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Chernobyl and Fukushima – measuring our monsters in the midday sun

Guest Post by Geoff RussellGeoff is a mathematician and computer programmer and is a member of Animal Liberation SA. His recently published book is CSIRO Perfidy.

For another terrific article by Geoff, related to Fukushima and radiation risk read: Cancer deaths in Japan will be from alcohol and ciggies.

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Measuring our monsters in the midday sun

The first rule of Horror Films 101 is “Don’t reveal your monster too soon”. Fear is all about suggestion. Hints. Things that go bump in the night. Letting vague connections swell in the imagination. Chernobyl. Fukushima. The hint of a fin caught in the corner of your eye. The Serpent’s Egg is an Ingmar Bergman film from the late 1970s which knew all the tricks. There were sounds in that film more chilling than blood and guts. Violence was suggested rather than displayed, and you heard it ooze through the movie like it did the historical events in the back story … the rise toward Nazism in Germany in the 1920s.

Once your monster is front and center on screen, anti-climax is tough to avoid. Just two workers were killed in the initial explosion at Chernobyl.

The head within the head was a deft stroke in the design of the Alien monster. Even when the monster is confronted face to face, the inner head lurks like Russian dolls meeting Pandora’s box. In the 12 months after the Chernobyl explosion, 28 front line workers died. Over the next 20 years another 19 died from acute radiation sickness suffered in 1986.

Once you have established the genre of your film, you can carry the audience with just the occasional hint of forthcoming carnage. The second Aliens film had plenty to work with. A monster that gestates inside its victim with no outward sign is an excellent starting point. Worse than any cancer, this is a lump which bites. Blind panic can then be induced without requiring heavy handed symptoms or writhing agony. Of around 4000 thyroid cases in children after Chernobyl, 98.8 percent were successfully treated. The cancers are common knowledge, the treatment success is a fact on the brink of extinction.

Shining a light on the monster

There is, however, only so much you can get away with before your monster has to take centre stage. Even if only for the final 10 minutes. If you want your audience to line up and pay for the sequel, then you need to deliver. How many films lack an ending? How many books just fizzle?

It’s time to get the Chernobyl monster out of the shadows and place it out in the midday sun.

Chernobyl, the site of the famous 1986 reactor explosion, is in the Ukraine, the homeland of one Trofim Lysenko. While the USSR has always had world class physicists and mathematicians, Lysenko was a nutcase who came to prominence in the late 1920s and held back Soviet life sciences until the 1970s and beyond. Particularly in the Ukraine. Long after the rest of the world understood the nature and importance of DNA and chromosomes, many Russian life scientists either believed, like Lysenko, that they were irrelevant or were too frightened to say otherwise. Who cares about radiation damage to an irrelevant biological artifact like DNA? Lysenko’s dodgy theories about the origin of viruses meant that hospitals were scrupulously clean, but hyperdermic needles were reused.

The primitive state of Russian life sciences hampered both treatment and studies of those affected by Chernobyl. But eventually collaborative projects were set up and the work was done. There were studies into child health, cardiovascular health, solid cancers, blood cancers. You name it, it has now been studied. The World Health Organisation released a 20-year summary of the work in 2006 [pdf]. I’ve mentioned the thyroid cancers in children already.

Despite the Lysenko curse, the Soviet medical system had some definite strengths and its collapse with the breakup of the USSR compounded already significant difficulties. Any impacts from Chernobyl were tiny compared to the large increase in child mortality and declining life expectancy across the region in the 1990s. Across the main areas effected, Belarus, Russia and Ukraine, the collapse of the Soviet health system saw infant mortality pretty much double and life expectancy drop by perhaps 6 years during a decade. One little fact says it all … by 1999 some 80 percent of Russian men were alcoholic and drinking on average 3 litres of vodka every week.

Combine this public health catastrophe with a massive movement of people and the task of detecting small long term radiation impacts is diabolical. According to the WHO report, among the 200,000 emergency workers who received an average dose of 100 milli Sieverts, there was an increase of 5 percent over normal cancer death rates. Instead of 41,500 cancers, they expect 43,500. During the first 10 years, there were 150. Ukraine has 48 million people and had 143,000 cases of cancer in 2008. The WHO estimates that during the first 10 years after Chernobyl, there were, including the 150 in the emergency workers, 405 additional cancers attributable to radiation from the accident. These are, of course, in addition to the thyroid cases.

The difficulties of accurately determining the impact of Chernobyl are considerably worse than I can possibly detail in this little piece. If you want more, you can start with Laurie Garrett’s Betrayal of Trust. But perhaps Chernobyl isn’t the real monster but merely it’s offspring. The real monster of the anti-nuclear movement lurks even deeper in our psyche. Hiroshima. Nagasaki. For these events there is better data.

Dropping deeper into the abyss

It has been 66 years since atomic bombs were dropped on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II. Some 198,000 people died in the blast and from subsequent acute radiation effects. The health of approximately 212,100 of the survivors was subsequently followed, beginning in 1947. People receiving a dose of up to 1 Sievert (1,000 milli-Sieverts) suffered a median loss of life of around 2 months. Those receiving more than a Sievert lost a median of 2.6 years of life. So far, there has been no radiation health effects measured in the children of survivors of the blasts.

Some people regard these bombings as the most hideous acts of deliberate violence in human history. Unfortunately, they have some competition.

The firebombing of 67 Japanese cities in the months prior to the atomic bombings killed twice as many people and will have caused a further ocean of injuries that people lived with for decades. Is the fear of cancer worse than a crippled leg which hurts 24×7 and forces you to take expensive pain relief which at best just takes the edge off? The Japanese delivered similar levels of death to the people of the puppet state of Manchukuo prior to and during the war. But their methods were even more barbaric. Both events are worse than anything the planet’s nuclear arsenels have ever delivered.

