February 26th, 2014

Fukushima cancer risk negligible

It turns out that the amount of radiation exposure from the Fukushima reactor accident and any resultant projected increase in cancer cases has been minimal.

But people in the comments section at the article refuse to believe this, so strong is the assumption that it must be otherwise.

My previous, fairly lengthy article on the real health consequences of Chernobyl et. al., can be found here. Fukushima, of course, involved a much smaller amount of radiation exposure.

So much of what people are certain they know is actually wrong. The after-the-fact facts don’t seem to ever reach them. This seems to me to be a combination of media hype, scientific illiteracy, and how difficult it is to change one’s mind about something, even when preconceptions are confronted by evidence.

25 Responses to “Fukushima cancer risk negligible”

  1. Ymarsakar Says:

    Some of the radiation should have been sunk into the water and then washed out. The problem would have been if the water then stayed in the ground. Tsunamis generally not only blow things inward towards land, but also pulls them back out to sea, such as picking up topsoil and dumping them into the shore or waters.

    But for people that can’t figure things like this in their own way or get direct data, they have to rely on the authorities: the experts. And we all know how that turns out. Bunch of kiddies believing in their parents promises, with no respect to the probability of that promise being carried out.

  2. LTEC Says:

    It’s absurd that this tsunami is used as evidence of the danger of nuclear reactors. This reactor problem was a very tiny part of a huge disaster that otherwise destroyed whole cities and killed over 15,000 people. How many people died in the Cosmo oil refinery explosion alone?

  3. John Says:

    You cannot reason someone out of a postion that they did not arrive at by using reason.

  4. Sam L. Says:

    Radiation is INVISIBLE and SCARY and known to be DANGEROUS! The NYT told me so!

  5. expat Says:

    And for this the Germans are closing or have closed all their reactors.

  6. rickl Says:

    So much of what people are certain they know is actually wrong. The after-the-fact facts don’t seem to ever reach them.

    Those sentences can be applied to almost anything: The overwhelming majority of scientists believe that human activity is changing the climate, and drastic action is needed. Sarah Palin was ignorant and unqualified for high office, while Barack Obama is a brilliant Constitutional scholar with an IQ that is off the charts.

  7. Ymarsakar Says:

    They also said that George Soros was just a guy exercising his free speech and that those of us who didn’t like him, should know our place.

  8. rickl Says:

    More and more, I am worried that we are approaching a new Dark Age. It is so much easier to destroy a civilization than to build it, and a great deal of effort is currently being expended to tear down what our forebears have created.

    I own a lot of books. Most of them are nonfiction, and many of them are about history, with a heavy emphasis on aviation and spaceflight. The overwhelming majority of the people in those books were white males, which is politically inconvenient if not outright politically incorrect.

    I can’t shake the thought that I should be using the time remaining to me to seal them in plastic and bury them in lead-lined boxes. I wish I was kidding.

  9. Darrell Says:

    Ships that over there for relief are getting disease clusters, leukemia etc. Highly unusual for such a young crew:

    http://nypost.com/2013/12/22/70-navy-sailors-left-sickened-by-radiation-after-japan-rescue/

  10. Darrell Says:

    “Were” over there

  11. neo-neocon Says:

    Darrell:

    Cancer clusters are most often just meaningless statistical glitches. Please see this post of mine. Sometimes clusters have meaning, but not usually.

  12. Darrell Says:

    Neo, I find this one meaningful because I have been on and around these ships for my entire adult life and have never heard of this many crew members getting sick like this, relatively quickly too. Highly unusual, especially with the demographic, young (19-22) and fairly healthy otherwise. There is a lawsuit:
    http://www.navytimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2014301140016

  13. neo-neocon Says:

    Darrell:

    But that’s exactly and precisely what a cluster is. It seems meaningful. But most are not, although they seem that way. By chance, such clusters will occur, and the statistical task is to tease out the meaningful ones from the meaningless ones. It can’t be done by hunches and feelings and suspicions.

