Some real perspective

Since the awful earthquake and terrible tsunami the media have largely ignored the thousands of deaths instead focussing on a small power plant where not a single person has died, nor will a single person has died. Predictably too the green eco-fascists who foisted global warming upon us all and carbon taxes are now railing against the very technology that produces the least greenhouse gases, has killed far less than any other power generating technology and ironically is the greenest source of power there is by their rules.

While they posture against Nuclear power stations they forget that more people have died in Ted Kennedy’s car than in American nuclear accidents. We have also seen the more stupid amongst our MPs rail against nuclear power. i just hope they never get cancer and need a bit of nuclear medicine to put them right. Funny thing is though they protest against nuclear power but not a single one of them has come out against the building of new cyclotrons in New Zealand.

We need to get some perspective rather than rely on mis-informed headline writers of the mainstream media. The BBC fortunately has a great article about the imagined risks of Fukushima compared with real risks that exist already.

The apocalyptic visions of destruction brought by the Japanese earthquake and subsequent tsunami have been largely replaced in the media this week by reports of the struggle to control radiation from the stricken Fukushima nuclear plant.

This provides a gripping narrative – a brave team battling to contain the threat, warnings of catastrophe and claims of incompetence, families desperate to protect their children and leave the area.

But perhaps the media coverage tells us more about ourselves than it does about the threat of radiation.

Psychologists have spent years identifying the factors that lead to increased feelings of risk and vulnerability – and escaped radiation from nuclear plants ticks all the boxes.

It is an invisible hazard, mysterious and not understood, associated with dire consequences such as cancer and birth defects. It feels unnatural.

Ohhh scary…the MSM even used the word fallout multiple times in their scare-mongering stories.Meanwhile we all, well not all, remain oblivious to the risks of just living in our natural environment from radiation. Radiation that doesn’t come from broken power stations. Radiation that seeps from the ground naturally.

In contrast, few in the west of England seem concerned at the natural radiation they are exposed to from the earth in the form of the gas radon, even though it is estimated to lead to more than 1,000 cancer deaths a year in this country.

But if radiation comes from an accident and has been imposed on us unwillingly, we feel we can’t control it or avoid it.

It is therefore not surprising that the psychological effects of man-made and unintended radiation exposure, or even its possibility, are strong.

So in the UK alone more than a 1000 people die of cancer from Radon. What about the deaths from 3 Mile Island and Chernobyl, Nagasaki and Hiroshima?

It has been estimated that 17 million were exposed to significant radiation after Chernobyl and nearly 2,000 people have since developed thyroid cancer having consumed contaminated food and milk as children.

This is very serious, but nothing like the impact that had been expected, and a UN report identified psychological problems as the major consequence for health.

The perception of the extreme risk of radiation exposure is also somewhat contradicted by the experience of 87,000 survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, who have been followed up for their whole lives.

By 1992, over 40,000 had died, but it has been estimated that only 690 of those deaths were due to the radiation. Again, the psychological effects were major.

Riiiight….so we have zero deaths in 3 Mile Island, less than 50 deaths so far in Chernobyl but not likely to exceed 3000 and only 690 of the 87,000 survivors of Hirshima and Nagasaki have died due to radiation. Are we getting any perspective yet?

Radiation does, however, feel acceptable when used in benign circumstances such as medical imaging. You can pay £100 ($160) and get a whole-body CT scan as part of a medical check-up, but it can deliver you a dose equivalent to being 1.5 miles from the centre of the Hiroshima explosion.

Because more than 70 million CT scans are carried out each year, the US National Cancer Institute has estimated that 29,000 Americans will get cancer as a result of the CT scans they received in 2007 alone.

Oh dear. You have more chance of dying from radiation as a result of medical treatment than you do living next door to a nuclear power station. Great. Where are the politicians rushing to shut dow those killing CT scanners?

So based on evidence rather than emotion it would seem the headline writers have scared a good proportion of the population for something that they shouldn’t be scared of.

Michael Hanlon, the Science Editor of the Daily Mail goes even further. He suggests that “what has happened in Japan should in fact be seen as a massive endorsement of nuclear power“. He isn’t wrong either.

Anyone reading the oceans of coverage given to the Japanese catastrophe could be forgiven for thinking that the biggest story, among all the terrible, terrifying heart-rending stories that have emerged in the last week, is that of the impending nuclear apocalypse, invocations of Chernobyl; the ultimate atomic nightmare.

Radiation levels are said to be rising, a nervous Tokyo looks to the northern skies and waits.

There is frantic talk of melting fuel-rods, cooling tanks boiling dry, of American warships edging back from the coast fearful of a few stray Becquerels drifting their way, helicopters dousing the errant reactors with seawater in a last-ditch attempt to avert catastrophe.

Yes, anyone else noticed?