Further down the scale of sophisticated weaponry we come to the humble machete which killed more people in Rwanda in 1994 than even those firebombing squadrons over Japan. The Rwandan massacres are only the third biggest such event since 1950. Do you remember the biggest two? Anti-nuclear activists have done a great job. Everybody has a conditioned Pavlovian reaction when Chernobyl or Hiroshima is mentioned, but non-nuclear events involving greater suffering are quickly consigned to a category of tragic horrors which are as unstoppable as earthquakes.

The slasher genre

There is one horror genre which deserves mention before moving on … the slasher. Blood and gore is in your face from the first reel. Caldicott. Some teens find such flicks amusing. Plutonium contamination from nuclear weapons testing has been reported in Japan with possible contamination from Fukushima making the headlines a few days back. Surely the World War II bombings must have had a long lasting contamination impact, after all Caldicott claimed during a debate with George Monbiot that Chernobyl’s impacts will live on for “generations and generations” and have been covered up by a World Health Organisation conspiracy.

In case you believe Caldicott’s conspiracy theory, you need to expand the scale of the conspiracy to include not just the WHO people involved in Chernobyl studies, but all of the agencies around the world who contribute data to the world’s cancer registries. Age standardised cancer incidence in bombed and plutonium polluted Japan is about 200 cases per 100,000 people per annum. The rate in the US is 300. So either US medicos exagerated their rates as part of the coverup, or the Japanese understated theirs. Who knows. What about clean green Australia? It’s cancer rate is even higher at 313. And in Ukraine itself? What is the cancer rate in filthy dirty Chernobyl contaminated Ukraine? Have a guess … I’m using the latest publically available data from 2008. Higher or lower than Australia? It’s 191, lower even than Japan. You need to use age standardised figures to compare countries, particularly because the life expectancy in Ukraine is 68, about 10 years less than the US. Whatever is killing Ukrainians, it isn’t radiation induced cancers.

Climate famines

While it is clear that the suffering of the Rwandan massacres dwarfs anything even remotely possible from Chernobyl, the planet is experiencing the beginnings of a climate shift that will make even the Rwandan massacres look small. There’s really only two kinds of disaster which have ever regularly caused more than a million deaths. Famine and disease. Influenza kills between 250,000 and 500,000 mainly elderly people every year but killed 40 million of all ages in 1918. The recent swine flu pandemic killed just 3330 frequently young healthy people and was judged by many in the media as a beat-up. Probably the same journalists who thought swine flu was over-hyped are out there whipping up fear and panic over Fukushima with its current, and probably future, body count of zero.

Apart from disease, famines have always been big killers. More than a few have killed over a million people. None of the deaths in such events are easy. The current global food system is already stretched to breaking point. Increasingly, factory farmed pigs and chickens eat vast amounts of human quality food supplemented with vitamins and minerals and they easily outbid the world’s poor for grain. All it takes is simultaneous bad weather events in a few places to cause price spikes, grain shortages, hunger, undernourishment and death on a scale that eclipses the worst that human violence has dished up. As late as the middle of last century, while America was watching Leave it to Beaver, 15 million Chinese starved to death. 15 million is the official number, the truth is likely much higher.

The climate change monster is the real deal. It isn’t CGI. It doesn’t shrink in your estimation when exposed to bright light. It is quietly looming in the shadows as the gap between the food supply and the hungry is flunctuating around a rising trend line which regularly leaves a billion people undernourished.

Resourcing the future

The Rwandan massacres were not really genocides in quite the same sense as The Holocaust. They were first and foremost land grabs. A resource war. Too many people living on too little land. Ubiquitous energy won’t guarantee no more resource wars, but it will be a good start. Ubiquitous energy can relieve at least some resource shortages and ubiquitous clean energy is necessary (but not sufficient) to prevent dangerous climate change. Once you turn a nuclear reactor on, it stays on 24×7. You can use off-peak nuclear power for desalination, for recharging the electric vehicles that will come in handy when oil runs short, for making fertiliser and much more. Try doing that with a solar thermal power station. The much hyped Andasol I solar thermal power station is a 50 mega-watt unit, even a modest nuke is 20 times bigger. Andasol I has a tank of molten salt at 400 degrees centigrade to act as a battery after sun down. The salt battery for a 50 mega-watt unit is 14 meters high and 38 meters in diameter. Scale it up 20 times and you have half a million tonnes of 400 degree salt. Now try to leverage your power plant for desalination or other major off peak power and you might need a million and a half tonnes and many days your battery just won’t get charged anyway.

Am I promising the mythical energy too cheap to meter that early nuclear proponents offered. Not at all. But there are good reasons that nuclear power can be mass produced and scaled up far more efficiently than the diffuse renewable alternatives like wind and solar thermal.

Engineering and toys

What we know about nuclear power technology is that it can be reliably deployed and generating many terrawatt hours of electricity in as little as a decade in any country regardless of local climatic conditions. This has happened in countries as different as Switzerland, Sweden, Japan, Germany, and the US.

This means that the technology can be modularised, mass produced, and can replace fossil fuels. Newer designs are better and safer. We need the newer designs because they can run on the waste from old reactors that so worries nuclear critics. There is enough waste to power the planet for hundreds of years. And I mean all the planet, not just in my backyard.

These new designs will allow us to shut uranium mines.

