Union soon after the accident. There is substantial evidence, as the UN reports on Chernobyl attest, that the psychological impacts of fear of radiation far outweigh the actual biological impacts of radiation. Thus, misinformation about exaggerated dangers of radiation is actually likely to be harmful to large numbers of people – a point which should be borne in mind by anti-nuclear campaigners. This appears certainly to have been the case after Chernobyl and Three Mile Island (in the latter case the radiation released was negligible, but the political fallout immense).

We hope that a more rational sense of risk and an appreciation of what we have learned from past experience will prevent the repeat of this experience after Fukushima. It is important to appreciate that whilst radiation levels at the boundary fence are still high, they are dropping sharply. Even today, March 28th, the radiation exposure of a person a few kilometres from the plant (in the precautionary exclusion zone) is likely to be lower than experienced by many people living in Cornwall or other places with high radon density. Similarly, the peak levels of radiation in the water supply have constantly been well below levels regarded as safe in other parts of the world.

No technology is completely safe, and we don’t wish to argue that nuclear power is any different. But its dangers must be weighed against the costs of continuing to operate fossil fuel plants. Just down the road from us is Didcot A power station, a large coal-burning plant with poor pollution control and therefore with substantial effects on local air quality, as well as more substantial emissions of radiation than from any UK nuclear power station and a Co2 output of about 8 million tonnes a year. We offer a view that Didcot has caused far more deaths from respiratory diseases than all the deaths ever associated with nuclear energy in the UK, and that coal power is a far more legitimate target of environmental protest than nuclear.

Chris Goodall and Mark Lynas, 29th March 2011.

(With many thanks to Professor Wade Allison for his help on the research for this article. All errors are ours.)

1 Much of the data in this section is taken from Sources and Effects of Ionizing Radiation, United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation, 2008 report to the General Assembly, published February 2011.


3 Prof. Wade Allison, Radiation and Reason, page 100

4 Taken from Sources and Effects of Ionizing Radiation, United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation, 2008 report to the General Assembly, published 2011

5 Sources and Effects of Ionizing Radiation, United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation, p 19

6 Sources and Effects of Ionizing Radiation, United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation, 2008 report to the General Assembly, published 2011, page 15

7 Interview report,

8 Preston Dale et al. (2004) Effect of Recent Changes in Atomic Bomb Survivor Dosimetry on Cancer Mortality Risk Estimates, Radiation Research.

9 National Statistics UK

10 American Cancer Society,

11 American Cancer Society 1

2 Rowland et al, 1978: Dose-response relationships for female radium dial workers, Radiation Research, 76, 2, 368-383

13 Wade Allison, Radiation and Reason, 2009

14 M. Ghiassi-nejad et al., 2002: Very high background radiation areas of Ramsar, Iran: preliminary biological studies, Health Physics, 82, 1, 87–93

15 British Medical Journal

16 American Cancer Society,

17 Details of some of these studies are discussed in a 2005 report on the Committee on Medical Aspects of Radiation in the Environment available at

18 Wade Allison, Radiation and Reason, page 127


20 Professor Richard Wakeford of the Dalton Nuclear Institute, quoted on the BBC News web site at

21 This limit is what is called an ‘action level’. That is, the authorities expect something to be done when higher levels are observed

22 Neil M. MacPhail, A radon survey of Ministry of Defence occupied premises in Her Majesty’s Dockyard, Devonport, unpublished MSc dissertation, University of Surrey 2010.


  1. Robin Smith

    This is a really good piece. It is full of reason, observed fact and self evident truth. Thank you.

    The question remains: Why do your opponents still object to your good logic?

    When I campaigned for cleaner energy I often spoke to anti-nukes. When cornered on the above logic they would always cave in and finally declare something like:

    “Fair enough. But nuclear power is a labour saving device when operating correctly and under true free market conditions. Therefore it improves the production of wealth. Growth. We are really saying we do not want more growth.”

    They are correct in the effects. I have no sympathy for their politics which are preposterous. Do they also think the growth of a child is bad like the economy. Or even the population? Both absurd and offensive ideas.

    So this is not about safety for them any more than pro nukes. And the real question they are avoiding, and dare I say, so are you, is: why does such a fantastic labour saving device like nuclear power not have the ‘power’ to improve the lot of the people in general, no matter how safe?

    This is the real question. I have the answer if anyone is willing and able to hear it. If you can find the time to listen the answer will save you time in the end?

    1. commentorr

      “why does such a fantastic labour saving device like nuclear power not have the ‘power’ to improve the lot of the people in general”

      You think having electricity doesn’t improve the lot of people? A strange position to take.

    2. David Penn

      I would love to hear your answer to your question: “why doesn’t nuclear improve the lot of people in general?”

    3. Ellie

      May I suggest you watch this lecture:

      I know it’s a bit off topic, but you raised the question and suggested it’s “absurd and offensive” as well as “preposterous”, so I’d like you to apply the same evidence-based reasoning and logic to the question of growth as you do to radiation.

      I think when most people think of growth, they are imagining the nice friendly linear type. So if the government says the economy has grown by 2% in the last year, they figure out what 2% of the current GDP is and imagine it being added again every year into the future. But the problem with the figure of 2% growth is that it isn’t linear, it’s exponential.

      If you take an economy worth 100 elephants and it grows by 2%/year, it will be 102 elephants after 12 months, but now you are multiplying 102 elephants by 2%. The base figure goes up and so, in year two, you don’t only add 2 elephants, you add 2.04 elephants (2% of 102 is 2.04). That doesn’t sound like a big difference but, because of the nature of exponential growth, it rapidly gets frighteningly large.

      The important figure in exponential growth is the . For 2% growth the doubling time is 35 years, so after 35 years your economy has 200 elephants, after 70 it has 400 and after 105 years, 800 elephants.

      The current growth obsessed economy is a relatively new thing and it simply cannot last for ever. It is driven by continually expanding markets, which require continual population growth. Populations don’t grow forever, which is a good thing, because if they did we’d be rearly* screwed.

      To borrow an example from the lecture I posted at the top. Imagine a bottle with a bacterium in it at 11am. Bacteria reproduce by fission – one bug splits in two to give two bugs, 2 become 4, 4 become 8 and so on; their growth is exponential.

      Imagine the bugs in our bottle have a doubling time of 1 minute, so that at 11.01 there were 2 bugs and at 11.02 there were 4. At midday, the bottle is full. At what point in their population growth do you think the bacteria realised they had a space problem? At 11.59, when the bottle was still half empty? At 11.58, when it was 3/4 empty space? How about 11.54, when the bottle was still 97% empty?!

      Let’s say our bugs send out explorers and find 3 more whole bottles. They now have 3 times as much empty space as the ever had at the beginning, wonderful. Except, with a doubling time of one minute, the second bottle will be full at 12.01, and the other 2 at 12.02.

      Talking about “sustainable growth” is what’s preposterous. By it’s very nature exponential growth cannot be sustained indefinitely and comparing it to the growth of children, which is both linear and self limiting is, frankly, a bit daft.

      Getting back on the topic of nuclear power, this post is an excellent reminder of the need to keep perspective and not to fall back on worse more polluting energy sources out of ignorance and fear. However, to me, fossil fuels are our first bottle and nuclear represent the next two. Even with all the above facts in mind, we are far from out of the woods. The hippies may like to exaggerate the threat from nuclear power, but that doesn’t mean they’re wrong about growth.

      We need to find a way to run a stable society based on a truly sustainable economy that doesn’t rely on growth to keep it going, and we need to find renewable energy sources to support us in that.

      *that was initially a typo, but I like it, so I’m keeping it.

  2. M

    Your piece seems logical, well-reasoned, and for the most part consistent with my understanding (especially the takeaway about the comparative negatives of coal vs. nuclear). However, I have a couple critiques/questions:

    One: there is a focus in this piece on fatalities, with a lesser emphasis on non-fatal illness. I think that morbidity is under-rated as a negative effect.

    Two: there are several kinds of radiation: alpha, beta, gamma (eg, alpha particles, electrons, high-energy photons). A given species of radioisotope will have different characteristic decays. Additionally (as noted) different elements have different biological uptake rates. Therefore, I could imagine that errors could be introduced in extrapolating from, say, the effects of one millisievert of radon exposure (mostly alpha + beta radiation from the decay chain, unlikely to be incorporated in tissue) to say, one millisievert of iodine exposure (beta and gamma decay, concentrated in the thyroid). Was this taken into account when doing the extrapolations drawn above? (eg, does looking at millisieverts rather than becquerels effectively give a “tissue exposure” number, rather than an ambient radiation number?) If not, should there be some caveats about the extrapolations?

    Finally, with respect to health effects of radon: the US EPA claims that radon is responsible for about 21,000 US deaths each year, with 2900 of those occurring in non-smokers – That doesn’t seem quite consistent with your text, which mostly discounts the risks to non-smokers from radon.

    Thanks for considering this comment,


    1. N

      Look up the definition of Sievert. A sievert is an equivalent dose – the point of it as a unit is to measure biological effect of radiation. It includes calculations to account for the type of radiation absorbed, and the tissue into which it is absorbed.

    2. David Penn

      Very good point, which was in my mind when reading the article, plus the issue of how much does half-life/decay rate affect effective doses? Eg, U235 (billions of yrs) v. I131 (8 days)? Surely I131 gives 100s of billions more doses than U238?

  3. Colin Wright

    Thanks for all your work. I appreciate the attempts to argue about the dangers of nuclear power from a scientific viewpoint. (I’m trained in physics.) But here is an example of why I cannot take the Chernobyl “liquidator” data you present seriously [19 dead].

    “Manzurova, now 59 and an advocate for radiation victims worldwide, has the “Chernobyl necklace” — a scar on her throat from the removal of her thyroid — and myriad health problems. But unlike the rest of her [13] team members, who she said have all died from the results of radiation poisoning, and many other liquidators, she’s alive.”

