“It’s okay, no one died.” – well not quite

If you listen to the chorus of pro-nuclear supporters (including the mainstream media – MSM) you will hear all manner of stories about how nuclear power, even when it fails is safe.  The classic of course in Chernobyl, where you can still read that 31 people died because of the accident.  This is the “official” number reported by the Soviet news agency for the number of people who were killed on the day of the meltdown.  It is especially curious to me that the MSM which believed the soviet news sources on virtually nothing keep using this (or similar small numbers).
The World Health Organization – WHO, did their own study.  They predicted that there would be 4,000 premature deaths do to Chernobyl.  You are shocked by this number?  It is by far the lowest of the real studies.  Using the same “Linear No Threshold” model that WHO used, the Union of Concerned Scientists came up with 27,000 cancer fatalities due to this single meltdown.    But these are still the low balls.
Greenpeace commissioned the analysis of a number of peer reviewed scientific studies and found that on the order of 200,000 premature cancer deaths resulted from the Chernobyl meltdown.  And the most controversial report was published by the NY Academy of Sciences and written by Alexey Yablokov, who is a brilliant environmentalist and scientist who i have had the pleasure of meeting.  It estimates 985,000 premature deaths due the the April 26th, 1986 Ukrainian accident.
Similarly, with Fukushima we often hear “no one died”.  The first sets of reports coming in to counter this are just arriving now, but unless you are feeling tenacious, dont bother searching for them, they are hidden in Japanese press.
Asahi Shimbun graphic on nursing home evacuees premature deaths

Asahi Shimbun graphic on nursing home evacuees premature deaths

These about 200 premature deaths (a 240% increase) are just from the 8 months after the meltdowns, just from 31 nursing homes with 1,770 residents that were within the 20 km evacuation zone.  These are not cancer deaths, the researchers believe  these deaths were a result of the stress of evacuating long distances, as well as substandard care received at temporary evacuation facilities.
JanH point out that the Japanese government last February had counted 573 non-radidaiton related deaths due to Fukushima.  And as he goes on to point out in his comment on this post, only about a quarter of the Chernobyl victims died of cancer and that radiation disrupting blood circulation was a far bigger factor in fatalities.
Japan is not the Ukraine.  We will get better and increasing information about the deaths from Fukushima.  But when the nuclear lobby or the MSM tells you no one died from Fukushima, be aware that they are already lying to you.
The radiation released around Fukushima from 3 meltdowns exceeds Chernobyl's

It is difficult to compare disasters

Certainly, Fukushima will cost more than Chernobyl.  Victim’s compensation as of Sept of last year was already at 1.2 trillion Yen (about US$13 billion).   There was no victim compensation in the Ukraine or most surrounding counties (Armenians were said to have been offered US$10 in compensation).  In October 2012, the Japanese government pledged at least 1 trillion yen (about US$10 billion) in clean up.  Another trillion yen was used by the Japanese government to nationalize the Japanese utility that owns Fukushima (TEPCO) and clean up costs are low ball estimated at US$100 billion.  Less than $1 billion was raised for Chernobyl clean up – most of this money to go to western construction firms for the hi-tech new sarcophagus.

A year and a half ago, the UK independent ran an article comparing these nuclear disasters.  Part of their findings were:

Economic cost
Fukushima: Japan has estimated it will cost as much as £188bn to rebuild following the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crisis. [More current “respected” estimates run between US$250 billion and $500 billion]
Chernobyl There are a number of estimates of the economic impact, but the total cost is thought to be about £144bn.

Fukushima: workers are allowed to operate in the crippled plant up to a dose of 250mSv (millisieverts).
Chernobyl: People exposed to 350mSv were relocated. In most countries the maximum annual dosage for a worker is 20mSv. The allowed dose for someone living close to a nuclear plant is 1mSv a year.

Death toll
Fukushima: Two workers died inside the plant. Some scientists predict that one million lives will be lost to cancer.
Chernobyl: It is difficult to say how many people died on the day of the disaster because of state security, but Greenpeace estimates that 200,000 have died from radiation-linked cancers in the 25 years since the accident.

Exclusion zone
Fukushima: Tokyo initially ordered a 20km radius exclusion zone around the plant [Truth out reports: Some 4,500 square miles – an area almost the size of Connecticut – was found to have radiation levels that exceeded Japan’s allowable exposure rate of 1 mSV (millisievert) per year.]
Chernobyl: The initial radius of the Chernobyl zone was set at 30km – 25 years later it is still largely in place.

Fukushima: Tepco’s share price has collapsed since the disaster largely because of the amount it will need to pay out, about £10,000 a person
Chernobyl: Not a lot. It has been reported that Armenian victims of the disaster were offered about £6 each in 1986

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About paxus

a funologist, memeticist and revolutionary. Can be found in the vanity bin of Wikipedia and in locations of imminent calamity. buckle up, there is going to be some rough sledding.

9 responses to ““It’s okay, no one died.” – well not quite”

  1. Jan Haverkamp says :

    Just a few additions…

    Chernobyl: the 4000 number of the IAEA press release (not of a WHO report!) mistook one number out of a study that came to the conclusion that for a limited group of people, the total amount of premature deaths because of cancer would be 9600. Mind you, this was a limited group, and these were only the cancer related deaths. Radiation also has other effects, especially on blood circulation and an autopsy study among a large amount of Chernobyl liquidators shows that around 43% of them had died of circulation related problems (incl. stroke and heart problems) against around 23% of cancer related problems (I only found this out when wondering a few weeks after Fukushima why the Japanese government was recruiting heart and circulation specialists from abroad). The estimate of 200.000 in the Greenpeace report is one of the higher ones – highest probability results show more into the direction of 90.000, which is still horrible.