No renewable other than hydro has ever come close to achieving large-scale energy production. The high growth rates so often cited for renewables are misleading. It’s easy to double in size when you are tiny. Denmark’s famous wind farms can’t even power a country of 5.4 million people, let alone handle the needs of a billion people in India or 150 million Nigerians. We are comparing bicycles and trucks here. I commute by bicycle every working day of the year, but would I lash 10,000 bicycles together to transport a thousand tonnes of grain from silo to mill? This is just plain silly. And if you want to talk safety, then consider the tide of industrial accidents with more people walking around on rooves putting up solar panels. Australia, for one, can’t even install ceiling insulation without an incommensurate number of deaths.

The future

The planet has two vast challenges over the next 50 to 100 years. The first is poverty and the other first is climate change. They are intimately connected. During the last 3 weeks while the media was focussed on an event that hasn’t killed a single person, 31,500 Indian children between the ages of 1 and 5 have died of respiratory disease because their families still cook with wood or cattle dung. A similar number of Japanese will have been diagnosed with cancer. All 60,000 families will feel this personal tragedy immensely despite these events being missed by the 6.30 news.

Affordable power isn’t just a hip pocket electoral issue in developing countries, it’s a matter of life and death. Likewise, the reforestation of the planet isn’t just some middle-class greenie issue, it too is a matter of life and death. The mining of timber for cooking and of forests for land to run cattle are both incompatible with effective action on the two big issues.

Should the Indian Government stop its quest for affordable nuclear power because of a few thousand cancers over a few decades from Chernobyl? Or because nobody died and nobody got sick at Three Mile Island? Or because 3 people got radiation burns and a few more might get cancer during the next 3 decades in Japan? Over 615,000 people get a cancer diagnosis in Japan each year. Each is a personal tragedy but to let the risk of a few more drive energy policy at a global level is selfish, stupid, cruel and irrational.

By Barry Brook

Barry Brook is an ARC Laureate Fellow and Chair of Environmental Sustainability at the University of Tasmania. He researches global change, ecology and energy.

161 replies on “Chernobyl and Fukushima – measuring our monsters in the midday sun”

@Nick Palmer: You may be interested in my earlier comments in which I make similar points, indeed somewhat graver, with references to the WHO report quoted by Russell. (Search for my username).
I think that it serves the pro-nuclear case to be as comprehensive as possible when assessing Chernobyl (or TMI, or Fukushima), and to muster the argument that even then, nuclear is favorable compared to alternatives.

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I don’t think it is wise to compare global warming research with radiation poisoning.

There is scientific consensus among climatologists re: anthropomorphic GW, not so with the latter. Even where there might be consensus is with very low dosage gamma rays at best.

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Everyone (not in the medical field) seems to argue over the cancer risks of radiation exposure, as if it were the only measure of health impact. I never see proponents of nuclear power talking about the serious non fatal diseases that radiation poisoning can cause, such as weakened immune systems and metabolic diseases. People don’t have to die to suffer with illness. You also leave out the medically known affect that radiation has on genetic cell mutation and birth defects.

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NickPalmer: Fair comment. I debated when writing on whether to say “cured” but settled on “successfully treated”. Nobody is saying Chernobyl wasn’t a disaster and some of those thyroid cancer people will suffer considerable problems as a consequence. But the numbers of people suffering as a consequence of, for example, cooking with wood and cattle dung is vastly greater, with about
1500 children dying per day in India alone, see
Hughes and Dunleavy cited in:

http://dx.doi.org/10.1078/1438-4639-00224

The pre-mortality suffering of these children is also serious. India has realistic nuclear goals to alleviate this suffering and anti-nuclear activists are trying to stop them … for example by opposing uranium sales to India or anywhere else regardless of safeguards. What makes the suffering of a small number of thyroid cancer victims so important as to take deliberate action to perpetuate the suffering of a vast number of Indian and other children?

Lastly, if taking medication for the rest of your life is the worst that happens, I’d say that’s a good outcome. Many Australians choose taking a medication for the rest of their lives for blood pressure over a simple cure … changing their diet and exercise habits.

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There are alternatives, renewable, and green alternatives to cooking with wood or nuclear power.

You can not claim that Chernobyl was no big killer when precisely there was a monumental effort done by governments to prevent the very same deaths. Could the “low mortality” rate of 9,000* be a million if the USSR claimed Chernobyl was no big deal? and did not evacuate, give Iodine pills etc.?

That is the problem with natural experiments, always will be.

* http://www.who.int/mediacentre/news/releases/2006/pr20/en/index.html

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Enviromentalist, on 6 April 2011 at 8:29 AM said:

Many Australians choose taking a medication for the rest of their lives for blood pressure over a simple cure … changing their diet and exercise habits.

I bet Foster’s is behind that…

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Ms. Perps and others – you might be interested in the following webpage, where Helen Caldicott is concerned.

http://www.ntanet.net/publicinfo.html

It’s worth reading all the material on that page.

Personally, I think Helen Caldicott was already previously completely discredited, and nobody ever really paid her any attention any more – but in the wake of the Fukushima incident, the media dusted her off again to get some more ratings.

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[deleted unsubstantiated personal scientific opinion on link supplied by previous commenter.Please re-submit with the analysis of your off the cuff appraisal and links to support it.]

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Good heavens Caldicott is hopelessly uninformed. She has absolutely no idea what the truth is regarding radiation exposure. Some people believe in the nuclear bogeyman like it is religion.

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Luke Weston, on 6 April 2011 at 9:58 AM said:

It’s worth reading all the material on that page.

Yes, and did you?