    So what does someone trying to get to the truth think? Either Ms. Manzurova is giving unreliable testimony. Or the Soviets (and the local authorities since then) have “cherry-picked” their studies to make Chernobyl seem as benign as possible.

    In any event, whether Reactor Number 2 blows or not, the very fact that so many Japanese are at risk, morally invalidates the expansion of nuclear power IMO, considering that we already have the safe alternatives of wind and solar, sufficient in many studies to supply our energy needs. Likewise, coal is not morally justified when alternatives are available. Just my opinion, of course.

    Another aspect is, we have now learned that we need continuous electical supply to keep reactors cool. That may not be possible in an energy-insecure future, even outside of earthquake zones. In a world of declining resources that security is no longer assured.

    1. Tom Blees

      Colin, “many studies” may assert that we can supply all our energy needs with wind and solar, but wishing cannot make it so. Just look at the data from a few decades of trying in Denmark and Germany. Many studies also come up with the conclusion that wind and solar cannot conceivably provide all the energy we need. I’ve looked at both types of studies and I find the latter far more convincing, the former usually ludicrous.

    2. KeenOn350

      As Tom says, there are serious questions as to whether renewables – which are not without their own impacts – can supply reliable base-load power for our growing population in an already over-populated world.

      In the context of the MSM hype over Fukushima, Ms. Manzurova is getting a lot of publicity. How much bad publicity is given to the coal industry for all those suffering from it?

      There is no such thing as perfectly safe energy supply.

      Is oil safe? Consider Exxon Valdez and Deepwater Horizon, for starters. Consider the extensive despoilation/damage in Africa where oil is being pumped – Big Oil is not required by laws to be clean there! Consider the devastation in Alberta at the tar sands!

      At Chiba, after the earthquake, a major oil refinery blew up, and caught fire. The initial explosion killed about a dozen people. It burned for 10 days, spewing out massive pollution. We hardly heard about it. So far, the death toll for oil far exceeds nuclear in the current Japanese situation.

      Is coal safe? Consider all the miners who die in it’s production. Consider also the health effects – the UN estimates 2,000,000 (yes, two million) people die prematurely each year from the pollution of coal-fired power plants, and millions more suffer health effects during their lifetime. Again, consider also the damage done by the waste heaps from both mining and burning of coal. And the fact that coal burning plants in operation emit more radiation than nuclear plants.

      Is nuclear safe? Well, if you actually do some realistic research, nuclear power to date has provided the cleanest and safest power overall. Here is a study on the subject .

      We can’t live without some risk.
      We haven’t stopped flying, although occasionally a plane crashes, usually killing all on board.
      We haven’t stopped driving, although WHO estimates 1.2 million people die worldwide in car accidents each year (over 43,000 deaths in the USA) annually.
      We haven’t stopped walking, although people occasionally step in front of a bus.

      Given –
      – the risks associated with the burning of fossil fuels (climate disruption, biosphere and ocean destruction), which may well lead to large-scale disaster for our civilization if continued;
      – the simple fact that one day we must run out of fossil fuel – more likely sooner than later;
      – the growing population in our already over-populated world;
      we simply must find an alternative energy source, soon (like 20 or 30 years ago, preferably).

      Renewables may be a part of the answer, but not likely the whole solution.

      New nuclear (newclear?) power will probably have to be part of the mix.

      Gen III+ and Gen IV reactors can be built. These units have passive safety features ( no need for all those tons of water being pumped in at Fukushima – no need for external electricity in case of accident), and will actually clean up the long-lived radioactive waste that is presently accumulating from the old-style reactors.
      More sober consideration of Newclear options can be found here:
      Brave New Climate is an excellent blog providing discussion and in-depth information on the subject of newclear power.
      An object lesson in a 2 minute vido .
      Interesting interview with Tom Blees on the possibilities of the IFR.

      Thorium reactor possibilities – a Google Tech Talk
      For a comment on safety of Newclear power see

    3. Colin Wright

      Thanks Keen,
      I’m also partial to the number 350, and I agree the human tragedy from everyday technologies is scandalous. We obviously need to examine our design priorities.

      I had a quick look at some of your links. The creativity of our nuclear engineers (and not just in terms of inventing acronyms) is indeed impressive. My problem is with the design frame.

      Say you wanted to be able to control the flow of electrons. The nuclear engineering aproach would be: let’s boil water in a kettle by firing bullets as fast as we can at it. The boiling water will turn a turbine to generate electricity. The Gen III and IV approaches might be: let’s use more but slower bullets, cut down on the collateral damage and recycle the spent shells. Anyway, you get the point.

      What if we used the ingenuity of our scientists and engineers to invent new design frames that push electrons directly using nanotechnology or other ideas drawn from nature? (Look at Nocera’s recent work at MIT on artificial leaves, for instance.) Why not invent new energy technologies that are user-friendly, easy on resources and the environment, and enhance human creativity and fluorishing. I don’t see how polluting the environment with carbon dioxide or fissile material is anything but just plain nutz. Or scaring people half to death with an overbearing, centralizing technology that is based on bomb warfare? Is this the best human ingenuity can come up with?

      Anyway, don’t want to go too far off-thread.

    4. seamus

      I suggest you take more than just a passing glance at Gen IV technology before dismissing it. We don’t have the luxury of relying on magical technologies that don’t yet exist.

    5. Craig H.

      “we have now learned that we need continuous electrical supply to keep reactors cool.”

      Colin, I assume you mean the general public has learned this as the engineers have known this all along. What the general public needs to learn is that technology does evolve and that the latest generation nuclear power plants use passive cooling and so do not need continuous electrical supply to keep reactors cool. Just 40 year old LWR designs like those in Fukushima need electricity to cool a reactor for the first week after it has been shutdown. In the future those countries like China that keep developing the next generation of reactors will not have that concern. They are already taking a step forward to even better ideas such as liquid fueled thorium reactors which don’t operate under pressure and don’t use water (therefore no risk of explosion) and and are self-quenching (that is if the liquid fuel heats up it expands and loses fission and shuts itself off) and passive cooling. The lessons of Fukushima are simple, old light water reactor designs have problems with earthquakes 10 times stronger than their design limit when the shutdown process is interrupted by a tsunami twice as high they are built to withstand.

    6. Gabriele

      Quite the opposite of your understanding: All the commercial reactors now working on the planet Heart and all these in project, suffer from the same problem of Fukushima that, namely, is the same problem the engineers at Chernobyl where addressing when they loose the control of the reactor. Every nuclear plant needs from some day to two weeks of external power supply to properly shuth down. A simple blackout of some hour can cause severe problems.
      Today, none of the tentative design of reactors potentialy not suffering from this problem is commercialy viable.

    7. seamus

      Fast reactors are not new, nor unproven technology.

    8. Colin Wright

      Thanks Craig, didn’t know that about the new generation plants. But aren’t Gen IV at least 20 years from commercialization? That sounds like quite a trick to have the fission shut off at just the right rate of thermal expansion.

      Of course, I draw other lessons about Fukushima. As the Onion put it recently, “Nuclear Energy Advocates Insist US Reactors Perfectly Safe Unless Something Bad Happens.”

      I read today another lesson from the online Wall Street Journal: “Tokyo Electric PowerCo.’s disaster plans greatly underestimated the scope of a potential accident at its Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, calling for only one stretcher, one satellite phone and 50 protective suits in case of emergencies…”

    9. Samppa

      Solar is not safer, but about 10 times more dangerous per produced kWh than nuclear. The main danger comes from the fact that the solar panels are usually installed on roofs and roof work is extremely dangerous.

      It’s true that the future solar panels would probably be installed some other ways especially if solar production expanded considerably, but the same can be said about nuclear. No Chernobyl (or even Fukushima) type reactors would be built in the future.

      And of course both wind, solar and nuclear death rates are tiny compared to coal.

  4. Barry Woods

    Sadly, I doubt if Greenpeace, WWF or the Green party will get beyond the first few paragraphs of this article.

    How much more can the environmentalists get wrong and how much more damage can they do. ie They want 2 million electric cars on the road by 2020. As a Nissan Leaf for example, has 4kg of lithium in it, I wonder if they have thought how environmentally friendly lithium mining/processing is to make these cars?

    And no doubt all of the above are ‘advicing’ Chris Huhne about the ‘dangers’ of nuclear power.

  5. dearieme

    An excellent review of the evidence; but what use is evidence in the face of the people you are addressing, irrationalists all?

  6. Toby Lewis

    Thank you for this excellent article offering facts and perspective.

    I have recently been hearing about the potential of Thorium reactors which use non-radioactive thorium as the source fuel and because they are fast breeder reactors produce significantly less waste products and less harmful and long lived waste products. They can even be used to dispose of nuclear weapon stockpiles safely.

    It is harder to produce weapons grade material from this sort of reactor and in the case of molten salt reactors (which is one route for thorium) that meltdown is not a risk because it is already molten. Thorium is three times more abundant than uranium and so the prospects of clean, cheap, safe and unlimited energy seems a real possibility. India and China are working to create this type of reactor.

    Perhaps more political pressure could be brought to bare on this option in this country?

  7. David Le Page

    Nuclear proliferation, not a danger?

    The long-term threat of high-level waste (up to half a million years) – not a greater danger? The fact that no country, after 50 years of trying, has a decent solution for storing high-level waste – surely, this is alarming?

    Monbiot and others are correct to argue that coal is killing far more people right now, but this is a bit like arguing that because conventional weapons kill more people than nuclear weapons, we shouldn’t be so worried about nuclear weapons. The wealthy world that has till now managed its high-level waste fairly successfully might collapse – indeed, history suggests it will – and then what happens to our high-level nuclear waste stockpiles, often just stacked up like that at Fukushima?

    What of the dangers of using nukes to feed our civilisational high-energy habit, when sustainability demands shifting to lower consumption?

