Forget Fukushima—Chernobyl still holds record as worst nuclear accident for public health

The 1986 Chernobyl and 2011 Fukushima nuclear power plant accidents both share the notorious distinction of attaining the highest accident rating on the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) scale of nuclear accidents. No other reactor incident has ever received this Level 7 "major accident" designation in the history of nuclear power. Chernobyl and Fukushima earned it because both involved core meltdowns that released significant amounts of radioactivity to their surroundings.

Both of these accidents involved evacuation of hundreds of thousands of residents. Both still have people waiting to return to their homes. And both left a legacy of large-scale radioactive contamination of the environment that will persist for years to come, despite ongoing cleanup efforts.

So the tendency is to think of these accidents as similar events that happened in different countries, 25 years apart.

But the IAEA scale isn't designed to measure public health impact. In terms of health ramifications, these two nuclear accidents were not even in the same league. While Fukushima involved radioactivity exposures to hundred of thousands of people, Chernobyl exposed hundreds of millions. And millions of those received substantially more exposure than the people of Fukushima.

On the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the April 26, 1986 Chernobyl accident in Ukraine, we do well to reflect on the health burden it caused – and compare it with what we expect to see from Japan's Fukushima nuclear accident. As I report in my book "Strange Glow: The Story of Radiation," from a public health standpoint, there's really no comparison between the two events.

Higher doses of radiation, more health harm

Chernobyl was by far the worst reactor accident of all time. A total of 127 reactor workers, firemen and emergency personnel on site sustained radiation doses sufficient to cause (over 1,000 mSv); some received doses high enough to be lethal (over 5,000 mSv). Over the subsequent six months, 54 died from their radiation exposure. And it's been estimated that 22 of the 110,645 cleanup workers may have contracted fatal leukemias over the next 25 years.

In contrast, at Fukushima, there were no radiation doses high enough to produce radiation sickness, even among the reactor core workers. Two Fukushima workers who had leaky respirators received effective doses of 590 mSv and 640 mSv. That's above the Japanese occupational limit for conducting lifesaving rescue work (250 mSv), but still below the threshold for radiation sickness (1,000 mSv). Due to their exposure, the two workers' lifetime cancer risks will increase about 3 percent (from the 25 percent background cancer risk rate to about 28 percent), but they are unlikely to experience other health consequences.

Beyond just the plant workers, over 572 million people among 40 different countries got at least some exposure to Chernobyl radioactivity. (Neither the United States nor Japan was among the exposed countries.) It took two decades to fully assess the cancer consequences to these people. Finally, in 2006, an international team of scientists completed a comprehensive analysis of the dose and health data and reported on the cancer deaths that could be attributed to Chernobyl radioactivity.

Their detailed analysis included countrywide estimates of individual radiation doses in all 40 exposed countries, and regionwide estimates for the most highly contaminated regions of the most highly contaminated countries (Belarus, Russian Federation and Ukraine).

Using statistical models, the scientists predicted a total of 22,800 radiation-induced cancers, excluding thyroid cancers, among this group of 572 million people. Thyroid cancer warranted separate special scrutiny, as we will discuss presently; this hormonally important gland is uniquely affected by a specific radioactive isotope, iodine-131.

So that's 22,800 non-thyroid cancers in addition to the approximately 194 million cancer cases that would normally be expected in a population of that size, even in the absence of a Chernobyl accident. The increase from 194,000,000 to 194,022,800 is a 0.01 percent rise in the overall cancer rate. That's too small to have any measurable impact on the cancer incidence rates for any national cancer registries, so these predicted values will likely remain theoretical.

Chernobyl's iodine-131 thyroid effects far worse

Unfortunately, at Chernobyl, the one type of cancer that could have easily been prevented was not. The population surrounding Chernobyl was not warned that iodine-131 – a radioactive fission product that can enter the food chain – had contaminated milk and other locally produced agricultural products. Consequently, people ate iodine-131-contaminated food, resulting in thyroid cancers.

For the local population, iodine-131 exposure was a worst-case scenario because they were already suffering from an iodine-deficient diet; their iodine-starved thyroids sucked up any iodine that became available. This extremely unfortunate situation would not have happened in countries such as the United States or Japan, where diets are richer in iodine.

