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Japan Medicine The Media Science

Japan's Radiation Disaster Toll: None Dead, None Sick 319

Posted by Soulskill
from the but-won't-somebody-think-of-the-children?!?! dept.
An anonymous reader writes "This article discusses a recently-released U.N. Scientific Committee report which examined the health effects of the accident at the Fukushima nuclear plant. Their conclusion: 'Radiation exposure following the nuclear accident at Fukushima-Daiichi did not cause any immediate health effects. It is unlikely to be able to attribute any health effects in the future among the general public and the vast majority of workers. ... No radiation-related deaths or acute effects have been observed among nearly 25,000 workers involved at the accident site. Given the small number of highly exposed workers, it is unlikely that excess cases of thyroid cancer due to radiation exposure would be detectable.' The article even sums up the exposure levels for the workers who were closest to the reactor: 'Of 167 exposed to more than the industry's recommended five-year limit of 100 mSv (a CT scan exposes patients to up to 10 mSv), 23 recorded 150-200 mSv, three 200-250 mSv and six up to 678 mSv, still short of the 1000 mSv single dosage that causes radiation sickness, or the accumulated exposure estimated to cause a fatal cancer years later in 5 per cent of people.' The report also highlights the minute effect it's had on the environment: 'The exposures on both marine and terrestrial non-human biota were too low for observable acute effects.'"
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Japan's Radiation Disaster Toll: None Dead, None Sick

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  • by hawguy (1600213) on Wednesday June 05, 2013 @06:01PM (#43918755)

    They have more than enough power projected to meet summer demand despite having only 2 of 50 nuclear power plants online:

    http://japandailypress.com/no-electricity-austerity-measures-for-japan-this-summer-0926652 [japandailypress.com]

    Anyone know how they made up the slack besides conservation? More coal? The article mentions "electric power companies have been looking to thermal power generation for their supplies", but it's not clear what that means - geothermal?

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by fredprado (2569351)
      Energy saving, which has brought Japan to this seemly comfortable position grants just a temporary relief. They will be hard pressed to turn the reactors again sooner or later. More likely sooner. Nuclear energy is not an option, either for Japan or any other country, it is an unavoidable path.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Darkness404 (1287218)
        Nuclear energy is the safest, cleanest and cheapest energy we can have right now. Sure, one day we might have unicorn-powered rainbows that provide all of our energy needs but today its basically either coal or nuclear for practical, cheap energy. The problem with nuclear energy is that everyone's too scared to build new plants and so the only nuclear power plants we're running are the older, less safe design. Fukishima was designed in the 1960s, nuclear technology has advanced a lot since then and its beco
        • Low capital costs, and at current prices low fuel costs.

        • by Jeremi (14640) on Wednesday June 05, 2013 @07:39PM (#43919673) Homepage

          A new nuclear plant costs billions of dollars, and the only way they ever get built at all is if the government guarantees to backstop disaster liability with taxpayer dollars. Otherwise private investors would never touch them.

          That doesn't sound particularly cheap to me. And in fact it isn't [ucsusa.org].

      • by toQDuj (806112)

        Not energy saving (at which they are quite bad, as I can see living here), but burning coal is why they only need 2 power plants.

    • by lloydchristmas759 (1105487) on Wednesday June 05, 2013 @06:07PM (#43918827)
      The article mentions "electric power companies have been looking to thermal power generation for their supplies", but it's not clear what that means - geothermal?

      No, thermal usually means coal [wikipedia.org].
      • by Microlith (54737)

        Shades of Foundation here. Asimov was goddamn prophetic. We mismanage nuclear power and the response is not to learn and improve but to regress.

      • by Attila the Bun (952109) on Wednesday June 05, 2013 @06:56PM (#43919303)
        The trouble is coal-fired power stations emit more radiation [scientificamerican.com] than nuclear reactors do. From the article: "fly ash emitted by a power plant [...] burning coal for electricity carries into the surrounding environment 100 times more radiation than a nuclear power plant producing the same amount of energy." That statistic is from 1978, and nuclear reactor technology has greatly improved since then (and continues to improve).
        • by toQDuj (806112)

          Well, nuclear reactor designs may have improved, but the newer designs are not being built. So we are stuck with the old ones.

        • by hawguy (1600213)

          The trouble is coal-fired power stations emit more radiation [scientificamerican.com] than nuclear reactors do. From the article: "fly ash emitted by a power plant [...] burning coal for electricity carries into the surrounding environment 100 times more radiation than a nuclear power plant producing the same amount of energy." That statistic is from 1978, and nuclear reactor technology has greatly improved since then (and continues to improve).