    1. KeenOn350

      Not all nuclear reactors are created equal – there are old nuclear reactors, and new nuclear reactors.
      The best solution to the present problem of nuclear waste as generated by current nuclear reactors is to build new reactors – IFR/LFTR models.

      Current reactors use approximately 0.4% of the potential energy in their fuel! Newer (Gen III) models have a number of safety features incorporated which are simply not there in the Fukushima reactor – a very old model. Such a reactor would probably have fared better in the quake/tsunami disaster. Still, they generate the “waste” (spent fuel).

      IFR/LFTR models (Gen IV)- not yet in commercial use, but perfectly feasible – have been built as demonstration models – and run very successfully. These can use the spent fuel from our current reactors as fuel – and “burn” it with about 98+% efficiency. The resulting waste is much smaller in volume than present reactors, and needs storage and concern for only about 300 years – quite a gain on the current models.

      Unfortunately, because of the widespread, ill-informed objections to all nuclear power, research, development, and construction of such reactors is far behind where it should be. Just like all our other measures to combat climate change!

      As to lowering our consumption – yes, that will be necessary in the developed world. But how fast will it happen?

      We still must make the effort to improve the plight of billions of real people in less developed countries – and energy will be needed. Even with dramatic reductions for the over-rich (maybe 1 billion of the present population), we will need increasing energy supply for the betterment of the rest of the world.

      And of course, the whole population is still growing…

      ( Reference to a number of sources and videos on this comment can be found here .)

    2. Gabriele

      Unfortunatedly, as the Super Phenix experience clearly shows, these tecnologies are often quite less viable than in theory. A thing is theory, another is prototyping, another one is commercial viability. None of these technologies are usable today.

    3. seamus

      A single cherry-picked example does not clearly demonstrate anything. Superphénix was an old design, and was closed for a least partly political reasons.

      I guess since you’re glibly dismissive of the possiblity that we can build clean, safe nuclear plants you fully favor the coal plants that will of necessity be built instead.

      Energy demands are going up. Renewables alone cannot replace coal.

    4. Craig H.


      Yes there are decent solutions for waste, they are just not being pursued in the U.S. for political reasons. France and Russia are taking a better path, but we could jump beyond what they are doing using molten salt reactor technology and burn up our current waste in those reactors as fuel. Then the waste left would have 83% decay to stability in 10 years and the rest would be gone in about 300 years. Engineering for 10,000 plus years is huge design problem, engineering for a couple of centuries for a small fraction much more doable and affordable.

    5. JimHopf

      Increasing the number of nuclear power plants in the developed world is not a proliferation risk, period. Adding to the stockpile of spent fuel has no impact. Lack of quantity is not what’s stopping terrorists or rogue nations from stealing spent fuel and making a weapon out of it; it is the fact that that approach is the most diffuclt method imaginable to get a weapon. Not only is stealing the material w/o detection virtually impossible, but turning spent fuel into a weapon is extremely difficult.

      In fact, nuclear plants (anywhere) are not a significant proliferation risk. They convert raw uranium ore into something that is even less weapons useable, i.e., spent fuel. Not only is reprocessing spent fuel (to extract plutonium) more technically difficult than just enriching raw uranium ore, but the plutonium isotope distribution in spent fuel is such that it isn’t that useful for a weapon even if you could extract it. For these reasons, only fuel cycle facilities in the developing world are a risk, which is something that can be avoided.

      If you want a weapon, the simplest approach is to just dig up uranium ore and enrich it. That is what Iran is doing. Nuclear power is not necessary at all. Anyone who wants a bomb can just use that approach. Even getting rid of nuclear power (which won’t happen), let alone not building new plants, will do absolutely nothing to stop nations/groups that want a weapon from getting one. Also note that all nations have the right, under Article IV of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, to develop nuclear power. If nuclear power were useful in this regard, and a nation wanted a weapon, then they would persue nuclear power, regardless of what the rest of the world did.

      If we avoid nuclear in the name of proliferation, we will wind up with no less weapons proliferation, and we will lose out on nuclear’s benefits. Nuclear power is simply not a significant driver.

    6. JimHopf

      The statement that no “decent” solution for disposing of nuclear waste has been found is simply not true; certainly not from a technical perspective. The issue is purely political; a combination of NIMBY and nuclear opponenets’ strategy of rejecting any and all proposals for dealing with the waste, no matter how reasonable, and then repeating the mantra that no acceptable solution has been found.

      The fact is that many, if not most, waste streams from other industries and energy sources pose a far larger very-long-term risk than nuclear waste does.

      Nuclear is required to demonstrate, to a high degree of scientific proof, that its waste stream will remain contained for as long as it remain hazardous. No other industry is held to anything close to such a standard. They just carelessly shallow-bury their waste, or dump it directly into the environment. For nuclear waste, it is the requirement that is unprecedented, not the long term hazard. It’s not that other waste streams have not always involved similar long term hazards. It’s that for those other streams, we’ve simply arbitrarily decided not to care.

      Despite this unprecedented, impeccible standard, nuclear has actually met the requirements. In addition to what’s going on in Sweden and Finland, it was actually demonstrated that Yucca Mountain would meet even a million year standard, by a wide margin. The NRC was about to rule that Yucca Mountain met the requirements, before the project was stopped (and the conclusions surpressed) for purely political reasons.

      On top of all this is the virtual certainty that within a hundred years or so, we will develop the technology to process and eliminate the (long lived) waste. The waste can be safely stored (w/o leakage) until then. The net result is that nuclear waste has never hurt any one and is virtually certain not to hurt anyone at any point in the future. That is, we are virtually certain that none of it will ever be released into the environment. Few, if any other industries/waste streams can say that.

      Other waste streams are millions of times larger in volume, are in a much more dispersible and hard to contain form (i.e., liquids, gases and sludges vs. a ceramic solid sealed inside corrosion resistant metal rods for nuclear waste), have toxic elements that never decay away (unlike nuclear waste), and are buried with infinitely less care. For all these reasons, many other waste streams have ultra-long-term risks, to distant generations, that will vastly exceed any associated with nuclear waste.

    7. Simon

      One of the problems with the Fukushima accident is that people assume all nuclear reactors are the same. They are very, very different.

      Please consider that the design of the Fukushima reactors is over 40 years old. How much has the design of cars changed over that same time? Think of the cars of the 1960s versus those of today – the overall design is similar, but the features (efficiency, safety and reliability) have generally increased by a couple of orders of magnitude. Airbags, crumple-zones, inertia-reel seatbelts. Crashing a new car may still wreck the car, but the occupants are far more likely to survive unharmed.

      Unfortunately, due to the Three Mile Island and Chernobyl accidents, there was a general push away from nuclear (especially fission) reactor design theory, and as a result it has stagnated somewhat.

      We would benefit from these more advanced reactors greatly, so as to power the world while we continue to develop newer and better forms of power generation. We can also use the advanced designs to consume the vast bulk of the existing stockpiles of nuclear waste.

      Otherwise, we are going to fall back on fossil fuel generation, and there are serious questions about just how long the remaining reserves of these could power the whole world and what impact burning them all will have.

    8. Samppa

      Why this lie comes out over and over in antinuclear propaganda:”The fact that no country, after 50 years of trying, has a decent solution for storing high-level waste – surely, this is alarming?”

      Type ONKALO to Google.

      And I would be interested, why on earth anyone would be worried about something in half a million years into the future (btw, usually antinuke propaganda uses 100 000 years, but what the heck, why not multiply the number by five)? The human race is only 100 000 years old.

      And finally, regardless of our plans of building or not building new nuclear power plants, we _still_ have to take care of the spent nuclear fuel that we now have. What are your suggestions on what we do with it if you don’t accept such solutions as ONKALO?


    Good summary of the literature on radiation science.
    I’ve long been fascinated with the LNT hypothesis. My unease about its epistemological basis took me into my current field of Science and Technology Studies.

    It’s unfortunate that your call for “a rational and balanced assessment of the risks of radiation” as Fukushima is still in the hot zone, spot readings in nearby towns are excessive and it’s clear that the high levels of iodine off the coast are cause for alarm.

    For mine, and I think Adam Curtis documents this better than anyone in his brilliant A is for Atom, support for nuclear power is less a question of science these days than trust – in regulators, industrialists and fellow travellers. My concerns about nuclear power are outlined in this piece:

    1. NanM

      Your pointing to the swirl of effects that surround nuclear baseload power generation is surely to be read as a complement to this basic primer for the sievertly bewildered; neither the facts nor their consequences should be left unexamined in any society that goes down that road.
      What has heartened me so much about the publicity given to the Fukushima plant’s failure is the sheer amount of information that’s been made public, in digestible amounts and with accompanying expert commentary. This itself is a big step towards more reasoned debate in all societies.
      Thanks to Chris and Mark for squeezing the most salient radiation stuff into a highly absorbable summary…and without diagrams!

      For whether I’d trust any private corporation, or government regulatory apparatus, to deliver baseload power with acceptable societal effects: they haven’t been able to do so yet, so I really do hope that a new paradigm emerges from all this very productive discussion around the unfortunate Japanese and their battered landscape.

  9. Colin Wright

    Tom, I’m not sure why you find studies such as those of Mark Jacobson of Stanford ludicrous:
    Sure, you have your experts, I have mine. Its guess work. Realistically anyone who thinks we won’t melt away the ice caps, is an idealist. My guess work says that nuclear power will divert money away from the clean alternatives that will have a chance to scale rapidly as price comes down. (And that is with the assumption that we can overcome the fossil fuel lobbies and mindset.) Nuclear power scares the public (and me) and IMO will retard the effort to get the public on board a shift away from fossil fuels.

    Barry, I don’t think it’s fair to lump all environmentalists together. Nor should trying to save the planet be thought of anything less than admirable. Nor should it be brandished anti-scientific. Many environmentalists are skeptical we can have a planet of 6 billion electric cars. That’s why they advocate dense urban living, with electric rail for transportation.