Caldicott said:

new literature shows that low doses of radiation, are 6 to 8 times more dangerous than originally estimated?(3, 4, 5, 6)

And her sources were;

3. Hal Morgenstern et al,”Epidemiological Study to Determine Possible Adverse Effects to Rocketdyne/Atomics International Workers from Exposure to Ionizing Radiation” Final Report to the Public Health Institute Berkeley, Cal, Subcontract No.324A-8701-S0163

4. Rob Edwards,”Radiation Roulette” New Scientist, 11Oct, 1997

5. Lynne M Wiley et al, “Impaired Cell Proliferation in Mice That Persists Across at Least Two Generations after Paternal Irradiation” Radiation Research Society, 1997

6. Hans Ellegren et al “Fitness Loss and Germline Mutations in Barn Swallows Breeding in Chernobyl”, Nature, Vol389, Oct 1997

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So how do these sources discredit her statement?
MODERATOR
A warning that out of date sources, not referenced to on-line readable links, may be deleted. It is unlikely that people on this blog could access the information to check your analysis. Often literature this old is out of print and peer reviewed re-buttals may have been published.

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[deleted comment providing 1992 textbook source, without link to analyse]

MODERATOR
Out of date sources which may have been re-butted in the peer review literature need accessible links for verification.

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[comment deleted]

MODERATOR
Please note that, as previously stated, comments with links to unverifiable literature, such as out of print or books, obscure out of date texts are not acceptable as references on BNC. If links to the research are provided , people are able to check the work themselves and to assess the information against any possible peer reviewed re-buttals which may have been published susequently

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Chris: Do you know how many articles people could list to counter the Caldicott ones? what’s the point?

BTW, Chris: if you read the monbiot assessment of the NYAS study, he provides the link to the review. Here it is. It is certainly not a study I would confidently cite as authoritative.

http://rpd.oxfordjournals.org/content/141/1/101.full

That said, there’s loads of uncertainty in assessing the impacts of radiation from Chernobyl.

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Barry,
In this article you conflate nuclear power with nuclear weapons, which is the thinking that underlies a lot of anti-nuclear opinions. You minimize Hiroshima and Nagasaki by saying that more people were killed in other attacks.
But Hiroshima and Nagasaki are particular horrors for a very good reason: because they introduced the world to a new, radically more destructive and cruel kind of weapon.
I think a lot of anti-nuclear feeling comes out of that traumatic reality – that weapons exist that can kill millions of people at once.
To make nuclear power acceptable to people, it’s necessary to dissociate it from nuclear war. I think the angst about small amounts of radioactivity comes partly from the fear of nuclear war, a threat so big that people can’t directly face it. And fears that nuclear power will enable proliferation of nuclear weapons and nuclear terrorism are especially important to address for this reason.
Hiroshima and Nagasaki shouldn’t be lumped together with Chernobyl or Fukushima. That will only make people exaggerate the badness of nuclear accidents.
Nuclear war really is a horror and that should go without saying.
MODERATOR
Please note that the post referred to by you is a guest post by Geoff Russell and not by Barry Brook. You should direct your questions on this post to Geoff.

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It seems easier to discredit nuclear lobbyists that to discredit Caldicott….

Here is Dr. Bernard L. Cohen (again) – see Luke weston’s link:

studies attribute far less fossil fuel usage to nuclear power, and that solar energy, … uses more than ten times as much of these materials (steel,aluminum, cement, glass) as nuclear power for generating the same amount of electricity.

No source provided.

But reputable sources such as: http://www.nature.com/climate/2008/0810/full/climate.2008.99.html

note:

… nuclear emits twice as much carbon as solar photovoltaic, at 32 gCO2e/kWh, and six times as much as onshore wind farms, at 10 gCO2e/kWh.

The Nature report [citing Solomon, S. et al. (eds.) Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] covered plant constructoin and operating and appears to have not considered decommissioning and the present value of CO2 emmissions for waste depository for multiple years. The concept “life-cycle” was not properly explained.

So we have a choice – a nuclear proponent says “more than ten times as much”.

Nature and IPCC shows data indicating it is half as much.

Sensible people will probably prefer Nature and IPCC.

MODERATOR
I checked your link and it was not from a peer reviewed paper in “Nature” – it was from an on-line journal “Nature Reports Climate Change” and written by a journalist. You are skating on thin ice here – your whole post could have been deleted on the grounds that you were deliberately distorting information by omitting to provide the correct title of your source – thus implying the article was a peer reviewed piece. Any future such instances will be deleted. Further, as the Cohen quote was not directly on BNC, policy as to providing refs rests with the original publication, not with us.

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Chris Warren, that is not a Nature scientific paper, it is a freelance journalist writing an opinion piece for Nature Reports Climate Change magazine, using a selective cherry pick of two outlier articles by Sovacool and Mudd/Diesendorf, that do not agree with the authoritative literature. If you want the most up-to-date assessment, read this, based on a meta-analysis of 10 years of literature on this subject (including the values reported in IPCC AR4 WGIII 2007):

Nicholson M, Biegler, T. & Brook, B.W. (2010) How carbon pricing changes the relative competitiveness of low-carbon baseload generating technologies. Energy 36, 305-313 doi:10.1016/j.energy.2010.10.039

These values support Cohen’s contention. If you want to educate yourself on the matter further, please read TCASE 4, 7 and 8:
TCASE 4: Energy system build rates and material inputs: https://bravenewclimate.com/2009/10/18/tcase4/
TCASE 7: Scaling up Andasol 1 to baseload: https://bravenewclimate.com/2009/12/06/tcase7/
TCASE 8: Estimating EROEI from LCA: https://bravenewclimate.com/2010/03/08/tcase8/

You seem to imagine that these issues haven’t been thought of by anyone on BNC, when in fact they’ve been looked at exhaustively.

