Fukushima’s Refugees Are Victims Of Irrational Fear, Not Radiation

Amid the Fukushima hysteria Germany has decided to shut down its nuclear reactors and import more natural gas from Putin and more nuclear energy from France and the Czechs. This does not make sense, either economically, politically or with respect to safety. If Germans or Japanese are that worried about radiation then a more sensible course of action would be to stop eating potato chips, beets, brazil nuts and bananas, all of which are relatively high but ultimately harmless sources of radiation.

The first anniversary of the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami has brought on a silly season of sensational, uninformed fear-mongering (Rod Adams has a representative rogues gallery at the end of his critique). So today I was pleased to see a science-based analysis by Dr. James Conca, an international expert on the environmental effects of radioactive contamination.

Every time I eat a bag of potato chips I think of Fukushima. This 12-ounce bag of chips has 3500 picoCuries of gamma radiation in it, and the number of bags I eat a year gives me a dose as high as what I would receive living in much of the evacuated zones around Fukushima. But unlike the Fukushima refugees, I get to stay in my home. We live in a nuanced world of degree. Eating a scoop of ice cream is fine, eating a gallon at one time is bad. Jumping off a chair is no big deal; jumping off a cliff is really stupid. The numbers matter. It’s the dose that makes the poison. There is a threshold to everything.

The radiation in those potato chips isn’t going to kill me. Likewise, no one is going to die from Fukushima radiation. Cancer rates are not going to increase in Japan. The disaster wasn’t hidden like the Soviets did, so that people unknowingly ate iodine-131 for two months before it decayed away to nothing. No one threw workers into the fire like lemmings because they didn’t know what to do.

(…) This idea, known as the Linear No-Threshold Dose hypothesis (LNT), was adopted in 1959 as the global regulating philosophy and remains entrenched against all scientific evidence. It is an ethical nightmare. And it will destroy Japan’s economy.

It‘s keeping 100,000 Japanese citizens as refugees, as it did almost a million Ukrainians. It will waste $100 billion that’s needed to rebuild the devastation from the tsunami, not protect against a large intake of potato chips. It will cause more injury to Japan’s already beleaguered population and damaged economy, for no benefit.

We set thresholds to protect people against harm, and we’ve done a good job. The Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, seat belts, coal flue scrubbers, all have saved millions of lives and made the quality of life better for everyone. But thresholds need to be set with reason. We don’t stop driving just because 50,000 people still die on the roadways each year, or stop heating our homes because 1,000 people die every month from coal particle inhalation. We try to make it safer and we deal with things as they occur.

For radiation this philosophy has failed. The LNT theory has been long since disproven. We are bathed in radiation every day and we know that low levels of radiation or even ten times background levels have never hurt anyone. It doesn’t cause cancer. Yet the global fear of nuclear energy and radiation has diverted billions of dollars from more serious health issues. The amount of funding the U.S. spent since 1990 protecting against what, in many parts of the world, are background levels of radiation, could have immunized the entire continent of Africa against its three worst scourges. Instead we saved not one life. This is an ethical issue. The science is easy, the politics are not.

Highly recommended. Read the whole thing »

James L. Conca is Director of NMSU Carlsbad Environmental Monitoring and Research Center (CEMRC), his CV including publications.

10 thoughts on “Fukushima’s Refugees Are Victims Of Irrational Fear, Not Radiation

  1. Good work! Need to send this article to what surviving true science editors in the media to help the largely science-illiterate nuclear-skittish public get a grip. While I sympathize the trauma Japan has undergone, I have small pity on having a royal cow over a nuclear “catastrophe” and “disaster” that didn’t happen. The world is looking a gift-horse in the mouth of a power source that since the first reactor fired up in 1942, has _worldwide_ killed less people than a single plane crash — and that mostly Cherynbol — a messed-with reactor. No one died at TMI or Fukushima nor any property damage beyond their gates, and Fukushima was a three-time chance for a “mega-death nuclear nightmare” at one shot brought on by a rare overpowering natural event yet it fizzled (can you believe there are people DISAPPOINTED by that??). Why don’t people howl as much when gas and oil facilities blow up and take whole neighborhoods with them — nearly a hundred thousand public and worker fatalities since 1942. How silent the media of those deaths! But laypeople just shrug at that — and contentedly eat the pollution coal and oil daily and on a regular basis gift us. Is this hypocrisy or what? Yet the atom-is-evil Hiroshima guilt-games and gloom and doom disinformation about nuclear energy rolls on without any real media challenge or sincere even-handed critiques.

    James Greenidge
    Queens NY

  2. Conca is a liar. LNT is the best theory to describe low level effects as many scientific bodies reitierated this decade. It has never been disproven. Shame, shame.

  3. I second Matt’s recommendation to read Allison’s ‘Radiation and Reason’.

    If you want a shorter read, I suggest Wigg: Australasian Radiology (2007) 51, 21–25 Radiation: Facts, fallacies and phobias, by DR Wigg, Clinical Radiobiology Unit, Cancer Services, Royal Adelaide Hospital, Adelaide, South Australia, Australia.

    Attempting to evaluate the LNT hypothesis, what I have found is that, in general, radiation professionals do not believe that LNT is correct – further that it is very destructive in terms of health effects (anxiety, etc.). Shorthand: the more you know about radiation the less you believe in the LNT hypothesis.

    That said, a controlled, large scale experimental test to estimate empirically the proper human dose threshold is far too expensive for anyone to seriously contemplate the undertaking. I’ve concluded that 200mSv per annum is a good working number. That means that almost all of the Fukushima evacuees should be allowed to return home.

    This search will find a dozen or so LNT references that I’ve found useful.

    • Quite the opposite, the more you know, the more you conclude that LNT is the best theory to describe low dose radiation. See my link above in which I point out Allison’s fallacies.

      • The points noted on that blog don’t dispute anything important about Wade’s work, and are not backed up by anything. Perhaps you would like to provide some links of your own proving LNT? Perhaps something dated post 1975, hmm?

  4. Matt,

    Perhaps you would like to provide some links of your own proving LNT?

    Thanks, Matt – you did my job for me. I’ve had a cursory look around Bob’s website – it seems to be a science-free activity.

    Personally, I think the Fukushima prefecture “excludees” deserve much more considerate and humane treatment. They are being manipulated as political game board pieces. That stinks.

    On the data front, the residents need access to a risk map for Fukushima which shows, e.g., the calculated increased lifetime cancer risk per km^2. Then let them choose.

    Bob, if you have any peer-reviewed references that support LNT, please provide.

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