But this concentration on the nuclear angle is overstated, a peculiar misreading of the real situation. It illustrates a perverse desire to ignore what is by far and away the biggest real story here – the thousands, most probably tens of thousands, of Japanese people who have been drowned, crushed, entombed in mud, burned alive and swept away by that black tide of death that came sweeping through towns like Sendai and Minamisanriku last Friday afternoon.

The real story is of whole communities literally sluiced away, families shattered, economies ruined. This is, truly, a disaster on a biblical scale, a true apocalypse not the hysterical nuclear-version alluded to by, among others, Gunther Oetinger of the European Commission (who is talking of an ‘apocalypse’), the French government (which has told its nationals to evacuate Tokyo), German Chancellor Angela Merkel (who has put Germany’s nuclear programme on hold) and many other people who should know better.

Our own government is included in the worry-worts and panic artists and they should hang their heads in shame.

Because the other real story, which is a much happier – yes happier – one, is how the Japanese nuclear plants have performed magnificently in the past few days despite being hit by a disaster vastly greater than they were designed to withstand.

What has happened in Japan should in fact be seen as a massive endorsement of nuclear power. But of course, people being what they are, it will not be.

Think about it: despite being faced with a Magnitude 9 Great Earthquake which knocked the whole island of Honshu several feet to the west, a 35ft tsunami and the complete breakdown of the infrastructure, a handful of rather ancient atomic reactors have remained largely intact and have released only tiny amounts of radiation.

There have been some dramatic explosions at the Fukushima Daiichi plant, but casualties have been light; maybe a dozen blast-injuries and a handful of cases of suspected radiation sickness. And remember: thousands were killed by the tsunami.

And how many by issues at the power station? So far none!

As the tsunami and its victims are pushed off the front pages to be replaced by telephoto shots of sinister white buildings, hovering Chinooks and evocative explosion clouds, you could be forgiven for thinking that we are staring into the atomic abyss.

At a press conference at the Royal Institution on Tuesday, nuclear scientists speculated that indeed it could, that if the reactor cores could not be cooled then we could be looking at a rerun of the Three Mile Island disaster. And that, surely, would be terrible?

Well, not really. The accident at the eponymous nuclear plant in Pennsylvania took place on 29 March 1978. That day, a partial core meltdown in Reactor Core No 2 led to local then national panic. There was talk of a China Syndrome, the title of a schlock disaster movie released coincidentally that year which dealt with a reactor meltdown leading to a blob of molten nuclear fuel burning its way through the Earth to emerge on the other side (i.e, from the US to China).

In the end the meltdown was contained, and there was no breach of the reactor containment vessel and certainly no China Syndrome (which turns out to be a myth in any case).

As with Japan today, a small amount of radioactivity was released but this resulted in zero deaths and no measureable increase in illness. In fact, one epidemiological study concluded that the net effect of the world’s second-worst nuclear accident was to give everyone living within 15 miles of the plant a radiation dose equivalent to one chest x-ray.

All right, so the official worst-case-scenario is a disaster which kills zero people, but these nuclear boffins can get it wrong, right? What would happen if Fukushima does a Chernobyl?

Yes OMG what about if Fukushima turns into another Chernobyl?

The thing is, even Chernobyl did not do a Chernobyl. This was, by far, the worst nuclear accident in history (a Category 7) and yet the most astonishing thing about Chernobyl is just how uncatastrophic even this mega-disaster turned out to be.

After the explosion, the world waited. For the cancers, for the gruesome birth defects, terrible radiation burns. Up until the mid-1990s, the generally accepted death toll (including that quoted by the Ukrainian Health Ministry) was in the region or 125,000. As time wore on, these figures plummeted.

In fact, 31 people were killed when the reactor blew – 28 from radiation exposure and three scalded to death by escaping steam. In addition, 134 people received high radiation doses and several dozen of these have subsequently died, although several of unrelated causes. A few hundred people, maybe a few thousand, may die prematurely in years to come, mostly from untreated thyroid cancers, but it is becoming clear that the original assessment was wildly pessimistic.

Yes, wildly pessimistic and horribly inaccurate. An awful like the repeating coming out of Fukushima.

As is the news coming from Japan.  The cooling-system failures that have seen the Fukushima reactors go into near-meltdown are being addressed by the engineers on site. Seawater is being pumped in to dissipate the residual heat, helicopters are dousing the reactors from the air, and water is being blasted onto them from the ground.  But if this does not work there is a risk that one or more of the cores will melt, possibly even escaping their concrete containers.

But, but the media says it is an apocalypse! What should we do? Well perhaps we should listen to the British Government experts rather than our silly government.

What then? How bad could it get? Well, Britain’s excellent Chief Scientist, Sir John Beddington, couldn’t have explained it more clearly. This is what he said in a transcribed conversation with the British Embassy in Tokyo.

