(January 27, 2014) An interesting look at comparisons between the Fukushima, Chernobyl and Hiroshima and Nagasaki disaster zones, particularly in regard to radiation doses. In this report for the New American, quoting Lawrence Solomon’s piece “Evacuation a worse killer than radiation,” Rebecca Terrell writes that “the true Fukushima disaster was and still is the forced evacuation of some 200,000 people.”
By Rebecca Terrell for New American.com, published on January 22, 2014
Fukushima Death Toll
The true Fukushima disaster was and still is the forced evacuation of some 200,000 people, according to estimates from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). As of August 2013, Reuters reported, “The number of people in Fukushima who have died since the accident from illness related to prolonged evacuation rose to 1,539, nearing the prefecture’s tsunami death toll of 1,599.” In September 2012, when Japan’s tally of these “disaster related deaths” stood at 700 and rising, Lawrence Solomon, executive director of Energy Probe, lamented, “These people died in a chaotic scramble to escape presumably deadly radiation,” and called the evacuation “a man-made disaster born of human ignorance and incompetence.”
How much radiation did evacuees escape? In July 2011, the Japanese government published results of monitoring in restricted areas and planned evacuation zones. Air dose rates varied from one to 10 microsieverts (μSv) per hour, results that coincided closely with airborne monitoring of Fukushima conducted by the U.S. Department of Energy.
That doesn’t mean much to the average layman with no frame of reference for measuring radiation. In his book Underexposed: What if Radiation Is Actually Good for You?, Ed Hiserodt provides some practical comparisons. A sievert (Sv) is a measure of the effect of radiation on the human body, and a microsievert is one millionth of a sievert. The dose of ionizing radiation from one U.S. coast-to-coast jet flight is about 50 μSv, and a single barium enema delivers a whopping 8,000 μSv. Radiation sickness — nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, headache, fever — ensues in 50 percent of the population at 1,000,000 μSv (1 Sv), but “sickness results from an acute exposure of 1 Sv over a period of a couple of days or less,” notes Hiserodt. “The same radiation over a longer exposure time gives no symptoms.”
Unlike heavy metals that stick around forever, radioactive elements decay, so it is hardly surprising that weekly measurements since May 2011 by the Japanese Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) have shown gradual declines in air dose rates in the 20-kilometer evacuation zone around the power plant. Perhaps making the situation more heart-rending for those still suffering effects of the forced evacuation is a 2013 World Health Organization report, Health Risk Assessment From the Nuclear Accident After the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami, which accounted for all internal and external sources of radioactive material. The study found radiation levels within the Fukushima prefecture well below threshold levels known to induce adverse health effects such as skin reddening and cataracts and “also too low to affect fetal development or outcome of pregnancy.” Researchers anticipate no increases in health or cancer risks above baseline rate expectations outside Japan or “outside the geographical areas most affected by radiation, even in locations within Fukushima prefecture.” (Emphasis added.) As for limited areas “most affected” in the prefecture, “The lifetime risk for some cancers may be somewhat elevated above baseline rates in certain age and sex groups.”
That might seem like a vague forecast, especially considering their precision in naming the radiation effective dose — a measure of cancer risk — in these “most affected” areas. It ranged from 12 to 25 millisieverts (mSv) — or 12 to 25 thousandths of a sievert — in the first year after the earthquake, which hints at why their predictions of elevated lifetime cancer risk seem fuzzy. Many areas of the world bask in background radiation from natural sources (e.g., cosmic and terrestrial) that meet or exceed these doses, without any detrimental effects. For example, the journal Health Physics published a study in its January 2002 issue highlighting the city of Ramsar, Iran, where residents in some areas absorb 260 mSv annually. Researchers found no significant differences in cancer rates for people in high versus normal background radiation regions in and near the city, and laboratory tests revealed a natural radio-immunity to one-time large doses of radiation in white blood cells of those with chronic exposure to high background levels.
Read the article in full here at the publisher’s website.