Thyroid cancer is rare, with a low background incidence compared to other cancers. So excess thyroid cancers due to iodine-131 can be more readily spotted in cancer registries. And this, in fact, has been the case for Chernobyl. Beginning five years after the accident, an increase in the rate of thyroid cancers started and continued rising over the following decades. Scientists estimate that there will ultimately be about 16,000 excess thyroid cancers produced as a result of iodine-131 exposure from Chernobyl.

At Fukushima, in contrast, there was much less iodine-131 exposure. The affected population was smaller, local people were advised to avoid local dairy products due to possible contamination and they did not have iodine-deficient diets.

Consequently, typical radiation doses to the thyroid were low. Iodine-131 uptake into the thyroids of exposed people was measured and the doses were estimated to average just 4.2 mSv for children and 3.5 mSv for adults – levels comparable to annual background of approximately 3.0 mSv per year.

Contrast this to Chernobyl, where a significant proportion of the local population received thyroid doses in excess of 200 mSv – 50 times more – well high enough to see appreciable amounts of excess thyroid cancer. So at Fukushima, where iodine-131 doses approached background levels, we wouldn't expect thyroid cancer to present the problem that it did at Chernobyl.

Nevertheless, there has already been one report that claims there is an increase in thyroid cancer among Fukushima residents at just four years post-accident. That's earlier than would be expected based on the Chernobyl experience. And the study's design has been criticized as flawed for a number of scientific reasons, including the comparison methods used. Thus, this report of excess thyroid cancers must be considered suspect until better data arrive.

Chernobyl has no comparison

In short, Chernobyl is by far the worst accident of all time. It was a totally human-made event – a "safety" test gone terribly awry – made worse by incompetent workers who did all the wrong things when attempting to avert a meltdown.

Fukushima in contrast, was an unfortunate natural disaster – caused by a tsunami that flooded reactor basements – and the workers acted responsibly to mitigate the damage despite loss of electrical power.

April 26, 1986 was the darkest day in the history of nuclear power. Thirty years later, there is no rival that comes even close to Chernobyl in terms of consequences; certainly not Fukushima. We must be vigilant to ensure nothing like Chernobyl ever happens again. We don't want to be "celebrating" any more anniversaries like this one.


Explore further

We still don't really know the health hazards of a nuclear accident

Source: The Conversation

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.
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Citation: Forget Fukushima—Chernobyl still holds record as worst nuclear accident for public health (2016, April 26) retrieved 17 July 2019 from https://phys.org/news/2016-04-fukushimachernobyl-worst-nuclear-accident-health.html
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Apr 26, 2016
"received effective doses of 590 mSv and 640 mSv."
Natural radioactivity in some inhabited areas on Earth can reach up 800 mSv and no meaningful cancer rate increase.
http://resources....ces.html
http://webecoist....-places/
http://www.youtub...Ax1yIKjg
http://www.youtub...HUGwFoJE

Chernobyl and Fukushima will be an eternal source of myths, conspiracy theories, and scary fables.

Apr 26, 2016
Hmmm. WankinWard always instantly has one "5" vote. It's always his only one. So, who's yer sock, troll?

Apr 27, 2016
Hmmm. WankinWard always instantly has one "5" vote. It's always his only one. So, who's yer sock, troll?

rbrtwjohnson

Apr 27, 2016
"the truth is boring"
"The media continues to wrongly assert that experts still debate whether the Chernobyl deaths number in the hundreds or in the millions, but there is actually no such debate among the experts. The number is only about a hundred."
http://www.forbes...c4fb1b50
"There is no scientific evidence of increases in overall cancer incidence or mortality rates or in rates of non-malignant disorders that could be related to radiation exposure."

"the truth is boring" people will ever prefer scary fables.

Apr 27, 2016
Yes, and the "truth" is that we have square miles of uninhabitable land because of a nuclear disaster.

Apr 27, 2016
the "truth" is that
nuclear power is the most ecologically friendly source of energy.
"Long-term census data reveal abundant wildlife populations at Chernobyl"
http://www.cell.c...900988-4
"Did you know it is possible now to visit Pripyat as a tourist?"
https://youtu.be/BhYEkRjUWM8

Apr 27, 2016
"Did you know it is possible now to visit Pripyat as a tourist?"
-------------------------------------------------------
Tragedy Porn.

