When I knew I would be visiting the site of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plants, I prepared myself to be humbled. I expected to learn that things were worse than I realised. I expected sombre reflections on how we need to manage the great power that is nuclear power.

That isn’t what happened. The accident was a very serious one. But the disaster? The disaster was the response. That disaster continues to this day and as we approach the next round of international climate negotiations, it may cost us all more dearly than we could have ever imagined.

In part 1 of this post I will discuss the experience of visiting Naraha town and hearing from local officials. In part 2 I will cover the visit to deep in the exclusion zone and the Fukushima site itself.

While I travelled with a group, heard information from local officials and discussed many of the concepts raised below with the experts who joined me, these thoughts and conclusions are my own. I am speaking for no one else.

From 17-20 May, 2015, I was privileged to join an international delegation to Japan to participate in a nuclear symposium, meet relevant Japanese organisations and undertake a site visit to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station.

I officially changed my tune about nuclear power in November 2010, but really went public with it at a presentation on 8 March 2011. That was just three days before the great eastern Japan earthquake, tsunami and subsequent triple reactor meltdown. Like many others I remember watching the horrible footage of that black wave rolling inland and following the news that the Fukushima Daiichi reactors were stricken. It was a test of my revised stance to say the very least, and it took effort to prepare my initial article calling for rationality in the response. This happened on our watch, in an OECD nuclear nation. This was just about as bad as nuclear could possibly get.

So I approached the prospect of a site visit with great interest and also professional trepidation. It’s one thing to comment from afar. It’s quite another to visit a location to learn and see for yourself. I prepared myself to be humbled by the experience. I expected my support for nuclear technology to be tempered. Part of me thought that’s what should happen.

It didn’t turn out that way.

The group left Tokyo early by bus to reach Fukushima prefecture by lunchtime, where we were briefed by local officials at Naraha town. Naraha was a town of about 7500 people, sitting at the southernmost coastal boundary of the exclusion zone, approximately 20 km from the Daiichi nuclear power plant. The 10.2 metre tsunami exceeded the local 6.2 metre seawall and inundated 2.5 % of the town area, killing 13 people. As the situation at Fukushima Daiichi worsened and emergency was also declared at the nearer Daiini reactors, Naraha town gave its own evacuation order about 10 hours earlier than the central Japanese government.

The evacuation was undertaken in a situation of limited information and, presumably, considerable haste. The use of private vehicles led to serious traffic jams. About 5000 people were moved from this town to become refugees in nearby Iwaki City and Aizumisato Town, during late-winter conditions that were still very cold. Given the great strain the nation was already under from the quake and tsunami, it is evident that this was a high stakes decision with considerable risks involved.

It is easy to understand why this decision was made: the town officials wanted to protect people from harm. They regard the fact that their decision pre-empted that of the central government as partial vindication that it was the right one; at least they got moving earlier than they would have otherwise been forced. There is another possibility of course: both levels of government were altogether wrong. It’s an unpleasant line of enquiry. I don’t wish to criticise decisions made under great pressure. But criticise we must for how else do we learn? Was this the right decision?

(Lengthy) Aside: Units of radiation. What are they? What matters and what doesn’t?

To understand the following, readers will need to understand a little about doses of radiation. 

Different types of radiation, exposed to different parts of the body, provide differing “equivalent doses” i.e. the raw dose adjusted for the relative biological impact. To account for this I am using the unit “Sievert”. This unit takes account of the various factors that determine whether a dose is harmful and weights it for the potential for damage to be caused to the body. So it’s the right comparison unit to talk about health effects from lower levels of radiation received from the environment. In summary, Sievert measures the “dose equivalent”: the raw dose corrected for the biological effect.

For radiotherapy purposes, the unit used is the Gray. This is a more direct, raw unit of the energy received per kilogram of tissue. This is appropriate when much higher doses than are found either in nature or in occupational exposure are being targeted to specific parts of the body for the purposes of treatment. In these situations specialists know exactly how much of exactly what type of radiation is being targeted to exactly which part of the body. It’s typically a very large amount compared to environmental radiation. So I won’t be referring to Grays.

One Sievert all at once is a heck of a big dose. A sievert in a short amount of time will make you sick, 2 Sv will make you very sick, 8 Sv will kill about half of all people and 20 sieverts will kill anyone unless they get serious help, pronto. So mostly, you hear talk of millisieverts (mSv, one one-thousandth of a Sievert) or even microsieverts (µSv, one one-millionth of a Sievert).

