The legacy of Fukushima

At Time, Bryan Walsh reports on two pieces of news coming out of the aftermath of the Fukushima nuclear disaster. First, the World Health Organization has released estimates of the health effects on the plant's workers, the people who were involved in shutting it down, and the local residents who lived closest to the plant when it went into meltdown. These people will have an increased risk of leukemia, thyroid cancers, and cancer, in general. But the increase isn't as large as you might have feared. Walsh does a very good job of breaking down the statistics, here. The second bit of news is, unfortunately, not so good. In Germany, which decided to phase out nuclear power in the wake of Fukushima, coal power is on the rise. And it's rising faster than the increase in renewable energy.


  1. Gah! It is 2013! Where’s my fecking plasma conversters? Where’s my dilithium crystals? Where’s my matter-antimatter generator? Come on Scientists, pull your fingers out!

    1. Hell I’d just settle for some good old fusion.  I mean we were hearing about how it was going to be a viable energy source in ten years, and that was in the mid 90’s.

      1. I’d settle for some decent fission reactors. As it is, we seem to be deciding that killing ourselves by burning fossil fuels is better than not killing ourselves with nukes and renewables.

        1. There are so many other viable designs than these creaky old boilers, too.  Even designs that eat old nuclear waste, obviating the need to massively stockpile the stuff over and underground.  It’s sick how stupid we are.

      2. If you want it, you have to, you know, actually fund it. Which, frankly, we aren’t, not really. Not the way we funded fission – and fusion is harder.

      3. I saw the tokamak fusion reactor at the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory when I was in 6th grade, shortly after they were commissioned in 1982. It was supposed to hit the fusion break-even point, but it was decommissioned in 1997 without ever reaching that goal. They built a spherical tokamak in 1999…but the damage was done. I grew up thinking I’d see fusion pretty much any day now, because I’d been in the room with the damn thing, and had to wear a radiation tag, and got told about how someone once left a wrench on the floor across the hangar and it had punched a hole right through the reactor wall when they powered the magnets up, and it was so cool and so Science! and then they shut it down and now I don’t believe anything anymore. Don’t even talk to me about flying cars, man. Don’t even.

  2. Sadly with coal, depending on the source of the coal and the type of emission controls used, the fly ash can significantly increase the background radiation in the surrounding and downstream areas. This is due to radioactive elements already present in the coal. The increase quickly exceeds any sort of increase due to the presence of a nuclear plant. THis is assuming it doesn’t blowup or meltdown that is, which admittedly is a pretty rare event. I’d be interested to know how much free radioactive elements global coal plants have released into to the environment as compared to nuclear power, including accidents and such. As always when talking about nuclear power and radiation people get too emotional and don’t take into account the big picture (if that’s even possible to do).

    Also XKCD:

    1. Isn’t the danger of meltdown the main reason for phasing out nuclear power? It is rare, but not rare enough given the risks involved (according to the xkcd comic, the radiation from coal power stations is also very small, less than 1/30 the radiation of a NY-LA flight for a year living within 50 miles of the power station). I also remember a number of commenters on this site explaining to those of us who didn’t understand the science why Fukushima couldn’t possibly melt down – right until it did actually melt down.

      1. I just wanted to add some food for thought. To me the reason to not use nuclear power is the radioactive waste that we don’t seem to know what to do with. There is something like 430 nuclear power plants world wide and there have been a few significant meltdown events and accidents which have released varying amounts of radioactive materials. The question I was wondering about is given all the risks of radiation release from nuclear (which I think the perceived risk is maybe higher than real risk) is that risk actually higher than the radiation released from coal?  I don’t know.

        1. Here’s the thing. There are ~2300 coal plants globally. I’d hazard to guess that most are within populated areas. They are all continually releasing radioactive elements and the population risk is a function of the exposure times the population exposed. Is that risk number bigger than the risk of exposure of a nuclear event times people exposed?

