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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.


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”

“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.”

What is your point? What are you trying to prove? Ok, some things are worse than nuclear disasters… Ok, so what? You are getting further away from the point!. Nobody is saying the nuclear disastors are the worst things that ever happened on earth, but that doesn’t mean it’s harmless! The important thing isn’t to prevent nuclear disasters, and let other types of massacres happen, no one is defending that! What you are defending needs no defending…


This is fabulous. Thank you. I was hoping for an article like yours.

It should be enough to convince a rational person, but there are many otherwise rational people out there who will continue to believe the N.Y. Academy of Sciences production where they claim one million deaths from Chernobyl (numbers aside, conflating a death like the deaths of BP rig workers or the Chiba refinery fire deaths with Loss of Life Expectancy cases drives me nuts–and if you DON’T conflate these two things, you’re accused of covering up mass death).

Given that the liberal/progressive recourse to the one million figure is widespread among bloggers, if not among ordinary progressives, is it necessary to dismantle this report?

Here’s something else useful from G. Cravens:

The responses reinforce the point about confirmation bias.


[deleted off-topic comment (as per BNC comments policy. Please re-post in the correct thread – “Sceptics”.]


“… To date, there is no radiation-related excess of disease in adulthood, but it will require several more decades to fully determine this, as this population is still relatively young.” (from the link given above)

I won’t get into arguing on this, but am posting just once to make the point.

You want to use the comprehensively applicable goose-gander sauce here, not argue that your gander is nothing like the goose being cooked.

Look at these and ponder the argument being used:

“Only in recent decades has it clearly taken over — has the “signal” of man-made climate change begun to emerge from the background “noise” …” (Broecker)

“The 18-model ensemble-based signal emerges in 260 years. …. natural that statistical efforts to find a signal will be slow …” (Pielke Jr.)

“… Climate change link in hurricane losses decades away …. the time scales for a climate change signal to emerge … There may well be a climate change signal present but ….” (Reuters)


Shorter: if the climatologists are so sure there’s going to be climate change, even though there’s almost no statistical evidence yet, why are the cytologists and radiologists so sure there’s going to be cell damage from radiation?

What’s the difference?

How do you argue that the climatologists and cell biologists aren’t all [fill in your favorite denial / paranoid claim — in it for the grant money; making this up to try to control your wallet; green lizards intent on world domination; eager to serve man ….]?

Seriously, Barry. I tried to argue this with you a few years ago, gave up and went away. I expect I will again, I see no point in -arguing- about how to address policy issues based on small statistical effects emerging from large trends.

And I urge you and everyone — for every argument you make or dismiss or evaluate — to swap the goose and the gander and see that the sauce works for both equally well.

I look at phenology for the answer.

I urge you to do the same. Nature bats last. Small effects emerge long before statistics can prove them.


Hank, I haven’t got time to answer you now (about to go to bed), but briefly (to remind myself), trying to draw an analogy between climate change and the LNT hypothesis (or greater than LNT, as the NYAS study would have to propose) is not at all reasonable. At the very least, think of it this way:

Look at what the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the UN Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR) publish. Their reports agree with what Allison is saying, i.e. it is the health physics consensus.

Next, look at the arguments of people like Caldicott, the NYAS authors, and similar ilk who say they are wrong on radiation effects.

Then, compare them to the folks who use the same arguments to say the World Meteorological Organisation and UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change are wrong on global warming.

Then think about it for a bit.


Great post!
Almost perfect, but not perfect. The author could have added the expected 30-years past additional 8% mortality for thyroid cancers (they were 6000 and not 4000), and he still would get a small deaths toll for that disease. Additionally, the 2011 update of the UN report on Chernobyl does not invalidate the previous estimate of 4000 additional caner deaths; it only says it has been impossible to confirm them, because they can’t be differentiated from the natural expected deaths (estimates vary with context, and that’s why cohort studies are done, but small bias in limited populations are almost impossible to confirm). [deleted – unsubstantiated opinion]Anyway, dismissing these small innacuracies, the post is great and the essential assertions hold.
[deleted off-topic comment. Please re-post in “Sceptics” thread where discussion on your point is ongoing.]
Please be sure to supply references to support your assertions or your entire comment may be deleted.Some of your post, while still lacking references, has been retained this time.


Read a more critical report on Chernobyl that also included medical and scientific sources omitted by the UN – IAEA [deleted unsubstantate hearsay] you just have to be truthful about certain points and not included other critical points.

Chernobyl: Consequences of the Catastrophe for People and the Environment

Written by Alexey V. Yablokov (Center for Russian Environmental Policy, Moscow, Russia), Vassily B. Nesterenko, and Alexey V. Nesterenko (Institute of Radiation Safety, Minsk, Belarus). Consulting Editor Janette D. Sherman-Nevinger (Environmental Institute, Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo, Michigan).
Volume 1181, December 2009
335 Pages

This is a collection of papers translated from the Russian with some revised and updated contributions. Written by leading authorities from Eastern Europe, the volume outlines the history of the health and environmental consequences of the Chernobyl disaster. According to the authors, official discussions from the International Atomic Energy Agency and associated United Nations’ agencies (e.g. the Chernobyl Forum reports) have largely downplayed or ignored many of the findings reported in the Eastern European scientific literature and consequently have erred by not including these assessments.

Full Report
This comment could have been deleted as a deliberate distortion of the facts. Full disclosure was not given.

The Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences issue “Chernobyl: Consequences of the Catastrophe for People and the Environment”, therefore, does not present new, unpublished work, nor is it a work commissioned by the New York Academy of Sciences. The expressed views of the authors, or by advocacy groups or individuals with specific opinions about the Annals Chernobyl volume, are their own.

See Prof Brook’s comment up thread at 4:56 pm.


Jose de Sa said:

The author could also mention the japonese estimates of the long-term deaths resulting from the nuclear blasts, which were small but not zero: about 530, 180 of them leukemia.

Can you provide something in the way of evidence for this?
The comment you refer to has been edited and a request for a ref was asked for.


Well written – but how to get it out into the daily newspaper?
I remember a talk at McGill University in the 1960’s by Hans Selye -” Dr Stress” and his theory on how stress eventually makes us susceptible to disease. I really think we could have the makings of a class action suit against the media – people must be stressed if they are buying iodine pills, etc. Just think of all the illnesses that will result from the stress (it eventually affects the immune systems) resulting from all this inaccurate reporting.


Comparing a natural disaster effect with nuclear plants in same natural disaster area, is a rational method to put things in perspective, as it considers the marginal risk of said nuclear plants.

20000 deaths due to eathquake and tsunami. 3 of them in nuclear stations. 0 due to radiation. No one of the workers has been reported to have received a total dose over 0.2 Sievert, and it appears that no one of the population has received even 0.01 sievert.

However it is even more necessary to compare different energy sources as this gets into the relevant alternative danger. This puts things in perspective for me:

That is not even considering any climate risk at all.


The WHO report of 2006 can’t confirm predicted increased rates of cancer, they haven’t all happened, and may never be tabulated. However, I think it is fair to report that it does state a number of 8,250 total “predicted excess cancer deaths”, page 108.
Please supply a link to your reference. Future comments without links may be deleted as per BNC comments policy.



Barry is exactly right. For your point to work, the analogy between the body of evidence supporting the best climate science and the scientific evidence for LNT must hold. Does it? If it did, you would think we’d see excess cancers (lots of them) in high background radiation areas compared to low background radiation areas. We don’t. In fact, according to Ted Rockwell’s account, the BEIR reports basically admit their lack of evidence for LNT. (I can quote him quoting them if you like, for what it’s worth)

Though, as Barry notes, with regard to NYAS, the compilers do not hold, I assume, to the standard LNT metric of .04 deaths per person/sievert.

Does anyone know what number they use? If they used .04, putting aside the collective dose fallacy, they would need 25,000,000 sieverts to get their million bodies (again, this should be put in terms of loss of life expectancy to avoid sensationalism).

It is my recollection from reading synopses of the article that they claimed a much larger release in curies than the standard–which, I think, was around 300 million curies for Chernobyl.