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gwideman: “I’ve not yet discovered where Russell got the emergency worker data from (200,000 population, with predicted 2000 excess cancers”

Table 12 of the 2006 WHO report … page 108

Click to access who_chernobyl_report_2006.pdf

“When you compare consequences of nuclear power to Rwanda, you have succeeded only in saying that nuclear power is not as bad as something that is too horrible to contemplate.”

Agreed, but I’m also saying that nuclear power can, provide electricity to prevent 1500 deaths per day of Indian children caused by wood/dung cooking.

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for MODERATOR and chris warren, on 6 April 2011 at 10:23 AM

Taking the first reference from the four questioned, here is how to find them. Just take the cite or a chunk of the title and paste it into a Google Scholar search, then look through the page; once you find the website for the journal, you can also do a “site search” to narrow the results.

This isn’t hard, but it’s a rare thing to find encouraged or explained. Congratulations to the blog reader and host and moderators for encouraging the process.

Yes, there’s a lot to read. No, I’m not claiming I read all these. I’m hoping it’s acceptable to point out that it is in fact usually quite easy to find such material nowadays, and worth making the extra effort. And of course checking the claims made for the document, read the actual footnote and find the source it’s attributed to and see if the author got it right. Not easy.

I hope the guest topic authors will follow the same routine, saving questions about their info — this will become much easier for the readers to pick up and do.

http://scholar.google.com/scholar?q=American+Journal+of+Industrial+Medicine%2C+1999%2C+35%3A21-31
finds
[PDF] Effects of exposure to external ionizing radiation on cancer mortality in nuclear workers monitored for radiation at Rocketdyne/Atomics International
[PDF] B Ritz, H Morgenstern, J Froines…
AMERICAN JOURNAL OF INDUSTRIAL MEDICINE 35:21–31 (1999) 1999
Wiley-Liss, Inc. Page 2. relative risk of cancer (excluding leukemias …
Cited by 30 – Related articles – View as HTML – BL Direct – All 5 versions

Note the 30 subsequent citations Google Scholar finds; the link to that is:
http://scholar.google.com/scholar?cites=5767633190193008050

These 30 citing articles include followup studies by Ritz as well as other journal articles, and of course some dreck; Scholar is not a perfect instrument and picks up some bogus mentions or PR sites also. Check, don’t just copypaste.
MODERATOR
Thank you Hank. It is necessary for the commenter to do the Google Scholar search and post the links to enable easy access for readers of this blog who may not be familiar with literature searches.

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A-mouse, as far as I can tell Te-129 would mean recriticality. The measurement might be in error, but no one seems sure.

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SteveK9, on 5 April 2011 at 6:46 AM said:

This is probably hopeless but in what sense is Fukushima an ‘accident’

In the terminology I was trained in, an unplanned event is an “incident” if there are no injuries and an “accident” if there are injuries. It is therefore the post-tsunami Fukushima Daiichi accident.

Since there are no deaths associated with the failure of the plant, I have steadfastly refused to countenance the term “disaster”. I don’t have any problem with calling this a “crisis”; the ongoing issues and threats, the level of innovation in response and mobilization of outside resources justify that term.

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Laura: I think we agree that people lump nuclear power in with nuclear weapons but differ in our response. 1) There has been plenty of past discussion on BNC about why nobody wanting weapons would bother using a power reactor to get them. 2) My piece argued that the risks from nuclear weapons are not as bad as from conventional weapons or runaway climate change. So its an acceptable risk. Coupled with 1), I think 2) is a winning argument and my not pointing this out is a deficiency in the article. 2) on its own, is probably not going to convince anybody who isn’t already on side.

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Chris Warren: Regarding CSIRO and conspiracies. Barely on topic … but there isn’t a post to hang this on. I believe the CSIRO Board acted irresponsibly in allowing the second edition of the Total Wellbeing Diet to be published … and subsequent TWD material. I have no evidence that they had any knowledge of the first edition … and I put in FOI claims to find it and found nothing. But I don’t believe this was a conspiracy. Quite a bit of the material I reference in my book was from CSIRO researchers, including the the authors of the TWD. I found no evidence that anything dodgy has passed peer review. So my book makes an argument that the TWD authors misrepresented their own results. This isn’t actually an argument but a plain fact. The numbers given in the Appendix of TWD first edition do not match the peer review research paper results. Was it just a typographical error? No. A great deal was made of the claim that people lost more weight on the TWD high protein diet than the control diet when the peer reviewed journal paper says they didn’t. Weight loss was identical on the control diet and the high protein diet.

This is quite different from the Caldicott conspiracy claim which implies a significant number of researchers ignored a million radiation induced deaths because of some direction from WHO or IAEA.

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@A-Mouse:

Could anyone help me out here please, my friends are panicking due to Fairewinds webcast, in particular this one about Te-129 measurement and recriticality at Fukushima. Please tell me why it is nonsense, I am not a nuclear engineer.. Thanks..

I can’t make much sense out of what’s written at the Fairewinds link you posted. I didn’t find a reference there to the actual data on which that post was based.

But there is data from KEK which shows the presence of Te-129m in small amounts. I’m inclined to trust the KEK measurements, personally, unless I’m given good reason not to. There are serious nuclear experimentalists there, some of whom I’ve met, who know how to measure such things.

Here’s a guess: it could be that Gunderson confused the presence of Te-129 with the presence of Te-129m.

The activity of Te-129m is not the same as that of Te-129. Te-129 is a very short-lived isotope (~70minutes) and its presence in significant amounts would tend to indicate some sort of recriticality had occurred. That would be very surprising, if it turned out to be true, but not necessarily such a disastrous development.