          1. I didn’t mean to sound dismissive. One of the problems is that the risk will obviously vary a lot on how you want to calculate it. Germany with its wealth, environmental consciousness and risk adversity (not to mention lack of significant tectonic activity) would be a lot less at risk of a meltdown than other countries, but the costs involved if something did go wrong are too great to consider taking that risk, I suppose. I don’t see why it’s surprising that coal is growing at that speed though – you’ve got to produce huge amounts of extra energy quickly in order to offset the losses from the nuclear power stations. Last time I was in Germany (summer 2011) growing corn and rapeseed for biofuel had grown enormously, to the extent that they were having trouble with wild boar in many areas (including some that were contaminated with radiation from Chernobyl). Now the government is submitting a draft proposal to allow fracking, which had been banned in several of the states.

          2.  At the German coast, where I currently live, the wind blows every day and night.  When the wind is best, most, almost all of the wind turbines have to stand still because the power corporations have incentive not to build the grid necessary to transport that much energy to distant regions. 
            Because, if renewable electricity is available, they have to use it, instead of producing it in their plants. By law. 

            In this country wind energy by itself can replace nuclear power effortlessly once the infrastructure is built up. 
            As it is, it takes 4.300 wind turbines to replace one nuke plant.  Wind produces only 6.2 percent of the electricity used. 

            But an average German nuclear power plant produces 1.200 Megawatts and an average wind turbine produces 6 MW per hour.  That means that ideally 200 windmills could replace one nuclear power plant.  Yea, not really, but still… 
            Germany is set to have coal plants all but gone within 20 years.  Russian gas, cleaner and cheaper than coal is designated to replace them and their job of making up the redundancy for what the renewables can’t deliver. 
            If they play nice with Russia. 

            Corn and rape for bio fuel has grown enormously because it is highly subsidized.  Bio fuel is hardly environment friendly.  It’s quite terrible. 
            (If it’s legitimate rapeseed …something …Monsanto… something.) 

        2. Well, to be fair, we don’t know what to do with the coal waste either. W just let float off into the air, where it seems to go away, but obviously it does not. Nuke waste is a problem, no question, but in a lot of ways it seems like it has a chance to be a more manageable problem than those presented by coal. Greenhouse gas production is practically the primary function of coal plants, and our only solution to that is to try not to produce greenhouse gasses. I’m just sayin’ it’s a lot easier to launch nuclear waste into the sun than it is to launch smog into the sun.

          1. There’s currently 1,000 gallons of radioactive waste leaking annually at a site in Washington.  When that gets into the water supply, there won’t be a water supply anymore.

          2. Yep, and in countries where that sort of information is kept from the citizenry a bit more effectively (helloooo Japan and Russia) you can expect it’s rather worse.

        3. “radioactive waste that we don’t seem to know what to do with” You put it into one of several kinds of reactors that we’ve invented but aren’t using commercially, which can use that “waste” to produce more power, resulting in a much smaller volume of waste that only (a relative term) needs to be safely stored for a few centuries. several others.

          If it’s still radioactive, it is still potentially fuel.

    2.  This is literally an argument I’ve heard from nuclear advocates (well, paraphrased): “Very dangerous radioactive waste isn’t radioactive for very long and the waste that is radioactive for very long isn’t very dangerous so nuclear waste just isn’t a problem at all.”

      If you see the problem with that argument then you can understand why radioactive waste from nuclear is far worse a threat than the diffuse radioactivity released by burning coal.  Antinous’ comment about waste leaking into the water supply is a pretty good hint.

  3. According to the Greman Federal Environment Ministry and the Federal Environment Agency  “Emissions still 192 million tonnes under Kyoto targets for years 2008 to 2012

    When compared with 1990 greenhouse gas emissions in 2012 have dropped by 25.5 percent; a 21 percent decrease was needed on average for the years 2008 to 2012. In total roughly 931 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent were released, 14 million tonnes more than the previous year. CO2 emissions went up most with an increase of 2.0 percent. The reason for this increase is that more hard coal and lignite was burned for generating electricity and more gas was used to heat houses and apartments due to cold weather. However, the expansion of renewable energies curbed the rise in emissions.”

    1. Your point? Why not reduce the emission further?
      Fact is, more coal plants operate since the nuclear phase-out. Statements such as “Emissions still X tonnes under Kyoto targets” are totally irrelevant, as emissions would be lower still without additional coal-burning. And they could not ever be low enough.
      Every increase of greenhouse gas emissions because of nuclear phase-out is unnecessary, avoidable and stupid, even if the total emissions are still under some arbitrary limit.

