Fear Killed After Fukushima Daiichi. Radiation, Not So Much

Fear. Fear of radiation. Fear of Math – because understanding the science requires a fair bit of calculus. These things killed after the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami of 2011. Not radiation. When Radiation Isn’t the Real Risk – The New York Times

No one has died from radiation associated with Fukushima Daiichi. Say that again. NO ONE has died.

The workers in the plant AFTER the disaster will not develop cancers in measurable difference from the background rate. (Some people develop cancer, even if they have never worked in nuclear power.)

1600 people died as a result of the panic. And the stress it induced. Panic on the part of the government. On the part of the people. And on the part of Americans and Europeans. Because it is easier to cave into fear than convince you that you don’t know squat about radiation. But when politicians cave in to the “Do something!” demands, they often do the wrong thing.

“The government basically panicked,” said Dr. Mohan Doss, a medical physicist who spoke at the Tokyo meeting, when I called him at his office at Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia. “When you evacuate a hospital intensive care unit, you cannot take patients to a high school and expect them to survive.”

Among other victims were residents of nursing homes. And there were the suicides. “It was the fear of radiation that ended up killing people,” he said.

For the most part the excess radiation in the evacuation zone is very low. There are a few hot spots, but they are easily identified. The excess radiation for the most part amounts to a dose of 4 milisieverts per year (4mSv/yr). A chest CT scan will give you about 7mSv. Flight crews on the New York to Tokyo route get about 9 mSv/yr. Certain parts of India and Iran have a natural background radiation of about 50 mSv/yr. Should we evacuate those regions? Some parts of Europe also have a high natural background radiation dose. (The minimum dose known to cause cancer is 100 mSv.)

This isn’t new information of course. I blogged about the following article in 2012 on the anniversary of the disaster. Fukushima’s Refugees Are Victims Of Irrational Fear, Not Radiation – Forbes

Where do I get off downplaying the effects of the Fukushima disaster? I’ve been studying the environmental effects of radioactive contamination for three decades, working at America’s national labs and nuclear waste repositories. My enduring frustration: the extreme supposition that all radiation is deadly and that there is no dose below which harmful effects will not occur.

This idea, known as the Linear No-Threshold Dose hypothesis (LNT), was adopted in 1959 as the global regulating philosophy and remains entrenched against all scientific evidence. It is an ethical nightmare. And it will destroy Japan’s economy.

If you eat potato chips regularly, you are exposed to measurably-higher levels of radiation. Same for bananas and certain nuts. Your exposure probably approaches that of the evacuated zone. But your life was not turned upside down because you eat bananas on your morning cereal or munch on chips during an NFL game.

It is easier to make bad policy decisions than to explain to voters that they don’t know squat about radiation. It is easier to demand that politicians “do something” than it is to understand the science behind radiation risk and exposure. It is easier to freak out than it is to learn math.

The dose matters. How much. How Big. How high. It matters. “Jumping off a chair is no big deal; jumping off a cliff is really stupid.”

Some past info on radiation.

The Banana Equivalent Dose, or Your Food is (always has been) Radioactive

Radiation Dose Chart One of my favorite bits of info to come out after Fukushima Daiichi.

OMG!!! Radiation!!! (Or More Nuclear Hysteria)

Whenever I think about the disaster at Fukushima, I am reminded of the “Litany Against Fear.” Because of all the damage that fear did – is still doing – in East Japan.

I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain (Litany Against Fear from Dune)

This article came across my Twitter feed yesterday. I wish I could tell you who flagged it. It is the first piece of SANE reporting I have seen in the popular press about radiation exposure since March of 2011.


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