Te-129m is a metastable excited state (11/2 -) of Te-129 with a half-life of about 33 days. So it could well still be present in R1, R2 or R3, and water that was in contact with any of the cores.

Te-129m decays to the ground state Te-129 (3/2 +) by a pretty soft gamma ray so the phase space is small, and there’s a big change of spin, so the decay rate is suppressed. But Te-129m decays would inevitably lead to the presence of some Te-129 activity, though at a much lower level.

On the whole, the picture of no re-criticality events seems perfectly consistent with what they are seeing at KEK, namely, rather low levels of Te-129m, and no detectable Te-129.

http://www.kek.jp/quake/radmonitor/GeMonitor5-e.html

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@Barry Brook:

You disagreement with Chris Warren seems to be a misunderstanding. In your paper you do not even look at PV or windpower since you only take into account what you have defined as baseload generating technologies.

What is clear from your paper is that estimates about CO2 emmissions from nuclear plants vary wildly from 8 to 60 kg CO2eq/MWh.

Denholm / Kulcinski give a value for wind power of 14 without storage and 20 with pumped hydro storage. http://fti.neep.wisc.edu/pdf/fdm1261.pdf

They give a number of 60 for PV without storage and 136 for systems with storage.

Yet estimates for CO2 emmissions from wind power or PV also vary wildly in the literature. As do those of nuclear power.

I don’t think there’s conclusive evidence for either view on the issue. PV and especially wind are better than coal. So is nuclear power but there’s heated debate over whether nuclear is better than wind.

Mind you, these calculations are not easily done. It is very hard to estimate the ammount of energy needed to produce nuclear fuel. Same holds true for the values of the raw materials for a wind turbine.

Also what do you consider the lifetime of a nuclear power plant to be? 30 years, 50 years or 80 years? Same holds true for the question of how long a wind turbine might last before it needs to be replaced.

Thus, it is easy to come up with wildly varying data of CO2 emmissions.

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Te-129 evidence of recriticality, nope:

http://neinuclearnotes.blogspot.com/2011/04/recritical-thinking.html

In a similar vein:

http://uvdiv.blogspot.com/2011/04/idea-about-faulty-i-134-reading.html

The control rods are fully inserted! Coolant water is borated! Remember there is no heat generated inside the control rods. Even if they melt the neutron poisons would go with the melt, and there would be a big chunk of fused hot corium that has no moderator. A very uncritical configuration.

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@Georg Russell,
You made a good point regarding the people who was injured by radioactivity but not dead. Of course we have to be sorry for them. However, if we extend the accountability from deads to injured, we have to do that for all forms of power production, and I doubt we can find those numbers.
Regards,

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To David Kahana, on 6 April 2011 at 5:05 PM
says: “I can’t make much sense out of what’s written at the Fairewinds link you posted. I didn’t find a reference there to the actual data on which that post was based.”

The video specifically names the information sources.

>>
Neutron
http://english.kyodonews.jp/news/2011/03/80539.html

>>
high CI-38 radioactivity
http://www.japanfocus.org/-Arjun-Makhijani/3509

>>
Te-129
http://www.tepco.co.jp/en/press/corp-com/release/11033112-e.html
and the previous day:
http://www.tepco.co.jp/en/press/corp-com/release/11033004-e.html

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Measurements were in gross error before so you wouldn’t know whether Cl-38 would be correct. However you would be seeing much more Cl-36 than Cl-38 as Cl-35 absorbs more neutrons and moreove Cl-36 is very long lived.

Here is the document. Note that Makijani and IEER are known anti-nuke and their case is based on numerous assumptions on core geometry etc. If you look at the Cs-134 to Cs-137 ratio (very tiny) this does not indicate any significant fission.

Click to access Cause_of_high_Cl-38_Radioactivity20110330.pdf

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bRIVERb, on 6 April 2011 at 7:49 PM said:

Thanks for the source. I’ve commented on the Cl-38 previously, it makes no sense without Na-34 and other activities. Neutron “beams” seem odd, to say the least. Hard to say what that’s referring to. TEPCO has had problems with isotopic analysis previously, which means they can be wrong with specific activities too, depending on the time when samples were taken and when they were analysed. I’ll reserve judgement as to whether those problems have been worked out. But there’s definitely something strange about their numbers.

Te-129m 33d CY=0.09% 8.7/s
Te-129 70m CY=0.511% 1200/s
Te-132 3.26d CY=4.3% 3.0/s
Te-134 42m CY=6.97% Not Detected

Where CY is cumulative yield in thermal fission of
U-235.

Converting count rates to numbers of atoms per cm^3:

N(129) = 0.73×10^7
N(129m)=3.58×10^7
N(132)=1.2×10^6
N(134)= Not observed

First, 129 looks out of line with 129m, that is too
high to come from decays of 129m. But if we conclude
that 129 is coming from recent u235 fission, then why
don’t we see high Te-134 activity. The yield of 134 is
seventy times larger than the yield of Te-129, with about the same decay constant. If the Te-129 came from recent criticality, we really should see high activity
of 134.

To me, this casts doubt on the idea there was recriticality.

Te-129m N=

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Cyril, check the cesium-137 at checkpoint 7. Diffusion in the ocean is much slower than in the atmosphere. Let’s see what it looks like in August. I am surprised by the use of the past and present tense in these discussions. It’s the trends that are important, not the current values.

–bks

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bks, the checkpoint 7 cesium-137 is increasing at a rate of around 10 bequerel per liter per week. This is really nothing, and if you look at the different trends in the different measuring point, this indicates mixing and diffusion to me. (some go up some go down).