When we are in circumstances of using mSv and µSv to consider health risks we will almost always be talking about stochastic risk, not deterministic risk. Stochastic risk refer to an increased likelihood of a future outcome (in this case, the development of cancer) from exposure to a hazard(in this case, radiation). But the outcome (cancer) will be no different in type, or severity, than might occur anyway i.e. there is a background rate of cancer in humans, influenced by a great many factors, varying hugely with location and lifestyle all over the world. Should a cancer occur, there is no way of attributing it to a single hazard factor. Deterministic risks  come from much larger exposures causing direct effects very close to the time of exposure, and the size of the effect can be clearly related to the size of exposure e.g. exposure of unprotected skin to UV light will result in sunburn, and more time in the sun will worsen the sunburn in a direct way.

It’s not just the equivalent dose that matters for human health but also the equivalent dose-rate. That’s the time period over which you receive the dose. Consider the difference between a bucket of water being tipped over your head, and the same amount of water being misted onto your head over the course of a week. The impact is very different. Our bodies have multi-layered mechanisms to respond to cell damage from radiation (and other causes) that are in use all the time.  Problems can occur if our cellular defence mechanisms are overwhelmed by too much damage in too little time. So for that we need to talk about mSv per hour or µSv per hour.

The largest cohort of evidence relating to human health impacts from low doses of radiation comes from survivors of the atomic bomb explosions in Japan. This evidence suggests that at a dose of 100 mSv, in a short period of time, an increase in cancer risk can begin to be detected. This finding is published by the International Council of Radiological Protection (publication 103) and reinforced in work by Zhang et al. At less than this level, there is no empirical evidence of increased risk of cancer. Any possible effect is lost in the noise in a world where we are bathed in natural levels of radiation, and we have background rates of cancer from a wide range of causes.

Furthermore what we can see is that the age-corrected rates of cancer vary markedly from country to country, and the variation has nothing to do with the differences in low-level radiation. Lifestyle and dietary differences appear to affect baseline cancer outcomes in a measurable way. 

Nonetheless, in setting guidelines and regulations, the major radiological protection agencies continue to apply assumptions that exposures below this 100 mSv level result in an increased stochastic risk of cancer, all the way down to near-zero exposure. This model of harm (and it is a model, not a body of evidence) is known as linear, non-threshold (LNT). The United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effect of Atomic Radiation has recently made clear that the LNT model does not have application in determining population-wide impacts of exposure to low-levels of radiation.

So, finally, what are normal rates of exposure? Global average radiation exposure is 2.4 millisieverts per year. However the background rate varies a lot depending on location and occupation. International air crew receive an extra 4 mSv per year. Occupational exposure limits are 20 mSv per year. Doses from nature have been recorded of up to 202 mSv per year in Ramsar, Iran. Despite no epidemiological evidence of harm, some authors still prosecute the case for the protection of people in such areas, well, just because! Fortunately other authors push back against such notions, highlighting the lack of empirical evidence supporting the LNT model. End aside.

During this trip I was lucky enough to have the ear and attached brain of Professor Gerry Thomas of the Imperial College in London, one of the world’s foremost experts on the impacts of radiation on human health. She has long been one of my credible hulks, so I did the sensible thing and asked Gerry. What was the right response? She gave a sensible answer.

In light of the situation at the nuclear plant being out of control, Professor Thomas suggests it is hard to argue against the evacuation in the first instance. From there, Professor Thomas argues that it would be worth maintaining exclusion for the three months required for radioactive iodine to decay to harmless levels, and instituting other known, effective measures to prevent uptake of radioactive iodine.

I contend that, if clearly communicated, three months is a period of time away from home that most people can steel themselves for and manage, with appropriate support and compensation.  I also contend that an evacuation in such circumstances can and should be calm and orderly in order to protect people from the direct risks of evacuating. Since the risk being avoided is a stochastic one that requires prolonged exposure for even theoretical increase in risk of harm, running away from it at great speed and in large numbers is just far more dangerous than it’s worth.

During that three month period, some remediation should occur and physical infrastructure needs to be repaired and replaced. Areas identified as being in need of further specific remediation should be cordoned off and dealt with in due course. Citizens should have the opportunity to return to their homes with all appropriate support and information.