          Coal plant ash filtering has improved since 1978 as well, it would be interesting to see more recent numbers.

          • by sjames (1099)

            And then the fly ash goes where? Clearly not to the nuclear disposal facility where low level waste from a nuclear plant must go.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 05, 2013 @06:34PM (#43919105)
    • by Mashiki (184564) <mashiki AT gmail DOT com> on Wednesday June 05, 2013 @07:36PM (#43919659) Homepage

      Anyone know how they made up the slack besides conservation? More coal?

      Yes coal. In fact they've been buying long-term contracts, or outright buying mines in Western Canada to supply their energy needs, though the fact that we are dripping in coal up here is of no consequence. One of the mines(Grande Cache Coal) where my sister lives(Grande Cache, AB) was bought out simply for that. And GC coal is now on the road to open a 2nd and 3rd strip mine, I believe that the agreements are complete, though I may be wrong. Oh and all this stuff is shipped by train, to the west coast.

      I did find it funny there, there's so much oil, coal, and tar sands around there that you can watch it either ooze up from the ground, or right into the river. Oh and I can't forget natural gas, there's a reason the entire area from there to Grande Prairie is known as sour gas alley.

  • Oh noesss (Score:3, Funny)

    by imikem (767509) on Wednesday June 05, 2013 @06:03PM (#43918775) Homepage

    The true message of this article should be quite different: All nuclear power must be abandoned this instant, forever, because, well, umm, if all the millisieverts were put together and given to a baby, it might get radiation sickness.

    Won't somebody think of the children?

    And for those who are mentally challenged: .

  • And meanwhile (Score:5, Insightful)

    by JanneM (7445) on Wednesday June 05, 2013 @06:04PM (#43918779) Homepage

    And meanwhile, foreign media all but ignore the close to 20 000 dead from the tsunami; that was the real disaster.

    • by sandytaru (1158959) on Wednesday June 05, 2013 @06:13PM (#43918897) Journal
      Japan itself has been fixated on the nuclear aspects of the disaster. They're used to earthquakes and tsunamis and know that there isn't that much that can be done to prevent those disasters. They've focused on the nuclear aspect because 1. it's a newer type of disaster and 2. unlike earthquakes and tsunamis, it could have been prevented with a little more planning.
      • Uh no earthquake and tsunami fatalities can be prevented as well. Building codes come to mind. Civilian disaster warning systems. Etc.

        • Preventing fatalities is not the same as preventing a disaster from actually occurring. All nuclear accidents can be prevented with enough planning and prevention. We haven't quite figured out how to stop a tsunami from hitting shore.
          • by khallow (566160)

            All nuclear accidents can be prevented with enough planning and prevention.

            Sure. Don't have nuclear power. That's how you prevent most nuclear accidents. But if you want an industrial civilization, which most people do, then there are drawbacks, such as nuclear accidents or the variety of drawbacks to other choices for power generation.

            I think it's a case of having blinders on to focus on one sort of risk while ignoring the rest. We can do the same for other sorts of risks, such as automobile traffic accidents. In order to completely prevent automobile accidents, simply don't h

      • by hondo77 (324058)
        I think we all know the real reason [fanpop.com] the Japanese are so fixated on radiation-related problems.
      • They're used to earthquakes and tsunamis and know that there isn't that much that can be done to prevent those disasters.

        There isn't much that can be done... except of course for building a huge sea wall [dailymail.co.uk].

      • by JanneM (7445)

        Local media cover both much more evenly, with lots of coverage about rebuilding efforts (or failures to do so), lives of survivors and so on. Asahi Shinbun even has a regular one- or two-page section dedicated to nothing else.

    • And meanwhile, foreign media all but ignore the close to 20 000 dead from the tsunami; that was the real disaster.

      Nobody is ignoring the tragic lose of life from the tsunami. This story is about the nuclear power plans and the ability of the Japanese people to adjust to other forms of energy (including dirty coal).

      • No one is denying that this is about future of nuclear power here, but the gp provided an on-topic injection of perspective. Over 50% of the media coverage in this country was dedicated to a specific aspect of the larger tsunami disaster that from the very beginning clearly was going to claim a very small number of lives, if any.

        Though I'm not sure what's the point any more. There is a portion of the population that extends far beyond the viewership of Fox News that refuses to base any decisions on anyth
    • it was sickening (Score:5, Insightful)

      by foreverdisillusioned (763799) on Wednesday June 05, 2013 @06:28PM (#43919041) Journal
      This. In a rage I gave up trying to follow the disaster in the media after just a few days as it became clear there was little interest in the tens of thousands dead and harrowing stories of survival.

