A year and a half ago, I ranted about the media’s nuclear ignorance and hype while covering the Fukushima tsunami and damage to the Daiichi reactor cores. I always like to follow up on my rants with new news on the fallout, pun intended.
Dr. Richard Muller of the UC Berzerkeley does a nice job of putting things in perspective in his recent article published in The Wall Street Journal. He also saves me the pain of reeducating myself on radiation energy and cell damage. The REM (Roentgen Equivalent Man – go ahead, dazzle your coworkers) is the unit of damage caused by radioactivity on human tissue. The International Commission on Radiological Protection suggests once radiation levels produce 0.1 REM of damage everyone should leave. Accordingly, because of the 0.3 REM per year produced by radon gas from granite in the Denver area, everyone should flee to the safety of Nebraska cornfields.
The article goes on to say that (in addition to Denver being at high altitude with commensurately higher radiation from space) Denver residents enjoy a lower cancer rate than the rest of the country on average. Why? If it isn’t as obvious as the nose on your face, people in Denver have a healthier than average lifestyle. I have a lot of company when I’m out running in Denver, despite my heavy dosage of radon. Conversely, Cedar Rapids and Pittsburg must have the lowest concentrations of runners of any significant cities in the country – and the highest percentage of catcalls, boos, hisses, scowls, and ass chewings from construction workers and drivers. I’m just reporting the news, man. Don’t shoot the messenger. But at lease Cedar Rapids has sidewalks and nobody has successfully hit me with a Juicy Juice projectile.
By the way, you can work out like a banshee and not have any greater risk to radon damage than a couch potato since the decay of the radon must occur while in the lungs. So it isn’t a function of how much air you breathe but how much air is in your lungs at any given time.
Dr. Muller goes on to say that 25 REM gives a person a 1% chance of cancer, in addition to the 20% everyone has from dumb luck. So that 0.1 REM the ICRP indicates is a threat to our health produces a 0.0002% greater possibility of cancer compared to dumb luck.
Doing some math, you can check out for yourself, Dr. Muller calculates at the very high end of exposure from Daiichi (22 REM) that the population with this dose from the disaster, 22,000 people would contract 194 extra cases of cancer. This worst case scenario would be in addition to the 4,400 cases due to dumb luck. But what if a dumb luck cancer takes you out before the Fukushima cancer does? I suggest lowering the 194 by 20% to 155 additional cases. He goes on to say that the “natural” 4,400 fatalities will mostly be attributed to the nuclear plant disaster. Well why not? It is human nature, more and more so, sadly, that all my woes are somebody else’s fault.
He goes on to estimate the likely number of causational cancer deaths to be 100 – the previous example was worst case. However, we all know cancer is not a death sentence. Many of the cancers will occur in the thyroid gland and these are highly treatable, to the tune of over 75%, even for late stage thyroid cancer. So whack this 100 extra cases down by probably 50%, again conservatively and there may be 50 deaths due to the radiation released from the utter destruction of these plants. Compare this to the 15,000 deaths caused by the tsunami itself. Zero point seven percent. What gets the weeks-long, non-stop hype – Daiichi. Zero point seven percent.
This plan disaster is also about the worst imaginable case as a 50 foot wall of seawater wiped out the plant, backup power supplies from the grid, and backup local generation from diesel generators. It was essentially like hitting the area with a powerful bomb.
While the damage to this facility and reactor cores was about as bad as could be imagined, newer plants are even more fail-safe because they employ natural circulation, think chimney effect as warmer fluid rises and cooler, denser fluid sinks, so they are able to keep the core cool with no electricity or external drivers at all. But what if the pipes break and all the water gets away, somehow? In this case the solid fuel would get hot and at worst melt into a blob in the concrete containment vessel. As mentioned last time, it WILL NOT explode like a bomb, ever.
In general, people freak out over things they don’t understand; they like to blame everything that happens to them on someone or something else, and they simply do not understand elementary math. The media is largely at fault too because ratings is the name of the game and if they can report radiation showing up on the west coast from Fukushima, ignoring the fact that it’s the equivalent of a baby bite of banana (naturally radioactive potassium), you damn well can bet they will report it.
Lastly, Apple won its patent infringement suit against Samsung. Apple now has exclusive rights to squares with rounded corners. Naturally the next question would be, will Apple win exclusive rights to “iForgot”?