This is NOT what happened

The radiation plume from Fukushima Daiichi concentrated to the north-west of the plant, with Naraha Town on the very southern border. This early map of contamination (May 2011) suggests even at the outset, Naraha was in the range of 1-2 microsieverts per hour (8-18 mSv per year). A more localised map provided by the officials in a handout suggests the town was in the range of 5-10 mSv per year by November 2011. These levels may have be higher than prior to the accident, but it is an entirely harmless level of exposure with no evidence of ill effects; in the range of the occupational dose of an international pilot. Furthermore, as shown in the subsequent figure, thanks to the behaviour of radioactive half-lives, this swiftly declines with the passage of time. Recall that there is evidence of some small increase in the background risk of cancer at 100 mSv equivalent dose, received in a short amount of time. A declining dose rate of 5-18 mSv per year would have harmed no-one.

Radiation map from May 2011
Radiation map from May 2011
Comparison of radiation levels, showing decline over a 12-month period
Comparison of radiation levels, showing decline over a 12-month period

Yet total exclusion was maintained for nearly 18 months to August 2012. At this point, daytime entry was for residents permitted. This year, officials from the town have received permission to stay, and are doing so in a bid to give confidence to other residents. But the radiation exclusion zone has resulted in a failure of timely remediation of the essential infrastructure that would have been damaged by the tsunami. A terrible, self-reinforcing spiral is underway. Failure to be rational in the face of low levels of radiation has led to prolonged absence. This prolonged absence has excused a failure to repair the infrastructure upon which the settlements depend. This in turn reinforces the absence. In absence, decay sets in making return ever-less appealing. Vermin have infested homes and shops. Looting and robbery occurred. With people unwilling to return, there is little pressure to repair the infrastructure, and so on…

Now, the dose rate in the residential areas of Naraha is 0.3 µSv per hour (2.6 mSv per year). That’s bang on globally normal. Yet former residents remain anxious about radiation.

Naraha has been a victim of fear and the perils of over-protection, not radiation. This seems to be a product of the way the nuclear industry itself has regulated itself for decades, and the way nuclear opponents amplify this approach to spread fear.

Nuclear risk management faces as perfect storm of acronyms. Firstly there is LNT, or the linear, no-threshold model of harm for radiation. This model posits that any level of radiation will do some harm, no matter how low the level. There is “no threshold” beneath which radiation is harmless. It is by this logic that some authors seriously consider “protecting” people from the environments they have occupied for centuries despite no epidemiological evidence of harm. It’s nuts, in other words, or at least it’s a nutty basis for decision making.

To LNT we can add “ALARA”, which stands for “as low as reasonably achievable”. This is one of the guiding principles for radiation protection: make exposure as low as you can. Note, at this point evidence-based safety has gone completely out of the window. We are not undertaking protective actions because we know it matters, we are not attempting to meet a regulated limit, we are doing it because LNT says we should.

The kicker in all of this is the nature of radiation itself as a brilliant tracer. We can detect radiation down to incredibly small levels, and we can even tell where it came from. So, if you can see something down to a very fine resolution and the rules say you have to keep lowering wherever “reasonably” possible it even though there is no evidence of harm, then you have a problem. Suddenly, you are neck deep in a professional culture with the potential to protect people to death.

I wish I was exaggerating.

Naraha Town lost 13 people in the tsunami. To date, they have recorded 110 premature deaths as a result of the dislocation caused by the prolonged evacuation, or as they said, “attributed to life in shelter”.

This is all willingly aided and abetted by our environmental ENGOs who expend much time and energy putting a megaphone on the message of the radiation protection industry that radiation is the most terrible hazard imaginable. This is led by some individuals who are particularly unhinged (Helen Caldicott) or outrightly venal (Chris Busby), but let’s be frank: there is no serious pushback from industry and Government. There is little courage to stand with the data about what does and doesn’t hurt people. Four years on from March 11 2011 and the results have been severe. As well as the deaths, the town and region continues to suffer from the effects of “unfounded rumours” impacting their food production and tourism. Once more it is fear, not radiation, that is preventing a return to normality.

I hope for a successful and prosperous future for Naraha Town. I applaud the courage of the officials who have made the return and shown the way. It was a pleasure to visit, eat good food and learn about the situation first hand.

