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Fukushima's Fallout of Fear 124

Posted by Soulskill
from the only-thing-we-have-to-fear-is-fear-itself-and-radiation dept.
gbrumfiel writes "Experts believe that the many thousands who fled from the Fukushima nuclear disaster received very low doses of radiation. But that doesn't mean there won't be health consequences. Nature magazine traveled to Fukushima prefecture and found evidence of an enormous mental strain from the accident. Levels of anxiety and PTSD-like symptoms are high among evacuees. Researchers fear that, in the long run, the mental problems could lead to depression and substance abuse among those who lost their homes. In other words, even if no one develops cancer as a direct result of radiation, the health effects could still be very real."
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Fukushima's Fallout of Fear

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  • by rrohbeck (944847) on Wednesday January 16, 2013 @05:57PM (#42609397)

    If officials would reliably issue accurate statements there would be much less reason to stress out.

    • Or even more reason to be afraid...IIRC part of the problem was they weren't telling people how bad it really was wasn't it?

      That said "among those who lost their homes" would seem to include the many thousands of tsunami victims rather than just the ones displaced due to the nuclear issues.

      Attributing that to Fukushima isn't a fair metric (and I'm one to widely denounce nuclear power...)
      • by iYk6 (1425255) on Wednesday January 16, 2013 @06:30PM (#42609911)

        Or even more reason to be afraid...IIRC part of the problem was they weren't telling people how bad it really was wasn't it?

        That was the problem. By lying, officials were indirectly telling people that the nuclear disaster was so bad that they had to lie. Plus, not knowing how bad it is adds another layer of stress.

        • by Waccoon (1186667)

          Unfortunately, a lie is usually more effective than, "We don't know."

          The more you learn about sociology, the more depressing it gets. Ethical panic control isn't easy.

      • by Anonymous Coward
        Fukushima [wikipedia.org] is the name of the prefecture and city, not just the Fukushima Daiichi reactor. They're talking about fleeing Fukushima in general, not just because of the nuclear incident.
        • Same goes for Chernobyl...what's your point?
      • Or even more reason to be afraid...IIRC part of the problem was they weren't telling people how bad it really was wasn't it?

        That said "among those who lost their homes" would seem to include the many thousands of tsunami victims rather than just the ones displaced due to the nuclear issues.

        Attributing that to Fukushima isn't a fair metric (and I'm one to widely denounce nuclear power...)

        Sigh...This is Slashdot, where no one actually RTFA, right?

        The article specifically mentions "But uncertainty, isolation and fears about radioactivity’s invisible threat are jeopardizing the mental health of the 210,000 residents who fled from the nuclear disaster."

        This is about the people who were forced out of their homes because of the nuclear disaster, NOT people whose homes were destroyed by the tsunami.

      • by jrumney (197329)

        That said "among those who lost their homes" would seem to include the many thousands of tsunami victims rather than just the ones displaced due to the nuclear issues.

        Those whose homes were destroyed in the tsunami, but are outside the exclusion area can rebuild and find some closure. Those who cannot return to their homes due to the accident, and are still getting conflicting stories from officials must be under extreme mental strain. So there is very good reason to look specifically into these people's

      • by AmiMoJo (196126) *

        That said "among those who lost their homes" would seem to include the many thousands of tsunami victims rather than just the ones displaced due to the nuclear issues.

        TFA makes it clear that the problems of those displaced by the nuclear disaster are quite different to those displaced by the tsunami. They lost their jobs, businesses, homes and communities just the same, but are reliant on TEPCO for compensation, and TEPCO is constantly looking for excuses to reduce it. It's not like they can re-build their communities in the foreseeable future because the timetable for clean-up is uncertain and Fukushima itself is projected to take at least 30 years to deal with.

        Radiatio

    • by joe_frisch (1366229) on Wednesday January 16, 2013 @06:25PM (#42609825)

      Does this lead to suggesting that the government downplay risks since the fear causes more injuries that the actual risk? Should we avoid technologies that scare people even if there is not data to support that fear?

