By Laura Shin
Posting in Cancer
In the first study of Fukushima's global health effects, researchers estimated the number of deaths and cancer cases caused by radiation from the disaster.
The first study to estimate the global health impact of the release of radiation from the Fukushima nuclear disaster concluded that it might eventually cause 130 deaths and 180 cases of cancer, mostly in Japan, though the range of possibilities varied widely.
While the number seems small relative to the scope of the disaster, the study focused only on the radiation and excluded the immediate, actual deaths that occurred during the initial earthquake and tsunami.
And the analysis contradicts previous claims, such as by the United Nations Science Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation, that the nuclear disaster would cause no deaths.
The study, conducted by Stanford University PhD graduate John Ten Hoeve and Stanford civil engineering professor Mark Z. Jacobson, is to be published in the July 17 issue of Energy and Environmental Science.
How the study was conducted
The researchers used a 3-D global atmospheric model to predict how the radioactive material would move over earth and a health-effects model to see how humans would be exposed to radioactivity.
The possible death toll ranged widely from 15 to 1,300 dead; the best estimate was 130. The number of cancer cases also varied widely, from 24 to 2,500 with 180 being the best estimate.
The models showed that most of the ill health effects would be felt in Japan, with a few small effects noticeable in mainland Asia and North America; as many as 12 deaths and 30 cancer cases could show up in the United States.
The number of people exposed to the radiation was relatively contained, because only 19% of the released radioactive material fell over land; the rest was dumped in the Pacific.
Another reason for the contained health effects is that the Japanese government responded more rapidly than the Soviets did after the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. For instance, the Japanese government evacuated the 20-kilometer around the plant and stopped cultivation of crops whose radiation exposure exceeded a certain threshhold.
Related on SmartPlanet:
- A year after Fukushima, how life in Japan has changed
- Japan earthquake and tsunami inspire disaster-fighting tools
- Crowdsourced tests show radioactive hotspots in Tokyo
Update, July 17, 2012, 10:45pm EST: The original version of this post said this study excluded the immediate deaths that occurred during the "catastrophe." It has been updated to clarify that the catastrophe referenced was the precipitating earthquake and tsunami.
photo: Jun Teramoto/Flickr
Jul 16, 2012
It is too bad the study by a Stanford professor and grad student used the "Linear No Threshold" (LNT) model to calculate their conclusions. While it is true that the US Nuclear Regulatory Agency still uses the LNT model for a variety of environmental and risk factor calculations, even the experts at NRC are well aware that the LNT model is inaccurate and predicts far higher cancer rates than have actually been observed empirically. The LNT is based on the simple and intuitive ideas that (1) any DNA damage can result in cancer, and (2) the amount of DNA damage is linearly proportional to the amount of radiation, therefore (3) the amount of cancer will be proportional to the amount of radiation. This seemed intuitively obvious in the 1960s, however all the data analyzed since then has shown that the model is false. As just one of the many examples, hundreds of thousands of people living in certain parts of the Colorado Plateau are exposed to roughly twice as much radiation as the average for North America-- because they happen to live in areas where the topsoil and sand contain more thorium and uranium than elsewhere in the world-- yet they have NO statistically greater incidence of cancer than the rest of North America. The correct radiation cancer risk model has been figured out in the past few decades, and there is not yet enough data on HUMAN exposures (thank goodness) to completely, unequivocally demonstrate the exactness of the correct model for humans. However animal studies have proven this more complicated model to be the right one. The correct model takes into account the natural self-repair rate of DNA in animal (or human) cells, and the fact that cancer-causing DNA damage, as observed in the lab, nearly always requires two or more "double-strand breaks" of the DNA by radiation to trigger a cancer. Since the DNA repairs itself naturally, and two or more radiation hits are required to activate cancer, it is clear that the cancer rate should scale as the *SQUARE* of the radiation dosage received within a narrow time-window --the time window being the natural repair rate for DNA in any particular animal tissue in question. Put that more accurate radiation cancer model into your global-radiation-dispersal model and your geographical population distribution model, and you will find that the radiation from Fukushima will result in somewhere between zero and five deaths-- all of them workers at the power plant itself. When you consider that risk calculations based on the Linear No Threshold model have significantly slowed the development of nuclear fission worldwide, thus aggravating and accelerating the rate of global climate change-- it is quite possible that the Linear No-Threshold model is the most expensive statistical mistake in human history.