Barry, the guy whose post preceded mine is an example of the reasoning I’m cautioning about.

I’m urging you to acknowledge the very small effects reported where they show up.

On the Hiroshima page, they said exactly what you quoted but the text went on with words you left out, about the time needed to detect a trend.

This is exactly how the climate change arguments get distorted, by leaving out consideration of small effects so people don’t learn how small they are.
“The researchers believe that continued follow-up of the participants in the current study will be necessary to determine when an eventual decline in risk is likely to occur.” — links in the original.

Many changes related to technology are _small_effects_ emerging from a noisy statistical background.

Much of the statistical _noise_ is from effects like the death rates due to coal, and tobacco, and persistent organic chemicals.

Talk about relative risk.



okay hank:

I did not appreciate your point because I was focusing on LNT, where, actually, the effects predicted are not small, but quite large, are they not?

I apologize. will read your link on small effects.

the guy above.



let me try this. Even before the AGW signal emerged (according to most climate scientists), the causal mechanism that would lead to predictions of its emergence was known (or let’s pretend for purposes of argument).

With LNT, while there is a causal mechanism for damaging cells, the question is whether and to what extent LNT as an assumption acknowledges DNA repair mechanisms.

The analogy in the climate discussion to DNA repair mechanisms would be “negative feedbacks.” The question is whether that last is a good analogy: is the evidence for hormesis on a par with the evidence for “negative feedback?” (clouds?)

I admit to my nonexpertise so feel free to educate me. That’s what I’m on the earth for.



I don’t understand what eye witness accounts of the atomic bomb have to do with geoff russel’s piece.

Is anyone denying the suffering of atomic bomb victims?


I’ve often heard the suggestion that if the bombs were not dropped, a war of attrition would likely have killed many more people. That’s a strange thing to say, but when you think about it…

That quote that they shouldn’t have dropped two but ‘just’ one nuclear bomb is similarly a strange thing to say, but again probably true…


So if it’s not dangerous, why bother wearing suits, masks, bother with decontamination, een measuring radiation levels? Why even bother to “save” the plant now rather than just leave it to itself.

I’m a bit tired of hearing “less people will die than catastrophe X”, “more cancer from cigarettes” etc.

Is there still anyone out there doing risk assessments who is not in either the pro or con nuclear camp?


@Huo Jones,
There is an institution devoted to study that, RERF:
Some time ago I searched for data about that in this site and I found a report with those numbers. I can’t remember exactly which one of the many reports in this site was, but in this one from that site, for example, you can find the known conclusion that radioactive exposure increased the leukemia risk from the usual 4% to 20% (percentage of all cancers):


They are not trying to “save” the plant. They are trying to limit the release of more radioactive material to the environment.
Why bother wearing suits, masks, bother with decontamination? Because if you do get enough dose it will eventually be bad for you. But, more to the point, it is legally required to wear the suits and masks and to decontaminate. The control levels are far below what is likely to hurt a worker or the public. But, they can be easily measured and the rules were writen based on the any dose is bad theory.


Regarding the suites ans masks, I think it is as for the evacuation zone: not because there is a high radioactivity level, but because it can be found in unexpected places in the plant, or suddenly spread, regarding the evacuation zone. They are PREVENTIVE measures.
So, these measures don’t mean the raioactivity is high, something many people are being led to think. They are precaucionary.


I’m not an expert, but let me add something about the LNT theory: for me, it is plausible. Of course the body will react against the cells ionization, repairing them. But not the same way for everybody, and that is why the damages are not deterministic but random. Some people will sufffer nothing, may be because they have a strong immunity system, while other people will devellop cancer. This happens with all other carcinogenic factors. But all ionization factors cause cancer – even the Sun’s light – skin cancer. Of course, not for most people.


And besides, the LNT theory is based precisely on the study of A-bombs survivors in Japan. You find it in most of the conclusions of RERF papers.
However, there is a point to mention: those studies were done for a single radioactivity burst, and the extrapolation of its findings for moderate but continuous exposures can be questioned. Any way, the WHO’s committees think they have not enough evidence to change the conclusions reached from the A-bombs survivors, which mean LNT.


i want to comment on this part, because it shows multiple big errors if you want to convince people for the nuclear energy cause:

“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.”

1. difficulty to attribute deaths to the accidents is one of the main problems. This is a way to avoid responsibility and the general public doesn t accept it as an excuse any longer.

2. increase in cancer death rates. in developted societies, cancer is a very common cause of death (mostly at a rather old age). a 5% increase (and it looks like people talk of this when they actually means something like going from 50% to 55%) turns up massive total numbers.

3. cancer rates must be done in relation to age groups. people dying cancer when they are 87 years old is mostly accepted. kids getting born with an early death sentence is not.

4. and here we are again, how will we prove that the kid got the cancer from the accident? against a company that will pay less for legal costs fighting any court decision than they would have to pay for a single kids suffering?!?


ps: the map shows zones that are still not usable today, as far as 200 km from the reactor. sorry, but i simply do not want that the future of an area like Tokio depends on favourable wind directions. this is not acceptable!


Geoff Russell, nice post well written. I do believe that, technically speaking, your arguments make sense. However, I think that, morally, emotionally and politically, you are heading in the wrong direction.

OK, there are bigger catastrophes than those nuclear events. So what? Nuclear accidents are bad things. Genocides are even worse, I agree. It does not make nuclear accidents acceptable.

When something bad happens, victims and witnesses go through a whole range of emotions. The fact that worse things happen does not help much in dealing with those emotions. People are scared about radiation and other nuclear effects. Telling them that there are things more dangerous than radiation will just increase their anxiety.

Let’s stop trying to minimize or downplay nuclear risks. Let us all acknowledge that nuclear power is special in the people’s minds. Other technologies are more dangerous than nuclear? I agree. But what really matters in the end is what the public believes, justified or not.


@ Francois

You are suggesting that we simply accept the irrationality around nuclear power rather than to attempt to educate the public.

Given that nuclear power will be necessary to lift the living standards of billions of people, which will save and improve equally large numbers of lives, how is your stance ‘moral’?


This is probably hopeless but in what sense is Fukushima an ‘accident’. Was the refinery fire also an accident? Or the dam rupture?

After TMI and Chernobyl I guess it is only natural to refer to a crisis like this as an accident.


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

This is probably hopeless but in what sense is Fukushima an ‘accident’. Was the refinery fire also an accident? Or the dam rupture?

After TMI and Chernobyl I guess it is only natural to refer to a crisis like this as an accident.


The natural disaster caused damage to the plant and loss of outside power, but it did not cause the release of radioactive waste, that resulted from the human management of the reactor before and after the quake. Disaster planning and management, the hydrogen explosions, fuel melting, and the release of radioactive waste, make this an accident.


sophia, yes, it is true that the effects of radiation are real and dangerous to humans, the environment, etc. but there is a fundamental difference between dropping the bomb and an “accident” like this. apples and oranges.


Cyril R,
Read the book or various reviews on-line of “Downfall: The End of the Imperial Japanese Empire” by Richard B. Frank. In the book, Frank describes why the two bombs were used and the crucial affect of the 2nd bomb on the Japanese. He also describes the probable impact of a siege strategy whereupon after the US would have destroyed the railroad system, and thus the last means that Japan had to move goods in Japan including food, the nation would have starved to death in the coming winter.
We are straying off-topic here. Comments like this belong on the Fukushima Philosopical Thread. Please move the conversation there.


ron: “Nobody is saying the nuclear disastors are the worst things that ever happened on earth, but that doesn’t mean it’s harmless!” Of course not, but most other activities are assessed on a cost/benefit ratio analysis … motor cars aren’t harmless but few people suggest we ban them.
gregory: perhaps it is necessary to consider the million death claim more rigorously, but its so ridiculous I haven’t given it serious thought. The Ukraine 2008 age standardised incidence makes that clear. Suppose conservatively that 300,000 of the million happened in Ukraine. Most would have happened in the second decade at the earliest. This should have changed the per annum cancer rate by about 300000/(50e6/100000*10)=60 [population of ukraine is 50m].