      I think the study is probably valid, but I think people need to be very careful on how this information is incorporated into policy.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by maxwell demon (590494)

        Quite the opposite. There's nothing causing more fear than the government found downplaying the danger. As soon as the government is found downplaying, all claims by the government that there's no or only little danger completely lose any credibility they may have had, and people assume the worst.

      • by Mikkeles (698461)

        No. It suggests that government and media accurately state and report on the risks.

        LOL; It's hard to write this with a straight face :^)

    • by EdZ (755139) on Wednesday January 16, 2013 @07:08PM (#42610493)

      If officials would reliably issue accurate statements there would be much less reason to stress out.

      They did. Even prior to the hydrogen explosions, I was following the IAEA and NISA reports on exactly what was going on, complete with regularly updated radiation levels for various sampling stations.
      However, if all you're getting in media reports is fearmongering over THIS NUMBER IS 100 TIMES BIGGER THAN THIS OTHER NUMBER! (and neglecting to mention the units, let alone a helpful comparison to commonly encountered levels of radiation) you'd be forgiven for thinking that the people who know what's going on aren't telling anyone. They are, it's simply that nobody is bothering to listen (and think).

      • They did.

        Rubbish. They released some meaningless sampling figures, that's all.

        They're still not making enough raw data available for independent assessment.

      • by rrohbeck (944847)

        How often did we hear "There was no core melt"?

    • by sl149q (1537343)

      How does this compare to the far higher number of people who lost their homes from the tsunami?

      It does show that by far and away the biggest danger in a nuclear accident is people panicking because of the over reaction of the authorities, press, blog-o-sphere and twitterverse.

    • by slick7 (1703596)

      If officials would reliably issue accurate statements there would be much less reason to stress out.

      If they told the truth, the opposite might happen. When the ocean around Japan finally dies for good, then the real fear begins.

  • by scsirob (246572) on Wednesday January 16, 2013 @05:59PM (#42609419)

    .. Are they saying that fear mongering will kill more people than the radiation from actual nuclear disaster? Wow.
    So that means, on the death toll scale:
    1. The actual Tsunami
    2. Traffic accidents from people trying to flee
    3. Stress related deaths
    4. Radiation related deaths

    • by sjames (1099)

      That's about right.

    • by fredprado (2569351) on Wednesday January 16, 2013 @06:11PM (#42609621)
      That seems accurate, but I would say that there are still a lot of other items between 3 and 4.
      • by Cryacin (657549) on Wednesday January 16, 2013 @06:27PM (#42609865)
        You forgot #847. Tripping over cat and falling down stairs whilst hurriedly running to basement to get to fallout shelter.
      • by afgam28 (48611)

        I wonder if pollution wafting over from China is one of them!

        It's interesting that when mostly coal-induced smog chokes a city of 20 million people, it's minor news for a day, whereas Fukushima made global headlines for weeks. I don't want to downplay the seriousness of Fukushima, but imagine how many hundreds of thousands more people will develop cancer from the smog.

    • Not sure about the laws in Japan but in similar situations in the US wouldn't certain media organizations be liable for "yelling fire in a crowded theater"? Not that I'm in favor of any restriction on free speech but given that we have an established standard where an individual can be held liable for causing panic where people get hurt, shouldn't a news organizations be liable for exaggerated sensationalistic reporting that causes panic and stress related deaths nationwide?

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Cryacin (657549)
        But... if you cut that out, then Fox news would just be the Fox logo.
        • Not sure they can even have that.

          I run screaming from a TV when I see just the Fox logo.

          • "I run screaming from a TV when I see just the Fox logo."

            I wish some of my coworkers were like that. Just hold up an LCD screen with that on it and they leave immediately.

            Kind of like a glyph or warding.

    • by Bigby (659157)

      Sounds like Radiation can lead to mass killings in schools. What special interest will win that battle of blame? Anti-nuclear or anti-guns?

    • In many parts of the evacuated zone, the "contamination" is so small and insignificant that health experts have stated that people could safely return home. However, the government of Japan, instead of trying to educate people about the true risks (or lack thereof) decided they were going to keep the area empty until it could all be "cleaned up" at enormous expense.

      So, the public is left with the impression that the government must know it's too dangerous to return, so it must be, right? So, they are depres

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Because people have been told "You must freak out! Think of the health risks!", and promptly did freak out... they are now likely to have negative impacts on their health because they freaked out.