  4. I will stick with actual risk assessments instead of reading apologistic propaganda from The WHO and Maggie, thanks.

    There is plutonium still on the ground, the contamination is wider spread and in many ways worse than Chernobyl. The population exposed was much higher than after that accident. Now 55% of Fukushima children are showing thyroid abnormalities and the world is waking up to the Nuke Pukes’ lie.

      1. “The numbers for girls are worse. 54% of girls from age 6 to 10 had these abnormalities, and 55% for age 11 to 15.” – Toshio Yanagihara to the UN Human Rights Council on or about Jan 24th, 2013

        The rest you can google for, or simply read sources other than Maggie’s nuke loving apologists. Both Fairwinds Arnold Gundersen, and Enenews, have information that can help you balance out the ProNuke Propaganda. Gunderson says 20% of Fukushima girls will get cancer in their lifetimes from this supposedly mild catastrophe. Gunderson is a former nuclear industry exec.

        1. Thanks for the quasi-citations.  If you want to be taken seriously, though, you might want to curb the accusatory rhetoric.

        2.  You talk about “pronuke propaganda”, but the only source you cite is a lawyer — that doesn’t exactly sound like a neutral source either

          Fukushima was the second worse nuclear accident ever and, AFAIK, nobody died from the radiation. Meanwhile, 16,000 people died from the tsunami. But fear mongers, such as yourself, would have us believe that nuclear is a terrible danger because a lawyer tells us that half the children of the area surrounding the plant have “thyroid abnormalities”, whatever that means.

          Are you telling us that we should avoid using nuclear power because there’s a possibility that some people may develop cancer years down the line in the extremely unlikely event of a meltdown (which would be even rarer if there wasn’t so much lobbying against building newer, safer plants)? Do you apply the same logic to all other types of energy production and industry? The Banqiao dam in China broke, killing over 170,000 people in 1975. Should we also ban hydroelectric power? Many industrial accidents all over the world have resulted in pollution that contributed to cancer. Should we also ban these entire types of industry wholesale? Why is nuclear so different?

          1. Fukushima was the second worse nuclear accident ever and, AFAIK, nobody died from the radiation.

            This is an incredibly disingenuous argument. Cancer takes decades to develop. Look at the death rates and timetables for people who were exposed to fallout from nuclear tests in the US.

          2. Well let’s look at some actual numbers then, shall we?


            According to this source, 99% of the 235,000 personnel involved in American atmospheric nuclear weapons received doses of less than 5 rem.

            A sievert (Sv) is a more modern unit of effective dose that is equal to 100 rem. According to wikipedia, “One sievert carries with it a 5.5% chance of eventually developing cancer.” So for the above limit of 5 rem, we can easily extrapolate an increased chance of eventually developing cancer of 0.275%.

            That’s pretty small, actually, especially when you consider the rates of cancer development not due to nuclear fallout for a comparable population segment from the same time periods as those atmospheric tests.


            According to this chart by Randall Munroe, exposure in the Fukushima exclusion zone was comparable. He does note two Fukushima workers who received exposure higher than 5 rem, or 50 mSv. In fact, their exposure even exeeded 10 rem, or 50 mSv, which Randall informs us is the lowest dose clearly linked to increased cancer risk. This is also the limit for “emergency workers protecting valuable property”. However, the two workers fell well short of suffering 25 rem, or 250 mSv, which is the limit for “emergency workers in lifesaving operations”.

            Now, of all the people exposed, how many will develop cancer? We don’t know. How much more likely are they to develop it than they were before? For all of them, even the two badly exposed workers, less than 1%.

            Contrast to Chernobyl. According to wikipedia, 237 people suffered acute radiation sickness from that accident, of which 31 died withing a few months. According to Mr. Monroe’s chart, radiation sickness can occur at around 40 rem, or 400 mSv, and severe radiation sickness starts at around 80 rem, or 800 mSv.

            Fukushima never came close.

          3.  Sure, but when the meltdown occurred, everybody assumed that a lot of people would die rapidly from radiation poisoning. That didn’t happen. I didn’t hear about mutations in newborns either. So now the anti-nuke lobby has moved to “years down the road, these people will get cancer!” This prediction may or may not be right (it’s not like anybody is any good at predicting the long term future), but it seems like a pretty secondary effect considering the catastrophe that caused the meltdown in the first place killed 16,000 people.