Sadly, the death-toil from radiation in Japan is relatively low, because those that would have likely received more lethal doses, were killed or displaced by the devastation from the tsunami. Though high levels of radiation are fatal, low levels are more subtle in their affects on biological creatures. The study of both the A-bomb related human costs in Japan, and the later nuclear disaster in Chernobyl ; and their more subtle damage, will be studied and debated for generations to come.
No Laura, I think you are out of your league on this topic. The mere fact that you took this absurd "study" seriously proves that. Read what big league environmentalist Mark Lynas has to say about this fraudulent ideologue Jacobson: http://www.marklynas.org/2012/07/fukushima-death-tolls-junk-science/ However, you are young, smart and have a lot of time to read Gwyneth Cravens, Stewart Brand, and William Tucker's books (and others) and get up to speed on the mammoth BS against nuclear energy that is funded, in the final analysis, by fossil fuel interests. Gee, I wonder why? This just in, another refutation: http://canadianenergyissues.com/2012/07/18/playing-with-peoples-lives-why-nobody-should-listen-to-mark-z-jacobson/ The anti-nuclear zealots are responsible for many, many deaths due to the radiophobia they broadcast. The evidence from the Fukushima evacuations again proves this point; which the UN studies stressed about Chernobyl.
SOLAR ENERGY WILL SOON POWER THE WORLD Did not the investigating commission that was appointed by the Japanese Parliament just concluded, That It was very sadly a Profoundly Man-made Disaster that Could and Should have Been Foreseen and at all cost been Prevented.â This commission dose hold the Japan Government, Regulators and its Nuclear Owners and Operators Responsible for the Meltdown that occurred at Fukushima, after a Powerful Earthquake that generated a Large Tsunami that struck the countryâs northeast coast in March of the year 2011. This Plant was built by "GE" or know as "General Electric" A American Company and there are 23 of them in America just like the one they built at Fukushim Japan. At least one in the state of Illinois. Thank GOD Illinois does not have a lot of Earthquakes. Yet ? and are the 23 power plants that are built just like the Fukushima one Safe of the 100+ Nuclear Power Plants in the United States of America??? Or are they a Disaster looking to come? There is enough Energy coming from our SUN in a day to power all our needs on Earth for for a long time. Solar Energy is Safe and Clean and Can Power All Are Needs and much more. There is enough Energy coming from our SUN in a day to power all our needs on Earth for for a long time. This was told by two men 100 years ago and 2,242 years ago. Told by most all Scientist that these two men were of the World s most smartest men to ever live on Earth they were Mathematician, Physicist, Engineer, Scientist and Inventors of many things "Archimedes and Albert Einstein". The smartest to ever to walk on Earth was are Lord Jesus Christ. The Lord's Little Helper Paul Felix Schott PS So why on Earth is anyone still looking at Dirty, Unsafe or Disastrous Energy like Oil, Coal and Nuclear Power Plants. These two are at the top of the list of the Worldâs Greatest Scientists, Viewed by Scientist around the World. Sad that for the last 25 years or so of every teacher asked no matter what Grade k through 16. At least 80% of them did not know Archimedes. Even sadder 90% of them could not tell you what one of the most Brilliant Scientist to ever live on Earth. Won the Nobel Prize for. It was for the work Albert Einstein did to show the World it could get Free Energy, Electric from the SUN. (THE PHOTOVOLTAIC EFFECT). Thank GOD for the Pioneers like John Schaeffer that Started Real Goods The first and Best catalog for Renewable Energy and Scientist Bill Young at the FSEC Florida Solar Energy Center and Monica D. Key Lindbergh for many years wrote to legislators promoting Solar and Renewable Energy and many others. These Pioneers helped put Wind, Solar And Renewable Energy in the Spotlight for all the World to see. One of The Greatest Scientists ever Albert Einstein Stared it with a Dream that the day would come that all the World would use Solar Energy. His many years of work with the law of the "Photoelectric Effect", and showing this to the World won him the Nobel Prize in Physics. For the "Photoelectric Effect" Free Energy From the SUN in the heavens above. We still do not teach this to our young.