I also got offered a tour of Death ("Condemned") Row at San Quentin, but was not interested.

Maybe you would have gone, . .

Apr 30, 2016
Don't forget the hoax of the Three Mile Island "disastrous", "catastrophic" "meltdown" that resulted in plant workers being subjected to less radiation than the average commuter gets from the granite walls walking through Grand Central Station, which the political left and environmental extremists used to shut down the construction of nuclear plants for two generations at a cost of many trillions of $$$ in tribute to oil producing nations.in the Middle East to finance their war on civilization.


Apr 30, 2016
Oh, no, TMI II and SL-1 were being used to pick on the poor and sensitive Big Nuclear industry.

I hope they do not know about Fermi I. Or Monju.

Those who worship at the nuclear altar do not seem to understand the dangers of this technology.

May 01, 2016
Natural radioactivity in some inhabited areas on Earth can reach up 800 mSv and no meaningful cancer rate increase.


That's not a single acute dose. Getting 800 mSv at one go is quite likely to make you sick.

May 01, 2016
Those who worship at the nuclear altar do not seem to understand the dangers of this technology.


But they may understand how mich progress we still have to do. A total ban on nuclear is out of question anyway. We'll still need decades, centuries of research to try and find a way to better make and use nuclear energy. And even if it wasn't for that, at least to clean the wastes.

May 01, 2016
We'll still need decades, centuries of research to try and find a way to better make and use nuclear energy. And even if it wasn't for that, at least to clean the wastes.
Well, if ITER can cure or at least abate its acute bureaucratitis, we might have something a little sooner than that.

And as far as cleaning up the waste we already know how to do it by burning them up in a TWR; it's just a matter of doing it. Not only that but we'll get power from the waste too.

May 01, 2016
And as far as cleaning up the waste we already know how to do it by burning them up in a TWR; it's just a matter of doing it.

It's not quite as easy as that. TWRs are a more complicated form of fast breeders...which in turn is a technology that is more complicated than what we have today...which in turn is something we don't have under control to a degree to be comfortable with. China is in the process of setting up a demo TWR powerplant (but the chinese government has never shown mch concern for individual lives or ecological safety of entire regions...so they can afford to ignore any difficulties/mishaps)

Also note that TWRs do produce Plutonium as a waste product - which is something no one knows how to get rid off.

as Edenlegaia notes: The timeframe in which this technology can be researched/perfected (let alone deployed) is longer than we'd need to go full renewable on a global scale.

May 01, 2016
It's not quite as easy as that. TWRs are a more complicated form of fast breeders...which in turn is a technology that is more complicated than what we have today...which in turn is something we don't have under control to a degree to be comfortable with. China is in the process of setting up a demo TWR powerplant (but the chinese government has never shown mch concern for individual lives or ecological safety of entire regions...so they can afford to ignore any difficulties/mishaps)
Actually, TWRs don't just breed, they breed and burn. Furthermore, the real implementation in China will reshuffle the fuel rods in the reactor core to keep the burn region static, thus making cooling much easier; furthermore, the reshuffling will be done integrally using robotics (actually remote manipulators) inside the containment, thus requiring no downtime and preventing exposure of the core.

[contd]

May 01, 2016
[contd]
You need a little bit of fissile material to start with, but once the reactor is running you need merely keep adding fertile (not fissile) material to it to keep the burn going, and remove fully spent and inert (non-radioactive) fuel.

Personally I think they've missed a bet by not combining this technology with pebble-bed technology and I expect some bright individual to come up with something along this line once the TWR concept is proven. One would shuffle the pebbles instead of the fuel rods, and remove spent pebbles replacing them with pebbles containing fertile (again, not fissile) fuel.

Another major advantage of TWRs is that other than the initial "starter" fuel they do not require enriched fuel; once they are running natural refined uranium can be used as the primary fuel, without enrichment.