I’ll quote him in full because it summarises perfectly what is really going on in Japan:

‘If the Japanese fail to keep the reactors cool and fail to keep the pressure in the containment vessels at an appropriate level, you can get the dramatic word ‘meltdown’. But what does that actually mean?  What a meltdown involves is [that] the basic reactor core melts, and as it melts, nuclear material will fall through to the floor of the container. There it will react with concrete and other materials. That is likely… remember this is the reasonable worst case, we don’t think anything worse is going to happen.

‘In this reasonable worst case you get an explosion. You get some radioactive material going up to about 500 metres up into the air.  Now, that’s really serious, but it’s serious again for the local area.  It’s not serious for elsewhere … if you then couple that with the worst possible weather situation i.e. prevailing weather taking radioactive material in the direction of Greater Tokyo and you had maybe rainfall which would bring the radioactive material down – do we have a problem?

‘The answer is unequivocally no. Absolutely no issue. The problems are within 30 km of the reactor.  And to give you a flavour for that, when Chernobyl had a massive fire at the graphite core, material was going up not just 500 metres but to 30,000 feet.  It was lasting not for the odd hour or so but lasted months, and that was putting nuclear radioactive material up into the upper atmosphere for a very long period of time.  But even in the case of Chernobyl, the exclusion zone that they had was about 30 kilometres.

‘And in that exclusion zone, outside that, there is no evidence whatsoever to indicate people had problems from the radiation. The problems with Chernobyl were people were continuing to drink the water, continuing to eat vegetables and so on and that was where the problems came from. That’s not going to be the case here. So what I would really re-emphasise is that this is very problematic for the area and the immediate vicinity and one has to have concerns for the people working there. Beyond that 20 or 30 kilometres, it’s really not an issue for health.’

There you have it:  the voice of reason. But this is not what you have been reading, and this is not what the politicians are saying. To reiterate: if you say at least 20 miles from the Fukushima Complex, even if all the reactors blow up, you will be fine.

Yes there you have it. But the Greenie wankers will have none of this. They want all nuclear power stations turned off because they are “unsafe”.

None of this will matter of course to a resurgent anti-nuclear movement. After Three Mile Island which killed – remember – no one at all, America’s nuclear industry was paralysed. This is set to happen again, on a larger scale, just when the world has woken up to the fact that to combat the twin evils of climate change and an impending energy crisis we are going to need a massive revival of fission power.

In a way, the speed with which the nuclear angle has come to dominate coverage of the Japanese catastrophe is understandable. The earthquake and tsunami could not be comprehended. Tales of survival will emerge but, in essence, the story of the great Black Wave is over. The towns are gone, the people are dead. We need to ‘move the story on’, to use the media’s dread parlance.

But the nuclear crisis is all too comprehensible, and on-going. Our fear of the rogue, effervescent atom, the invisible, DNA-mutating ultra-poison appears to be primordial. By concentrating on the atomic plants we make this story about the works of Man, not of Nature, and thus write ourselves back into the centre of a narrative in which we, in truth, have played merely the role of hapless and helpless bystanders and victims.  Scaremongering and hubris; an unhappy combination.

The luddites can’t have it both ways. They can’t demand that we shut down Nuclear power plants without suggesting real alternatives, not ones that damage the environment more than nuclear power does, or ones that kill more people like the coal powered stations. If they want to tax us for emissions then they have to let us build emission free stations and so far the cleanest and safest of those is nuclear. Nothing else comes even close.

 

 


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  • kram

    My Mum told me how her brother died at the hands of the japs during the second world war and i dont give a shit that these scum are suffering now. Japs are trash people and the more of them that die thanks to their own fuckups is good news to me.

  • becn

    Insightful comments Cam, but you do attract trash.

  • moolooman

    Whale,

    Firstly, I was gonna have a reply to kram, but it really isn`t worth it.
    Thanks for offering a bit of perspective for the folk back home. I am presently living in Nasukarasuyama, Japan. I am about 150 kms from Fukushima. The silence about Fukushima round here is deafening. No-one, including myself gives a shit. Why, because there is no danger to us. http://jpquake.wikispaces.com/Journalist+Wall+of+Shame link takes you to a wall of shame which outlines the piss-poor journalistic efforts that have got my family emailing me suggesting I come home. It`s not going to happen because as you rightly point out, there is nothing wrong. Hopefully now that they are gaining control of the Fukushima situation (like they were always going to), the media can start focussing on the plight of all those poor bastards up on the coast.
    Keep up the good work. Cheers

  • marcw

    It was just so predictable that the usual anti-nuclear power proponents have immediately hit the headlines with their “I told you so” nonsense. The fact is, NZ will never build a nuclear fission power plant in this country because we just can’t AFFORD one. It is not economic to build or run without the huge subsidies which other countries can afford to pay to run theirs.