So the “true” cancer rate in Ukraine should be either
131 per 100,000 per annum or 250 per 100,000 per annum. If the WHO trained all the Ukraine medical
professionals to recognise Chernobyl cancers and keep them out of the official figures, then the higher figure holds. But if all the cancers were counted in official data, then the true rate of non-Chernobyl cancer is 131 per 100,000 per annum. Both scenarios seem ridiculous. Looking at the actual globocan data for Ukraine makes it pretty clear that there is no huge lump of radiation cancers in Ukraine, so the WHO must have been very diligent in training people to keep them out of the registries and in any event the overall rate is still lower than clean green Australia. We don’t need Chernobyl, we have plenty of beef, booze and fags.

I’ll reply to other comments later. Thanks for the positive comments!


“So if it’s not dangerous, why bother wearing suits, masks, bother with decontamination, een measuring radiation levels? Why even bother to “save” the plant now rather than just leave it to itself ?”

Two valid questions.

For the first one, think about the interdiction of smoking near a gasoline station pump. It is perfectly justified. Gasoline is dangerous. Does it means that one cannot smoke anywhere ? No . You need to wear the protection when you are 50 m from the plant, but not 1km from the plant. In nuclear as with most industrial risks, the dose makes the poison, the only exception from this principle is bio-hazard because germs and viruses are self-replicating.

For the second one, let’s not mince words : it is a fundamental design fault. Nuclear Installations should be “walk-away acceptable” whatever the circumstances leading to their disfunction (and I include war). PWR have been conceived for military naval purpose, and for that purpose, they fit the above constraint as long as the submarine/aircraft carrier is at sea. It is unfortunately not the case for civilian land-based nuclear installations. I hope that this will be the main lesson drawn from Fukushima, but I don’t think it will translate quickly into fundamental changes. The problem is that there is a fine balance to be found : these “faulty” productive assets generates wealth that can be used to transform society to adapt from resource depletion and fend off Greenhouse Gases threats. If that can be temporarily true for Natural Gas (to displace coal), it can certainly be also temporarily true from Nuclear Power Plants with obsolete designs.


@Francois Manchon,

“OK, there are bigger catastrophes than those nuclear events. So what? Nuclear accidents are bad things. Genocides are even worse, I agree. It does not make nuclear accidents acceptable.”

Except when accepting nuclear power, and therefore the possibility of nuclear accident, is the best way to avoid genocides down the road. I think that is the main reason why readers of the blog of a climate researcher are promoting nuclear.

As far as increasing the anxiety of the public is concerned, this is a feature not a bug : the the public should be MUCH MORE anxious about the effect of Greenhouse Gases, resource depletion and natural catastrophes : they are much more real than the threat of low radiation dose. The next 50 years are not going to be a walk in the park for humanity, we better recognize that as soon as possible.


@gregory meyerson :

“IT was an accident and not an accident.
Like Katrina”

This is so true. The real cause for the 30,000 victims is land planning that didn’t acknowledge enough tsunami risk. I don’t buy the argument that Japan is an overpopulated country and that people had to live somewhere : There are many agricultural properties, even in the most populated regions that are completely out of harm’s way. This is where the 500,000 evacuees should have had their house build. The coastal strip should have been exclusively devoted to agriculture.
At least the Nuclear Power Plant had the excuse that it was compulsory to be sited by the sea to get access to a cold source.


> The coastal strip should have been
> exclusively devoted to agriculture.

All around the world. But try telling people that.
The answer to “Do you feel lucky? Well, do you?” is, for most people, always “Yes, of course!”

Personally, 35 years or so ago, my first chance ever to buy a piece of property, I looked up the ocean height as of the last high stand (no ice on Greenland or Antarctica), and bought just above that long-ago coastline.

I’ve always been a bit of a pessimist — about the monsters my great-grand-nieces-and-nephews will find under _their_ beds.


To Geoff Russel
Dear sir, thank you for this post. Your contributions continue to make encouragingly interesting reading.

There’s two things that keap on bothering me thow, not as much in your post as in general. this is sad because it’s unnescessary. I try be clear in describing them in a generalistic way.

A sievert (Sv) is a political intrument of a higly subjective nature. Its primary use is for policy makers to have something to base their decisions on. It is the least nonsense attempt among a lot of way more nonsense attempts to evalute human risk for radioactivity. It is By No Means valid as a source for scientific research of any kind (besides political research). It does not guarantee anything, least of all the giving of a conclusive notion of the actual human health threat. It appears to me it is being used out of its scope into the ridiculous.

And relating to this:

Radioactivity can only cause damage on the level of its own ‘existence’. This is the submolecular level. Any scientific research into the overall human health effects, be it beneficial or damaging, must therefore focus on that level of event for its results to be anything remotely close to usefull, as a reliable indicator of the effects of radioactivity on human health. Sofar, no such research has been conducted succesfully, the obstacles being the indefinite nature of radioactive influence and various practical research limitations.

Considering these two facts, for all we know Helen Caldicott could be not that far off. The only true scientificly sound statement is that we Do Not Know.

It appears we can allow ourselves quite some ignorance in this respect, without getting immidiately punished for it, but let’s not push it. Let’s not tell ourselves lies.

The world is in need of a source of energy that can replace the one that’s putting smoke in our eyes fast and it needs a lot of it. Under the current state of technology, the main source that can solve that need is nuclear energy.

Whatever monster lures in that, we do not know. Not me, not you, not anyone else. This is not a movie. If this monster in fifty years from now turns out to be more of a Helen Caldicott than a Ted Rockwell, than we have every reason to keep it confined as much as we can right now. Not ‘reasonably’ safe, but 100% guranteed safe. Just in case it’s not as innocent as we all hope it is. There is no reason here in ‘reasonably’.

The trick to obtain that level of safety is incredibly easy. All we have to do is want it, more than anything else. If we can’t do that, we may be risking way more than just a few billion cancer cases. We are not discussing the installation of just one or two power stations here, you know that.

I imagine a caveman standing by a fire. If he gets in it, he dies, but if he keeps it going he keeps warm. Maybe a burn every now and then, but cavemen can handle that. His family is a few meters further away. “See? This safe.” he tells them. “No threat for our health”. He stares into the flames in fascination. That was one smoked-up atmosphere ago. Then there is another man, some spaced out future person. “Well, there goes the last uranium, it served us well, but it’s a good thing we kept the cork on the bottle when it still made a difference.”

y.t. Parrot


Sophia and Jose
What is your point? The studies you point to are following the dropping of the atomic bomb. How can radiation levels there be compared with what has happened at Fukushima, or come to that TMI or Chernobyl. You are comparing apples and oranges and therefore your comments on this thread are disingenuous and off-topic.Moderator?


Please note that off-topic comments will be deleted and, as we are unable to transfer comments, you will be asked to re-post in the correct thread. In particular comments regarding your personal opinions, beliefs etc should be posted in the Fukushima Philosophical Open Thread.


Gregory … I should have put in the brackets, but my
calculator (R) does the right thing:



So 300000 deaths is 60 per 100,000 per annum for 10 years in a population of 50 million. I’m just trying to get a feel for the scale of the signal that a million extra deaths would leave in the region and it isn’t credible that they would have been just missed in the normal course of cancer registry data collection.

I did make a serious mistake however. I used the 191 incidence rate when I should have used the
110 mortality rate for cancer in Ukraine … in which case the relative signal of 60 is even bigger.


Parrot: Here’s why Caldicott is very wrong about radiation. Radiation damages cells, no argument. But what makes a damaged cell become cancerous? Eat some red meat and you will find (assuming you have the analytical chemical skills :)) damaged DNA in cells from the inside of your colon that are sloughed off into your feces. Other cells with damage remain in your body and may become cancerous. This damage happens every single red meat meal. But soy protein will also damage your DNA, and milk protein and chicken protein. Probably all protein … but I’ve only seen data on those four. But there is not one scrap of evidence that the damage caused by soy protein (or chicken) goes on to become cancer. Its the type of damage that is crucial.