However I am angered that such a situation was allowed to happen. Great pain, suffering and tragedy could have been avoided.

We have to be honest and smart about this. Delivering decarbonised energy for a large and growing world is going to require a massive build-out of nuclear power. Even acknowledging the vast improvements in reactor design and nuclear regulation, it’s just wise to assume that something will go wrong again in future.

It’s not enough to obsessively focus on lowering the likelihood of an event through design, defense and regulation, only to completely ignore the nature of societal response when something does happen. For it appears to be the response, not the radiation, that is killing and hurting people. In Naraha no one died from radiation and likely no one will. Fifteen people died from a tsunami and 110 people died from the consequences of evacuation, relocation and forced estrangement from their homes.

We have to learn and plan together, globally, based on evidence. We may be subjected to radiation events in future. It won’t be of our choosing, however we will get to choose how to respond. I hope we learn from Naraha and choose wisely.

As I will discuss in part two where I recount my visit to the nuclear site itself, we can punish companies for doing the wrong thing. But we must take care to avoid the folly of punishing ourselves in the process.


  1. That suggestion of phased evacuations from Professor Thomas sounds like a quite reasonable plan. Initially evacuate, check hazard, evaluate, determine if repatriation can occur, if not repeat cycle. Like you said radioactive particles are very easy to detect in real time, unlike some other hidden biological nasties.

    Also I’d like to point out that HC was called out by the Australian government in 2006 (apologies for the wall of text to follow):

    CHAIR - ...I note that the report found that there have been fewer than 50 deaths directly attributable to radiation from the disaster to date. How can you account for this wide variance between the UN figures and your claims?
    Dr Caldicott - My claims come from a book written by Medvedev. He is a Russian. Those claims by the UN come from the IAEA, the International Atomic Energy Agency, which has a very close relationship and a contract with the WHO, the World Health Organisation, such that the WHO is not allowed to publish anything or do any epidemiology on radiation victims unless the IAEA, which promotes nuclear power, agrees. That report is considered by many of my colleagues throughout the world as a whitewash. Number one, I told you that the latent period of carcinogenesis is up to 70 years, for as long as people live.
    CHAIR - And the three governments?
    Dr Caldicott - Yes.
    CHAIR - So the three governments have been involved in the whitewash as well.
    Dr Caldicott - Yes. There have been very few studies funded—none by WHO—to assess the incidence of cancer in those countries. That is the first point. Number two, we are going to see much more cancer. It is only 20 years post Chernobyl. It is too early to do a report yet, except that we do know there are over 7,000 cases of thyroid cancer, and many of the men who came in to clean up the radioactivity from Chernobyl

    Note use of “whitewash” in the committees final report statement below (p.395):

    In the Committee’s view, some critics of uranium mining and nuclear power misconceive or exaggerate the health risks from the industry’s operations, for example, by wildly inaccurate assessments of the deaths attributable to the routine operations of the industry. This detracts from the credibility of these submitters—as does the dismissal of the 600-page Chernobyl Forum report as a ‘whitewash’. Such views have however influenced wider public opinion and public policy in a way detrimental to the industry, and have reduced the potential community and global benefits from use of nuclear power.

    Source: HoR Standing Committee on Industry and Resources, ‘Australia’s Uranium – Greenhouse friendly fuel for an energy hungry world’, Nov 2006

      1. Caldicott was possibly just projecting from LNT, which is officially supported by nearly every scientific body in the West. WHO project 4000 excess mortalities due to Chernobyl http://www.who.int/mediacentre/news/releases/2005/pr38/en/ This issue will only be resolved when Western scientific bodies reject LNT due to lack of evidence and introduce a threshold model of radiation harm. Caldicott isn’t the main problem, cowardice in the nuclear industry is.

  2. I also noted on TV that cleanup workers set their monitors to make a screaming noise at 0.1 uSv/h adding to the general anxiety, sort of like a kabuki play. I fear our politicians will add their own theatrical touches. Before a nuclear power station is ever built I’d imagine the medium level waste repository will get convoys with flashing lights, grand speeches with sign language interpreters and ‘smoking’ ceremonies. Just to relocate stuff from a hospital storeroom. The subtext being specialists are well and good but only politicians really know what’s best. As with Japan coal interests will have a quiet chuckle.