[contd]

May 01, 2016
[contd]
Also note that TWRs do produce Plutonium as a waste product - which is something no one knows how to get rid off.
This is factually incorrect. They burn the plutonium right along with everything else, including natural uranium and waste from other reactors. The final state of the fuel is non-radioactive, though it may be chemically active, and will be hot (by which I mean thermally, not radioactively) when it is removed from the core.

as Edenlegaia notes: The timeframe in which this technology can be researched/perfected (let alone deployed) is longer than we'd need to go full renewable on a global scale.
I don't think going full renewable is practical, though I think a very high percentage (>70%) is very likely, eventually. I also think there are significant technical barriers yet to be overcome, and that you are vastly underestimating them.

[contd]

May 01, 2016
[contd]
Finally, I'll point out that even a few TWRs could be used to burn up all the accumulated radioactive waste we're currently having trouble finding any place to store, thus removing this as a problem and providing us with energy as a bonus. And for that it doesn't matter how long it takes, in human lifetime terms, to make TWRs work; the waste will still be there. And still be a problem. And I don't see any other solutions out there that use it up leaving no further problems to be dealt with later.

May 01, 2016
Here's an interesting articleon what TWRs can and (currently) cannot do and what kind of waste they produce.
http://ieer.org/w...0131.pdf
While, in theory, they could burn up the whole fissile material (leaving only radioactive sodium in the primary cooling circuit to dispose of) the reality is that the first generation will have 85% of plutonium created remain.

Added to that that sodium coolimg MUST never fail (and if it does...or just comes incontact with water)..then we're up shit creek.

May 01, 2016
Looks to me like they have design problems mostly due to trying to implement this using old technology (sodium coolant seems to be the biggest problem).

And you still haven't addressed the waste disposal considerations-- nor, apparently, have the designers of the current implementations, to be fair.

The criticisms in the paper you linked appear mostly to have to do with the implementation, which has fallen far short of the original concept. This is typical of very conservative nuclear engineers, who basically have taken a good idea and screwed it up because they won't think about good general design techniques long proven in other areas of engineering.

I'd say overall that this typifies a great deal of the trouble with nuclear power: it uses components that were designed in the 1960s because they're "proven," without ever doing the footwork to prove more modern engineering techniques for use in the nuclear engineering discipline.

May 01, 2016
It's just stuff I see over and over again. We did these different types of nuclear reactor systems at uni. In theory they all look idiot-proof. But then nature (and humans) tends to throw stuff our way that isn't listed in the manual.

Just looking at the way the fuel is burned is taking a myopic view of the entire system. A full lifetime analysis gives different results (and as they note: the cost of these reactors isn't competitive - and hasn't come down at all, whereas renewables already are cost competitive and getting cheaper by the minute)

Maybe for space exploration or somesuch. But I don't relish nuclear reactors dotting the landscape of Earth the way they are in France. If we already have to hand out iodine pills because the confidence in our nuclear reactors is so low then there's something wrong with the entire idea.

May 01, 2016
I'm of two minds about this.

I see factors on both sides that need to be addressed.

On the "pro" side, there's 1.4 billion Chinese, and they want electricity, and if they don't get it they're going to have another revolution, and their government has nuclear weapons. If they build nuclear plants of whatever type that's better than building coal-fired plants of whatever type. If they offset some of their need for base load handling with renewables and storage, great. The more the better. But I'm not about to criticize their government for doing whatever's necessary to prevent a revolution and keep at least marginally sane people in charge of the nuclear weapons. Then there's India, pretty much the same arguments. That's 1.4 + 1.2 = 2.6 billion, getting close to half the world's population. Then there's Pakistan, which although not so populous still has nukes.

They have to make their own risk/reward calculations.

[contd]

May 01, 2016
[contd]
On the "con" side, I think current engineering practice and current human factors practice militate toward unsafe reactors and unsafe operating practices. Amortization of the investment should be a social cost, not a corporate cost, and doing the proper engineering and ensuring safe operations should be at the top of the list, not the bottom as they are today.

So I am sympathetic to your point, and agree with much that you say; but I also have to point out that destroying our economies in order to avoid the risks isn't necessarily going to turn out much better than going ahead and building nuclear plants and having some fail, and quite likely will turn out much worse. And building coal-fired plants certainly will. This sort of limits our options.

I advocate maximal adoption of renewables; adoption of nuclear and natural gas where absolutely necessary; and avoidance of coal. It's a nuanced position.