      It's all the more screwed up seeing as how the Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill happened just a year before. Eleven people died, instantly. Because unlike a modern nuclear reactor, oil will in fact explode with a giant fireball if something goes wrong. Unlike Fukushima, the ensuing geiser of oil quickly polluted hundreds of thousands of square miles to an extent that it was easily and prominently seen from space. Our solution to this was to dump millions of gallons of toxic and carcenogenic chemicals on top of it until we couldn't see the oil any more. Problem solved! Out of sight, out of mind. Meanwhile, how many billions of sea creatures perished and how many new cases of cancer are we going to see in the decades to come? We'll probably never know, because oil disasters just aren't sexy like nuclear disasters are.

      Oh yeah, and I am sick and fucking tired of not being able to eat large amounts of the tastiest fish in the sea because they are contiminated with huge amounts of mercury, primarily (from my understanding) through the burning of coal. Imagine the hysteria we'd see if the fish were actually mildly radioactive instead of merely full of toxic heavy metals that, unlike most radioactive sources, linger in your body unless you undergo chelation therapy.

      Nuclear sucks, it has security issues (although it could also safely and usefully dispose of all the Uranium 235 in the world, an angle I rarely hear anyone mention), and it's not renewable. But it would be so, so nice if people would fucking grow up and make even a token effort at objectively evaluating opportunity costs instead of continually screaming at the top of their lungs about pet issues.
      • by jez9999 (618189) on Thursday June 06, 2013 @04:40AM (#43922565) Homepage Journal

        Nuclear sucks

        How so?

        it has security issues

        Not really with integral fast reactors; it's too hard to get at the nuclear material without being killed by the radiation.

        (although it could also safely and usefully dispose of all the Uranium 235 in the world, an angle I rarely hear anyone mention)

        Quite.

        and it's not renewable.

        Nor is virtually anything. Solar power is using up the sun's energy. But, like solar, we do have an extremely large supply of fuel for it that would last us many thousands of years at the bare minimum.

        So I'm still not really seeing any justification for your "it sucks" angle.

  • In another story the families of the irradiated workers are claiming how nice it is to have a night light for free...

  • by schrall (1361555) on Wednesday June 05, 2013 @06:24PM (#43919011)
    ... because some of the subcontractors were forced to shield their counters [asahi.com]. The problem was even discussed on Slashdot [slashdot.org]. This means that the numbers are underestimated. Probably badly, knowing how japanese usually keep quiet on this kind of problems.
    • ... because some of the subcontractors were forced to shield their counters.

      From your citation, there were 5 people so affected, and the exposures could have been as much as 30% low as a result of the 3mm lead shields in question.

      Assuming that the five in question were among the six that TFA says got up to 678 mSv, then it's possible that one or more of those five might have gotten ALMOST 1 Sv, which is the single dose (lower) limit for acute radiation sickness.

      Assuming, of course, that one or more of tho

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by GoChickenFat (743372)
      But it's a UN Scientific Committee made up of scientists. We always believe scientist because we are not scientists and they are so we are not allowed to question their science.
      • by toQDuj (806112)

        Well, you are allowed to question, but we (nuclear scientists) hope that you know what you are talking about and bring something insightful comments to the table.

    • by Hentes (2461350)

      The study isn't about received radiation, but observable health effects.

  • But there are still wingnuts who claim they can detect the radiation as far as California, that all tuna in the oceans are radioactive, etc.

    The blinding stupidity of the human race and it's gullability for what they read/see on the internet will never cease to amaze me.

    • by Jeremi (14640)

      But there are still wingnuts who claim they can detect the radiation as far as California, that all tuna in the oceans are radioactive, etc.

      That's the beauty of the Internet; it turns the million-monkeys-on-typewriters idea from a thought experiment into an actual everyday experience.

      For any idiotic idea you can think of, there's someone on the Internet proclaiming it as true.

      I wouldn't use that as a method for judging the intelligence of the entire human race, though.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 05, 2013 @06:52PM (#43919247)

    From the article:

    A swift evacuation of 200,000 residents within a 20-kilometre radius of the plant helped protect them â" WHO estimated most residents of Fukushima prefecture received doses of 1-10 mSv in the first year.

    [...]

    About 1000 deaths have been attributed to evacuations. About 90 per cent were people older than 66, who suffered from the trauma of evacuation and living in shelters. Sadly, those of them who left areas where radiation was no greater than in naturally high background areas would have been better off staying.

    Philosophical Question: Do those 1000 deaths not count because they were not directly due to radiation poisoning? I mean, they wouldn't have happened if there had been no meltdown...