            I wish we could have a perfect and abundant energy source, like Tony Stark’s ark reactor, but we don’t. Every energy source has its downside, multiplied by the huge amount of electricity we all use. Even solar and wind power would be useless to Canadians on a cold windless night when everybody is heating their house at full strength. Nuclear seems to me like the best energy source we have for many situations, especially with more modern, safer reactors.

            Stats show that nuclear is quite safe, but when it fails it does so in a spectacular manner. Fear of nuclear energy is like the fear of flying. Statistically, traveling by plane is much safer than traveling by car, but people are more afraid of planes because plane crashes make headlines.

          4. @boingboing-180b3799ac728142c32020da35c7a5af:disqus Are you honestly citing the Soviet Union’s casualty statistics on Chernobyl?

            It always cracks me up when people who would otherwise be talking about how the Soviets were a bunch of evil propagandizing liars completely trust the Soviet Union’s account of Chernobyl.


            Sure, but when the meltdown occurred, everybody assumed that a lot of people would die rapidly from radiation poisoning.

            Citations please?

        3. Last year similar figures were thrown around (possibly the same study cited by the lawyer) and they referred to a pre-accident study from Nagasaki for comparison, which at first glance gave the impression of a huge increase. However, the Nagasaki study only counted nodules larger than 5 millimeter and cysts larger than 20 millimeter. The Fukushima study counted all nodules and cysts that were found.

          When you compare like for like then the stats are:
          Nagasaki (2001) – 0.8% of children with nodules larger than 5mm
          Fukushima (2012) – 0.5% of children with nodules larger than 5mm

          I googled for prevalence of thyroid nodules of all kinds and found this::

          The above is prevalence among both sexes and all age groups, so it’s hard to say whether there’s an excess among female children in Fukushima. It is however clear that minor abnormalities will be very common in any population sample.

          1.  What was also glossed over in most of the reports on this is that they reduced size of the cysts and nodes they were measuring for *in order to* increase the number of kids involved in longer term measurement. It was in essence a control sample.

    1. It would be interesting to see a comparison between the cumulative negative health effects of nuclear power (including accidents and meltdowns) versus those of coal power. Nukes get lots of press because they’re big and scary and grossly misunderstood, but I’ll bet if you gave a late-nineteenth century city dweller the choice between coal and nuclear, they’d take nuclear hands down.

      I’d like to see nuclear fill the gap until renewables (solar, in particular) are ready to take over. But then you still get the folks who say renewables are bad (hydro screws with fish migration, wind gives farmers headaches and kills birds, solar uses nasty elements from open-pit mines in China, geothermal causes earthquakes, etc.) For some people, the only option they will accept is a sort of Daniel Quinn-esque reduction in power usage (read: civilization).

  5. While I cannot really challenge the numbers in the article, I do struggle to reconcile them with the fact that German Energy companies are lately threatening to shut down some new, highly efficient gas power plants because compared to wind or solar energy (which are subsidized in Germany) they could not sell the electricity on the market for a prize that would justify the investment of running the plants.

    Also given that coal is now far more expensive in Germany than it used to be (we used to have lots, and when it ran out, it was subsidized to soften the landing of the related industry, but that’s long past by now), I do wonder why there are supposedly so many new coal plants now.

    Next: The last winter was unusually cold, so it stands to reason that was more heating

    And finally: The “Atomausstieg” has been decided on quite a while ago, then it was called off after a change in government, then, after Fukushima, it was reinstated, but nuclear plants are now allowed to keep producing electricity for a few years _longer_ than originally planned in the early 2000’s. So the article isn’t quite right in this point.

    And finally finally: While I’m not very much (but still a bit) concerned about reactor safety, I am concerned about producing radioactive waste in large quantities without knowing where we can eventually put it and who will pay for it (and who pays if things go wrong…) right now, large energy companies are making a ton of money and the state pays for the waste disposal … if it wasn’t this way round, nuclear energy would have barely been profitable to begin with. When the German government started to introduce a tax on nuclear fuel to pay for at least a fraction of those costs, energy companies attacked it in court and at least partially won.