So Caldicott’s stories of the horrible things that this or that radiation/particle does to cells may be perfectly accurate (not that I’ve checked), but without a body count (the epidemiological level), it means very little. It’s a little like when somebody says … “your mouth is full of bacteria!”, or “That food is full of chemicals!”.


Some nearby countries may wonder exactly what paths the radioactivity, and the radioactive flora and fauna, might take.

“South Korea has expressed concern to Japan over the release of radioactive water by Tokyo Electric Power Co. into the Pacific Ocean from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, Yonhap News Agency reported Tuesday, citing South Korean foreign ministry officials.”



If the CSIRO Board can conduct themselves as indicated by Geoff Russell…

Documents obtained under Freedom of Information legislation show that CSIRO researchers informed the CSIRO Board
“Recent findings from [CSIRO] scientists have established that diets high in red meat, processed meats and the dairy protein casein can significantly increase the risk of bowel cancer.”
CSIRO scientists inform the CSIRO Board — April 2006

What did CSIRO tell the public? . . .
“Studies have shown that fresh red meat (beef and lamb) is not a significant risk factor for colorectal cancer.”
CSIRO Total Wellbeing Diet, Book 2 — October 2006

then presumably this increases the likelihood that some of Caldicott’s accusations must hold water.

I see no reason to believe that the CSIRO is unique.
Anyway I will read the book with interest to see what the strength of the evidence is..


I would greatly appreciate if the author of this article would be held to Barry’s very reasonable standard to “Please be sure to supply references to support your assertions”.

In particular, I’m having difficulty finding support for the actual numbers that Russell presents, such as in connection with the 200,000 emergency workers, and also the supposed 98.8% successful treatment of the 4000 thyroid cases. Are these from the WHO report? If so where?

Also — is there a version of this WHO report written in a character set that Acrobat can search? Or some other solution to searching it?
BNC does not edit blog posts/articles by other contributors. We are sure Geoff will be able to provide you with any further information you require.


That’s the whole point i’m trying to make sir, it does matter. It matters if it’s just a headache, or reduced fertility or years out of a life or earlier developement of diseases. Damage to mankind also adds up. We know that from the side effects of pesticides. A few hundred thousand bad moods add up to a smaller number of lethalities. That is the dicipline. Damage to human health is exactly what the word says it is and you don’t measure that in cancers or corpses. That you measure in percentages human health. It makes perfect sense and it doesn’t make sense to do it any other way. 

There is an enormous danger in not considering all effect. Somewhere down the line you will inevetably be confronted with the accumulated effect of the thing you refused to see as important. We’ve been there. This is how it goes: 
Some demographic institute finds there is a rising fatality, sinking birthrate, increasing disease count or deformation of some sort, whatever, some bad news. Anything alarming that can’t be explained, so they ring the bell. Somebody else starts doing research and finds the cause. Whatever the cause is, the experience is that one characteristic always returns: 
We’re too late to control it. It’s either all over the place of financially so powerfull or profit rich it gets surpressed.  How do you think global warming got this far? And there’s still people denying it’s happening on this very blog. 

Back to radioactivity. If some sea of mini side effect turns up, there is no way we will ever get it out of the environment again. The understanding of the true effect of radioactivity on lifeforms/living tissue is Zero, zilch, nothing. It’s not chemical, i’ts subchemical.  Solid probability. There is no lethal dose. The only thing we have is an idea of the dose that would be lethal to every human. That’s not the same thing.

Approach it as a mathematical problem. If there is no obvious solution to the variable, you isolate it, right? You make sure that on one side of the ‘=’ there’s nothing left but the variable. Whatever is left on the other side is the solution. There is nothing obvious about the solution of this variable, so we gotta write it out. We can’t just guess. All we have to do is put a “=” between energy generation induced radioactivity and the rest of the world. Problem solved.

And think of the advantages of a primary 100% safety objective:

1. Never again a panic like this.
2. Servere reduction of opponent argument.
3. Increase of support population.
4. Reduced risk of fuel based military conflict.
5. Increased attention for other problems.
6. Maybe actually getting the job done.

That’s just the few that come up in my mind right now. 
This conversation is wandering into the philosophical. Please move over to the Fukushima Philosophical Open Thread. Your next comment, if in the wrong thread, will be deleted and you will be asked to re-post. Please note, that, as in some of your previous comments, potentially libellous remarks have been removed.


I have not as yet made one comment on anything posted on Fukushima however this one is so bad I just have to – sorry.

I am restraining myself to the renewable disinformation so let start.

“but would I lash 10,000 bicycles together to transport a thousand tonnes of grain from silo to mill?”

What is silly is that the author thinks that this is a valid comparison! No, no-one would lash together 10 000 bicycles to carry 1000 tons of wheat. However if there was no fossil fuel available and the job needed to be done, 10000 people on bikes could easily carry or tow 100kg of wheat each and transport the grain even if it took a couple of trips. In the case of wind farms however connecting up different wind regimes is not as hard as organising 10000 bike riders. We live in 2011 not 1911 and modern communications and technology make the job relatively easy.

“Once you turn a nuclear reactor on, it stays on 24×7”

This is clearly not true. Nuclear reactors are like any power plant that fail and/or needs maintenance so the best they can do is 90%. In countries other than France there exists many other forms of generation that switch off allowing the high capacity factor. In France there are load following nukes leading to the CF of their fleet to be 75%.
There is no power plant on Earth that has a CF of 100%.

“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”

Yes you can however off-peak is a thing that was invented because certain large power stations cannot be turned off economically as they are base-load only. Nuclear is one of these. Most, if not all, renewable sources are intermediate and can be despatched at will when they are generating (in the case of wind). Desalination plants cannot be switched off and on fast enough to make up for nuclear’s base load only capacity.

Rather than the dumb 1890s concept of off-peak the new smart grid based on 21st century communications will sense what is happening in the environment and act accordingly. If there is a surplus of wind the smart chargers in the electric cars will switch on. When there is not they will contribute some of their stored energy to smooth the grid.

Desalination and fertiliser production can happen when the sun is shining as both water and fertiliser can be easily stored, so neither is CF dependent. However society needs to conserve both these resources to avoid environmental damage.

” 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.”

Andasol1 is 50MW because of the subsidy structure in Spain that cuts out over 50MW. It is also a trough type plant, again built this way because bankers know troughs as will loan money for them. Trough plants can only heat the salt to 400deg so that is the temp that is stores.

The newer type of power towers that use molten salt as a working fluid, like the one that just opened in Italy, heats to salts to just under 1000deg dramatically increasing the amount of energy stored. So the calculations presented here are wrong.

The future of solar in a 100% renewable grid will need to be of three classes of power generation. First of all the ‘baseload’ stations will be large power towers with 72 hours storage and gas or biomass backup. Due to the large storage, gas/biomass use will be under 10% and sometimes zero in good insolation areas.

The second will be the trough type andasols and solar PV with 3 – 7 hours of storage that will do the afternoon and morning peak.

Lastly will probably still be gas/biomass plants doing peaking and wind firming allied with solar PV with 1 hour storage. There is no real replacement for economical short startup peaking power however the solar PV plants will be able to do the lions share.

“This means that the technology can be modularised, mass produced, and can replace fossil fuels.”

I am sure it can but in what time frame? The only major truth of Fukushima, and all I will say on it, is that the systems that were designed to stop the kind of things that happened failed. Japan was only saved from a worse disaster by quick thinking and heroic personnel that turned fire trucks and concrete pumpers into emergency core cooling. Neither of which was in the original design or disaster plan. While we build complex machines they will still behave in unpredictable ways. What makes nuclear unique is the possible consequences of these failures.

When you are modularising and mass producing these reactors you will now have to take into account that the systems that you design, no matter how well you think you have done it, can also fail and then you will need to guard against these potential failures. Also as the French found if there is a problem found later on then you have just mass produced 1000 errors – if it serious then the entire fleet can be brought down again as the French found with their standard design.

We need to start now to mitigate climate change not when all the new wonder reactors are debugged and mass produced but with what we have. Sure wind and sun are not what we are used to however it is up to us to change to fit them not try and perpetuate this business as usual, growth at all costs model that has caused climate change in the first place.
This post belongs on the Fukushima Philosophical Open Thread where personal opinions on renewable energy are being debated. Please shift this conversation to that thread. We do not have the facility to move comments. Further comments in the wrong thread will be deleted and you will be asked to re-post.