    Got it.

    • Who was "telling people to freak out" and what level of "fear" do you think is appropriate for a nuclear meltdown?

      Got it.

      Actually I don't. I really don't get these kind of posts. First I can't see anyone telling them what to do (other than evacuate), second I have found people rarely do what they are told without question.

      Do people have all sorts of absurd opinions about major events? - Sure, but yours is just one of them.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Who was "telling people to freak out" and what level of "fear" do you think is appropriate for a nuclear meltdown?

        I believe around 15 kiloHitchcocks is the accepted level of fear for a nuclear meltdown. To clarify, I think that's equivalent to 674.722 on the Voorhees scale, or approximately 9433.00284 Ringu, a measurement which isn't used all that often.

        • by Abreu (173023)

          Who was "telling people to freak out" and what level of "fear" do you think is appropriate for a nuclear meltdown?

          I believe around 15 kiloHitchcocks is the accepted level of fear for a nuclear meltdown. To clarify, I think that's equivalent to 674.722 on the Voorhees scale, or approximately 9433.00284 Ringu, a measurement which isn't used all that often.

          Surely you mean 9433 milliringu? Last I checked, one metric Ringu equals 1.6 kiloHitchcocks and around 70 Voorhees.

        • kiloHitchcocks

          Love it!

  • What about drowning? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by vlm (69642) on Wednesday January 16, 2013 @06:07PM (#42609561)

    Experts believe that the many thousands who fled from the Fukushima nuclear disaster received very low doses of radiation. But that doesn't mean there won't be health consequences.

    Yeah I think having your friends, family, and coworkers drown might stress them a wee bit, even if americans think nothing happened there but a minor nuclear power incident.

  • by fnj (64210) on Wednesday January 16, 2013 @06:18PM (#42609721)

    Losing your home, let alone all your possessions, is a horrific thing to go through, no matter what the process of loss is: nuclear accident, hurricane, bankruptcy. I believe it is a more devastating loss than the one you have when you reach a certain age and the truth of your own mortality comes into full focus. Losing everything the day your own light goes out forever, there is a sense of loss in the anticipation, but there is no "you" to miss anything afterwards. Losing all your "stuff" on the other hand is the hurt that just keeps hurting.

  • by Robotbeat (461248) on Wednesday January 16, 2013 @06:22PM (#42609783) Journal

    http://www.forbes.com/sites/jamesconca/2013/01/11/like-weve-been-saying-radiation-is-not-a-big-deal/ [forbes.com]

    "A very big report came out last month with very little fanfare. It concluded what we in nuclear science have been saying for decades – radiation doses less than about 10 rem (0.1 Sv) are no big deal. The linear no-threshold dose hypothesis (LNT) does not apply to doses less than 10 rem (0.1 Sv), which is the region encompassing background levels around the world, and is the region of most importance to nuclear energy, most medical procedures and most areas affected by accidents like Fukushima."

    • by EdZ (755139)

      (0.1 Sv)

      HOLY SHIT. That is massively higher than most of the threshold theories (that I've read) posited. You'd have to chow down on an exorbitant amount of Fukishima grown produce (or fish caught nearby the runoff areas) to even come close to approaching 100mSv.

    • by A beautiful mind (821714) on Wednesday January 16, 2013 @07:19PM (#42610647)

      I'm going to undo a bunch of mod points with this post, but I wanted to point out that the blog post you cite is flat out wrong.

      I'd like to say that I'm for building more nuclear plants of 4th or later generation design and that even with the LNT model, the maximum number of deaths from Fukushima might be on the level of a single bus accident. That said, the blogpost is incredibly misleading. It took me a while to track down the original source that the post claims to cite from UNSCEAR and it's this paragraph:

      In general, increases in the incidence of health effects in populations cannot be attributed reliably to chronic exposure to radiation at levels that are typical of the global average background levels of radiation. This is because of the uncertainties associated with the assessment of risks at low doses, the current absence of radiation-specific biomarkers for health effects and the insufficient statistical power of epidemiological studies. Therefore, the Scientific Committee does not recommend multiplying very low doses by large numbers of individuals to estimate numbers of radiation-induced health effects within a population exposed to incremental doses at levels equivalent to or lower than natural background levels;

      What they are saying in short is that the statistical uncertainty is strong enough at low levels of radiation doses WRT cancer risk is that it's not possible to tell whether the LNT model is true or not and THEREFOR it shouldn't be used to say "this many people will die from this much low level radiation". They aren't saying that LNT is wrong. They aren't saying that LNT is right. They are saying we don't know.