The Pacific contains over 8000 EBq total, 11 Bq/liter. Typical soil is over 1000 Bq/liter (assuming specific gravity around 2).

http://www.physics.isu.edu/radinf/natural.htm

I am definately going to follow the trends, but so far the alarming media hype for widespread contamination seems silly to me.

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Perhaps a better comparison than Chernobyl: the larger amount of radioactivity from surface nuclear testing.

“Takada, a physicist at the faculty of medicine at Sapporo University, who is an adviser on radiation hazards to the government of Japan…… during 32 years of Chinese tests.
… Takada said China’s three biggest tests alone generated 4m times more radioactivity than the Chernobyl reactor accident of 1986. He has called the clouds of fallout “an air tsunami”.

Quote from: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/asia/article6122338.ece – April 19, 2009 – Revolt stirs among China’s nuclear ghosts

You may find of the descriptions hard to believe.
There’s film — some of the saddest I’ve ever seen:

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@Geoff Russell
Nuclear weapons haven’t killed many people, but that is because they haven’t been used! And they haven’t been used because they are hard to make. There are plenty of people who would use a nuclear bomb if they could.
Since you think nuclear weapons are overestimated as a threat, do you think that we shouldn’t be concerned about nuclear weapons proliferation? Because that seems to me obviously wrong.
I think the huge threats in the future are climate change and resource shortages. This century is likely to be a time of wars over resources. And if too many countries have nuclear weapons, we are likely to have nuclear wars over resources.
I’ve read that the United States could be disabled for months if a nuclear bomb were exploded high in the atmosphere. See http://www.empcommission.org/docs/empc_exec_rpt.pdf
From this report: “The electromagnetic fields produced by weapons designed and deployed with the intent to produce EMP have a high likelihood of damaging electrical power systems, electronics, and information systems upon which American society depends. Their effects on dependent systems and infrastructures could be sufficient to qualify as catastrophic to the Nation.”
Our society is an intricate interdependent structure and an EMP attack that disables this structure could kill many millions of people, and the United States wouldn’t necessarily even know who had done it!
This could also happen naturally. Every now and then the sun barfs out a blast of plasma, called a solar storm. A massive solar storm could cause an EMP similar to that caused by a nuclear explosion in the atmosphere. Relatively small solar storms have caused power outages, but a rarer huge storm could be truly catastrophic.
So, we need to protect ourselves against EMP’s whether or not there is nuclear weapons proliferation.
The awfulness of a weapon is not only a matter of how many people have died by it. You cannot kill millions of people long distance by machetes. We have air defenses against firebombing the United States. But nuclear missiles or an EMP attack can do this.
Nuclear proliferation is nothing to take lightly! I think that, combined with the hostility in the world, it is one of the worst dangers in our future.
And if anyone downplays the danger of nuclear weapons, it makes me wonder if there is a significant danger of nuclear weapons proliferation from nuclear power. Because if you need to tack argument #2 onto argument #1, then argument #1 may be weak. That is a frightening thought.

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What has happened to New Matilda these days … tut tut

Jim Green writes another piece :

http://newmatilda.com/2011/04/07/do-we-know-chernobyl-death-toll

NUCLEAR POWER 7 Apr 2011
Do We Know The Chernobyl Death Toll?
By Jim Green

“Did 43 people die after Chernobyl – or almost a million? Jim Green explains why the answer is hard to calculate, and why George Monbiot has got it wrong by several orders of magnitude”

followed by the usual stream of comments, and people shouting about Beyond Zero Emissions : “Transition is possible, can be afforded and achieved within the next ten years…”

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Well, do we know the fossil fuel death toll? Is it ten thousand or ten million per year?

Transition is possible, with what, solar that isn’t there 85% of the time (15% capacity factor in average location)? Even in the desert solar is not there 75% of the time. Guess what we’re going to do that time. Nope not install some hugely expensive battery. We’ll just burn fossil.

That’s the real monster, a sympathetic but dangerously naive and innumerate hope that solar will replace coal.

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On my blog I’ve been estimating the cancer deaths from Fukushima radiation to be nearly 300. We will see what happens in future analysis. This is, of course, based on the LNT. If you have another model to propose, then go for it, but this is all we can do with the information available.

I just really hope that we don’t have the same FUD about cancer deaths from Fukushima that we had about Chernobyl. I really really hope we don’t have that.

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Geoff Russell: “We don’t need Chernobyl, we have plenty of beef, booze and fags. ”

omg, what does this have to do with homosexuality? but now I know more about your way of thinking though, so thanks…

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‘fag’ = cigarette

(Origin: 1425–75; late Middle English fagge broken thread in cloth, loose end (of obscure origin); sense development apparently: drooping end > to droop, tire > to make weary > drudgery, drudge (compare relationship of flag1 to flag3 ); ( def. 6 ) a shortening of fag end (a butt, hence a cigarette))

Hard to believe anyone is so naive, unless of course they’re being deliberately dissembling.