May 01, 2016
Freaky- somebody likes unsafe nuclear reactors? Or coal? Why vote only one of my posts down otherwise?

Dumb da dumb dumb, dumb da dumb dumb duhhh...

May 02, 2016
On the "pro" side, there's 1.4 billion Chinese, and they want electricity, and if they don't get it they're going to have another revolution

Revolution is unlikely in China. With the complete control over the media most people don't even know what's going on within the country.

But China does have lots of open spaces (and loads of desert) for solar and windfarms. Especially anywhere but the east coast the population density isn't that high - so nuclear reactors make little sense there.

doing the proper engineering and ensuring safe operations should be at the top of the list,

It is always at the top of the list (even in corporate engineering - at least for the engineers). But reality eventually meets idealized view of what engineering can and can't do. And that means hiring out stuff to subcontractors and drives for cost minimization. If we didn't do that nuclear would be even less cost competitive than it is now.

May 03, 2016
So, who's yer sock, troll?- AGreatWhopper


You're the most prolific troll that has ever posted at phys.org.

The following screen names are all the same childish and corrupt dolt, and have posted in immediate succession in several threads,.... AND have troll rated many of my factual and LEGITIMATE posts as in THIS THREAD, at the same time.....

jim_xanara
AGreatWhopper
chileastro

The disturbed adolescent who is behind this trolling has many, many trolling sock-puppets....

antigoresockpuppet
fckthierreyhenry
BongThePuffin
john berry_hobbes
maloderousmiscreant
YoureAPeanut
GoshURStupid
tooty
open
toot

....and on and on.

You [jim_xanara, AGreatWhopper, chileastro, et al] are the reason why the comment rating system should be disabled. 1) it does not get rid of cranks/religious,.. 2) it is used as a weapon against legitimate posters.

You're a fraud.

May 03, 2016
Got it. Only trolls can use voting puppets. Which of yours gave your insane drivel a 5 within a minute of your post?

You've got carte blanche to troll from PO. Incredible that you still want more...

May 03, 2016
Got it. Only trolls can use voting puppets. Which of yours gave your insane drivel a 5 within a minute of your post?

You've got carte blanche to troll from PO. Incredible that you still want more...


I'm not WillieWard, you childish dolt.

Explain why you 1-rated every one of my posts in this thread...

http://phys.org/n...ite.html

These are factual and knowledgeable posts.

You and your sock-puppet brigade add nothing but Jerry-Springer bickering to this site. YOU are the reason the comment ratings should be disabled.

May 03, 2016
Can't explain why you troll rated those posts can you? Not with facts. You're just a know-nothing disruptive child hiding under your desk, that is intellectually powerless without sock-puppet troll-rating 1's.

How old are you?

You've got carte blanche to troll from PO. Incredible that you still want more...


BS, if you're behind the NOM screen name, then it is clear that you are associated with PO and exposes the sophistication level of the site.


May 03, 2016
STFU, troll.

lol Anyone that votes you down but doesn't comment is the same person? Funny, I've never had a complaint from anyone that gets voted over a 3, but gets lots of complaints from the 1 losers.

I wear that as a badge of honor. You come to irritate, have a heaping helping. You're obviously the kind of spoiled post-1990 acquired whelp whose parents always explained to people to indulge Johnny because he's special. You're not. Grow up and recognize that you're a second rate, arm-chair troll and that you're voted down because what you spew is rubbish.

I'm quite sure Kant would agree. Read something about his personal habits too. He would have loathed you.

May 03, 2016
It is not under debate whether they are all your accounts. They have posted in sequence in several threads, and have mass-troll-rated 1's within minutes.

jim_xanara
AGreatWhopper
chileastro
antigoresockpuppet
fckthierreyhenry
BongThePuffin
john berry_hobbes
maloderousmiscreant
YoureAPeanut
GoshURStupid
tooty

You're an idiot know-nothing. I did not speak about Kant in that thread. Did you even read that thread, imbecile?

You have not even demonstrated that you are even competent in disagreeing with Kant or my use of his ideas, nor with me about GR, or QM.

That is why cowards know-nothings like you must strike out in other ways,... abuse the rating system.