    1. Dee Zsombor

      Jacobson and Delucchi used data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration to project that if the world’s current mix of energy sources is maintained, global energy demand at any given moment in 2030 would be 16.9 terawatts, or 16.9 million megawatts.

      They then calculated that if no combustion of fossil fuel or biomass were used to generate energy, and virtually everything was powered by electricity – either for direct use or hydrogen production – the demand would be only 11.5 terawatts. That’s only two-thirds of the energy that would be needed if fossil fuels were still in the mix.

      Is that just me or the Math is off, how can you reduce the global energy demand by only swapping energy sources all other things being equal?

      If the world built just enough wind and solar installations to meet the projected demand for the scenario outlined in the article, an area smaller than the borough of Manhattan would be sufficient for the wind turbines themselves. Allowing for the required amount of space between the turbines boosts the needed acreage up to 1 percent of Earth’s land area, but the spaces between could be used for crops or grazing.

      No high tonnage roads at all for maintenance, extra powerlines, simplistic placement geometry of one per acre. But never mind let just focus on the 1% land area because it seems so damn achievable. Well one 1% land area is roughly equal to 64% of Texas and it would mean 107,399,650 wind turbines, roughly one for every 74th inhabitant of the planet. I’ve done this calculation assuming 1.2 MW turbines, with one placed per acre on the 1% of the land area of the planet. Assuming an average of 40t weight per windmill (current industry estimate) this would mean 8592 Burj Khalifa’s (Dubai) by weight. Just one of this building had stressed the world’s steel market.

      I’m not sure if they accounted for the future changes in the status of today’s true climate heroes the poor in the non industrialized world. But lets assume they did, can you really claim that such massive investment into metal mining, rare earth mining, steel production, forging, transporting, powerline building etc, to create 1 large turbine for every 74th person alive befits the true meaning of the word “Green”?

      This is the problem with renewables, they are not about energy production but rather energy mining. Nuclear is a million times denser energy source. It is insane to rule out this gift of nature!

    2. Colin Wright

      Dee, thanks for looking at Jacobson’s piece. I think the reduced energy demand he calculates comes from the efficiencies gained in transforming from petrol to electric cars. But your maths seems about right. Jacobson has a mix of energies :
      “Wind supplies 51 percent of the demand, provided
      by 3.8 million large wind turbines (each
      rated at five megawatts) worldwide. Although
      that quantity may sound enormous , it is interesting
      to note that the world manufactures 73 million
      cars and light trucks every year. Another
      40 percent of the power comes from photovoltaics
      and concentrated solar plants, with about
      30 percent of the photovoltaic output from rooftop
      panels on homes and commercial buildings.
      About 89,000 photovoltaic and concentrated
      solar power plants, averaging 300 megawatts
      apiece, would be needed.” (Scientific America, Nov 2009)

      I agree it’s no easy feat. It would require a government-initiated WW2-type mobilization. But it’s a concrete plan that would solve our energy problems if we could muster the political will.

    3. commentorr

      “I agree it’s no easy feat.”

      The term you are looking for is ‘an impossibility’. It simply will not happen. To aim for it is to, in effect, stick with fossil fuels.

    4. Jonathan Maddox

      That investment seems perfectly achievable and eminently justifiable to me, but it won’t actually be necessary. Tall-tower wind turbines are the cheapest form of renewable electric generation today, but less materials- and land-intensive ambient energy collection will be less expensive within the decade. Start with airborne wind energy and free-flow marine current turbines, and proceed to < $1/watt solar panels.

      Fossil fuels are exploited today primarily in heat engines with thermal efficiency (converting heat to mechanical energy) ranging from 20% to 50%. With ambient electric energy collection such as hydro or wind power, there is no need to account for "waste heat". Typically the waste heat from nuclear power generation is also discounted in the same manner — it's rare for the *heat* from nuclear reactors to be counted towards an economy's "primary energy" consumption.

      In addition, almost half of all fossil fuel consumption is of liquid fuels in vehicles which discard most of the mechanical energy delivered by their engines (which are at best 35% thermally efficient and average far less due to idling etc.). Electric vehicle transmissions with regenerative braking waste a fraction of the input energy that conventional transmissions do.

      That is why a proposed ambient energy economy is supposed to be able to run on less total "primary energy" collected than a BAU fossil-fueled economy.

    5. Rod Adams

      @Colin – have you even started to imagine what a world with Jacobson’s proposed energy system would look like? Have you ever stood directly under a large wind turbine and thought about having millions of those devices spread out in all of the best wind areas – coasts, mountain tops and open plains? Have you stood under high voltage power lines and imagined a country where the number of those already ugly and expansive systems have to be doubled or tripled into areas where they are mercifully non-existent.

      Jacobson is a professor alright, but his academic degree is in civil engineering and his professional experience has been in academia, not in the real world of producing and distributing power.

      No matter what kind of engineering talent you apply to the problem, you will NEVER make a solar panel supply electricity at night and you will NEVER make a wind turbine produce power when the wind is not blowing. If you happen to pay much attention to the weather, you know that night happens with great regularity and you will note that there are often continent sized weather pattern that make the wind either blow or not over vast stretches of land.

      Dense urban living is fine for some – as long as there are people who are out in the open spaces growing food and transporting it to the dense urban areas and as long as there are people out in the open spaces making the stuff that allows humans to live in relative comfort in relatively small spaces.

      If you do not like fossil fuels, you should love nuclear energy – it is the only alternative that has ever successfully taken market share away from coal, oil and natural gas and reduced the profitability of their suppliers. If we can drive down the price of energy by making more nuclear fission power available – following the law of supply and demand – we can begin to protect areas where it is unprofitable to extract fossil fuels. Those tend to be the remote areas and off shore areas that true environmentalists really want to protect and preserve.

      I not only want to protect those areas from fossil fuel extraction impacts, but also from wind turbines and solar farms.

      Rod Adams
      Publisher, Atomic Insights

    6. Jonathan Maddox

      Well no.

      Nuclear power only ever took market share from fossil fuels with a massive subsidy. Wind power is doing the same today.

      Hydroelectric power never needed the subsidy and neither will cheaper forms of renewable energy (such as airborne wind power) coming into purview in the next few years.

    7. Laura

      “I not only want to protect those areas from fossil fuel extraction impacts, but also from wind turbines and solar farms.”
      Rod Adams,
      I agree – I keep on telling people that solar farms would cover a lot of land. A lot of renewables are diffuse energy and they have a big environmental impact for that reason.
      One thing that could possibly get around this objection is the solar roads idea – roads made out of solar panels! Apparently it is feasible to embed solar panels into glass that has a texture that is suitable for a road. See Of course this idea is currently very expensive, but they say on the solar roadways site that the cost of the panels can be recouped in 20 years.
      Another thought I’ve had is that a huge amount of land is taken up by cattle grazing. Our beef hunger severely stresses land and water resources, and cattle raising causes a lot of global warming. There have been various studies done on the contribution of diet to global warming, and beef is very bad. Dairy is actually worse than chicken for global warming, so the message is not “meat is bad”.
      So, I’ve thought that if people can be persuaded away from beef, say by including the global warming contribution in the price of food, it would free up a HUGE amount of land. Some of it could be turned into solar farms.
      I’m not saying this as an anti-nuclear person – I’m not anti-nuclear. But rather to point out some things about our land use and how it could change.

  10. N

    Pretty awesome post. One thing I have always wondered about the discussion about radiation impact figures is why the negative effects aren’t considered in terms of ‘person-years’. Obviously, any people exposed to extraordinary levels of radiation do not die of cancer, and many who are not given high doses do suffer cancer. The only effect of radiation dose is to slide probabilities one way or the other.

    To me, it would seem that the life shortening effect of radiation does would be better expressed in the number of years knocked off the life of those affected. Why is this not used? Is it simply a case of it being difficult to calculate with any kind of useful uncertainties?

  11. Heike Schroeder

    Thanks for this well-researched article. Despite a lot of evidence, I couldn’t but notice the omission of a few important pieces of information though, and I’d like to hear your response.

    As already pointed out in another response, not differentiating types of radiation gives a distorted picture.

    I know very little about the Fukuryu Maru fishing boat incident, but I have come across reports on incidents of stillborn babies of these fishermen and the genetic defects in offsprings, which I think is worth a mention alongside your summary sentence: “Once again, the main implication of the Fukuryu Maru event is that even huge doses of intense radioactivity can cause surprisingly few fatalities.”

    On cancer rates – “even at this very high dose, the number of people dying from solid cancers was 18% of all bomb survivors, to which should be added the 3% of people dying from leukaemia. Compare this, for example, to the UK, where about a quarter of all today’s deaths are from cancer, presumably because of other factors” – Here I’d be interested in the right baseline – not in the UK cancer rate but cancer rates in other Japanese cities.

  12. Rick Maltese

    Great post. More like these needed.
    Just wondering:
    “The tiny amount inside us produces 4,000 decays of individual nuclei every second. This internal nuclear fission of potassium atoms and from a radioactive natural isotope of carbon is responsible for about 10% of the annual dose received by someone in the UK.”

    Are you sure that’s not “every minute” One banana is around 800 counts per minute.

  13. Eric Eisenhandler

    This article seems to be based on a series of biased selections of facts. Let me take just one example that I am intimately familiar with through experience to illustrate how the argument sounds plausible but doesn’t always tell you everything you really need to know. Radiotherapy indeed delivers what at first sounds like many times a lethal dose – in my case it was actually 58,000 mSV, much more than the number given in the article – a dose many times more than lethal if delivered to the whole body. But in addition to allowing time for recovery by spacing the doses out over 33 days, the dose was delivered to just a very small part of my body by a carefully directed gamma-ray beam. Since the damage done by radiation depends on the total energy deposited, the dose delivered should really be reduced by the very small percentage of my body that was irradiated. That is hinted at in the discussion but no numbers are given.
    This unfortunately reminds me of a discussion I had with Mark Lynas after a (mostly very good) talk that he gave, in which he appeared to agree that his discussion of the long-term dangers of nuclear waste had erred a bit on the side of optimism.
    I would also point out that they acknowledge help from Prof. Wade Alllison, whose views on the effects of radiation (which may or may not be correct) are not widely accepted and whose book on the subject had to be privately published.