    1. Interesting John. I fear the same and being on the Public Interest Panel responsible for that process I am at pains, about once a month, to push back against those sorts of things. Don’t write it off, good sense may well prevail in the way that siting is delivered.

      1. I hope your position won’t preclude you from publishing your thoughts on the repositories. I think there will be a stark push-pull between solving a moderate logistical problem and staging a theatrical event. That’s where politicians overrule advisers to pander to gormless elements in the media. Kind of Fukushima-evacuation-lite.

  3. Nice article, and I look forward to part 2. I noted one small error – the town is Naraha, not Nahara.

  4. Good post Ben. I’m curious about the impact of language on information in Fukushima. I’m not particularly well travelled but was a little surprised that local officials needed English translators. I guess this isn’t Tokyo.

    I’m surprised at Gerry Thomas’s 3 month figure. Most iodine contamination is via milk and the Japanese don’t drink much milk. So it would have been easy to simply say, stop drinking milk for 3 months. And even then, we are really only talking about children and infants. The average thyroid dose (Annex D, UNSCEAR, Table 2) was 490 mGy in 1986 (this is the average for 115,000 evacuees) and it was only people who were children (<18) at the time that had the thyroid cancer increased. This was mainly because the prohibition on drinking milk wasn't communicated well and also because they were iodine deficient in any event, so they were veritable sponges for the radioactive iodine. Japan should have been able to deal with both these problems and not needed to evacuate. The only exception that looks reasonable to me would
    perhaps be infants partly because they are particularly susceptible, but mainly because new parents quite reasonably take zero risks with their infants. But by leaving as many adults as possible in place means the infrastructure doesn't crumble and people can get on with the business of rebuilding after the tsunami.

    I note that in "Plentiful Energy" there's a story about radiation releases during WWII work in the UK. Standard advice … dump the milk and pay the farmers, otherwise business as usual.

    1. Actually, the Japanese do consume a lot of dairy products these days. Milk is as big a grocery item as in the west, and is a staple of school lunches. Butter and cheese are a bit behind the curve, but still available in every supermarket.

      The risk from I-131 was well known, and any ingestion routes were closed off in response to the accident.

      1. Furthermore the seafood-heavy diet in Japan typically means thyroids are pretty saturated in iodine as it is, further reducing risk (or so I heard from Gerry, I am not the expert). Yes, on balance I would say there is an argument for opening up in those early months and simply managing a known hazard.

        1. Dr. Wade Allison – the Oxford emeritus professor of physics who is opposed to the LNT hypothesis of radiation health effects – said in one of his talks about Fukushima that the first thing he asked Japanese officials when he visited Japan after Fukushima was whether Japanese children also eat seaweed, like their parents. When the answer came in the affirmative, Allison concluded that radio-iodine from the meltdowns would not be a concern, since the infant’s thyroids would already be saturated with stable iodine.

          Allison has given several talks about Fukushima, but I forgot which one contained this particular statement. It might be this one:

          1. It’s certainly a factor in explaining why in the survey after the accident, evacuees child from around the plant for one half had no detectable level of iodine, and the other half had received on average only about 5 mSv of exposure.

      2. Best to check before making claims Eamon … FAOSTAT figures for milk are 71 kg/yr in Japan and 229 kg/yr in Australia; that’s a 3-fold difference and the Japanese eat very little butter (I didn’t just make that up, I checked).

        1. Geoff,

          I was making a comment as a long-term resident of Tohoku. Thanks for the pointer to the data.

          Butter gets used mainly in cakes – which are popular as gifts.

    2. I found outside of staff in expensive hotels and our senior hosts in Tokyo, very good spoken English is not the norm. Certainly for a detailed discussion in this region, a translator was the way to go, same thing at the plant visit.

      1. The standard of English is a constant subject in educational circles. 6 years of English education in secondary school… but little communicative ability. One part of the problem is senior high school and university entrance exams focus on grammar. There is a scary level of knowledge of grammar terminology, and students can identify correct answers without knowing the meaning of the answers – just by the grammar structure!

  5. Why take the risk in Australia?
    Especially since Australia has more than enough space to generate all electricity with PV-solar, wind turbines, etc. Those produce electricity at much, much lower prices than new nuclear.

