NRC report downsizes estimates of deaths from nuclear plant meltdown

August 3, 2011 by Bob Yirka, weblog

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) in conjunction with Sandia National Laboratories has been working on a report to update and revise estimates of the number of people that would be killed or harmed as a result of a nuclear core meltdown at a plant in the United States. While currently still unavailable to the public, a copy of the report was obtained by the Union for Concerned Scientists, under the Freedom of Information Act; the group then gave a copy to the New York Times, which then ran a story on its findings.

In the report, a work in progress over the past six years, the research team finds that previous estimates of the number of deaths likely to occur due to a meltdown, to be much higher than new evidence suggests; this because they believe the amount of released would be far less than was last estimated by the agency.

After much study, the report suggests that only 1 to 2 percent of the cesium 137 in a reactor’s core would escape in a meltdown, as opposed to previous estimates of up to 60 percent. This finding has led the researchers to believe that rather than 1 person in 167 (within a ten mile radius) likely developing a latent cancer over time, the number should be more like 1 in 4,348; and 1 in 6,250 for those within fifty miles, rather than 1 in 2,128.

These projections are based on a complete blackout leading to a reactor core meltdown, which means a total loss of power from the grid, and the exhaustion of backup power from generators and batteries. They are also based on best-case scenarios and come from studying over a hundred reactors in the United States of two basic kinds, boiling water and pressurized.

In short, the report concludes that the number of deaths that would result from a nuclear plant core meltdown in the United States would be far lower than all other previous estimates, due to both the revised estimates of how much cesium would be released and the slow moving nature of such a disaster. The team suggests that because it takes time for a meltdown to occur as a result of a plant losing power, most people would have plenty of time to evacuate before being exposed to seeping radiation; though it doesn’t address the big question of when exactly people might be told to evacuate in light of a power outage; a big concern in light of allegations about the timeliness of evacuation calls during the Fukushima disaster in Japan.

The report is due to be officially released to the general public some time next spring.

Via New York Times

Explore further: How does a nuclear meltdown work? (w/ Video)

Related Stories

How does a nuclear meltdown work? (w/ Video)

March 17, 2011

( -- When working properly, nuclear reactors produce large amounts of heat via nuclear fission reactions. The heat converts the surrounding water into steam, which turns turbines and generates electricity. But ...

California 'closely monitoring' Japan nuclear leak

March 13, 2011

California is closely monitoring efforts to contain leaks from a quake-damaged Japanese nuclear plant, a spokesman said Saturday, as experts said radiation could be blown out across the Pacific.

Facing up to Fukushima

May 23, 2011

In the wake of the disaster at the Fukushima reactor, Japan and other nations are re-evaluating their attitude to nuclear energy. Cambridge academic Tony Roulstone believes it is vital for governments and industry to proactively ...

Fears of health risks rise amid Japan crisis

March 15, 2011

(AP) -- Fears about health risks rose dramatically in Japan Tuesday with news of a greater radiation release and renewed warnings to remaining residents within 20 miles to stay indoors.

Recommended for you

Cryptocurrency rivals snap at Bitcoin's heels

January 14, 2018

Bitcoin may be the most famous cryptocurrency but, despite a dizzying rise, it's not the most lucrative one and far from alone in a universe that counts 1,400 rivals, and counting.

Top takeaways from Consumers Electronics Show

January 13, 2018

The 2018 Consumer Electronics Show, which concluded Friday in Las Vegas, drew some 4,000 exhibitors from dozens of countries and more than 170,000 attendees, showcased some of the latest from the technology world.

Finnish firm detects new Intel security flaw

January 12, 2018

A new security flaw has been found in Intel hardware which could enable hackers to access corporate laptops remotely, Finnish cybersecurity specialist F-Secure said on Friday.


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

4.7 / 5 (3) Aug 03, 2011
We need a nuke reactor equivalent to the space race. The designs currently in use can be compared to German V1 rockets. We need the equivalent of SpaceX's Falcon Heavies.
3 / 5 (4) Aug 03, 2011
NRC has also downsized their morals and ethics. They neglect to mention lingering radiation sickness and all the attached chronic ailments.
3 / 5 (2) Aug 03, 2011
How many deaths will Fukushima cost? By that, I mean that the cleanup estimates are something like $300billion. That money has to be diverted from other areas of the economy. How does that affect overall mortality of the Japanese population?
4 / 5 (1) Aug 03, 2011
How many deaths will Fukushima cost?

In part it depends on how you count, but in practice that is a result of the tsunami. A good current estimate is around 300, all causes, which includes the direct tsunami deaths, and those due to explosions while they were trying to cool the plant with external water supplies. This compares to current estimates of deaths from the earthquake and tsunami of 20,000 .

Does this mean that cleaning up the power plant site is a waste of effort? No, that is a way to reduce future deaths, yes by only a few hundred. Leaving the plant alone and not trying to control the situation would have resulted in a much higher death toll.

Not automatically shutting the reactors down in an earthquake would have been much, much cheaper.

Yes, that is hindsight, but the plants should not have shut down for an earthquake large enough to result in a tsunami that would flood the plant. The reactors were enclosed--the backup power sources were not.
1.8 / 5 (5) Aug 03, 2011
This is like the Armed Forces saying that collateral damage will be much less than anticipated in Iraq and Afghanistan.
3.7 / 5 (3) Aug 03, 2011
How many years after meltdown should we stop counting?
1 / 5 (1) Aug 03, 2011
Radioactive elements released don't perfectly diffuse into the atmosphere. I can't imagine the study could predict arbitrary wind patterns and arbitrary population locations.

I'm actually for nuclear power, but these findings I believe are attempting to give an illusion of accuracy when in fact they would have to be completely vague at best.
2 / 5 (1) Aug 04, 2011
What's alarming is that such downsizing of impact estimates leads to downsizing of safety when the new cost-benefit analysis of the safety features is done.

In Fukushima, based on source term estimate by ZAMG, much more than 2% of Cs-137 was released from at least one reactor (but likely from all 3), proving this 6 years work to be grossly incorrect. Fortunately though, the wind was blowing to the ocean most of the time.
4 / 5 (1) Aug 04, 2011
They are also based on best-case scenarios

Ah yes - because all meltdowns to date have been best case scenarios. Makes perfect sense. Not.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.