    As proof of this fact, last year Canada rejected a proposed twin nuclear station development because economically it didn’t make sense – they just couldn’t justify the enormous costs.

    If Canada finds the economics unsustainable with their resourses, then it will never happen here. We have too many cheaper alternatives, and our challenge is to choose the path which provides the best compromise between cost and environmental effects mitigation.

    • devlsadvocate

      The “I told you so” bullshit really irked me too – invariably spouted by those whom, when challenged, couldn’t even explain how a nuclear reactor works, let alone what’s gone wrong with Fukushima Dai-ichi.

      What really gets me is supposedly educated governments like the Swiss and Germans halting nuclear power plans because of this. That’s like saying car production should stop immediately because the 1971 Ford Pinto could send you to a fiery demise in a minor collision.

      1971 – that was when Fukushima Dai-ichi was *commissioned* – let alone designed. Thats over 40 years of R&D, experience, and supporting technologies to date. 40 years – thats just short of the time difference between the rickety biplanes of WWII and the first man in space.

      This old, outdated, very much more dangerous design nevertheless had to be hit by an 8.9 magnitude earthquake to fail in a way that can hardly be described as catastrophic. What the hell would you have to do to a modern design to get it to fuck you up?

      (btw, look up pebble bed reactors – slick design, if all its containment and cooling support systems fail and the control rods are pulled out the fuel will just sit there happily at a temperature it can’t physically exceed for ever and ever. Short of planting a big fuckoff bunker-buster in the job (that somehow gets through the reinforced concrete AND steel containment) you can’t make it release particulates into the air.)

  • sthnjeff

    Great read Cam…

    I think I would rather be living next to Fukushima than in a town like Clyde or Alexander in the event of a 9.1 Quake.

  • peterwn

    Unfortunately it is far easier to stir up panic than to argue things logically. One could argue that after Pike River, coal mining should be banned. Similarly Manapouri should not have been built because it cost several lives, although notably because of a much increased health and safety awareness the second tunnel was recently completed with no loss of life. Logically, cars should be banned too or at least driven by specially qualified drivers. Local panic is still being stirred up about cell phone sites. There was a big fuss about a cell phone site with the power of three taxi radios, when the area was in line of sight of a tall TV mast spewing out large amounts of signal at many frequencies.

    It unfortunately seems that at present politicians pushing for nuke power would be signing their political death warrants. Seems we are going to be stuck with more and more wind farms over the next 20-30 years.

    I do have a ‘hobby horse’ about nuclear power. I consider that key components of a nuclear station particularly the reactors should be designed for a 1000 year life. The design life for thermal power stations (including nuclear) is three or four decades only. New Plymouth Power Station is now in its death throes (even Huntly is fairly ancient now) and could make a good home for the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery (similar to ex Battersea Power Station in London). Old ‘conventional’ power stations can be demolished or converted into something else. The reactors of old nuclear power stations AFAIK can only be sealed off and left in place for 1000 years or so – this is probably a bigger problem than dealing with the very small quantities of nuclear waste that Greenies get all excited over.

  • james1077

    And some perspective with a nice easy graphic showing the amount of radiation absorbed through “natural” and “Oh, my god we are all going to die, apocalyptical” sources.

    http://xkcd.com/radiation/

    So living within 50 miles of a nuclear power station for a year increases your radiation does by a little less than eating 1 banana. And living in a town near Fukushima whilst all this was going on gives you about 1/10th of the radiation dose of flying from New York to Los Angeles (and about 1000th of the the dose of having a mammogram).

  • james1077

    This is what you get from reading up from the bottom – I’ve seen that you have already posted the graphic!

  • lordmontrose

    There’s a big difference between a cyclotron and a fission reactor.The cyclotron stops when you turn it off.
    I’m not against nuclear generators in NZ. I’d just like them to be engineered properly. We hear about the badly engineered ones when they go wrong. Quite often.

    Where were the huge tanks of water uphill from Fukushima, and the large underground waterpipes and underground power cables suitable for keeping the reactor cool in an emergency? If all those were present then the engineers had done all they could.
    I’ve not seen anything about that. I suspect there were none of those items. Where is the media informing us of that?

    For NZ I like the idea of small transportable nuclear generators such as the Hyperion Mini Nuclear Power Module (HPG) = 25 megawatts. Cart them around on the back of a truck.

    peterwn, Manapouri is a good example of an engineering stuffup. It needed a second tunnel at huge cost only because the first tunnel was miscalculated and was too small. Let us not use those engineers for our nuclear projects.

  • Doug

    Lordmontrose:

    Man­apouri is a good exam­ple of an engi­neer­ing stuffup.

    Ministry of Works was responsible to the New Zealand Electricity Department for all civil engineering work and had overall charge of the Manapouri project.

    And the lefties almost wet themselves with the thought of the Ministry of Works being reinstated.

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