    1. I would like to add that the current government tries it best to stop renewables in the hands of “all people” and instead subsidzes the most expensive form – wind energy offshore – because (I guess) its big-corporations-business. These corporation increased prices after they had a record black figure in the books 2 years ago.
      Meanwhile the energy price on the European Energy Exchange has dropped due to renewables. In the last year it was lower in germany then in nuclear-France and more stable.
      The reason for coal plants is mainly because the bring money to the bigs, while renewables bring money to the small people.

  6. One thing the people seem to be ignoring is that holding up Japan as an example of nuclear power is choosing the very worst possible example. It is well known that the nuclear industry is Japan (and at Fukushima in particular) is corrupt end to end*, and a poster child of mismanagement**. The take away is this: if you allow criminals to run your nuclear program with no oversight, you’re going to have a bad time.

    Everyone should just go to France, see what they do, and do that. Problem solved. They’ve never had a nuclear accident*** despite generating more than 63 gigawatts from it****. If you don’t like the French, try the Belgians or Slovenians.

    Or, you know, you could go with Coal. But if you’re going to use Japan as your nuclear example, you have to use Cina as your coal example.***** (Air pollution in four cities in China has killed more people than have died worldwide in nuclear accidents.) * eg

    1. Or, you know, you could go with Coal

      Or, you know, you could go with more sustainable energy than nuclear and coal.

      I think Maggie and others should have read the last few paragraphs from the second article:


      Both wind and solar are becoming more competitive against fossil fuels — solar modules are 75% cheaper than they were four years ago, while the cost of wind turbines has fallen by 25% over the past three years. And that’s not just due to government help — technological advances have continued to drive down the cost of renewable energy, and grid parity has already been achieved in some areas. It’s important to remember that a decade ago renewable energy was just a hobby. We’ve come a long way.That’s why I’m ultimately pretty optimistic about both the immediate and long-term future of renewable energy. There’s still an enormous market out there for new electricity generation …

      And let’s not forget Chernobyl’s lingering effects.

      1. Renewables are better than nukes. Fact. No debate. (I suggested as much above, but let me be clear.)

        But, there are legitimate concerns about quickly switching to renewables wholesale, even for electricity generation. Don’t get me wrong, it can and should be done. But we have to significantly redo our electric transmission systems and deal with energy storage (which might involve resettling people who love downstream from hydro plants). 

        To get over the hump, nukes are astoundingly better than coal (even with measures like “direct deaths per gigawatt-hour”), and what with climate change, better than natural gas.

        Also, they’re really good at making hydrogen, which *may* prove useful in getting rid of fossil fuels for transportation. (To efficiently make hydrogen, you currently need a lot of electricity and really high temperatures. Hopefully in the future you can just make biodiesel from algae and be done with it.)

        1. You make some very good points, but I don’t think you’re accounting for the massive expense of nuclear power plants. We need to take that money and put it into a federal “Manhattan Project” dedicated to research and implementation of far more sustainable energy like wind, solar, storage of said energy, etc.

          If we put a fraction of the money we spend on nuclear into things like graphene ultracapacitor R&D, we would make breakthroughs that put nuclear and fossil fuel practicality to shame.

          The truth is, the only reason we don’t do this is because the fossil fuel industry is trying to milk their current infrastructure down to the last, proverbial drop. Global climate change isn’t going to wait for corporatist greed to subside; We need to act now and nuclear isn’t the affordable, sustainable answer.

          1. The article you linked had estimates that were all over the place. It looks like it ranges from 6.7 to 80 cents per kWh, with most coming in under 10 cents. Note that this includes the cost of storing nuclear waste, so assuming we can figure out what to do with in in the next 50 years or so, that cost likely is the total cost, including externalities., which I in no way vouch for, puts the total cost of coal at nearly 30 cents per kWh. So, still cheaper overall than coal.

            (Include rant here about thorium reactors, which apparently produce nuclear waste that’s only dangerously radioactive for 200 years.) 

            I would love to have 100% renewable power. But more important to me is that we get the Earth carbon negative as soon as possible. Wind is looking like the real winner. It’s easy and preposterously cheap. But here’s the problem: current world wind power generation is 282 gW. The most aggressive estimates put 2020 production around 2 tW.* In 2009, the world consumed over 20 tW of electricity.** The total non-renewable human energy consumption in 2008 was 125 tW!***

            Now, I think a reasonable goal would be to cut non-renewable energy consumption by 20% by 2023, and into increase wind capacity to, say, 8 tW. Most people would consider that practically impossible and insanely optimistic. It still leaves a power deficit of 92 tW! Something is going to have to fill that gap. Other renewables can contribute a lot, but some (like biofuel) are pretty much tapped out with our current technologies.