The thread is still open,... go there and explain why everyone of my posts deserved a 1...

http://phys.org/n...ite.html


May 03, 2016
Well put, AGW. That's why I just voted it down. I'm jealous. I'd love to irritate a troll that much.

May 03, 2016
Arrggggh! Page jumped. Well, nou, that's the only 5 you'll ever get, minus the self inflicted ones.

I'm just no good at this kind of thing.

May 03, 2016
Arrggggh! Page jumped. Well, nou, that's the only 5 you'll ever get, minus the self inflicted ones.

I'm just no good at this kind of thing.

The retard says...Whaaattt?

May 03, 2016
Well put, AGW. That's why I just voted it down. I'm jealous. I'd love to irritate a troll that much.


How am I a "troll"? You're just another half-wit posting unsubstantiated "characterizations", instead of facts and legitimate thoughts.

Are you upset the ONE TIME I have every replied to your post, that I returned an insult in response to your idiotic generalization of America as "anti-intellectualism"?

Still waiting for AGreatWhopper or what ever of the multiude of screen names she uses, to tell me why all those posts deserved a 1-rating..........

http://phys.org/n...ite.html


May 03, 2016
Thanks for letting us know that nou is antisciencegorilla's sock puppet.

Now I'm really, really jealous!

May 03, 2016
Thanks for letting us know that nou is antisciencegorilla's sock puppet.

Now I'm really, really jealous!


Based on what exactly? And why all of a sudden are you even interesting in this now? I've never even had a discussion with you. Hmm, odd.

May 03, 2016
I found it curious that "NiteSkyGerl" would all of a sudden show interest,..... and oddly objection, given the facts,..... in my exposing the above list as being the same trolling adolescent.

Indeed, morons tend to leave Web-DNA,.....

I searched the word "wisdumb" in google as follows....

site:phys.org wisdumb

These are results in order as provided by google.....

AGreatWhopper
Post Deleted by Mods
NiteSkyGerl
AGreatWhopper
jim_xanara
AGreatWhopper
AGreatWhopper
jljenkins
NiteSkyGerl
AGreatWhopper
AGreatWhopper
AGreatWhopper

Interesting "NiteSkyGerl". Now I can add you to the list of trolls......[I already know jljenkins was on the list].


May 03, 2016
I've started repeating a number of malapropisms that I've seen on the site. OMG! I must be whoever I was repeating!!!

May 03, 2016
I've started repeating a number of malapropisms that I've seen on the site. OMG! I must be whoever I was repeating!!!


If that were so then other legitimate posters would have turned up in the google search,.... instead of ONLY those, including YOU, that troll rated me in the above referenced thread, and that I had listed before even doing the search. You're not very good at logic are you?

How many sock-puppets do you have here? Are you a paraplegic or a not very bright 16 year old? It can only be one or the other.


May 03, 2016
On the "pro" side, there's 1.4 billion Chinese, and they want electricity, and if they don't get it they're going to have another revolution

Revolution is unlikely in China. With the complete control over the media most people don't even know what's going on within the country.
They don't need media to know whether they've got air conditioners or not.

But China does have lots of open spaces (and loads of desert) for solar and windfarms. Especially anywhere but the east coast the population density isn't that high - so nuclear reactors make little sense there.
I'd say that's up to their government to decide. I'd also say that nothing we say, do, or think is likely to have much influence on their decision. Finally I'd repeat, Anything But Coal.

[contd]

May 03, 2016
[contd]
doing the proper engineering and ensuring safe operations should be at the top of the list,
It is always at the top of the list (even in corporate engineering - at least for the engineers). But reality eventually meets idealized view of what engineering can and can't do. And that means hiring out stuff to subcontractors and drives for cost minimization. If we didn't do that nuclear would be even less cost competitive than it is now.
All good points, but I think the results show that there are problems with the engineering practice and the safety practice at this time. For example, faked safety reports, and use of 1960s technology while trying to design reactors for the 21st Century, just to name two obvious examples.

May 03, 2016
I've started repeating a number of malapropisms that I've seen on the site. OMG! I must be whoever I was repeating!!!


Wouldn't it have made more sense for you to have logged in as jim_xanara, AGreatWhopper, jljenkins, or NiteSkyGerl ? LOL.

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