Nuclear Aftershocks is a new FRONTLINE documentary, airing tomorrow, January 17, at 10:00 pm Eastern. I watched an advance screener yesterday.
About halfway through Nuclear Aftershocks, a new FRONTLINE documentary about the physical and social fallout of the Fukushima nuclear disaster, it becomes clear that correspondent Miles O'Brien and his production team are really going to piss some people off. In the best possible way.
The first part of the program is a pretty straightforward timeline, walking you through the earthquake and tsunami that led to meltdown at a Japanese nuclear power plant. It's a gripping story, and includes some particularly heart-wrenching details—Fukushima plant workers scavenging car batteries in a last-ditch attempt to restore backup power, the Japanese paleontologist who spent 20 years trying to warn the government and industry that tsunamis of this magnitude had happened before and would happen again. At the same time, though, it's pretty straightforward stuff. You might have heard the information elsewhere, it's just better explained here.
What makes Nuclear Aftershocks different is the point when the documentary shifts gears, and begins to talk about what happens next. What does Fukushima mean for the future of nuclear energy? What happens if places like Germany and Japan shut down their nuclear power plants? How does the fear of nuclear meltdown stack up against the consequences of a world with no nuclear energy? This is where Nuclear Aftershocks really gets good, and it starts with one fact.
Japanese officials evacuated areas around the crippled nuclear plant where humans would receive a radiation dose of 20 millisieverts per year. With the exception of plant workers, there are very few Japanese who have received a dose greater than that. Twenty millisieverts per year is the equivalent of 2-3 abdominal cat scans in a year, Dr. Gen Suzuki, of Japan's International University of Health and Welfare, tells O'Brien. Then you get this exchange:
MILES O’BRIEN: At 20 millisieverts over the course of a long period of time, what is the increased cancer risk?
SUZUKI: It’s 0.2% increase in lifetime.
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