  14. Gabriele

    About 3.000 died in china, last year, mining coal.
    Since the ratio nuclear/coal for china is about 2%, and since mining is mining in both cases, I bet that about 60 died in china, last year, mining uranium.
    Symply, 60 don’t make the news.

    1. Rod Adams

      @Gabriele – the factor that you are missing is the incredible energy density of uranium. The total world consumption of uranium is just 70,000 tons per year and that supplies 440 nuclear power plants producing the annual energy equivalent of burning 12 million barrels of oil per day.

      There are many orders of magnitude difference between the amount of material mined to produce a certain amount of power using coal and the amount of material mined to produce exactly the same amount of power using coal.

      Rod Adams

    2. Robert Savage

      I can’t find the article where I read this, it’s somewhere in the midst of – so I suppose it seems as unfashionably unfounded as your figure grabbing; but the figure is approx 32000 deaths in the coal power line versus 43 deaths in the nuclear power line since it’s inception. This includes the wake of Chernobyl.
      Even with the difference in scale between the two, this is proportionately a significantly lower statistic.

    3. iya

      Mining is not mining. Apart from the scale differences, there are practically no deaths in uranium mining because there are no explosions.

  15. Brian Wang

    there was an incident (published in a peer reviewed journal) of radioactive rebar (steel) being used in a building in Taiwan. Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons. Volume 9 Number 1 Spring 2004. Is Chronic Radiation an Effective Prophylaxis
    Against Cancer?

    An extraordinary incident occurred 20 years ago in Taiwan. Recycled steel, accidentally contaminated with cobalt-60 (half-life: 5.3 y), was formed into construction steel for more than 180 buildings, which 10,000 persons occupied for 9 to 20 years. They unknowingly received radiation doses that averaged 0.4 Sv and a collective dose of 4,000 person-Sv.

    Based on the observed seven cancer deaths, the cancer mortality rate for this population was assessed to be 3.5 per 100,000 person-years. Three children were born with congenital heart malformations, indicating a prevalence rate of 1.5 cases per
    1,000 children under age 19.

    The average spontaneous cancer death rate in the general population of Taiwan over these 20 years is 116 persons per 100,000 person-years. Based upon partial official statistics and hospital experience, the prevalence rate of congenital malformation is 23 cases per 1,000 children. Assuming the age and income distributions of these persons are the same as for the general population, it appears that significant beneficial health effects may be associated with this chronic radiation exposure.

    The findings of this study are such a departure from expectations, based on International Commission on Radiological Protection (ICRP) criteria, that we believe that they ought to be carefully reviewed by other, independent organizations and that
    population data not available to the authors be provided, so that a fully qualified, epidemiologically valid analysis can be made. Many of the confounding factors that limit other studies used to date, such as those of the A-bomb survivors, the Mayak workers, and the Chernobyl evacuees, are not present in this population exposure. It should be one of the most important events on which to base radiation-protection standards.

    The data on reduced cancer mortality and congenital malformations are compatible with the phenomenon of radiation hormesis, an adaptive response of biological organisms to low levels of radiation stress or damage a modest overcompensation to a disruption resulting in improved fitness. Recent assessments of more than a century of data have led to the formulation of a well founded scientific model of this phenomenon.

    The experience of these 10,000 persons suggests that longterm exposure to radiation, at a dose rate of the order of 50 mSv (5 rem) per year, greatly reduces cancer mortality, which is a major cause of death in North America. Medical scientists and organizations may wish to seriously assess this and other current evidence in deciding whether chronic radiation could be an effective agent for enhancing defenses against cancer.

    1. Gabriele

      Our bodies can adapt in wonderful ways and thing like radiation hormesis can possibly exist. Nevertheless you surely cannot generalize it from the Taiwan case: Cobalt 60 was inside the steel, not in the environment. It emits Beta-rays and Gamma-rays, easily absorbed by the surrounding materials and the human skin. It was distribute in a quite homogeneous way.
      Completely a different matter are Iodine, Caesium and the like, that are ingested and that accumulate in specific parts of the body, thus emitting Beta-rays a direct contact with internal organs, without any shielding and in a quite focused way.
      Again and again, medicine, nuclear physic, and ecology are complex matters: It is very bad science to over extrapolate from suggestive cases without considering the differences.

    2. … Gamma-rays, easily absorbed by the surrounding materials and the human skin

      No. Cobalt-60 is made specifically because of the large fraction of its energy output that is gamma rays, and these are highly penetrating, so much so that they can be used to make radiographs of thick metal structures. I think there is one such of the Liberty Bell in a back issue of National Geographic.

      Thicker parts of the bell appear darker because the gamma rays are not completely penetrating. They deposit energy through-and-through, and that is how, when they harm people, the harm is done: all through.

      It is true that beta rays of lowish energy can inflict superficial, sunburn-like injury, and this is what, for a time, was thought — due to careless reporting — to have happened to two Fukushima workers.

    3. Ed_b

      “Assuming the age and income distributions of these persons are the same as for the general population, it appears that significant beneficial health effects may be associated with this chronic radiation exposure”

      I read a paper that adjusted for age and its conclusions show an increased risk, although they do not quantify it in a way to give me any clue as to how significant ‘significant’ is:

      “the biggest problem with the Taiwan study was that its findings were confounded by age differences. When the first analyses were conducted, the researchers did not have data on the ages of apartment residents. Thus, in describing their statistics, they explicitly noted that their conclusions are contingent on “assuming the exposed population has the same age distribution as the population of Taiwan”, an assumption they identify as “a critical factor.” However, subsequent studies of this case have shown that, in fact, the age demographic of apartment residents was much lower than that of the general Taiwanese population. On its own this would be expected to result in lower cancer rates. Accordingly, a more complete revised analysis was subsequently published in the International Journal of Radiation Biology. When age differences between apartment residents and the general Taiwanese population were finally controlled for, the data showed a significant dose-response effect whereby radiation exposure was associated with increased rates of cancer morbidity(disease, not death) among apartment residents compared to in the general population”

      Over the age of 30, the residents did not show higher morbidity rates.

      from paper:

      Cancer risks in a population with prolonged low dose-rate γ-radiation exposure in radiocontaminated buildings, 1983 – 2002
      2006, Vol. 82, No. 12 , Pages 849-858 (doi:10.1080/09553000601085980)

  16. Gabriele

    Our body parts and organs have a different sensibility to radiation. From the fact that we are resilient to Potassium decay you cannot conclude that our body can tolerate Cesium, Iodine, Plutonim, ecc… Never noticed radiotherapy and radiology use different isotopes for different organs?

    Nuclear plants, when functioning smoothly and properly operated, surely are a negligible source of radiation. Also nuclear waste, if properly packaged and stored, is quite safe. Unfortunately, they seem to get out of hand very quickly and become very nasty with a surprising high probability.
    If Coal plants where to have major accidents with the same frequency of nuclear ones, we would have a Coal plant blowing up every month. The same for gas and oil.

    The data you mention prove that you have an increased probably of dying because of cancer starting form 100 mSv. Not surprisingly, the more radiation you take, the worst you are off. Moreover, you can survive cancers and other radiation related problems, but often you will have a very poor quality of life. Should you consider the radiation induced increase in the probability of get a cancer or other illness, instead of tot-court dying for it, you will have some bad surprise.

    Radiations – as Radiotherapy – can be very good for someone having a cancer, still are very bad for someone not having it. Try substitute Radiotherapy with Chemotherapy in the previous sentence and the difference become evident.

    Several Chernobyl workers died or get ill, despite having taken less radiations than Rowland deemed safe.

    Maybe the no threshold model is incorrect, surely it is an approximation. However: data about radon support the model, data about proximity to nuclear plants support the model, data about Iran are quite inconclusive (I mean, did you really use Iran as a source in medicine?), data about workers with very low level of exposure are compatible with the model. This doesn’t mean the model is correct, but surely you haven’t disproved it. Your alternative explanation is clearly bogus: if population mixing where to cause leukaemia, children in the south of Europe are clearly condemned because of migration.

    In Fukushima there are several kinds of radiations sources: Alpha, Beta e Gamma rays propagate with the law you purport, particles are quite a different matter. Particles are transported by air and water, currents can distribute particle clouds in very inhomogeneous ways. You can have a very high concentration, very far from the plant in one direction, and a very low one in another direction.
    You can discover something very interesting, albeit quite unpleasing, reading detailed reports about the situation around Fukushima from the same AIEA, TEPCO and similar sources.

    Do you really mean displacement and radiation fear kill/hamper more than radiations? (Quite like strangers causing leukaemia!) Look, the stupid Russians, in Chernobyl they simply where to keep everything quiet, tell nobody and everything would have been fine!

  17. Theo

    It can only be in the event of a serious accident that we have any reason to be really concerned about nuclear power.

    If we only look at the dangers of radiation following an accident at a nuclear power plant, then yes. But while this is what the mainstream media considers to be the only problem with nuclear power, but very few who are actively against it are so because of these issues. We are against it because of the still not solved problem of final storage of nuclear waste. A tragic catastrophe like Chernobyl or Fukushima affects us here and now, but the nuclear waste still being produced at all the other plants will haunt this planet for hundreds of thousands of years.

    The waste is the problem with nuclear power, not the dangers of malfunction. I wholeheartedly agree with you that the nuclear power is no different from coal or other fossil power when it comes to human lives here and now, but please, at least mention the problem of waste disposal.

    1. seamus

      The answer to the spent fuel problem is fast reactors. Google it. (Hint: the fuel is not really “spent” at all.)