@ Ms. Perps,
My point is science, truth and rigor.
The repports on Chernobyl can easily been found in the net. For example:
For the latest results:
The number of deaths from children thyroid cancers can be found in a number of belaraus and russian reports. As a matter of fact, the reports I have seen did’nt mention a survivability rate of 98.8% but of 99.8% – only 15 deads in 6000 cases. The extrapolation of a survivability of 98% at the end of 5 years and 92% at the end of 30 years is an extrapolation of typical data. Statistics, of course.
Regarding the fact that we can not mix oranges with apples when compairing A-bombs with Chernobyl: first, I was who pointed to the differences – a single burst against a continuous moderate release. But of the same stuff: ionizating radioactivity.
There are a lot of specific studies on Chernobyl, as anybody can see reading the UN reports. You may want to question their rigor, but then you’ll lose the ground to question Greenpeace, who was who claim for the 950000 deads from Chernobyl…
The Greenpeace and also the Green german party, who rules the energy politics in the European Union (well, this a belief, I can give that).


“Evidence meltdown” – George Monbiot keeps swinging for science and evidence – fantastic to see:

The unpalatable truth is that the anti-nuclear lobby has misled us all
I’ve discovered that when the facts don’t suit them, the movement resorts to the follies of cover-up they usually denounce…

Further interrogation of HC’s answers here:


An extract, relevant to Geoff’s post and to some commenters here who’ve pointed to the NYAS study:

Like Vidal and many others, Caldicott pointed me to a book which claims that 985,000 people have died as a result of the disaster. Translated from Russian and published by the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, this is the only document that looks scientific and appears to support the wild claims made by greens about Chernobyl.

A devastating review in the journal Radiation Protection Dosimetry points out that the book achieves this figure by the remarkable method of assuming that all increased deaths from a wide range of diseases – including many which have no known association with radiation – were caused by the Chernobyl accident. There is no basis for this assumption, not least because screening in many countries improved dramatically after the disaster and, since 1986, there have been massive changes in the former eastern bloc. The study makes no attempt to correlate exposure to radiation with the incidence of disease.

Its publication seems to have arisen from a confusion about whether Annals was a book publisher or a scientific journal. The academy has given me this statement: “In no sense did Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences or the New York Academy of Sciences commission this work; nor by its publication do we intend to independently validate the claims made in the translation or in the original publications cited in the work. The translated volume has not been peer reviewed by the New York Academy of Sciences, or by anyone else.”


The problem is that long term effects of radiation cannot be seen and the results of an accident can not easily be quantified and therefore the pro-nuclear lobby, industry and governments can use the ‘no proof/evidence argument with ease. Used regularly for oil until recently.

It might be the case that there is a very small percentage of increases in death or serious illness over a very large population and so as a quantity it might be quite high (100s of thousands).

However this is just speculation and I am afraid that the attraction of nuclear power is so great that we will not know until it is later. Possibly the same as the effects of the oil industry and our desire for large cars, air con, full on heating etc. I am not saying I am right. I do hope the nuclear lobby is right, however it feels like more of the same sort of protectionism.

It will be interesting to see if the real monsters turn out to be the nuclear industry and governments protecting them or the anti nukes.


@Stevek9: “You are suggesting that we simply accept the irrationality around nuclear power rather than to attempt to educate the public.”

Actually I am suggesting both: 1) Accept irrationality. Emotions must be acknowledged and managed appropriately. Telling scared people that they are wrong is likely to trigger more fear, anger and other negative reactions.

2) Educate the public. People are scared of the unknown. This is a very long term task. We also need to increase the scientific knowledge about radiation effects. Epidemiological studies as the ones referenced by Geoff are key.


@ Eric Moore,
I agree with you regarding the pro-nuclear lobby. I am pro-nuclear, but I recognize that there is a pro-nuc lobby tending to rebuild data the same was as the pro-renewables lobbies.
It is true that because sthocastic morbility data can not be proved in a court, some pro-nuc people tend to dismiss epidemiological results at all – but not for the deaths resulting from coal. It is a anti-science position similar to the Greenpeace’s, when this one count all deaths after Chernobyl as resulting from radioactivity, since we can not distinguish them in a deterministic way, in the present status of science.
Now, the 4000 deads estimate is based on integrating the radioactivity levels from the Chernobyl plant to the remote regions (including Sweden, for example), weigthed by the LNT cancer risc (0,5% per 100 mSv, a coefficient extracted mainly from A-bombs ) and by the living population in those regions. And those deads are long-term estimates, ehich means that many of them have not happened yet, so they can not be proved.
I think this is a very reasonable estimate. Chernobyl was really a disaster, after all.
The point we sould stress, however, is that the breaking of the Vajont and the Banqiao hydro damns killed respectively 2000 and 170000 people in Italy (1963) and China (1973), not to mention the people killed by coal, 2600 in chinese coal mines just last year, as the chineses have pointed out:


The only way that the public can be educated is if they feel that the truth is being told and I have already seen conflicting information about Chernobyl, medical questions and the Japan crisis. One persons education is another’s propaganda.

We need a worldwide body made up of scientists, medical professionals, nuclear experts, geologists and historians to really investigate. We do not need shareholders, industrialists or politicians particularly.


@Eric Moore,
We already have that “worlwide body made up of scientists, medical professionals and historians to really investigate”.
Under the umbrella of the United Nations. I’ve been hyperlinking some of their reports.


I would be as happy as anyone to come to the conclusion that the risk/benefit profile of nuclear make it a good solution for the problems that Russell enumerates.

So while Russell points out the susceptibility of public and media to FUD arguments and shady use of data by anti-nuclear activists, I am looking to Russell’s use of data and facts, hoping to find something that’s more robustly persuasive to me.

So… let’s look into the 4000 thyroid cases of which “98.8 percent were successfully treated”. Yes, such a statement does appear in the WHO report, if you combine what is said on page 107 (“less than 1% …died from this disease… rest treated successfully”) with the version on page 104 (survival rate in a sample of 1152 patients was 98.8%).

But what this does not cover is the kind of “success”. If we read the details on pages 45 to 50, we learn that success corresponds basically to just the initial treatment to avoid short-term death.
[deleted unsubstantiated personal opinion presented as fact – please re-post with supporting refs]
The WHO report describes how the radiation effect on the thyroid is inversely proportional to age, so it is disproportionately children, and young ones at that, who are at risk.

Russell says “the treatment success is a fact on the brink of extinction”, and elsewhere links suppression of such facts to the anti-nuclear activists. I would suggest that this kind of success — almost 4000 children sentenced to surgery, chemo,
[deleted unsubstantiated personal opinion]– does not make a very nuke-friendly argument to parents anywhere, (and if the anti-nukes have suppressed this, then they’d be doing the pros a favor). Maybe it’s still an argument worth making, but it’s not “98.8% cured good as new”.

I’ve not yet discovered where Russell got the emergency worker data from (200,000 population, with predicted 2000 excess cancers). But that passage seems to mix together predictions for lifetime incidence with other info for the period up to the 1998 data in the WHO report. [deleted unsubstantiated personal opinion] So the “numbers to 1998” don’t relate easily to the lifetime projections.

Finally one blanket statement about all the comparisons in this article to things that are worse. 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.

Bottom line: Yes, I already buy that that there are FUD arguments out there. And I’m rooting for the author to show the way in using data more thoughtfully than this article does.


@Jose de Sa

I do understand the risk to life does come from lots of sources. I am not defending the pro-oil/coal lobby. In-fact I remember having the same gut feelings about the pro-oil corporations and cover-ups of the 70s/80s and also when the climate change scientists were beginning to make noise, I was suspicious of the people denying that this was a problem. It may be unfair to consider the pro-nuke camp in the same way, but it just feels that way to me. Hope I am wrong.


@cyril R

Interesting report and I can quite believe it, but it is just one case. It might be like a report that says 25ml of wine every day is good for your heart, however 1/2 liter of mentholated spirits will kill you over time.