    Just compare with the proposed Hinkley Point C nuclear plant in UK.
    Despite major subsidies (loan guarantees, liability limitations, etc.) the plant requires a guaranteed price for all electricity it produces during 35years of £92.50/MWh in 2012 pounds, to be inflation corrected.
    With ~2%/a inflation, that implies in 2025 (=start NPP): ~£120/MWh, and in 2050 ~£200/MWh.

    Offshore wind is the most expensive renewable. Recent UK auctions showed prices of £114-119/MWh, with likely further cost reductions in coming years.
    Onshore wind and PV-solar are much cheaper; ~£60-90/MWh, prices going downwards  (German thinktank Agora predicts <£40/MWh in 2050).

    So why?
    With power-to-fuel (just as the 6MW pilot plant of Audi) and power-to-gas,
    the much cheaper wind and solar can produce even all energy Australia needs!

    1. Why? Because a much, much bigger risk than a death and injury toll of zero is not rebuilding our energy infrastructure fast enough to prevent further climate destabilisation and because Germany is demonstrating just how slow and cumbersome renewables are.

      1. @Geoff,
        Germany does it slowly, 50years to reach >80% renewable (now at 28% renewable) as they don’t want to spend substantial money in order not to loose support of the population.

        The costs of wind turbines and PV-solar are much lower than for new nuclear plants.
        While building many wind turbines and PV-panels is also simpler, faster and less risky than new NPP’s (10years, substantial risk that the NPP is never finished).

        So, given a certain amount of money, migration towards a decarbonized energy situation can be done faster and cheaper with renewable.

        Which leaves my prime question unanswered: Why the difficult, risky route?

        1. “The costs of wind turbines and PV-solar are much lower than for new nuclear plants.”

          What is the cost of PV energy at night?
          What is the cost of wind energy on a calm day?

          The cost is that ‘backup’ fossil fuel plants will be running when the wind or the sun are not there. Fossils will be supplying more than 50% of the energy, even at extreme levels of PV and wind utilisation. And since energy use will expand this century, using only solar and wind energy will mean that co2 emissions cannot be reduced.

          Wind turbines and PV solar are in effect unfortunately little more than a public relations tool of the fossil fuel industry. Their purpose is to support the illusion that fossil fuel consumption is ‘temporary’, while we ‘migrate’ to solar and wind energy. Their purpose is also to support anti-nuclearism. People who are fighting nuclear power are the ‘useful idiots’ of the fossil fuel industry. They are making the world safe for coal and gas.

          And how about you use your real name, Bas Gresnigt? This constant changing of your nickname is needlessly confusing. Why not just use your real name and show you take responsibility for your comments? 😉

          1. The targeted and expected 85% renewable in Germany in 2050, leave only 15% for flexible fossil (gas) power plants. And that 15% share will diminish further as they plan for >95% renewable…

            While Germany is much more densely populated (Au ~8people/mile², Germ. ~600people/mile²) and gets far less sun.

        2. The renewable figure for first 11 months of 2014 is closer to 30%, but over half of that is biomass and hydro. Biomass is the most dominant renewable at 10%, or ⅓ of all renewables. Solar is about 7% and wind is at 9%.
          Cost of building wind turbines for EFFECTIVE capacity equal to a nuclear power plant is FAR greater than a nuclear power plant.
          A wind turbine has an effective life of 20 years, a nuclear power plant 60. A NPP works at 90% efficiency a wind turbine, in Germany, at 17%. So to install the same EFFECTIVE capacity, leaving aside the cost of storage, you need to build not just the same installed capacity, but the EFFECTIVE capacity to make up for the short shelf life (multiple of 3) and intermittency (multiple of 5) or 15 times the same installed capacity (plus storage to account for intermittency).
          So to emulate the effectiveness of a 1 GWe nuclear power plant, you would need to install 15 GWe of wind capacity. In the US, wind turbines cost about $3m for 2MW. That means you need to spend 15,000 MW x $1.5m or $22.5Bn


      1. Denmark’s electricity will be fully decarbonized in 2040. They are now >50%. Wind delivers ~40% of their electricity, they don’t have nuclear.
        Except countries with lot of hydro or geothermal, I don’t know of any other country who targets full decarbonization by 2040. For sure no country which has already a lot of nuclear:

        France with ~75% nuclear electricity, targets to reduce nuclear towards 50% in 2025 (now programs for more wind & solar). Belgium with ~50% nuclear decided; no new nuclear.