    2. It’s a good answer, but not the only one. Deep burial of unreprocessed spent fuel guarantees that it is less likely to harm anyone at the surface than natural radioactivity buried at lesser depths, and greater in quantity.

      The illustration I like is that the Titanic‘s saltshakers do not have to be perfect to protect the oceans from being made undrinkable by their salt. Similarly, neither does deep burial of spent nuclear fuel have to be perfect.

  18. Pingback: Can’t build a nuclear plant in Cornwall, oh no….

  19. Neil Craig

    On the issue of radon in homes Professor Bernard Cohen conducted a US wideranging study and concluded that it had a hormetic effect roughly equal to half the damaging efffect of smoking, but in a beneficial direction. I don’t know the study you refer to but if it depedns on both smoking and radon to get their results this looks like a data dredge basing a finding on a very small number, thus statistically flawed.

    Cohen’s paper
    Here is a series of links on evidence for hormesis

  20. KvB

    “We are against it because of the still not solved problem of final storage of nuclear waste.”

    What to do with nuclear waste is a problem that has been solved. But because acknowledging this is problematic from an anti nuclear point of view the anti nukes like to pretend that it has not been solved, or that the proposed solution is unacceptable.
    It’s by setting improbably high standards that the fiction that this is an unsolvable problem is maintained. If reasonable risk standards are accepted than the problem is just one of proper application technology.
    Firstly we reduce the amount of waste, by reprocessing. The greens fight reprocessing tooth and nail. As if it just can’t be allowed that the size of the problem is reduced.
    Then the remainder of the waste can be buried in a way that the risk for future generations is of the same order than that of the natural uranium where it originally came from. That way we are not imposing any additional risk on future generations that would not have existed had we chosen not to use nuclear energy.
    No industry actually takes such good care of it’s waste as the nuclear industry. There are tons of “unsolved” dangerous waste problems in the world. The nuclear waste problem is not one of them.

  21. BlueRock

    You claim that 47 people have died as a result of Chernobyl.

    * WHO also estimates there may be up to 9,000 excess cancer deaths due to Chernobyl among the people who worked on the clean-up operations, evacuees and residents of the highly and lower-contaminated regions in Belarus, the Russian Federation and Ukraine.

    * Estimates of the number of people who will die as a result have ranged from 9,000 to 93,000 deaths. “Explaining why the 4,000 figure was given prominence in the report, Melissa Fleming, a press officer for the International Atomic Energy Agency told Nature that it was to counter the much higher estimates which had previously been seen.”

    * International Agency for Research on Cancer: “…about 16,000 cases of thyroid cancer and 25,000 cases of other cancers may be expected due to radiation from the accident and that about 16,000 deaths from these cancers may occur.”

    * “…an assessment by the Russian academy of sciences says there have been 60,000 deaths so far in Russia and an estimated 140,000 in Ukraine and Belarus.”

    * “…the worldwide collective dose of 600,000 person sieverts will result in 30,000 to 60,000 excess cancer deaths.”

    So, 9000 is the *lower* bound of credible estimates for deaths resulting from Chernobyl. 200,000 deaths is the upper limit. You claim 47.

    To pre-empt the predictable response that you are simply reporting confirmed deaths: why? Why would you ignore the true impact of Chernobyl as reported by every credible source which measures deaths in the thousands?

    > Fourteen healthy children were borne to ARS survivors in the first five years after the accident.

    Your claim bears no relation to reality:

    * Very high mutation rate in offspring of Chernobyl accident liquidators. “These results indicate that low doses of radiation can induce multiple changes in human germline DNA.”

    > There is no evidence of genetic damage passed to future generations.

    No evidence is needed to expose how ridiculous this claim is. How could we possibly know what effects there will be on *future* generations?! Although we do know that there has been a dramatic increase in birth deformities.

    > The mood towards the nuclear industry is antagonistic and suspicious around the world. We think this reaction is short-sighted and largely irrational.

    As the evidence shows, “the world” is entirely justified in its antagonism and absolutely right to be suspicious of an industry shrouded in secrecy that has clearly lied about the risks of nuclear energy. Your reaction is one of denial and dishonesty.

    Your article makes no mention of the increased rate of suicide amongst those affected. No mention of the birth deformities. No mention of the mental health problems created. No mention of the suffering of the hundreds of thousands who were forced from their homes forever. No mention of the massive economic costs incurred that impacted people as far off as Scotland and Wales with restrictions on livestock due to contamination – some of which are still in place today.

    Your claims do not match reality. Your claims ignore the suffering endured by millions of people through health, social and economic factors. I see no explanation other than this being a wilful attempt to grossly and dishonestly downplay the effects of Chernobyl – and therefore the possible effects of Fukushima in order to push a pro-nuclear agenda which is further built on a false assertion that nuclear is the best – the only! – solution to mitigate climate change.

    This is a shameful article. It reads like a damage limitation exercise from the nuclear marketing department. It is not journalism, it is propaganda. Shame on you.

    1. David Penn

      Thanks, BlueRock, for your efforts. You make many good points, only a few of which were lurking in the back of my mind while reading the article. The distortions serve only to make us more suspicious, doubting and untrusting of other contributions, when we desperately need articles we know we can trust.

    2. BlueRock

      Thanks, David. I just want to know the truth about nuclear – and 47 dead from Chernobyl is very clearly not the truth.

      I’m completely bewildered by Monbiot / Lynas / Goodall pushing this lie. They know that asserting that only 47 people died as a result of Chernobyl is an obscene misrepresentation of the truth.

      P.S. For those watching Monbiot’s increasingly desperate screeds to justify his new-found love of nukes, here’s what George thought just a few years ago:

      Thanks, But We Still Don’t Need It – “To start building a new generation of nuclear power stations before we know what to do with the waste produced by existing plants is grotesquely irresponsible. … If, as a result of slow leakage into the groundwater, radioactive materials from a burial site kill an average of only one person a year for one million years, those who made the decision to bury them will – through their infinitesimal and unrecorded impacts – be responsible for the deaths of a million people.”

      Monbiot / Lynas / Goodall are now cheerleaders for killing a million people – according to Monbiot.

      Hypocrisy is not a strong enough word.

      P.P.S. Grudging admiration and thanks to Lynas and Goodall for allowing my comment to be published. Now, how about a response?

    3. Robert Savage

      I feel that you do raise some valid points in mentioning external (economic, social etc.), which were definitely, and not accidentally, excluded. However, I feel it to be irresponsible to attribute every cancer death in the area surrounding Chernobyl to the nuclear disaster. Though the figures are, in many reports, disproportionately high; you still get extremely high rates of cancer death and suicide in Britain, Australia, USA etc. where there have not been nuclear disasters and the rate is still close to 25%.

    4. BlueRock

      > …I feel it to be irresponsible to attribute every cancer death in the area surrounding Chernobyl to the nuclear disaster.

      That is not what the other studies are doing.

      However, Lynas/ Goodall / Monbiot *are* excluding every death, cancer and type of suffering that has not been identified by the IAEA (nuke propaganda department) as 100% definitely tied to Chernobyl.

      This is not a “difference of opinion”. It is deliberate and grossly dishonest misrepresentation.

      > …you still get extremely high rates of cancer death and suicide…

      So? That doesn’t alter the fact that Chernobyl caused many thousands more. Hiding Chernobyl results in unrelated statistics is a vile tactic.

    5. iya

      The response is to put things into perspective.
      The impact of radiation from Fukushima is miniscule compared to the immediate effects of the tsunami.
      The point of the whole article is that radiation is wrongly identified as some kind of ultimate evil. There is lots of waste which will stay toxic indefinitely because it is not radioactive.

    6. BlueRock

      > The impact of radiation from Fukushima is miniscule compared to the immediate effects of the tsunami.

      How would you know? It’s nowhere near finished yet.

      And dismissing the suffering and cost from nuclear fallout because there is greater suffering from some other cause is a vile tactic.

    7. Neil Craig

      It is proper only to include real known deaths. Using deaths predicted from a theory as “proof” that the theory is right is, to put it most politely, circular logic. eg burning witches must be right because thousnads of people have died in magical attacks – as proven because the witch burners say so.

      The increased suicide rate & I would add abortion rate is not evidence of the nuclear power doing harm but of anti-nuclearist scare stories doing harm. The UN report did indeed conclude that, by orders of magnitude, the greatest killer was depression related effects. So in the worst nuclear accident ever far and away the greatest harm was actually caused by anti-nuclear scaremongering. I have yet to see any Luddite apologise for that.

    8. BlueRock

      ^ This comment is a perfect example of the hysterical, ranting denial of the Nuke Fan Club.

      I provide numerous credible cites that conclusively show deaths from Chernobyl are in the thousands – and the ‘rebuttal’ is gibbering nonsense.

      Ah, I see. The author is struggling with reality in general:

    9. Leo

      It appears that you have very quickly run out of steam in your argument, since your response addresses not a single one of the points raised by Neil. Dismissing the entire post as an hysterical rant places your response in the same category.

      Your citations are not conclusive and the words referring to them echo this: “…may be up to 9,000 excess cancer deaths…”; “Estimates of the number of people who will die…”; “…cases of other cancers may be expected…”; “… deaths from these cancers may occur…”;

      To finish off, you resort to an ad hominem dismissal.

      If you have a rational response, please enlighten us.

    10. Zwitterion2

      Your understanding of the methodology used to predict 10k to 70k deaths is flawed.

      There are two different factors used when predicting radiation related injury. Precautionary and proven. Precautionary methods (based on the LNT) are used when calculating protection from radiation, proven effects are the effects which we can scientifically verify.

      Since we have no hard science which proves one way or another whether minute doses create a linear, proportional effect compared to large sub sievert doses, we use a conservative approach and say that the upper limit of damage possible from radiation is to be used in designing radiation protection.