If I have this wrong and this report applies to all radiation and exposures then it should be easy to prove by experimentation.


I agree that comparing some disaster elsewhere in the past with the Fukushima Daiichi crisis is not fair.

However comparing different aspects or technologies within the same disaster is a good starting point for perspective. Tsunami and earthquake killing over 20000. Buildings collapsing killing over 1000 (over 2000?). Nuclear plants emitting radiation killing no one. Earthquake and tsunami killing 3 in/around nuclear plants. If the workers were fishermen instead of nuclear plant employees in fortified buildings, would they be safer? I think not! Entire villages have been washed away!

Now a further and more relevant perspective is to look at how deadly different power sources are:

Conclusion: burning stuff is dangerous. Energy sources that don’t involve burning stuff are all of them many times safer and the difference between them all is small.

Hydro, nuclear, wind, not very deadly, coal natural gas oil biomass, very deadly.

See also Brian Wang’s take on this:


Hello Eric. We definately need more experimentation! On mice for starters. But that’s kind of an bad thing to say I guess…

[deleted – personal opinion presented as fact. Please supply refs and re-submit]


When it comes to reports and evaluation, I found this interesting article on the tobacco industry and although we must not compare the two industries I think it shows how the lack of proof can be used against the public.

“It created the Tobacco Industry Research Council, later renamed the Council for Tobacco Research, supposedly to fund studies examining “all phases of tobacco use and health.” Although some CTR-funded researchers produced further evidence of tobacco’s hazards, most worked in areas far afield from the CTR’s ostensible focus, while certain “special projects” were deliberately selected to cast doubt on the connection between smoking and disease. The CTR helped maintain the pretense that more research was needed – always and forever. The industry’s strategy, as Tobacco Institute Vice President Fred Panzer put it in a 1972 memo, was “creating doubt about the health charge without actually denying it.” Company officials steadfastly maintained that the case against smoking was not conclusive, and it soon became clear that no amount of evidence would sway them from that position.”


i have a simple solution to solve this big problem:

“405 additional cancers attributable to radiation from the accident.”

the solution is: shifting the burden of proof!

any increase in cancer rates after a nuclear accident will be attributed to the accident. and it is the task of the pro- nuclear side, to demonstrate which cases are NOT caused by the accident.


to stay in the film language brought up by Geoff Russell (and possibly the best part of his guest post):

if you are stuck in a horror movie, would you really want to look at additional deaths, that can be clearly attributed to the monster?


@cyril R

By the way it might be a bad thing to experiment on mice but it is readily done to check medical and cosmetic products (and at one time cigarettes).


Jose de sa: My number of 4000 came from the 2006
who report I linked and it is referring to data up until 2002. So 6000 sounds reasonable, but I can’t find the 2011 report you mention … just this:

Click to access ARCH_TechnicalReport.pdf

Haven’t looked at the UNSCEAR 2008 report you linked. Will do so when I get the time. Nuclear isn’t really my “burning issue”, but I was getting so furious at SBS TV reporting here in Australia (not sure where you are), that I just had to write something. Anyway thanks for the references.

Shelby: See some of my earlier comments about how unlikely it is for normal cancer registries to just miss a million deaths as is required for the WHO conspiracy theory. I did go to the NYAS cite and they wanted me to pay for the report (fair enough), but I’ll wait for someone more expert to deal with it. There is now an army of collaborative teams working on Chernobyl impacts. I have some confidence they won’t miss anything this big. Does that mean I think the non-Anglo scientists were incompetent? That depends on the when the work was done. In the late 1980s, early 1990s? Read Laurie Garrett on this period and make your judgement. If a million people really did die, then that “signal” (a cold word for something so horrific) won’t have vanished. The modern studies would have found it. If they don’t find it, then I’d bet it was never there.

Sophia: talking about “data” is a cold way of talking about horrific events, but from an individuals viewpoint, disasters and more mundane events are equally shocking. That was actually the point I was trying to make when I talked about living with pain. Many of Chernobyl’s victims may get cancer, but will be pain free until it reaches some stage. Victims of more conventional violence may live with pain for the rest of their lives. Which is worse? Most of the victims of Hiroshima didn’t know what hit them. Probably none of the Rwandan victims were spared substantial periods of pain and terror. I’m not saying X is worse than Y and therefore Y is okay. Not at all, I’m just saying X is worse than Y so lets give X more attention than Y.


Great article, Geoff. In fact, this may be the best one I’ve read so far since the Fukushima incident began – and I’ve read many, many! (This is certainly not to take away from all the other excellent posts on BNC since the Japan earthquake + tsunami either).

There’s much irony to be found when reading some of the comments in this thread, after reading this article and the George Monbiot article Barry linked to above. Even after all the scientific evidence and numbers are taken into account, some people are still clutching at straws for arguments against nuclear power, trying to promote the “100 % renewables” agenda. This is in spite of the fact that nuclear fission is the most environmentally sound, safest, most plentiful energy source we have access to.

I believe (and sincerely hope) that the monster is getting more and more exposure in the nuclear debate – much to the disappointment of some horror fanatics.


Hi Cyril

What you get in cigarettes is horrific. I smoked. Why? because when I was young it looked like a cool thing to do. It made you think you were more attractive, stylish, intelligent, thanks to the adverts, promotions and sponsorships. All seems so odd now.


You see there are some benefits in having tobacco. However, I won’t be smoking again.

Tobacco companies and the people covering for them were pretty big monsters. I hope this is not the same for Nuclear industry. Only time will tell.


>Cyril R wrote:
From what I’ve read so far it appears long term, non-acute exposure to whole body dose radiation is almost certainly good for you, up to at least half a sievert per year (!) which is over a hundred times typical global background radiation.

Where are the links? Is this opinion, or is it not speculative?

Perhaps you are anxious to stop reading about it and to begin practicing what you preach?

>To the Moderator:
I am still in awe that the first posts that I have ever made(in the other thread) were deleted and harshly edited with no warning whatsoever. This thread is full of opinions with no links. I suppose the only reason they are still here is because they support your cause?
I am not “on duty” all the time. This is a voluntary, part-time position. I will now go back over comments posted while I was away and make judgements about what sort of “opinions” people are posting. Philosophical opinion is one thing, personal opinion presented as fact is another and the latter requires references. Your comments list hard facts and figures, such as radiation levels in certain areas and your own scientific conclusions – obviously these need validation.
Cyril R’s scientific comment has been edited other “philosophical” views by commenters have not. If you do not like the commenting rules and falsely perceive that you are being discriminated against do feel free to go elsewhere and post on an un-moderated blog.


If radioactivity is not dangerous, as the author of this thread happily boasts, then why do all countries set laws for radiation levels?

“Radioactive iodine-131 readings taken from seawater near the water intake of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant’s No. 2 reactor reached 7.5 million times the legal limit, Tokyo Electric Power Co. admitted Tuesday.”

Also -“cesium-137 was 1.3 million times the amount allowable”

The level of radioactive iodine in- “water leaking from the crack(#2) had a reading of 5.4 million becquerels, Tepco said.”
More than 130 million times the maximum amount allowable.


Has ” Chernobyl: Consequences of the Catastrophe for People and the Environment (Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences)” been reviewed in English?

The claim of 985,000 is at pg 210, but there is substantial preliminary data.,000&f=false

The book provides a table of different estimates of Chernobyl deaths including 14,000 for NRC [table 7.9, pg 208] but several go over 100,000.

As not all pages are available, I assume such radical differences are based on methodology and assumptions.

Anyway it is one way of ‘shining light on the monster’ somewhat different to Russell.


In my previous comment a few parts were deleted by the moderator as possible personal opinions, with invitations to provide citations. Here are the specific citations.

Two “deleted” sections relate to: “success corresponds basically to just the initial treatment to avoid short-term death”. I went on to say that following that initial treatment, as describe on pages 45 to 50 of the WHO report, children went on to suffer a variety of further effects, either from the disorder or from the treatment. The WHO report, page 45, discusses different details from different studies, such as::

— (Rybakov 2000): in 330 children treated at Kiev, 57% developed regional metastases and 14.5% developed distant metastases (for example lung).