Dr. Jacobsen is a harsh critic of nuclear energy while simultaneously an enormous booster of alternatives like wind and solar power. His nuclear expertise seems non-existent based on research he has been associated with that demonizes nuclear power with suppositions and thin statistical "studies". Just suppose the plants at Fukushima had been burning coal all these years instead of nuclear fuel. How many pollution and mining related deaths would be linkable to the plants in that time, given that the EPA estimates that even modern "clean" US coal plants still cause over 20,000 deaths a year? I am genuinely puzzled by the vehemence with which many boosters of alternatives go after the supposed costs and dangers of nuclear power, when you consider that both have a big role to play in creating a CO2 emission-free society. Also of interest is the fact that these folks all act as though new 3rd and 4th generation nuclear plants will be just as "bad" as they feel the current plants are, when a cursory examination of these plants reveals they are significantly improved designs with remarkable safety features, and the 4th generation plants will be able to extract all the energy left in current nuclear wastes while rendering them so safe they will only need 300 years of storage. The disconnect between facts and public perceptions about nuclear power is just one more example of the unfortunate triumph of raw emotions over respect for reason and science in the current mass culture.
"And the analysis contradicts previous claims, such as by the United Nations Science Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation, that the nuclear disaster would cause no deaths." The UN study was done by scientists. This study was done by an anti-nuclear zealot (Prof. Jacobson) whose main claim to fame was getting a study published in Scientific American two years' ago, that, in calculating the greenhouse gas emissions of nuclear energy as compared to wind and solar, included in the nuclear sum carbon emissions from thermonuclear war! (Nuclear weapons and nuclear power plants are two entirely different things and there is precious little link between one and the other.) And this unadulterated excrement was published in a formerly respected magazine. (The magazine is held in contempt my many scientists for about the last decade. They depend on advertisement revenue like other rags, e.g. from BP, Shell, Exxon, etc.) What "nuclear disaster"? It is a non-fatal industrial accident that Japanese (and worldwide) authorities turned into a calamity by forcing unnecessary, prolonged evacuations. Unless, the radioactive backround level of Cornwall, England scares you, which is about what exists in the evacuated areas. Radiophobia is harming people in Japan. 3-4 old reactors are toast and will have to sit there for a few decades while the radioactivity fades away. It can be managed. 95 people died in Nigeria last week when a gas pipeline leaked, and then exploded. That is 95x more people than will die from the Fukushima meltdowns. "The first study to estimate the global health impact of the release of radiation from the Fukushima nuclear disaster concluded that it might eventually cause 130 deaths and 180 cases of cancer, mostly in Japan, though the range of possibilities varied widely. While the number seems small relative to the scope of the disaster, the study focused only on the radiation, excluding the immediate, actual deaths that occurred during the catastrophe." The author of this short piece for Smart Planet is clearly ignorant, or an anti-nuclear zealot. The "immediate, actual deaths" from the nuclear accident were zero. There were two drownings due to the tsunami. One heart attack due to the earthquake (crane operator). The tsumani killed almost 20,000 people. This was the catastrophe. Does Smart Planet even have an editor?
If horses and horse-drawn transport were heavily taxed, and cars with internal combustion engines were threatening this government revenue, Mark Z. Jacobson would be one of the sober, serious, seemingly respectable scientists pointing out a cost of a mass switch to piston-and-cylinder engines that must be counted: proliferation of bullet-in-cylinder *guns*. The thermodynamic link is, after all, undeniable. This we know, because in counting the carbon-emission cost of nuclear power, he insisted on including carbon from cities that, he seems to think, will someday be ignited by nuclear weapons that -- unlike any the world has seen -- will exist only because of nuclear power. So it is not surprising that he has taken part in a study that finds the highest possible theoretical toll of Fukushima radiation (and so is most advantageous to fossil fuel tax revenue interests, the revenue interests that correspond to the horsey revenue interests in the analogy I began with). Much larger death tolls must be occurring, if the one he sees is real, from unnecessary medical X-raying, and our failure to remove all potassium-40 from our diets. (We could set up isotope separation plants for this; potassium-39 and potassium-41 are nonradioactive,)
"For instance, the Japanese government evacuated the 20-kilometer around the plant and stopped cultivation of crops whose radiation exposure exceeded a certain threshold." The farmers' crops that were banned were then brought to the city and sold at markets by the farmers themselves to citizens who felt they needed to support the farmers and not the government who banned them. How does this study account for those purchases? We were told that even if we ingested foods that were contaminated, the level of contamination would be insignificant. The Japanese government responded too slowly to the disaster. It was all face until they realized people were in serious danger.