      However most observations around the world in large populations demonstrate that low dose rate exposures are sub linear at worst in their biological effects. In laymans terms, cancer rates in parts of the world which have higher background radiation are no higher than those with lower background radiation. Cancer rates for example in Cornwall with about 8mSv/a should be 2% higher than in Hampshire with 2mSv/a, but no difference is found. This lack of effect is replicated worldwide.

      Without a mechanism to understand the different effects of low dose rate radiation compared to high dose rates, and with the effects being too small to prove via experimentation that low dose rates carry, the scientific and medical community has decided in their wisdom to stick to the LNT for radiation protection. That does not mean however that it is scientifically valid to use the LNT to create a prediction of the human consequences of chernobyl. All it means is that its possible that up to 70k premature deaths *might* result. An equally valid number to quote is that 0 low dose premature deaths might result. Only when quoted together are either number scientifically valid.

      As a parting point, you might be interested to hear that finally we might be on the cusp of settling the matter once and for all. You are doubtless aware of the conflicting studies into the topic low dose radiation in humans and the conflicting results from differing studies. You might or might not be aware that there are many studies which have shown statistically significant evidence of non linearity but that without a mechanism to understand these, it will forever be difficult to prove the matter either way. This study seems to have finally solved the mystery, although both you and I are aware that one study does not a LNT theory bust. However, if these results are repeated and refined, and the results hold up, this is the end of the LNT and the confirmation of a threshold or linear-quadratic model.

      “Our data show that at lower doses of ionizing radiation, DNA repair mechanisms work much better than at higher doses,” says Mina Bissell, a world-renowned breast cancer researcher with Berkeley Lab’s Life Sciences Division. “This non-linear DNA damage response casts doubt on the general assumption that any amount of ionizing radiation is harmful and additive.”

      The king is dead, long live the king.


    11. Chris

      Blue Rock, you make some good points and back them up with credible sources. I would like to hear what the author’s have to say.

      But I think we need to take a step back here, because no matter what the ultimate costs were related to Chernobyl – deaths, cancers, economic cost, etc – it does not follow that this is reason to abandon nuclear energy. Firstly, everyone knew that the reactor at Chernobyl was poorly designed and poorly managed by the former soviet bloc. It didn’t even have a containment dome! Another reactor like that will never be built again.

      This is not reason to dismiss the horrific effects that resulted from Chernobyl – they are very real and have caused a lot of misery.

      Just as dam collapses, resulting in hundreds of thousands of dead does not cause us to abandon a technology, neither should Chernobyl or Fukushima. The problems with the former are well understood and have been well documented. As a result, nuclear facilities around the world are now safer. The same thing will happen with Fukushima – what went wrong with be well documented and engineers will incorporate this learning into the design of new plants.

      Fukushima was outdated and the Japanese government should be condemned for letting such an old plant continue to operate well after it should have been shut down. But what will likely replace it – and what will replace many of the world’s aging reactors – are generation III and generation IV designs that incorporate passive safety features. Fukushima was designed to withstand an 8.0 quake. It took a 9.0 quake and retained it’s structurally integrity. It was only the tsunami that disabled the backup cooling generators. And thus this entire ordeal could have been avoided if Japan had updated its reactors to approved generation III plants years ago – the passive cooling would have prevented the entire chain of events.

      So BlueRock, I understand your suspicion. Especially when one study says 4,000 people will die as a result of Chernobyl and another says 200,000, and there are studies proclaiming a wide range of values in between. It’s hard to know what’s true.

      On a side note, one thing that has not made the news out of Japan: massive explosions at the Cosmo Oil refinery in Chiba burned for 10 days. I’m not sure if any workers died in this event, but I think it’s illustrative that events like this, and everything else happening in Japan, is overshadowed by the ongoing challenges at Fukushima.

    12. BlueRock

      > …no matter what the ultimate costs were related to Chernobyl – deaths, cancers, economic cost, etc – it does not follow that this is reason to abandon nuclear energy.

      Easy to say when you’re not in your grave as a result, or wrecked by cancer, parents of a deformed child or forced to leave your home forever.

      How bad are you prepared for it to get before you decide we shouldn’t build new nukes? It’s even more obscene if you realise that nuclear is not needed and is the most expensive, slowest means of mitigating climate change.

  22. seamus

    The problem of nuclear “waste” can be solved by using fast reactors (Gen IV) to burn up nearly all the fissile material. Since Gen IV reactors aren’t being built yet, we can build Gen III plants and have a plan for using up the spent fuel, and leave behind a lot less high-level radioactive waste.

    Rewewables alone will not and cannot add up to solve the energy (climate) problem. And nuclear energy is a great point of compromise with the right wing! Even though they are “skeptical” of the dangers of climate change, they seem to like nuclear energy.

    Stalling progess on nuclear technology would be very bad for the habitability of our planet.

  23. Gregory Meyerson

    The LNT (no safe dose) view assigns in one version of
    it .04 statistical deaths per sievert of radiation. Such a statistic
    does not discern any hormetic effects accompanying low dose
    radiation (DNA repair mechanisms) despite massive scientific evidence
    of its existence and it does not distinguish between a high dose to
    one person and a tiny dose to many that would add up to the high
    dose. so it does not distinguish between one person getting a dose
    of 1 million millirem from one million people getting a dose of one

    Now: the difference between global average background radiation and U.S.
    average (620 mrem due to nuclear medicine and testing) is about 260 mrem. The
    way no safe dose works is that you can calculate the statistical
    deaths of this excess 260 mrems (which most people think saves many
    lives) by multiplying 300 million (pop. of U.S.) by .0026 (in
    Sieverts. One sievert equals 100,000 mrem).

    If you do the calculation, you get 780,000 Sieverts, which you then multiply by .04 to get 31,200 excess deaths annually.

    Those who doubt no safe dose thus tend to think that people employing
    it are crying wolf. Even as both sides agree that beyond a certain
    threshold, there is a correlation between increasing dose (dose rate
    obviously matters a lot) and increased cancer incidence.

    To complicate matters, the reality of the rhetorical situation is
    that on average, liberals and leftists oppose nuclear power and
    assume no safe dose. Among right wingers who know a little about
    this stuff, they are attracted to nuclear power, despite often being climate denialists, because they’re technocrats/because liberals hate it–very mature behavior etc. and they are attracted (often without exercising due care) to the theory of radiation
    hormesis for similar reasons.

    So, on the one side, if you are anti nuclear, you can generate what one author (a libertarian) on hormesis called theoretical corpses.
    Think about the statistical deaths that can be produced by taking the difference between high and low radiation areas and multiplying by respective populations (to get deaths per 100,000 people for example per unit of time). Just take the difference
    between denver and new orleans (5-600 mrem), multiply by your .04, multiply by 50 years and see lots of statistical deaths, deaths THAT IN REALITY NEVER APPEAR as Denver’s cancer incidence is significantly lower than New Orleans, in contradiction to LNT.

    On the other side, you have people like Ann Coulter, who defends the
    idea of radiation hormesis in order to accuse the liberals of
    paranoia and exaggeration–with the purpose of whitewashing general
    corporate criminality.

    Anyhow, I think LNT is wrong, however convenient it may be as a
    standard (the alternative would involve huge amounts of government
    research to determine with some precision the hormetic zone in terms
    of dose rates for different cancers: very complicated and open to
    dispute). So I don’t buy the excess deaths per year generated by the LNT coefficient. I don’t think it’s at all analogous to the 440,000 deaths per year from smoking in the U.S. Or the several million we can lay at the door of fossil fuels (not including deaths from global warming, which pro integral fast reactor people could gin up in monumental numbers to lay at the doorstep of renewables proponents, however unethical this might be).

    Blue Dog, three years ago I was the usual leftist anti nuclear person. I’d read just enough books to have this view reinforced. The more I learned, the more I changed my mind. And if nuclear is not part of the answer, powerdown here we come, which I hope will not be another word for Die Off.

    Your post where you try to shame environmentalists like Lynas and Goodall is typical of anti nuclear rhetoric. You act like you’re actually a superior human being to them because you have a disagreement on LNT. Is it possible for you to avoid questioning people’s basic decency and integrity due to a complex disagreement? You treat them like they’re the worst of corporate criminals.

    You come across as really self righteous. I think.

  24. Cyril R

    Looking at maps of thermal and nuclear powerplant locations, it appears nuclear plants are often sited in industrial and power plant areas. In other words there would be high chemical and particulate emissions from fossil fuels and production chemicals in those regions. This may, in some cases of those ‘clusters’ mentioned in the article, explain higher cancer incidence, as coal has both higher ionising radiation emissions (uranium and thorium in coal) and much higher particulate emissions (nuclear is almost zero even when construction is considered in the lifecycle).

  25. Gregory Meyerson

    “Easy to say when you’re not in your grave as a result, or wrecked by cancer, parents of a deformed child or forced to leave your home forever.”

    Blue Rock: give me a break.

    Someone can just as easily and thoughtlessly throw this rhetoric back on you–that since you reject all nuclear, you are responsible for 2 million coal deaths per year and millions more as a result of tipping points being reached from the inability of renewable builds to mitigate warming (see ted trainer if you want the critique of renewables from an anti nuclear perspective). Plus, we can heap on you millions of more deaths from shortages of electricity.

    The above is largely an unethical argument, but it maps the form of your own.

    You don’t care MORE about human life than those defending gen three and four nuclear as the only real world way to stop climate change. It’s really important to focus on evidence and not treat the argument context like a damn melodrama of good and evil. There is a place for this melodrama in my opinion. It’s called “class struggle.” Lynas is not the enemy.

    The defenders of nuclear might be wrong. If we are, I’d be glad to admit it, but if you bait and shame people, it will actually make it harder for people to change their mind.

  26. Gregory Meyerson


    11-12 workers died from the refinery explosion.

    too lazy to provide a source so you’ll have to do that yourself.