— (Demidchik 2005) reports on 1152 consecutive cases operated on in Minsk, where, for example, 66% also had lymph node involvement.

— To date (not sure which date), 12.3% of this group had a recurrence of the carcinoma (WHO report p46)

— Thyroidectomy (the most-used treatment in the quoted studies) leads to hypothyroidism in 50% of patients: See for effects and treatments. (Or see it’s references for primary sources.

— 9.3% of the patients experienced permanent hypoPARAthyroidism (WHO report page 45), which is described here:, as leading to “hypocalcaemia, is a serious medical condition”.

— 5.6% of the patients had “permanent recurrent laryngeal nerve palsy”, (WHO report page 45). This affects vocal cords and breathing ( for example).

— WHO report pages 46 describes various aspects of the treatment of a group of 220 children with thyroid cancer. Of these, 100 had lung metastases, and hence underwent multiple courses of 131-I treatment, with 65% achieving “stable partial remissions”. The report notes that repeated treatment with 131-I runs the risk of inducing pulmonary fibrosis, which was indeed found in “as many as 17 children”.

(These are examples from a longer list.)

In a final “deleted” section I asserted that there was confusion around Russell’s juxtaposition of the 2000 excess emergency worked cancers (predicted) with the quite low “deaths so far up to 1998”, because (here’s the deleted bit) the predicted deaths would not be expected until mostly after 1998. Here’s the reference that supports that: for example, page 103 “It is well-known from long-term epidemiological studies […] that radiation-associated morbidity and mortality increased should be expected in the decades to come. […] recognized minimum latency period of about 10 years for many cancers.”

I hope these references clear up where my statements were coming from.

Again, I’m open to arguments that these effects are favorable compared to effects from other energy sources. I think it improves the pre-nuclear argument if even the worst (reasonable) assessment of Chernobyl (or Fukushima etc) still looks much less hazardous than the other energy processes.
gwideman – thank you for supplying the references to substantiate your claims. We appreciate your effort and your courtesy. I wish some others would be as gracious.
This is a science based blog so references regarding the”science” as opposed to a “philosophical argument” are essential and required.


I am not “on duty” all the time. This is a voluntary, part-time position. I will now go back over comments posted while I was away and make judgements about what sort of “opinions” people are posting. Philosophical opinion is one thing, personal opinion presented as fact is another and the latter requires references. Your original comments listed hard facts, such as radiation levels(and your own scientific conclusions) in certain areas – obviously these need validation.

But my original comments listing the radiation levels had the required link in my next post, as it was asked for by someone. That link had the exact numbers I listed and since it was a PDF, I had even instructed as to where to look for the numbers. It was not at all my personal opinion. It was legit.
If you wish to quote a statement I have made be sure to quote it in full. You left out part of what I said and I have inserted this, in brackets, into the response from me, which you pasted above.
Please re-submit the link to the radiation level PDF (in English). If it was wrongly deleted we apologise. Because you insisted we had deleted your original PDF, we let stand, in a later comment, a link to a Japanese PDF, listing radiation levels – despite the fact that BNC policy is to require English language links or translations.


My idea is to jump the whole good-science-bad-science thing, go directly to the consequence and start a post on the Zero Tolerance Option. This time not as a yes-or-no question, but as a ‘how’ question on the basis of the assumption that the full consequences of a more-than-zero-option can’t be predicted conclusively. If it has a life, it’ll show by itself. If not, i’ll concentrate on roasting coffee for the rest of the decade.
y.t. Parrot


I have been following this thread with some consternation and it seems that my doubts about the validity of some of the statements about the dire effect of radiation may be correct.
I watched the interview between George Monbiot and Helen Caldicott(it is on the BNC blog and I urge you to watch it) the other night and was stunned, as was Monbiot, by her assertion that the UN, WHO and IEAE were complicit in a conspiracy of silence about the deaths and longstanding ill-health of the populace after Chernobyl and TMI.
Just now I followed a Twitter link on BNC to an article by George Monbiot. You really should read it in its entirety but here is the intro:

Over the past fortnight I’ve made a deeply troubling discovery. The anti-nuclear movement to which I once belonged has misled the world about the impacts of radiation on human health. The claims we have made are ungrounded in science, unsupportable when challenged and wildly wrong. We have done other people, and ourselves, a terrible disservice.

I began to see the extent of the problem after a debate last week with Helen Caldicott(1). Dr Caldicott is the world’s foremost anti-nuclear campaigner. She has received 21 honorary degrees and scores of awards, and was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize(2). Like other greens, I was in awe of her. In the debate she made some striking statements about the dangers of radiation. So I did what anyone faced with questionable scientific claims should do: I asked for the sources. Caldicott’s response has profoundly shaken me.

First she sent me nine documents: newspaper articles, press releases and an advertisement. None were scientific publications; none contained sources for the claims she had made. But one of the press releases referred to a report by the US National Academy of Sciences, which she urged me to read. I have now done so – all 423 pages(3). It supports none of the statements I questioned: in fact it strongly contradicts her claims about the health effects of radiation.

He feels he has been totally duped by the anti-nuclear establishment and the green movement and I have to agree with him!


bRiverb: Tom has pretty well answered this, but I’d just
add one thing. Occupational health and safety standards are, and should be, very conservative. E.g., some workers have been exposed to levels of radiation that might yield a tiny chance of cancer.
Just for illustration, suppose its 1 in 200. In an extreme case this is acceptable. But it isn’t acceptable to have thousands of workers routinely exposed to such levels on a regular basis. Likewise when faced with an urgent rescue, emergency workers sometimes take risks that they wouldn’t normally take if for example … rescuing a cat up
a tree when time wasn’t an issue.


You should also read the following:
Some examples of the outrageous statements by Caldicott and their re-buttal by professors working in the fields are illuminating.

Helen Caldicott, Quote 1:

“There could be a huge hydrogen explosion, which would rupture the containment vessel, and out of Unit 2 would come huge plumes of radiation, which, if the wind is blowing towards the south, could devastate much of Japan forever.”

HC’s source:

“Read the NY Academy of Sciences Chernobyl report and extrapolate from there”

My response:

a. As my article explains, the Yablukov book has little scientific standing and has not been peer-reviewed.

b. Here is what Professor Robin Grimes, Professor of Materials Physics, Imperial College, London, tells me:

“The word “forever” is clearly nonsense as radioactivity does decay. Given the present temperatures and pressures within the reactors and the decay heat, which is now only a few percent of what it was, the pressure vessels are not going to rupture via a brittle fracture. At worst it will leak slowly. If it did, the levels of contamination would increase locally. More difficult to clean the mess and cost.”

Helen Caldicott, Quote 5.

“And over time, nuclear waste will induce epidemics of cancer, leukemia and genetic disease, and random compulsory genetic engineering.”

HC’s source:

“This is basic radiobiology that I learned in 1st year medical school and was initially derived from the classic experiment of Mueller of the effects of radiation on drosophila fruit fly for which he won the Nobel Prize and the radiobiology is explained in my book. I don’t see how you can derive all the basic medical information you need George in 8 hours to write and article for tonight!”

My response:

Professor Gerry Thomas tells me this:

“Absolutely no evidence for this whatsoever – we live in a radioactive world, we are superbly adapted to it. There are areas of the world that are exposed to natural background radiation 10+ times higher than the average (same maximal dose as radiation workers receive). These populations do not show an increase in cancer.”

Helen Caldicott, Quote 6.

GM: “you’re saying you would dismiss the U.N. Scientific Committee as being part of the nuclear industry?” HC: “I could, yes.”

HC’s source:

“Absolutely! In light of the Chernobyl report as the WHO et al have never done the necessary epidemiological studies necessary to make such a statement. The NYAS report has covered much of the medical and scientific investigation which desperately needed to be done. Tim Mousseau participated in this report and I would encourage you to talk to him re your questions. His number is ************. Dr Janette Sherman is the editor talk to her, her email is above.”