            So speaking of current technologies, here’re my issues with new technologies:
            1) They might not pan out. Grapheme is a toy. It’s currently produced by hand using scotch tape in quantities of square centimeters. We don’t have time to develop grid-scale grapheme ultracapacitor storage, or even vehicular-scale. There is a *lot* of money going into energy storage, but energy storage is hard. Currently, the only proven grid-scale energy storage mechanism we have is pumping water uphill. Algae-based biodiesel is promising, in that we can do it. But not promising, in that apparently we’d all starve to death if we tried to replace just transportation fuel use with biodiesel****. We need short-term solutions that we know can work.
            2) It takes time to put things into production. Note the example above about the growth of wind power. It’s growing 30% year-on-year, which is incredible and awesome, and is nothing like enough. Over the next 30-50 years, we need a massive change in the way we generate and use power. We cannot wait to get over the “development hump” with new technologies. I’m sure that unless there’s a massive population crash, almost all of our power generation will be renewable in 70 years. That’s a historically unprecedented change, but we really don’t have a lot of choice. The problem is not what we do in 70 years, though, the problem is what we do starting now. I feel like we need to use every asset we have to get to carbon neutral (and negative), and shutting down nuke plants is in no way helping.


  7. Energy savings from conservation outweigh that of any and all present green energy.
    Facts, like statistics, can be used to prop up differing arguments.
    Humans are the problem and must be the solution.
    Nuclear is quite the seductress and if we start now we may have sexy newer atomic energy powerplants in 10 years. But with no waste solution, no adress of it’s effects.

    Trust in for-profit human solutions that are unfettered by morality, humanity or basic logical sense?

    I lived in Minamisoma, Fukushima, some of my family died in the tsunami, some are still living on our Organic rice farm. They still drive to work past thousands of destroyed, radioactive homes and dead neighbours. That’s from the tsunami but also the humans’ mishandling of the disaster.

    The radiation-hot ocean and fish, radiation-toxic lands, animals and people are not trying to fear-monger.
    The human cost remains, unlike a dam bursting, nuclear remains a problem.
    Human corporations are to blame as well as human avarice. The same avarice exhibited by scientists and policy-makers detached from reality, plotting graphs and determining their faith as the true one. Science will save us or condemn us but we certainly have to move forward. As we have not moved forward sensibly, we better learn quick.

    Written from a survivor hiding in healthy British Columbia, only a short distance from the still toxic Hanford site, maker of the Nagasaki payload and the most contaminated nuke site in the US.

    WHere can I move next? A small island in the South Pacific? Done that, as a kid in the 80s we lived on Rarotonga and helped ships going to protest Muraroa testing.

    1. Energy savings from conservation outweigh that of any and all present green energy.

      I’m glad someone mentioned this. 

      Nuclear power is a short-sighted, brute force industrial solution for a post-industrial society that wants instant results. We’d much rather build a nuke plant so that shoe stores on 5th Avenue in Manhattan can keep their doors open and blast frigid air onto the sidewalk in July than change how we think about overall energy consumption. And if we can’t build a nuke plant, we’ll just increase coal and natural gas production and build more of those plants. It reflects the same centralized power structure that characterizes our politics. Even our renewable energy proposals are part of the same problem: massive wind farms! Thousands of acres of solar panels! Molten salt reactors!

      White roofs, highly efficient appliances and electronics, hyperlocal power generation like solar windows and shingles…a concerted effort to implement hundreds of smaller, incremental improvements that reduce energy consumption combined with multiple sources of widely distributed alternative energy production is more likely to provide the necessary long-term results.

      1. Should also mention the rebound effect if we’re talking about conservation, though.  We’d need a new economic system to start at conservation and go from there.  Not that I’m opposed to a new economic system, I just don’t think it’s very realistic considering the capitalist boosterism going on nowadays.

  8. The nuclear power debate is really an argument over unpredictable an extreme risks vs relatively known and understood risks.  

