Tonight someone shared a “news” article to our Facebook group on an alleged cover-up of the Fukushima Nuclear Generating Station disaster.
This is an article that was ripped off of another website that references a third website that is a summary of an anti-nuclear activist speaking at an anti-nuclear presentation where no actual sources were presented. It kind of hurt my head to read all of it but that’s what I’m here for. Oh, the above picture is of wave heights following a tsunami. It has nothing to do with radioactive contamination.
Before I rip it apart, I’ll give full disclosure: I have about a decade worth of experience working on nuclear power plants in one capacity or another. I switched industries so I have the virtue of being familiar with nuclear power while not being beholden to it anymore for a paycheck. I still think it’s one of our best sources of energy and live close to a nuclear plant without fear.
Alright, first things first: The UN has released a report  that I’ll be drawing from heavily. It’s about 300 pages and I’ve included an archived copy at the bottom of this post if you have some free time.
Here’s the first interesting bit: The average person living near Fukushima got about 2.1mSv of radiation exposure per year before the accident. This comes from a variety of sources. Granite emits radiation. Bananas emit radiation. Your bones emit radiation. The aftershocks of the Big Bang emit radiation. There’s no escaping it anywhere in the universe.
Guess how much radiation dose individuals living in Fukushima got in the first year? About 4 mSv. For comparison, that’s just a tiny bit more than the average X-ray technician gets every year. How do we know this? Dosimetry, mass spectrography, and differential equations. The math gets a little cattywompus but radioactive decays can be modeled very accurately with decaying exponentials for each individual radioactive isotope. It’s pretty cool and a worthy field of study.
People living near the nuclear plant itself got around 12-25mSv of dose during the first year following the accident. That’s about what you’d get when getting a Positron Emission Topography (PET) scan and about half of what you’d get during a Computed Tomography (CT) scan. Due to radioactive decay, it’ll be less every year until eventually it is back to normal background radiation.
Regardless, it’s still less than the US federal limit of 50mSv for radiation workers. No worries.
Ok, now that we’ve looked at some numbers, what about deaths? Good news again. The UN concluded that there were “no radiation-related deaths or acute diseases [observed] among the workers and general public exposed to radiation from the accident.” These are easy to track because hospitals keep detailed charts on every patient. After the accident, special attention was paid to symptoms presented that resemble radiation-related injuries. Bio-accumulation of radioactive fission byproducts can be measured, quantified, and recorded. Science is crazy like that.
The report goes on to say that the most negative impact from the nuclear accident is Post Traumatic Stress from the evacuation. It did not list deaths due to the dangers of evacuation which did occur. The decision to displace thousands of people during a natural disaster was not easily made, I’m sure. However, it is best to err on the side of caution lest we repeat what happened during the Chernobyl disaster from several decades ago.
Anyway, I think that adequately debunks websites claiming “over 6000% increase in cancer!!!”
What about the alleged cover-up? Well, I can’t say that TEPCO handled the disaster very well. It is perfectly acceptable to be angry about that. However, experts believe that the Japanese government’s response significantly reduced the negative impact of the disaster. Don’t forget that there was one of the worst natural disasters in human history that killed over 20,000 people going on at the time that caused the mess. Without adequate infrastructure and facing mass casualties, no organization will have a flawless response. Remember, everything in the surrounding area was destroyed by the tsunami.
OK, next topic: Dumping radioactive coolant into the ocean. Yes, it happened. Fortunately, dilution is the solution to that type of pollution. The picture at the top of this article is often shown as “radiation leakage” or something similar. That’s a hoax. It’s actually a wave height graph following the tsunami. How about the ocean itself? The radioactive contamination from Fukushima was quickly diffused in the massive volume that is the Pacific Ocean. By the time any isotopes reached the middle of the ocean, they were already outclassed by the natural radioactivity of seawater. Yeah, everything is radioactive, even you! Though Fukushima was a terrible disaster, it did give scientists an excellent way to learn about Pacific Ocean currents.
What else are people saying? Some have suggested that it was somehow orchestrated by the government. That’s a bit ridiculous considering I don’t think we have developed weather control.
Oh wait, InfoWars thinks we do.
Feel free to leave thoughts in the comments section.