Facts on Fukushima

May 21, 2017

Facts on Fukushima

A reader posted an article sounding alarm that traces of cesium 134 have been found on the west coast of the United States linked to the Fukushima disaster. To this I responded:

This article is trying to create alarm where absolutely no alarm is called for. It says it has found radiation from cesium 134 in samples from the Oregon coast measured around 0.3 becquerels per cubic meter. Researchers in both the US and Canada said the recently detected radiation levels were extremely low and pose “no risk to humans or the environment.”

Extremely low is right. It would make over three cubic meters of water to produce one radioactive atom which would be much less radiation than you would get from holding a brick in your hand or looking at your watch with luminous dials.

The article says there are no safe levels of radiation which is nonsense. We are subjected to radiation every day through normal living and in small doses that some argue they are beneficial.

Here is what Snopes says about the salmon in the story.

“To be sure, the Fukushima disaster was a worldwide environmental catastrophe with global effects. The presence of a single North American salmon with trace levels of cesium-134, undoubtedly the result of the Fukushima event, will nevertheless have a barely negligible — let alone catastrophic — effect on public health.


To this the reader responded insisting there is a problem – that Fukushima is spilling its 500,000 year half-life lethal-level radiation into the Pacific.

We have to deal with the facts here my friend, not our feelings or alarm from others that has no foundation.

First, there is nothing released from any nuclear reactor that has a half-life of 500,000 years. Plutonium has a half-life of about 24,000 years and radiation from that poses no problem. Radiation from elements with a long half-life is not that dangerous. A while back, Bernard Cohen, a nuclear physicist volunteered to ingest some to demonstrate it was no more harmful than caffeine.

The second fact is that there were no deaths related to radioactivity from the Fukushima disaster. In addition Wikipedia says this concerning other effects:

“There have been no observed or expected deterministic effects. In pregnancies, there has been no expected increase in spontaneous abortions, miscarriages, perinatal mortality, birth defects, or cognitive impairment. Finally, there was no expected discernible increase in heritable disease or discernible radiation-related increases in any cancers, with the possible exception of thyroid cancer.”

A threat to the thyroid from iodine no longer exists, as its half-life was only eight days.

The Japanese have been carefully monitoring any possible radioactivity in fish and food in the area and radioactivity poses no present danger.

There are three major radioactive elements released that are of concern. The first and most serious is Iodine-131 which has a half-life of only eight days. That has spent itself out long ago so the danger there is long passed. The second cesium-134 which has a half-life of about two years. This means that around 87% of its danger has now passed and will too become negligible soon. The third is cesium-137 which has a half-life of 30 years.

There are traces of cesium-137 in all our oceans caused by the testing of atomic bombs by the United States and the Soviet Union decades ago. This is of little concern as the amount is thousands of times lower than that required for any health risk. Any additional amounts of cesium-137 and cesium-134 linked to the Fukushima disaster is so small as to have about zero effect.

The main negative health effect from Fukushima was the displacement of citizens who lived near the reactor. This was an extreme inconvenience.

Although there were no deaths directly related to radiation from the reactor there were 15,894 deaths, and 2,562 people missing caused by the tsunami itself. It was also the most expensive disaster in history costing around $235 billion. This comparison is often overlooked.

The Fukushima disaster was created by a perfect storm of condition that taught us to not make reactors in areas where a possible tsunami could occur. Even so, the new generation of reactors and those in development are much safer and would not duplicate this problem.

The situation is a little like the history of the railroad. At first the bridges that made were not that safe and a number collapsed. The public was alarmed and, for a time, everyone thought that we should cease expanding our rails because we could not make safe bridges. But we corrected our mistakes in construction and soon the time came that all bridges were sound and safe.

We are at that point with atomic refactors. The newest ones are very safe and those under development will be even more secure. This should be good news for those concerned with CO2 emissions, for nuclear energy is responsible or more carbon free energy than any other source and it is not intrusive and does not clutter up the environment as is wind and solar. In addition it poses no threat to birds.

Excessive regulations and lawsuits by environmentalists is making nuclear expansion difficult in the United States, but fortunately this has not prevented other nations from forging ahead. In 2016 China increased its nuclear generating capacity by a whopping 25%, giving it power to reduce coal consumption and CO2 emissions. In addition it has 20 nuclear reactors under construction.

In the western Hemisphere atomic energy has the record of being the safest form of producing electricity. I have only been able to find one death linked to radiation exposure at a power plant in this hemisphere in the last 60 years.

Instead of worrying about harmless amounts of radiation in our oceans we ought to be concentrating on real problems. A major one is the polluting of our seas with garbage, most insidiously plastic bottles which are very harmful to sea life. It is outrageous that citizens of the world have allowed this to happen.

A second major problem is the dumping of nitrogen and phosphorous into the Mississippi River that drains into the Gulf of Mexico creating a dead zone that is destroying life in the waters. We need to focus more attention on natural methods of food production where no harm is done to the land or the waters.

A third problem is overfishing. This needs more international attention.

Finally a fourth major problem is the pollution of our seas and life therein with mercury, mainly from the burning of coal. This is why I support nuclear, wind and solar as replacements as soon as possible and any coal we do burn should be clean coal which reduces mercury and other emissions.

In conclusion there plenty of things to be concerned about with our oceans and waters, but radiation from Fukushima is not one of them.

Copyright by J J Dewey

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