    We understand the consequences of a coal plant.  It has term and long term negative side effects, but the side effects are not terribly shocking.  You can balance coal against solar or gas pretty handily and decide which power sources makes sense for a given area.

    Nukes are different.  What makes nukes different is that in addition to their known issues, like cost and radioactive waste, they have an unknown cost.  The unknown cost is often zero, but occasionally it is extremely high.

    In the case of Chernobyl, the cost was devastating both in terms of lives and economic damage.  Chernobyl probably helped kick the USSR closer to collapse.  In the case of Fukushima, The cost on lives will likely be minimal in the long term, but the economic costs were sever (though nowhere near Chernobyl).  A small chunk of Japan is now worthless, they paid and continue to pay a huge clean up cost, and even safe people who live in the general area are going to see their economic woes increase as property value drops and businesses leave out of rational and irrational fear.

    Personally, I’m not against nukes.  I am for being careful with them.  Don’t put a nuke anywhere where having it blow up will result in massive economic damage.  You can drop a nuke in New Hampshire.  If that nuke goes, it will suck and the locals will be unhappy, but it won’t be the end of the world.  On the other hand don’t drop a nuke down wind of NYC.  If half of NYCs population ups and moves because a downwind nukes has issues and they have radiation fears (rational or not), it will bring the entire world wide economy to its knees.

    Nukes always have a chance of blowing up, no matter how safe you make them.  No system is perfectly safe, and no facility is impregnable from attack.  Further, nukes are a long term thing, so you need to not only to consider current forms of attacks, but also future styles of attack.  Someone can always dives an airplane into it, if nothing else.  Just keep this and mind and ask yourself if you can suffer the rare consequences if something goes wrong.  If you can’t imagine managing the economic and logistical impact of half of NYC emptying, don’t freaking put a nuke near the city.

    1. 1. NH is relatively close to large metro areas including NYC (and upwind for most parts of the year).
      2. We already have a nuke plant at Seabrook.  It is the reason electricity is probably more than twice as expensive in NH as in MA.  There were big protests against the plant and I’m not sure of the details but essentially it’s only been running on one reactor for years, hence the high prices.  Also it was designed to be able to withstand a fighter jet flying directly into one of the reactors which I imagine increased the cost a bit (the reasoning was that there is an air force base relatively close by).

  9. I think the biggest problem with Nuclear is what do we do with the waste?  The stuff stays toxic far longer than any other form of energy byproduct and we still haven’t figured out a safe method of disposal!  Just look at the Hanford site in WA state…stuff has been around since the 40’s and it’s completely and thoroughly contaminated.  The storage leaks out into the Columbia river…it enters the water table and food-chain and could generate many problems for generations and generations.  There are lasting effects of nuclear there that no one really wants to talk about.  Until we figure out how to deal with the nuclear waste I’m with the Germans on this, coal is the lessor evil. 

  10. Maggie: “In Germany, which decided to phase out nuclear power in the wake of Fukushima, coal power is on the rise. And it’s rising faster than the increase in renewable energy.”

    The use of coal in Germany has has risen less than Germany’s export of electricity has. 
    That’s a decrease! 
    Get it? 
    This coal gets burned by some soulless international corporation because Germany still subsidizes it until 2018, two years before nukes are phased out, and centuries (millennia?) before the subsidies to the past, current and future nuclear industry run out. 
    One way or another, we’ll all have a huge price to pay for storage of nuclear waste, while within ten to twenty years coal plants will no longer fit into the German energy system. 

    Solar and wind energy in Germany have lowered the market price of electricity.   Photovoltaic for example delivers electricity exactly when consumption is peaking.  This demonstrably has a dampening effect on the price of electricity on the trading floors of the European Power Exchange (EPEX SPOT SE). 

    This is imported coal burned for “export” electricity, financed in part by the German tax payer, who also finances renewable energy, but willingly.    

  11. The good news is that many japanese people have higher risks of suffering from cancers because of this catastrophy, but the increase isn’t as large as I might have feared ? How large were the increase that I might have feared  exactly ?

    Also, Bryan Walsh wrote :

    “The report also looked at the brave emergency workers at the Fukushima plant, who likely received higher radiation doses during the meltdown than anyone else in Japan. The news there, too, is mostly good: perhaps one-third of the workers face a higher lifetime risk of cancer, but that risk still remains low.”