      The quote from the report is from here [unscear.org]. It's from the latest report to the general assembly, page 16.

    • Well the science actually differs from the article. Here is a list of some scientific studies on the effects of low energy emitters, particularly Triated water, with references, in case there is any doubt regarding low dose radiation's effect on living beings.

      Tritium is biologically mutagenic *because* it's a low energy emitter. This characteristic makes readily absorbed by surrounding cells. The available evidence from studies conducted journal a list of effects. From those works;

      Tritium can be inhal

  • Effects not of nuclear power, but of panicky "abundance of caution" overreactions by authorities and news media to _any_ perceived threat.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    FFS enough with the nuclear-accidents-are-cool-and-safe propaganda on slashdot.

    On the one hand we are expected to believe there are nuclear terrorists with a few grams of cesium-137 pose a deadly threat to our largest cities [dailymail.co.uk]

    On the other hand we are expected to believe a nuclear accident where 180TONS of nuclear fuel in three reactors completely melted down, releasing over 5-30kg (15-85TBq) of cesium-137 directly into the atmosphere, 10 times as much other volatile isotopes, (in addition to even greater ongo

  • is there some sort of accident that could reverse this depression? like perhaps an explosion at a giant nitrous oxide factory?
    • Make people think we might die from a lack of radioactivity. Then they can say: "Thanks to Fukushima, we are safe now." :-)

    • by lennier (44736)

      I'm an xkcd fan, but this chart is just really, really bad science and abysmal health physics. It pervasively confuses the crucial difference between one-time external exposure ("radiation"), and ongoing internal exposure from ingestion of bioaccumulating radioactive isotopes (such as iodine-131, strontium-90, cesium-137). They're completely different exposure mechanisms and you simply can't compare them directly - except to say that eating or breathing in a radioactive particle is orders of magnitude worse

      • First off, you sound like and arrogant know-it-all prick. I'm not trying to be insulting, but that's how you are coming across. Second, the bottom of his chart, which does seem to be fairly accurate states

        Chart by Randall Munroe, with help from Ellen, Senior Reactor Operator at the Reed Research Reactor, who suggested the idea and provided a lot of the sources. I'm sure I've added in lots of mistakes; ITS FOR GENERAL EDUCATION ONLY. If you're basing radiation safety procedures on an internet PNG image an

        • by MrKaos (858439)

          First off, you sound like and arrogant know-it-all prick.

          Well even if he does he is right, the radionuclides he mentions analogue calcium and iodine and are absorbed into the body as micro-nutrients subject to bio-accumulation. One of my previous posts can refer you to some science [slashdot.org] if you are curious.

  • Experts believe that the many thousands who fled from the Fukushima nuclear disaster received very low doses of radiation

    It seems to me that one explanation that many thousands received a low doses of radiation is BECAUSE they fled, not in spite of it which is what the summary seems to imply. And being told there is nothing to see here while a nuclear plant is actually going through a meltdown, then suddely told you must evacuate, well that seems like a category for stress. It's not like they could see i

    • I was about to post something similar, seeing noone seemed to notice the inconsistency...

      It's somewhat like claiming to fear fire or to flee from fire was stupid because those who fled weren't burnt much after all...

  • Seriously? You're going to start blaming Nuclear power for depression? REALLY? Sorry, but as if the anti-nuclear groups weren't already ridiculous, I think they've finally gone full retard.

    • by MrKaos (858439)

      Seriously? You're going to start blaming Nuclear power for depression? REALLY? Sorry, but as if the anti-nuclear groups weren't already ridiculous, I think they've finally gone full retard.