    • by khallow (566160)

      Philosophical Question: Do those 1000 deaths not count because they were not directly due to radiation poisoning?

      How about a practical question? How many of those "attributed" 1000 deaths actually did happen as a result of the evacuation from the nuclear accident as opposed to other causes? I wager it's a lot closer to 0 than to 1000.

      And let us not forget that a national-scale disaster, an earthquake and crippling tsunami happened during that time period.

      About 90 per cent were people older than 66

      In other words, people who probably would have died during the time period in question actually did die during the time period in question.

      I mean, they wouldn't have happened if there had been no meltdown...

      You know this how? What

  • Mar 2011: "Tokyo Electric, the owners of the plant, said five workers had been killed at the site, two were missing and 21 had been injured." link [telegraph.co.uk]

    Apr 2011: "On March 24, three workers at the Fukushima nuclear power plant were exposed accidentally to high localised radiation while standing in contaminated water". link [thelancet.com]

    Jul 2011: "A newly released document says the Japanese government estimated in April that some 1600 workers will be exposed to high levels of radiation in the course of handling the reac
    • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 05, 2013 @07:43PM (#43919711)

      And yet, no one seriously injured. Even the 3 people that were standing in highly radioactive water, they only had some redness that went away after a few days. They are just fine now.

      Mar 2011: "Tokyo Electric, the owners of the plant, said five workers had been killed at the site, two were missing and 21 had been injured."

      When a fucking crane collapsed on them because of the earthquake and tsunami! Some others drowned or were swept away. Yes sir, the tsunami was because of nuclear power! Maybe you should blame the 20,000 people that died on nuclear power too???

      Now, get back to burning more coal! Burn baby burn!

      For those that say Japan doesn't need nuclear power, you people don't know about economics. Japan is basically in a trade deficit because they have to import coal, oil and gas. Nuclear power saves Japan $50B (not yen, dollars) a year. Not only that, the money spent on nuclear power is spent on local employment using local currency. Coal, oil, and gas have to imported from outside Japan using up foreign reserves. They also create jobs outside Japan, while increasing local unemployment and poverty.

      Japan has a choice. It will remain nuclear powered, or it will be taken down a few notches on standard of living scale.

  • by I_am_Syrinx (461302) <I_am_syrinx@hotmai l . com> on Wednesday June 05, 2013 @06:58PM (#43919323)
    In a 2004 study on this very subject, it was determined that the mean latency period for thyroid cancer to appear after radiation exposure was over 30 years. Some appear sooner, of course, but many appeared much later than that. What is the point of this report? At best, the proclamation of not causing any noticeable immediate harm is premature. But saying that the exposure is "unlikely to be able to attribute any health effects in the future" borders on irresponsible, and seems driven by an agenda.

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1356259/ [nih.gov]
    • Well, there is data that would give a basis for this prediction.

      http://www.houseoffoust.com/edano/Scribble_Japan_Earthquake/pdfs/tceer.pdf [houseoffoust.com]

    • by Xyrus (755017)

      In a 2004 study on this very subject, it was determined that the mean latency period for thyroid cancer to appear after radiation exposure was over 30 years. Some appear sooner, of course, but many appeared much later than that. What is the point of this report? At best, the proclamation of not causing any noticeable immediate harm is premature. But saying that the exposure is "unlikely to be able to attribute any health effects in the future" borders on irresponsible, and seems driven by an agenda...

      There's no agenda and it isn't irresponsible in the slightest. Going by their age demographics and the probabilities of death by causes other than cancer (car accidents, home accidents, other diseases, etc.) , a large number of these people won't be around to be accounted for one way or the other. Those that do make it to the 30 year threshold would still need to pass the sniff test (do their families have a history of cancer, did they work with carcinogenic materials, did they need surgical work that requ

  • So they minimized the number of statistical radiation-induced deaths down to some small value by permanently evacuating an area of hundreds of square miles around the reactor? Still doesn't sound like a trivial thing to me.
  • by Crass Spektakel (4597) on Wednesday June 05, 2013 @10:13PM (#43920743) Homepage

    As far as I remember in the whole history of civil nuclear power there were roughly 687 fatalities recorded by civil nuclear power, even if one includes cases of long term neglected diseases.

    On the other hand, in the same time around 2.500.000 people died of hydropower with 250.000 alone in one major dam bust 40 years ago in china.

    As nuclear power produced roughly 10 times as much energy in the same time based on "deaths per watt" hydropower is 35.000 times more lethal than nuclear power.

    Tell this to the believers of the anti nuclear church and they will nail you to a cross... always look on the bright side of life...

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