  27. patsi baker

    After watching what has been going on at Fukushima over the weekend, I did find it difficult to get past this:

    “the workers engaged in the repair at Fukushima are being carefully monitored to ensure their total exposure does not go above 250 mSv, less than a tenth of the minimum level at which an ARS victim died at Chernobyl.”

    Erm – actually, as I write this we now know that the majority of the workers at Fukushima don’t even have personal dosimeters (maybe one per team). They have run out of protective clothing, so they are taping normal binliners to their shoes.

    This thing is pouring 7 tonnes an hour of highly radioactive water into the sea and they don’t know how to stop it. But of course fishing has been banned so it’s all going to be fine, yes?

    Did you know that the monitors at the plant can only measure up to 1000mSv/hr – ie they CAN’T record anything higher than that. Handy for you guys, handy for Tepco, I guess.

    But back to Chernobyl. Have you read this piece? Maybe you could share it with George when you have your next strategy meeting in the confines of an Oxford pub. – you seem to be cherry picking what you want from various bits of literature.

    Otherwise, what Blue Rock says.

  28. Barry Woods

    Meanwhile George Monbiot is burning some green bridges down (with napalm!)

    George Monbiot: “I began to see the extent of the problem after a debate last week with Helen Caldicott. Dr Caldicott is the world’s foremost anti-nuclear campaigner. She has received 21 honorary degrees and scores of awards, and was nominated for a Nobel peace prize. Like other greens, I was in awe of her. In the debate she made some striking statements about the dangers of radiation. So I did what anyone faced with questionable scientific claims should do: I asked for the sources. Caldicott’s response has profoundly shaken me.”

    George Monbiot: “The claims we have made are ungrounded in science, unsupportable when challenged, and wildly wrong. We have done other people, and ourselves, a terrible disservice.”

    “I pressed her further and she gave me a series of answers that made my heart sink – in most cases they referred to publications which had little or no scientific standing, which did not support her claims or which contradicted them. (I have posted our correspondence, and my sources, on my website.) I have just read her book Nuclear Power Is Not the Answer. The scarcity of references to scientific papers and the abundance of unsourced claims it contains amaze me.

    For the last 25 years anti-nuclear campaigners have been racking up the figures for deaths and diseases caused by the Chernobyl disaster, and parading deformed babies like a medieval circus. They now claim 985,000 people have been killed by Chernobyl, and that it will continue to slaughter people for generations to come. These claims are false.”

  29. Carlos Serra

    I couldn’t believe what I’ve just read in the Spanish newspapers: “Mark Lynas supports the use of nuclear power”. If I had seen a dinosaur walking on the street I’d be for sure less astonished!

    I think that some of the inherent pessimism showed in this article comes out very likely as a result of a very weak impulse on renewable energies from the UK authorities. Nowadays the renewable energies sources provide only 1.5% of energy in UK. On the other hand, 35% of Spanish electricity in 2010 was covered by renewable energy sources (and it is planned to be over 42% in 2020).
    The bigger is the contribution of renewable energies to the mix in a certain country, the lees is the number of ambientalist supporting nuclear energy, that’s my opinion. Have you ever heard any german or austrian ambientalist supporting nuclear energy…?

    Don’t worry Mark, you have plenty of time to think about this until the next nuclear accident… or not so much!

    Carlos Serra.
    Industrial Engineer.

    1. Rob

      Umm Carlos… according to Wiki ( only 12.5% of Spain’s energy came from renewables in 2009 – with a target for 2020 of 20%. If you are an industrial engineer you seem to have a very poor understanding of basic arithmetic.

    2. Carlos Serra

      Dear Rob, you may travelled too far, to fast…

      The exact words I wrote are: “35% of Spanish electricity in 2010 was covered by renewable energy sources”.

      Electricity, not primary energy, what is the concept you talk about. It is normal to make mistakes and get confussed about energy conceptos. Electric poweris the only kind of energy that provides nuclear power. I remind to you all that electricity is only 20-25% of final energy in a developed country (petrol is about half of it), and nuclear power can produce only electric power.

      It is neither necessary to be an engineer nor speaking Spanish, to understand the graph of the electric mix offered by the Spanish National Operator of Electric Power (Red Eléctrica de España S.A.)

      Composition of the Spanish electric mix in 2010
      Hydro: 16%
      Wind: 16%
      Solar: 2%
      Thermal Renewable (biomass, biogas…): 1%
      TOTAL: 35%

      Moreover, wind energy has been the main producer of electricity in Spain in March, over nuclear, gas and coal power.

      I am afraid, this is not a place to tell you “how good Spanish people on renewable energies” are (and honestly, Germans are far better in my humble opinion). I am simply warning about the danger to forget the potential of renewable energies to cover the needs of the population.

      Check the real options developed abroad before embracing dangerous alternatives, please.

  30. Hallvord R. M. Steen

    I believe you’ve left out a footnote #19?

    I’m also confused by an apparent mismatch between what the article says and the Tepco PDF you link to from footnote 18. The article asks “How dangerous are the levels immediately next to the Fukushima boundary fence?”, and you proceed to quote some Tepco measurements. However, the PDF you link to is not from a gate near the damaged reactors. According to the headline of the PDF, these measurements are from the Fukushima daini site, some 11km away. If these measurements are meant to say something about the Fukushima dai-ichi radiation, in light of your simplistic “falls with the square of distance” reasoning I guess nobody should be alive at Fukushima dai-ichi at all..

  31. Gregory Meyerson

    I looked at the wiki link, and about 8 % of spain’s electricity demand comes from wind and solar. 10 % from hydro. Total renewable is 19.9%

    I knew the 35 % was way off.

    1. Carlos Serra

      Look at my answer to Rob two posts back. 35% i s the official number, not way off.

  32. Mariano

    Dear Mr. Lynas,

    It seems that you are one of the many supporters of technocracy. For you, science is only a collection of formulas, abstract and dry. It has no ideology, and therefore no meaning. Does not matter where the nuclear industry comes from. Also its current interests, connections and real means are not important… what is indeed important then?
    Anyway, there is another thing I want to ask you: how can you be so sure that the impacts of nuclear radiation are not harming the future generations? Or in other words, please send us a single study (even statistical one) scrutinizing the impacts of radiation in our genes? Ok… it is too complicated, and in fact we are still having no technology, infra-structure or even knowledge for such research…
    By the way, if you are so convinced about the harmlessness of nuclear power, why don’t you go to Fukushima, reporting the problem directly from the source… it would make your point much more credible.

  33. Phil

    As a resident of Tokyo, I found your article informative and interesting. I appreciate your efforts to counterbalance the hysteria surrounding the Fukushima incident.

    Thanks for the well researched article.

  34. Cyril R

    This is really a masterpiece! Well done.

    Regarding the clusters of leukemia and other cancers. If you look at where nuclear plants are mostly built, you’ll see that they are in or near major energy demand centers, particularly near industrial areas.

    Such industrial areas have various emissions from manufacturing and chemical production. Particulate matter that causes lung cancer, chemicals such as benzene and other cyclic hydrocarbons used or emitted as byproduct in the chemical and petroleum industry, that cause leukemia. Etcetera.

    Considering this, it is unsurprising to find statistic correlations between nuclear plants and children leukemia. But it is a spurious correlation: something else is causing it. Namely chemicals emissions from industrial users that need the nuclear plant preferably nearby for cheap reliable energy supply.

  35. JinTokyo

    Good, well written article.

    Personally I am of two opinions however:

    1) The dangers of Internal ingestion of NPP relevant particles, many of which will remain in your body for life, are very misrepresented & not well understood by even those devoting their lives to the nuclear industry.

    Ionizing radiation comes in two forms: a) Waves or rays and b) particles.

    From Comments says it best: “By focusing on ‘levels of exposure’ to ambient radiation they can incorrectly compare nuclear accidents to taking airline trips, getting x-rays, and ‘background’ radiation, while totally avoiding the -core- problem of being exposed to ingesting extremely dangerous toxins internally (so dangerous that, like dioxin or asbestos, there is no safe level of exposure to them whatsoever).”

    As a fetus & growing child, these dangers are amplified by the fact almost all their cells are replicating so frequently & their DNA more vulnerable at that time also.

    2) There’s no such thing as ‘Alternative’ fuel.
    If humans are to maintain anywhere near the lifestyle we are currently experiencing in 2012, we’re need to use all and everything available to us. That still may not be enough. We don’t have to run out for there to be global political impact that will change our world.
    Why don’t we ditch nukes & coal? “we need to dispense with illusory notion of ‘alternative’ energy”

    1. Zwitterion2


      Thats very wrong. You demonstrate the problem of a little knowledge. I don’t want to be patronising but I have seen it very much over the last few months, and it gets to me after a while.

      Ingested radioactive substances are no more harmful per dose than external sources. The dose is measured in biological effects, not in particles per second etc. A unit of bq/cm^-2/s is not a dose, its a physical amount of radiation. A sievert is a dose quantity irrespective of where it comes from. A million gamma quanta of 1MeV per second incident on the surface of the skin of a human might deliver a dose of x, and the same million gamma quanta of 1MeV per second created inside the human body will deliver a different dose – however the dose itself describes the harm.

      Hence taking an airline trip can be compared to ingesting a quantity of a particular nuclide, because constants have been developed for the biological effects of ingested nuclides.

      Lastly, I always like to point out to commenter’s like yourself that you yourself are considerably radioactive, and that every mouthful of food or sip of liquid you take is radioactive – entirely naturally. Your house is radioactive, the ground underneath it is. The car you will go to work in is radioactive, the TV you watch emits not only natural radioactivity but man made too, when its switched on. The air you breath is radioactive from the impact of high energy particles from the sun with the upper parts of the atmosphere and some of these particles stream through the atmosphere and pass through you – some of them with so much energy that they shatter the atoms youre made of and send showers of secondary particles through you and everything surrounding you. The sensitive radiation meters I sometimes use are so sensitive that a measurement can’t be done with a human standing close since the radiation from the human (about 8000 disintegrations per second) skew the results.

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