I have to say, as a rather humbling follow-up comment to my own assertions, that I read a little bit more just now on the subject: Not only the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), but also most US medical radiation protection standards, and many international experts in the field of radiation oncology, continue to use the "Linear-No-Theshold" risk model for radiation oncogenesis (cancer) in humans, despite that already-mentioned abundance of data showing that individuals living in areas with twice the background rate of radiation do not show any statistical increase in cancer rates. The usual rationale for using a linear cancer risk model, as given in many places including these three http://www.pnas.org/content/100/24/13761.short http://www.iaea.org/Publications/Magazines/Bulletin/Bull364/36405843745.pdf http://www.lwwoncology.com/Textbook/Content.aspx?aid=8101476&postback=1 is that the risk level is so low, for low-level radiation exposure, that it is statistically difficult (near impossible) to show in any group of 100,000 or 1000,000 people whether a tiny fluctuation in the population cancer rate is due to some cultural factor (popularity of smoking, for example) or demographic factor or due to the slight difference in background radiation. Studies have attempted to correct for these factors but the result is that any cancer effects from low-level radiation (below 10 milliSievert acute exposure) are lost in the margin of error or statistical noise of the study. To conclude, while recent studies of cellular DNA-repair mechanisms in conjunction with radiation oncogenesis strongly SUGGEST that the Linear-No-Threshold model is bogus (and that the human race has spent several TRILLIONS of dollars in the wrong way as a result of bogus risk-mitigation studies based on the wrong model)... the data are still not conclusive enough to convince a strong majority of scientists (say, 95%) that the LNT model should be abandoned in favor of a saner and more cost-effective risk model for radiation. This is an area where science CLEARLY has an important job to do, and a very specific trillion-dollar question to answer, SOON.
While I agree entirely with Paul Wick's position on Fukushima, I don't think it is justified to describe the author as "ignorant or an anti-nuclear zealot." Rather, the author is reflecting the consensus or norms of the society for which she is writing-- a society that has been badly mis-informed on the relative risks of radiation and nuclear power by a wave of anti-nuclear propaganda for over 40 years now. Currently there is no way for the average American citizen-- or even a well-educated journalist or engineer-- to know whether this "research study" out of Stanford is accurate or is biased, unless they (the author for example) were willing to do many hours of independent study in reading the most recent research on radiation oncogenesis. In fact, the Stanford study is horrible wrong. But many scientists and engineers who are not experts on radiation oncogenesis cannot possibly know that, because there has been too much mis-information for too many decades now. Even our own USA Nuclear Regulatory Commission uses the erroneous "Linear-No-Threshold" (LNT) model to calculate some kinds of environmental risk-- they do this because it is written into US law that way, even though the scientists at NRC know that the LNT model is incorrect and predicts far more cancers than will actually occur. The anti-nuclear scientists at Stanford who did this study no doubt believe in their model-- though they are scientists, they have apparently not read everything in their field, or they chose to ignore some of the research out there because of their personal biases-- including the papers in the last 20 years that have powerfully demonstrated the falsehood and dangerously expensive inaccuracy of the LNT model. So let us avoid personal attacks against responsible journalists who are, after all, only as mis-informed as the majority of scientists, medics, and engineers in their own nation. We have enormous educational work to do if we are to get accurate nuclear risk models in place for the future--let us start on the right foot by saying, in a situation and a society like this, it is OK to be misinformed-- just not OK to STAY misinformed if there are clear scientific data that show the way to a better model. Then provide a link to the best radiation research data and position papers that explain the science as we know it now, such as this one: http://www.pnas.org/content/109/2/443
Hi Paul Wick, When I wrote about deaths from the catastrophe, I meant the earthquake and tsunami. You're right that the word "catastrophe" is imprecise, but since most people know that the deaths were due to the tsunami and earthquake, it didn't occurred to me that someone would think that I was implying people died from the nuclear incident, since there were no deaths from that. Laura