    But this is what the report really says  (p. 93 of the WHO report) :

    “For about one third of the workers (Scenario 2), the relative increase over background for thyroid cancer is estimated to be up to 20% for the youngest workers. For less than 1% of workers (Scenario 3), the relative increase over background for leukaemia and thyroid cancer is as high as 28% in the youngest workers. For those few emergency workers who received very high doses to the thyroid (Scenario 4), a notable risk of thyroid cancer is estimated, especially for young workers.”

    Up to 20% more chance of having a thyroid cander, that’s low ? And why does Walsh do not even take the pain to mention those “brave emergency workers” (his words) who were the most exposed ?  A good job at breaking down the statistics ? This is outrageous.

    And also among the good news is this :

    “63 workers exposed to higher radiation than logged in their records”

    Good news all around. Really.

    1. An increase of 20% over background is miniscule. If your chances of getting thyroid cancer in any given year were 1%, then the chances after a 20% increase would be 1.2% (not 21%, as I suspect you’re calculating it).

      The actual chances are closer to 0.02% (and probably lower) which after a 20% increase is a whopping 0.024%.

      1. You are right that if the baseline risk is 1%, then the risk is 1.2 % after a 20% increase. Of course.

        I don’t think  it is particularly honest of you (and Walsh) to build one’s argument on a strawman, then go from here claiming that “hey the actual risk is way lower than what you thought” (not). I never thought a 20% increase of risk over baseline risk would mean people would have 20% chance of getting a cancer.

        Besides, the lifetime baseline risk at age 20 for thyroid cancer in Japan is 0.2 % , not 0.02%. (see page 65 of the report).  Then for the youngest of the scenario 2 workers (not the most severely exposed, one should notice) the risk would be now 0.24 %.
        I personnaly wouldn’t consider this “mostly good news” if I were the one exposed.

        Further, what should one consider either a high increase of risk or a high risk for thyroid cancer ?   Is 1000% over baseline risk a high or low increase ? Is a probability of 2.2% of getting thyroid cancer in lifetime afer exposure high or low ?

        Then, more importantly, how can the journalist simply ignore the fate of the most severely exposed workers (scenario 3 and 4) ? Most severely exposed, but not “brave” enough to be mentionned ?

        If I am correct, for scenario 4 (12 workers according to TEPCO), the increase of lifetime risk for thyroid cancer is about 1650 % for people 20 years old ((LBR – LAR) / LBR) (see p. 65). They now have 3.5% chance of getting thyroid cancer in their life, instead of 0.2%. How good a news is that for them? They should have expected a 50% chance of dying for 12,000 yen a day ?

  12. Be careful not to confuse thyroid cancer with a death sentence. In fact the survival rate is near 100% if detected at stage I or II. I’m not trying to trivialize it because it can mean surgery (or even more radiation as a treatment to destroy the thyroid!) plus taking hormone replacement pills for life. So probably everyone that was in the area, especially children, should be checked every couple years. I’m guessing that is the type of cancer most likely caused by this type of accident since it is most often quoted and the accident released iodine 131 which collects in the thyroid can cause it. If you can stand another ‘glass half full’ fact, the half-life of iodine 131 is 8 days so probably no risk from that particular isotope if you wandered through there now.

    1. Yes, thyroid cancer doesn’t necessarily mean death. That was not exactly my point.
      I meant that if nuclear workers have to consider substantively higher risk, and resulting significant absolute risks of thyroid cancer as “good news”, it means they are to expect horrendously bad news for a poorly paid job.

      By the way, I just found this article about the WHO, its stance on the health risks of radiation exposure, and its links to the AIEA  :   Toxic link: the WHO and the IAEA 

  13. Oh, and finally, the emergency workers who were not nuclear workers, like the fire fighters we could see trying to cool the whole mess with their hoses, are not included in the WHO report, ” because the information about their radiation doses was not available to the HRA Expert Group within the timeframe of its work”. But nothing to worry about I guess, it’s not like these people could have been seriously exposed. It’s not like they should have been included in a study of the effects of radiation exposure on emergency workers. It’s not like 2 years should be enough to get one’s hands on the information.

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