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I guess I am a greenie, and in the early 80’s protested against nukes in the uk. Now I am older and was almost convinced by this article. Just a few comments:
Discussing nuclear weapons alongside nuclear power is legitimate since the latter is a peaceful development of the former. Further, if I am reading this article https://bravenewclimate.com/2010/09/18/ifr-fad-7/
correctly both are based on plutonium. Plutonium was the evil released by these industries and the one which caused me most concern in the 80’s. It is encouraging that the nuclear industry is trying to deal with this evil – can it be put back in the bottle? So if ifr’s work we have a means of removing this concern. Then the waste products of IFR’s “only” are of concern for “less than 500 years” (same ref). Well its better and it is the nuclear industry cleaning up its own waste which has to be good. If we could apply the same rules to the coal and petroleum industries then we could really make progress against climate change.
Regarding the comparison of the Rwandan genocide with Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings and the firebomning of Japan I think there is a scale missing – time. Rwanda – 800000 in 100 days
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rwandan_Genocide
, firebombing – 500000 in 7 months http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Strategic_bombing_during_World_War_II#United_States_strategic_bombing_of_Japan , Hiroshima Nakasaki between 150000 and 246000 in 3 days (1/2 at the time the rest over the following months) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atomic_bombings_of_Hiroshima_and_Nagasaki. And this is the true horror of nuclear weapons and why we need to work so hard to remove them and the means of their creation. Again the first article quoted makes the link between nuclear power and nuclear weapons.
So I am not yet converted to nukes but can see that IFR’s may be able to undo some of the bad already done.

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Don’t have a link to the study itself, but here is a Bio Scholar review.

Is the jump from Barn Swallows to humans a realistic one?

http://news.bioscholar.com/2007/04/study-challenges-iaeawho-clean-chit-report-on-radiation-risk-post-chernobyl.html

Study challenges IAEA/WHO clean chit report on radiation risk post Chernobyl
Thursday, April 19th, 2007 0

Washington, Apr 19 : More than twenty years after the Chernobyl nuclear disaster when researchers found wildlife thriving in the 19-mile ‘exclusion zone’ around the disaster site, they were thrilled.

Scientists found healthy-looking deer, boar, lynx, and eagle owls throughout the zone, despite the fact that the blast had showered radioactive material over huge swaths of Belarus, Ukraine, and Russia.

Now, a new study has revealed that barn swallows living near Chernobyl, which is in the Ukraine, suffer from many birth defects and abnormalities than normally expected. In addition, the swallows are not living as long and are not breeding as successfully as their cousins in other parts of the world.

Researchers say a study of the birds has allowed them to separate the physiological effects of radiation from the sociological and psychological ones.

“Birds don’t drink, birds don’t smoke, and they don’t suffer the same kind of stresses as humans that can cause diseases such as cancers,” said study co-author Tim Mousseau, a biology professor at the University of South Carolina and a National Geographic Society Committee for Research and Exploration grantee.

He said it might be possible that people living near the affected zone could still be at risk even though radiation levels had declined.

Anders Moller, from Pierre and Marie Curie University in Paris, who led the team that has been monitoring the barn swallows since 1991 for signs of abnormalities, such as deformed beaks, toes, and feathers and unusual colouring, examined more than 7,700 birds, some from Chernobyl and others from control areas including Spain, Italy, and Denmark, for the study.

The team’s results, published online in the journal Biology Letters, showed that abnormalities are much higher in birds from the Chernobyl population.

Findings revealed that more than 13 percent of the Chernobyl birds had partial albinism tufts of white feathers compared to levels of around four percent in the control birds. Recapturing the same birds year after year showed that birds with abnormalities were four times less likely to survive and that breeding success was reduced by over 50 percent.

“Abnormal features like albinism are extremely rare in nature,” National Geographic quoted Moller as saying.

The team says the findings support the theory that even the low levels of radiation around Chernobyl are enough to cause the higher than average rates of abnormalities and birth defects reported in humans living in the region.

“Based on the bird data, we think there is likely to be a plethora of human ailments associated with the Chernobyl radiation,” said Mousseau, who is also carrying out a health study on children living in the Chernobyl region.

Interestingly, the study directly contradicts a 2005 report prepared by the Chernobyl Forum, which said that social stress, and the collapse of agriculture after Communism was overthrown in 1990, were the most significant causes of poor health in the region.

The forum, led by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the World Health Organization (WHO) said about 6.6 million people were exposed to high doses of radiation and 56 people were directly killed by the disaster. The report estimated that as many as 5,000 people may die from some form of cancer related to the radiation.

Moller and colleagues think that the health impact could be much worse.

Keith Baverstock, an environmental scientist at the University of Kuopio in Finland and co-author of a 2001 United Nations report on human health around Chernobyl, said the results of the bird study are worrying.

“It confirms that even relatively low levels of exposure to radioactive fallout can result in genetic effects. If Moller and colleagues are right, then millions of people living in Belarus, Ukraine, and Russia are still at risk. With proposals to increase the use of nuclear energy, this is a matter that needs urgent attention,” Baverstock added. (ANI)

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I’m trying to tease out the implications of this study. How do we know the differences between Cher swallows and Spanish swallows are due to radiation? Is there an alternative explanation? if it is, does it manifest in the rest of the wildlife?

If low level radiation causes these genetic abnormalities, why don’t we see this in studies of hi and low level radiation areas?

Is there something different about the chernobyl area radiation? Given that the millisievert takes body burden and pathway into account, why would radiation exposure in C be different from elsewhere?

I’d like to see a study that added another control: birds from relatively hi background radiation areas.

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It is quite rediculous to claim that 5000x background is low dose radiation. This is heavy radiation therapy treatment level radiation, the kind that makes your hair fall out and feel real sick.

Anyway, that 5000x background only caused a bird brain size reduction equivalent to the natural variation in brain size. VERY small dose effect relationship.

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The near 5000 x radiation difference came down to a range from 17.95 millirems to 84,000 millirems/yr.

From .02 mSv/hr to 94 mSv/hr.

Variation in head size presumably accounted for by radiation was 12 %.

The idea that brain size reductions work on an LNT curve strikes me as prima facie preposterous. A central point of the article is to extrapolate to humans.

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