    Fukushima – around a year after the catastrophe, the Fukushima prefecture had certified 573 deaths to be related to the nuclear part of the catastrophe. These did not include any radiation caused fatalities, because it was simply too early for those to appear. But they did include people in a hospital that had to be evacuated, but there were no evacuation possibilities for intensive care patients, and 15 people in a care home where the staff was evacuated and who died of dehydration and hunger. Yes – these are also Fukushima victims. We are not prepared for these kind of catastrophes.

    I hope you can understand that one of the few moments I can loose my temper is when people start saying “nobody died because of Fukushima”… It did not get to giving such people a slap in the face… non-violence training paying off, I suppose… but it brought me several times very near…

    • kyle says :

      no one died because of the radiation.

      • paxus says :

        Yep, and this does not actually mean much and will certainly not be true in the long term. Hundreds have died prematurely from stress, just because they dont have acute radiation sickness does not mean these meltdowns are fine.

        The robot which recently died inside Fukushima 1’s pressure vessel was reading radiation at almost 10 sieverts. This will typically put you in a coma within an hour and kill you more than 50% of the time, within a few hours. This material is not currently controlled. 400 tons of radioactive water washes into the Sea of Japan daily. Please dont try to convince me that this level of poorly controlled radiation is not going to blow back on us in a fairly terrible way.

  2. Ed Zavada says :

    I’m not here to argue that nuclear power is wonderful, or that it’s completely safe, or minimize the loss of life in Fukushima.

    But I do think we have to consider both the context and the alternatives.

    For context, Fukushima was a small part of a big natural disaster. The Thohoku earthquake was huge. At magintude 9.0 it was the largest earthquake known to have ever hit Japan, and it was one of the five most powerful in the world since measurements began in 1900. There were 15,878 people killed, and 2,713 missing as a result of that event.

    An oil refinery or coal power plant in the same location and hit by the same earthquake could easily have killed and poisoned far more people. But even if it didn’t, it would be contributing far more toxins to our environment throughout its operational life. It would also be contributing to global climate change, unlike the nuclear reactor.

    For most of our power needs, we are better off with conservation, passive and active solar, hydroelectric, and many others. But it’s possible that nuclear power has a place in that mix in certain circumstances, especially if the alternatives are fossil fuels.

    • paxus says :

      @Ed – i have to say i come to your comments doubtful. The biggest refinery fire is not going to leave an area the size of Connecticut uninhabitable. Even if Fukushima is 1/10s as lethal of Chernobyl it will have 20,000 fatalities. Point to an industrial accident with that level of fatality.

      • Ed Zavada says :

        It is incorrect to say that an area as large as Connecticut has been left uninhabitable. The area of Connecticut is 14,357 sq km. The current restricted area around Fukushima is 314 sq km (10km radius), and at its largest was 1,200 sq km (20km radius).

        The report from Truth Out about 1mSv levels of radiation is alarmist nonsense. 20 mSv/year is enough to cause 1 extra cancer per year in 500 young adults, and is the rate at which relocation is generally considered. 1mSv is lower than background radiation in most of the world, (1.26 mSv/year is the worldwide average radiation exposure we get just from breathing radon gas in indoor air, and we get even more from building materials and natural soil sources).

        In India, the Bhopal gas leak disaster claimed approximately 8,000 lives immediately, another 8,000 in the 2 weeks following, and left 3,900 severely and permanently disabled. The estimates are that over 1/2 a million people were injured.

        Compare that to the 573 deaths in Fukushima to date that were considered to be at all related to the accident and evacuation. Further deaths would be related to radiation exposure, and are estimated by experts to be around 100 additional cancer deaths.

        Because vastly more radiation was released at Chernobyl than Fukushima, and the much better response by the Japanese government compared to the Soviet government, the health effects are far less than 1/10th the impact.


        Finally, when you consider long term exposure risks, you have to take into account that unlike radiation exposure, pollution from gasoline consumption takes place at the highest levels in our most populated areas. That means the effects of things like lead poisoning are amplified. There is strong evidence that leaded gasoline was responsible for the 30 year long crime wave in this country that has recently been coming to an end. The death toll from that crime wave in the US alone exceeds the worldwide total of every nuclear related death ever, including Hiroshima and Nagasaki.


      • paxus says :

        @Ed – thanks for your long and correcting reply. i will review it and reply.

  3. Jan Haverkamp says :

    @Ed – Putting things in perspective is good. Downplaying the effects and above all concrete suffering is not. Comparing the Fukushima catastrophe with a refinery or coal plant hit by an earthquake and tsunami is simply not serious. But all in all, for me the most striking lesson from Fukushima was, if you’re hit by a natural disaster, the last thing you want to have on your mind is a nuclear incident, let alone an accident. We currently see a large effort by UNSCEAR, spilling over into the IAEA and WHO, to downplay the consequences of the Fukushima catastrophe, as we have seen it after Chernobyl. I think the worst arguable tactic in assessing the damage of large catastrophes is saying that they were not as bad as something even bigger. We do not have to run the risks of Bhopal, Seveso or Deep Water Horizon, nor is there no economic, social, developmental or environmental argument to run the risk of a next nuclear catastrophe with the effect of Fukushima. The only arguments are political: limited interests of powerful groups of people. If you want to compare, you have to compare energy development scenarios – Greenpeace did a good job with developing its energy [r]evolution scenario: http://www.energyblueprint.info

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