Are Victims Of Irrational Fear,
The radiation in those potato chips isn’t going to kill me. Likewise, no one is going to die from Fukushima radiation. Cancer rates are not going to increase in Japan. The disaster wasn’t hidden like the Soviets did, so that people unknowingly ate iodine-131 for two months before it decayed away to nothing. No one threw workers into the fire like lemmings because they didn’t know what to do.
Where do I get off downplaying the effects of the Fukushima disaster? I’ve been studying the environmental effects of radioactive contamination for three decades, working at America’s national labs and nuclear waste repositories. My enduring frustration: the extreme supposition that all radiation is deadly and that there is no dose below which harmful effects will not occur.
This idea, known as the Linear No-Threshold Dose hypothesis (LNT), was adopted in 1959 as the global regulating philosophy and remains entrenched against all scientific evidence. It is an ethical nightmare. And it will destroy Japan’s economy.
It‘s keeping 100,000 Japanese citizens as refugees, as it did almost a million Ukrainians. It will waste $100 billion that’s needed to rebuild the devastation from the tsunami, not protect against a large intake of potato chips. It will cause more injury to Japan’s already beleaguered population and damaged economy, for no benefit.
We set thresholds to protect people against harm, and we’ve done a good job. The Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, seat belts, coal flue scrubbers, all have saved millions of lives and made the quality of life better for everyone. But thresholds need to be set with reason. We don’t stop driving just because 50,000 people still die on the roadways each year, or stop heating our homes because 1,000 people die every month from coal particle inhalation. We try to make it safer and we deal with things as they occur.
For radiation this philosophy has failed. The LNT theory has been long since disproven. We are bathed in radiation every day and we know that low levels of radiation or even ten times background levels have never hurt anyone. It doesn’t cause cancer. Yet the global fear of nuclear energy and radiation has diverted billions of dollars from more serious health issues. The amount of funding the U.S. spent since 1990 protecting against what, in many parts of the world, are background levels of radiation, could have immunized the entire continent of Africa against its three worst scourges. Instead we saved not one life. This is an ethical issue. The science is easy, the politics are not.
As a scientist, this is disturbing. Fukushima’s a mess but it’s an economic mess, not a fatal one. There are areas around Fukushima that need to be cleaned up and they will, with technologies we’ve developed just for this purpose. In this new global economy, Japan’s response will not only affect Japan.
Amid the Fukushima hysteria Germany has decided to shut down its nuclear reactors and import more natural gas from Putin and more nuclear energy from France and the Czechs. This does not make sense, either economically, politically or with respect to safety. If Germans or Japanese are that worried about radiation then a more sensible course of action would be to stop eating potato chips, beets, brazil nuts and bananas, all of which are relatively high but ultimately harmless sources of radiation.
Japan shouldn’t sacrifice the lives of the 63,000 evacuees from Fukushima Province to this ideology. A recent survey by the Mainichi Daily News showed a little over a third feel they cannot return to their homes ever, and a little under half want to return now. We need to give them the right choice. Fear is more of a killer than radiation.