  14. southpaw Says:

    It is hard to imagine that in an age where we are surrounded by technology that was unthinkable 50 years ago, the vast majority of humans are, as you call it, scientifically illiterate.
    You name the subject- “climate change”, hydraulic fracturing, the ozone layer, renewable energy – to name a very few popular ones, and the ignorance is as vast as sand in the Sahara. Even though most people don’t know much about any of those things, they’re sure that they do, because the people or sources they believe tell them what they need to think about them.
    I don’t know if it’s accidental or deliberate by the public educators, but it scientific knowledge and curiosity seem to be disproportionately lacking. Urban legends, myths, and all sorts of baloney are passed off as common knowledge, and it’s nearly impossible to change people’s perceptions once they’ve been indoctrinated.
    One engineering instructor once told me that a highly technological society is the easiest type for an enemy to destroy, but I didn’t appreciate what he meant – until I started to realize how little so many who rely on technology and the underlying science know so little about it.

  15. rickl Says:

    southpaw:

    Fifty or 75 years ago, lots of guys knew how to repair car or tractor engines. Plenty of the WWII draftees already knew how to shoot a rifle accurately, especially those who grew up on farms.

    How many today can repair an iPhone?

  16. parker Says:

    It would require extremely high, acute (instantaneous) or prolonged chronic exposures to see increases in the rate of incidents of cancer alluded to in the NYP. Naval vessels have monitors to detect the dose rate as the NYP article notes. I find it impossible to believe a commander would subject their crews to anything beyond 10 times background.

    “Tokyo Electric Power also knew that radioactivity was leaking at a rate of 400 tons a day into the North Pacific, according to the lawsuit and Japanese officials.”

    Radioactivity is not measured in tons, it is measured in either Curies or Becquerels.

    “The levels were incredibly dangerous and at one point, the radiation in the air measured 300 times higher than what was considered safe, Sebourn told The Post.”

    ““We have a multimillion-dollar radiation-detection system, but . . . it takes time to be set up and activated,” Cooper said.”

    I seriously doubt the ship with a “multmillion dollar detection system” got any where near the coast of Japan without the system up and running. BTW, the navy has excellent rad techs who could have the detectors up and running in a matter of minutes. I find it hard to believe the ship did not have competent techs. Only those unfamiliar with rad detection equipment would swallow that one. Measuring dose rates is quick and accurate with an ion chamber. Analyzing radioactivity in water is also a rather simple matter that would require no more than 15 minutes.

    But which is it, the detection instruments were activated too late or “the radiation in the air measured 300 times higher than what was considered safe”? I find it close to imposssible to believe the commander sailed into the rescue mission without the detection system activated when the vessel approached within 100 miles of the coast.

    Doses “300 times higher than what was considered safe” are LD50/30 doses; 50% of those so exposed die within 30 days. BTW, I spent 25 years as a radiation safety officer at a power plant and then a few years at the UofI before retiring. I understand the need for protection, I also recognize BS when I see it.

  17. blert Says:

    Parker, it’s as common as dust for the citizenry to conflate even high radiation figures as being a direct threat.

    The entire math of half-lives and nuclides is profoundly inverted by the a-scientific.

    For the general reader:

    LONG half-lives provide almost no prompt radiation. Uranium’s major isotopes have half-lives of great length: 4.5 billion years for U238.

    Because there are 6.02 x 10^23 atoms of U in 238 grams of metal even this slow decay can be detected.

    ULTRA short half-lives mean that fantastic levels of prompt radiation occur at the site. These are the mechanism for the fantastic radiation figures tossed around on ZeroHedge and such.

    Being prompt, they represent no threat to the larger world. You’d have to wade into the reactor — or at least camp out just down wind.

    Further, many nuclides emit radiation that is harmless unless you ingest them… Alpha particles… Beta rays.

    Alpha emitters are devastating if ingested — Po 209 comes to mind. But most are not a serious biological hazard. Alphas are stopped by your skin… if not a thin piece of paper.

    Betas are also pretty harmless — unless you’re being drowned in them. Like Alphas, they have trivial penetrating power.

    The true general concern is stuff like Strontium 90 and Iodine 131. Both are all too likely to blend into the human body and cause serious problems.

    Strangely, one almost NEVER hears of these beasts when a threat to public health is tossed out by the MSM.

    Gamma emitters are — generally — prompt emitters. It’s the fission reaction, itself, that is responsible for most Gamma rays. They are solely responsible for the massive shielding required. The Beta and Alpha rays could be contained by much more modest structures.

    Once the reactor is scrammed, the level of Gamma emissions drops like crazy. Naturally enough, there will still be plenty of Gamma emitters as the reactor cools down.