My response:

I asked her about UNSCEAR. Strangely, she refers to the WHO. Does she know what UNSCEAR is?

Professor Gerry Thomas tells me:

“I actually was a member of the UNSCEAR committee on the Health effects of the Chernobyl accident and wrote the section on the molecular biology of thyroid cancer. I can assure you that none of us are in the pay of the nuclear industry. I was anti-nuclear until I worked on the after effects of the Chernobyl accident – now I am very pro-nuclear as I realise that we have an unwarranted fear of radiation – probably due to all the rubbish about a nuclear winter we were fed during the cold war.”

George – I was an anti-nuclear, dark green until I found out I had been misled – mainly from reading this blog and now from this revelation. Helen was my hero too – what a let-down.


I’ll agree that while interesting, comparing past disasters with nuclear power isn’t the correct frame.

We should compare potential future disasters.

Currently, Australia is responsible for roughly 25% of the approximately 1 billion tons the countries who aren’t self sufficient in coal consume each year. Most of that flows thru the port of Newcastle. In our ‘what if’ the port of Newcastle stops functioning for some reason. Natural Disaster, Labor Unrest or maybe the Australian Greens decide that exporting coal is bad and just close it.

That leaves the world 250 million tons/year short of coal. The port/rail capacity of the rest of the worlds coal exporters can make up maybe 50 million tons/year in a pinch.

The result will be that the coal importing countries will have to do without 200 million tons of coal.

How do we decide who will do without.

1) The coal importers get together, hold hands, sing Kumbaya and work out a plant that minimizes that impact on each of their countries in a fair and equitable manner.

2) The market decides, I would not just the news of Germany closing a few nuclear plants which would result in a 20 or 30 million ton difference in global coal consumption resulted in a $10/ton price increase in Europe. A 200 million ton shortage is going to be like an auction for rare art.

3) The country with the biggest Army decides they are not interested in suffering at all or paying exorbitant prices. Rolling blackouts or exorbitant prices will cause massive civil unrest. They decide they will take whatever coal exists on the export markets and everyone else will have to bear the burden of the coal shortage. Inflicting violence on a coal exporting country will be less then the violence from the civil unrest.

History shows us that option #3 is a high probability event. There has been no shortage of armed conflict in the oil exporting countries in the last 30 years.

The list of countries who are capable of exporting more then a dozen nuclear reactors worth of coal is short. (50 million tons)

Australia, Indonesia, Russia, South Africa, Columbia and the USA.

Russia has used energy as a political weapon. South Africa and Columbia struggle with internal violence. Indonesia has some difficulties with Radical Islam. Environmentalists in the US are doing everything they can to stop coal exports.

Depending on an imported resource that only a handful of countries control carries with it substantial risk.

Being one of the handful of countries that controls coal exports also carries the risk of others violently meddling in your internal affairs.
This comment belongs in the Fukushima Philosophical Open Thread. Please move over. Future comments in the wrong thread may be deleted, as per BNC policy. We have no method of transferring comments between threads.


Short article from NHKlabout radiation levels in reactor buildings 1,2,3:

“Plant radiation monitor says levels immeasurable

A radiation monitor at the troubled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant says workers there are exposed to immeasurable levels of radiation.

The monitor told NHK that no one can enter the plant’s No. 1 through 3 reactor buildings because radiation levels are so high that monitoring devices have been rendered useless. He said even levels outside the buildings exceed 100 millisieverts in some places.

Pools and streams of water contaminated by high-level radiation are being found throughout the facility.

The monitor said he takes measurements as soon as he finds water, because he can’t determine whether it’s contaminated just by looking at it. He said he’s very worried about the safety of workers there.

Contaminated water and efforts to remove it have been hampering much-needed work to cool the reactors.

The monitor expressed frustration, likening the situation to looking up a mountain that one has to climb, without having taken a step up.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011 19:51 +0900 (JST)”



> Jeremy
don’t feed the troll

> hormesis, cobalt, Chen study

articles citing Chen: Effects of cobalt-60 exposure on health of Taiwan residents suggest new approach needed… can be read by looking that study up in Scholar. One such list is here:,5&hl=en

Note that Chen’s article refers to exposures to external gamma, not alpha or beta radiation and not to exposure to internal radiation.

Enthusiasts often obscure these differences when referring to the Chen study.

Watch particularly for claims that fthe Fukushima radioactivity from iodine and cesium is trivial because of the Chen study. These are not at all the same type or exposure.

But Chen says he was not able to obtain the population data needed to properly evaluate the surprising result, and hasn’t published a followup that I can find. Nor have I been able to find any other authors who have followed up his paper. Most people citing it point to blog copies, not to the journals where you’d expect to find links to citing papers.

I look for good skeptics; those will acknowledge the limitations as well as the suggestion of a possible effect as Chen does in the actual paper, both in the introduction:

“The findings of this study are such a departure from expectations, based on International Commission on Radiological Protection (ICRP) criteria, that we believe that they ought to be carefully reviewed by other, independent organizations and that population data not available to the authors be provided, so that a fully qualified, epidemiologically valid analysis can be made.”

and in the Discussion:

“In such studies, it is very important to examine the confounding factors that could possibly affect the comparisons being made between the exposed population and the general population of Taiwan. Are there qualitative differences in the two populations? Although it is a critical factor, the age distribution of the exposed population has not yet been determined, and it was assumed that the age distribution of the exposed population is the same as that of the general Taiwan population….”

Be skeptical about attempts to claim more for Chen’s paper than Chen claims.

Quotes from:

“Is Chronic Radiation an Effective Prophylaxis Against Cancer?” published in
Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons Volume 9 Number 1 Spring 2004

Skeptics should look carefully at this journal:


I think people make a little light with the 98.8% “curing” of Chernobyl’s 4000 (6000 – whatever) thyroid cancer cases. Here’s some of the reality of that cure…


Almost all cases of thyroid cancer are treated with surgery. Many are also treated with additional methods. Possible complications of the surgery include:

Damage to the nerves that control the vocal cords, which may cause temporary or permanent hoarseness or loss of voice
Irritation of larynx by intubation, which may cause temporary or permanent hoarseness or loss of voice
Damage to parathyroid glands, which may lower blood calcium levels and lead to muscle spasms and numbness
Infection of the surgical site
Bleeding or formation of a hematoma (blood clot in the neck)

If your thyroid is removed, you will take thyroid hormone replacement pills daily for the rest of your life.


I think you are right. We should mention not only the deads but also the sick, and most thyroid cases are treated with surgery and additional methods. We should do it In order to improve safety – it appears that IAEA is just going to do that, learning from Fukushima. That is how humankind progresses.


Reading the WHO report that I hyperlinked in my previous comment, it can be seen that Cardis, E. (Elisabeth) was who had estimated the 4000 deads from Chernobyl. She did it in 1996, and 10 years after she wrote another paper:
In this last paper Elisabeth reviews the new data available from post-following the affected people, to recognized that this data does not confirm her predictions. However, she also clarifies that given the very small prediected increase for most people (eg. 1%), no epidemiological study can distinguish that signal from noise (my words).
But there is a very interesting point in her paper: if we know now that thyroid cancer and Iodine-131 is what is most dangerous, is because of Chernobyl. Also, if we know that leukemia is the other most common cancer from radioactivity, is from the A-bombs survivors follow-up (as well as from a few medical accidents). Before Chernobyl we did’nt know that.


Barry and Geoff – thank you for this excellent post. I was bouncing around the web and came on an interview with “physicist, educator, author” Gregory Benford on the Azimuth blog. The interview’s title is non-descriptive: This Week’s Finds (Week 310). Benford is very level-headed, IMO.

Given the ‘monster movie’ theme of the post, I found this quote very appropriate:

I fear we are now in the Decade of Dithering that will end with the deadly 2020s.

(several questions and answers later)

The great danger is that tipping points may not be obvious, even as we cross them. They may present as small events that nonetheless take us over an horizon from which we can never return.

He discusses tipping points that worry him and much else. The monster is making little noises, but which are significant? One of his serious concerns is that we will continue talking and not get out and experiment soon enough. There are links to the research papers scattered through the interview.


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