Anti-Nuclear Hysterics, not Melted Reactors to Blame for Fukushima Health Impacts

As is often the case, the passage of time yields clarity about events, and the nuclear power plant accident at Fukushima is no different.  It has become clear that the misinformation and hysterics by anti-nuclear groups and individuals were mostly wrong.  Their doomsday prophesizing actually worsened human suffering and environmental impacts by contributing to unwise decisions by political leaders in Japan and elsewhere to shut down nuclear plants.  In contrast, bloggers and experts from within the nuclear community accurately predicted outcomes and human health impacts.

As was predicted on this blog and elsewhere, the multi-barrier reactor containment design protected the public.  Contrary to claims by anti-nuclear groups, the melted cores did NOT burn through the reactor vessels.  The containment structures remained virtually intact. The damaged reactor fuel remained inside the reactor vessels and containment systems.

Despite preposterous claims by Greenpeace and others, there were no chunks of plutonium scattered across the countryside.  Only radioactive gasses escaped over the land, and most of that gas was short lived Iodine that has long since decayed away.

As reported on Bloomberg and other news sources, no one in the public was harmed by radiation from the damaged reactors.  A small number of plant workers received higher than normal radiation exposures, without lasting effects.  Any hypothetical future health effects will be immeasurably low and will be indistinguishable from normal disease rates within the general population.

No one, not even the “Fukushima 50″, was exposed to life threatening amounts of radiation.  Journalists who flew across the Pacific to cover the story received more radiation exposure from cosmic rays in flight than they received from the reactors once on the ground.

The visually spectacular hydrogen explosions of the plant buildings, while providing great fodder for anti-nuclear rhetoric had little impact on the safety of the reactors, and harmed no one.

The unit 4 fuel storage pools did not empty of water and did not catch on fire.  The fuel there remained safely submerged and suffered no damage of any consequence.

Finally, there was no need for the 50-mile evacuation zone ordered by NRC Chairman Greg Jaczko. His decision still has nuclear experts scratching their heads and wondering why.  Jaczko’s actions demonstrated he lacks the experience and knowledge to ask the right questions at crucial moments.  In addition, he lacked the wisdom to recognize other more credible information was available that contradicted his view.  He needlessly rushed forward with an ill-advised decision that was horribly wrong.

This is not to imply there were no environmental or economic impacts from the reactor accident – of course there were!  The expensive cleanup in surrounding areas will take years and will cost billions.  This is but a small fraction of the total cost of recovery from the horrific earthquake and tsunami.

The earthquake and tsunami were responsible for untold human suffering and devastation.  That is where the focus of the world should have been and should continue to be.  The problems at the Fukushima nuclear plant accident have contributed needlessly to Japan’s economic burden by prompting the irrational shutdown of nuclear plants across the country.  This has caused energy shortages and billions of dollars of additional costs from skyrocketing imports of fossil fuels.  Of course, the fossil fuels providers are scrambling to rake in tens of billions of dollars in profits.

The health effects to Japan’s population were NOT from radiation, but from stress caused by the unfounded fear of future health effects.  The responsibility for this lies squarely on anti-nuclear activists who relished in spouting fatalistic, exaggerated claims, and on an uninformed media who presented those claims as virtual facts while downplaying opposing views from true experts in the field.


Author: John Wheeler

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