    But for the utility personnel the big worry is all of the degenerate debris that somehow always seems to leak out of the containment.

    It makes for bad PR, and has every potential to get into the food chain.

    In the case of TEPCO, they seem to have made a sequence of goofs… starting with siting the plant on the tsunami coast. (!)

  18. parker Says:

    blert,

    “Alphas are stopped by your skin… if not a thin piece of paper.” No alpha particle can travel more than 2 inches in air so a piece of paper or skin are adequate to stop an alpha. As you note, ingested or inhaled alpha emitters are a horse of another color. Sr-90 is a high energy beta emitter capable of causing severe skin doses or damage to the eye in high doses. Sr-90 is most dangerous if inhaled or digested because it is a bone seeker. Radioisotpes of iodine, most imporantly I-131, in large doses, is likewise dangerous if ingested or inhaled because it is organ specific — thyroid. High energy gamma radiation is the real danger when one is considering external exposure.

    The dose rates in the NYP article (300 times ‘safe levels’) is simply BS. LD50/30 is no joke. LD50/30 is swift and absolute; it does not require several years to kill and cancer induction is the least of your worries if you are exposed to LD50/30 doses. I suspect you are well aware of this information, but I feel it is warranted to reiterate for those who have an emotional response to all things nuclear; including Godzilla. ;-)

  19. Beverly Says:

    Funny; I just watched a [British] documentary about the Japanese tsunami a couple of days ago. They sort of halfheartedly tried to hype Fukushima as the Big Scary of the whole thing, then gave it up and focussed on the REAL Big Scaries: the gigantic earthquake (9.0 on the Richter scale, which is 1/1,000-year stuff) and the tidal waves that came in afterwards.

    That footage still blows my mind. It’s like a hurricane storm surge, but compressed into a half hour rather than several hours. But you get to see how the houses and buildings in front pop loose from their foundations and become huge battering rams for the buildings behind them.

  20. Ymarsakar Says:

    The Japanese are doing an election for Tokyo to decide whether to go Green or nuclear.

    Fukushima reactor is part of the public concern. The Japanese don’t have much living space, so anything that can permanently or semi permanently contaminate a piece of land is of major concern. They can’t make artificial islands as fast as they want to.

    The American experiment was designed on the premise that every individual could rule themselves, because they were kings and did not need a king to rule them. But for people that do not understand how the world works, they naturally look for a king to rule them, since peasants are often uneducated and know little of the world beyond the village.

    Thus the light of civilization ultimately brings the darkness. The greater the light of American civilization, the greater the darkness that will be produced in the shadow.

  21. NICUNURSE Says:

    My sil’s close friend was just released 2 days ago from the hospital after surgery for thyroid cancer.She is in her 30′s and is from the part of France that received radiation exposure from Chernoybl.Apparently there are lots of women from that area showing up with this cancer now.Apparently at the time of Chernobyl they were told that there was no problem.Thyroid surgery is actually pretty high risk and your voice can be damaged and there can be some really serious complications in the post op period so yes pretty treatable but def. with repercussians.

  22. Charles Says:

    Neo: “The after-the-fact facts don’t seem to ever reach them. This seems to me to be a combination of media hype, scientific illiteracy, and how difficult it is to change one’s mind about something, even when preconceptions are confronted by evidence.”

    I’d like to add another reason – governments and politicians lie too often. Especially when it comes to covering up something. While this may not be the main reason for so many to get agitated over Fukushima; I wouldn’t be surprised if it was part of the reason why so many don’t believe the “evidence.”

  23. neo-neocon Says:

    Charles:

    Good point. Except I’d add a caveat: sometimes rumors of the government coverup are actually greatly exaggerated. Sometimes the supposed coverup and government lies are actually fabrications or exaggerations by those trying to undermine the government with anti-government conspiracy theories. In fact, that happens quite a bit.

  24. IGotBupkis, "'Faeces Evenio', Mr. Holder?" Says:

    }}} So much of what people are certain they know is actually wrong.

    All too many people whose concept of an electron is something about the size of a small pea consider themselves able to accurately judge scientific matters.

  25. Q Says:

    Two weeks ago when “100 metric tonnes” spilled and it was splashed all over the news i wondered how much is that. After a few calculations i determined about 24,000 gallons. That sounds bad too, but my modest pool at home (30′x18′x6′) has 24,000 gallons…

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.
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