      Well perhaps you should take it up with The New York Academy of Sciences, they are but one of many organisations who have performed studies [nyas.org] on the after effects of Chernobyl and found depression is a big one when you get displace from your entire life.

  • The article comes close to saying the evacuation was a mistake. It looks like far more deaths and suffering will come from the evacuation that the low doses of radiation.
  • Implications (Score:4, Insightful)

    by sjames (1099) on Wednesday January 16, 2013 @07:15PM (#42610579) Homepage

    Given that, I wonder how the total financial meltdown courtesy of Golden Sacks and co. complete with people losing their homes, income, and healthcare compares to every reactor in the U.S. suffering a Fukushima style meltdown all at once.

  • by InterGuru (50986) <jhdNO@SPAMinterguru.com> on Wednesday January 16, 2013 @07:57PM (#42611063) Homepage

    From the IEEE spectrum's article Chernobyl's Stressful After-Effects [ieee.org]

    Perhaps most widespread are psychosomatic illnesses--even in not-too-contaminated areas, there has been a large upswing in stress-related physical ailments, notably stomach and autoimmune disorders. In fact, morbidity and mortality due to such disorders may well in the end exceed sicknesses and deaths caused by radiation.

    Also see the book Toxic Turmoil (one review here) [bookwormhole.net]for more discussion of the role of stress in disasters.

    We should note the Chernobyl's radiation release was an order of magnitude greater than Fukashima's .

  • by strangeattraction (1058568) on Wednesday January 16, 2013 @07:58PM (#42611077)
    People lost their homes, loved ones, possessions and jobs. Why anyone would think the power plant issue/evacuation is the main source of their depression is beyond comprehension.
  • The general tone of the response on Slashdot is "these are just an ignorant bunch of lay people who are being deliberately mislead by evil anti-nuclear Luddite environmentalists." This attitude is condescending and not supported by the facts. It also embodies a strong pro-nuclear bias, which is just as arbitrary as the claimed anti-nuclear bias.

    First, there is not enough information about long term low level radiation exposure to know the long term risks. The one other similar example, Chernobyl, is not a

  • They are the only country in the world to have nuclear weapons used against them. It only stands to reason they would freak out about radiation.
    But you know that's just the obvious answer. Really, they are waiting for Godzilla to show up and level Tokyo.
    • by zedrdave (1978512)
      As someone who lived in Japan during the Great Eastern Earthquake, I can assure you that the people freaking out about nuclear death where mainly the rest of the world, not the Japanese.

      Japanese were too busy trying to rescue people amidst entire cities swept by the tsunami, to really care about Fukushima anywhere as much as foreign newspapers did. And the most stridently panicky people in the streets of Tokyo were consistently foreigners or people getting their news from foreign media.

      Now that the mo
  • In other words, even if no one develops cancer as a direct result of radiation, the health effects could still be very real

    ACTUALLY the article is arguing that the health-effects could be all in peoples mind.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    I was in Japan shortly after the Tsunami, and most people seemed to understand that the radiation would have no impact on their lives for anyone in Tokyo or south of Tokyo, compared to the mild panic say on the west coast of North America. The authorities seemed to have communicated somewhat effectively the risks, at least for those not in the immediate area, and people were far more focused on getting support to tsunami victims than concerned about radiation. As such, the damage due to panic was relative

  • Step 1: Run like headless chickens promising a fiery death through radiation burns to anyone living within 1000 miles of Fukushima.

    Step 2: Be somewhere else when scientific findings pour in, showing that the risk on the general population, save for some very specific cases (such as workers at the plant who heroically risked their health trying to fix things), pales by comparison with absolutely every other aspect of the catastrophe (starting with thousands of deaths, injuries and destroyed houses, for en
  • Substance abuse? They surely don't know Japanese people. It's not USA.
  • Is it possible in the USA to sue for damages due to the nocebo effect (I.e. the flip side of the placebo effect)? The harmful effects are very real.

    If yes, then victims could sue sensational journalists. Lawyers who told women they must be sick because of breast implants could be sued by those women who actually suffered because of the nocebo effect. Purveyors of end of the world scenarios and global warming fear mongers could become defendants.

    On the other hand, does the first amendment protect all speech

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