        What makes you think that Australia can do better than countries with high nuclear share and great experience?
        It seems to me that following the Danish example will be simples, cheaper and more successful.

    2. Why take the risk of doing something that doesn’t manage to hurt anyone even when it goes as pear shaped as possible?

      Either I don’t understand your question, or you did not read my article, or your comment is just vexatious.

      1. Sorry that my question wasn’t clear. Below a new try:
        If a new Fukushima occurs elsewhere, then again people will be evacuated and exclusion zones declared just as at Chernobyl. Exclusion zone probably larger as the wind may not blow 97% of the radio-activity to the ocean as at Fukushima. And study shows substantial chance such accident will occur: http://arxiv.org/pdf/1504.02380v1.pdf
        Such accident implies huge costs for the citizens (>$100billion).

        So why new NPP’s, while wind+solar can do the same job much cheaper without accident and radiation risks?

        1. Ok. So you don’t reject any of the evidence and argument presented by this blog post. That’s a good start.
          Your question is premised on three things, each of which I reject.
          “If a new Fukushima occurs elsewhere, then again people will be evacuated and exclusion zones declared just as at Chernobyl.”
          I reject this premise. As I have argued such a response is fundamentally at odds with the evidence of what is and is not dangerous. If Australia begins to use nuclear energy as I believe it will, I will be working hard to ensure that response to radiation incidents, as unlikely as they are, are planned on the basis of evidence rather than popular perception. Unless you have a strong basis for asserting that evacuation and prolonged exclusion this is the correct response, I suggest you revise your preconceptions and acceptance that it is the inevitable response. By framing questions in this way one becomes complicit in a process that hurts and kills people. I don’t accept it and I believe it can change, much as I believed several years ago that Australia could and would use nuclear power. If we revise our understanding it’s probable that people would not be evacuated or if they were, it would be for a minimal period of time with a priority on repatriation.
          “Such accident implies huge costs for the citizens (>$100billion). “
          If costs are estimated on the basis of a fundamentally flawed response that is at odds with evidence, then I reject the legitimacy of the costs. I do not see assertions from you that these prolonged evacuation and exclusion responses are the correct ones. If you don’t believe the responses are correct, then my suggestion is to cease being complicit in the narrative.
          “So why new NPP’s, while wind+solar can do the same job much cheaper without accident and radiation risks?”
          I wonder what you consider to be “the job”? Those reading this site tend to consider “the job” to be providing plentiful clean energy to a world of 10 billion people by 2050, entailing a probable doubling of electricity provision, preferably more as we also need to electrify other services provided by fossil fuels.
          On that basis I reject your third premise, emphatically. It cannot do the job. I have been researching this issue in much detail and look forward to publishing on the topic in peer-reviewed literature later this year.
          So I have no choice but to reject your question altogether. It’s is based on flawed premises.

          1. ensure that response to radiation incidents, … are … on the basis of evidence rather than popular perception
            That response is decided by politicians.
            So public opinion is leading, as politicians want to be re-elected…

            The situation is demonstrated by the fact that younger Japanese evacuees refuse to return despite assurances of the authorities that it is harmless.
            If even the authority obeying Japanese do that, I don’t see how you can prevent that similar occurs with the Australians. Especially since Australians often mistrust authorities…

            providing plentiful clean energy to a world of 10 billion people by 2050
            You propose nuclear in Australia, less; only S-Australia.
            So I suggest that we restrict ourselves to Australia.

            Australia has more than enough solar and wind (incl. land) to produce all energy (not only electricity) it needs in 2050 via PV-solar and wind turbines. Via power-to-gas and power-to-fuel all other energy can be made. Audi has a 6MW power-to-car fuel pilot running, many MW-scale power-to-gas trial plants in Germany.

            As this renewable solution is much cheaper, the question remains: Why nuclear?

            1. Presuming you are part of “the public”, don’t throw your hands in the air, take some responsibility to change things. You know, they way you seem to want to about climate change and clean energy.

              So your position is “the world needs nuclear but why Australia?”.

              I have always found that to be a particularly craven position, from an intellectual standpoint, whether it comes from you or Tim Flannery.

              Your assertions about solar and wind in Australia are just incorrect. Feel free to backtrack on the blog to see my reasoning or you can wait for my next paper which will be addressing the topic directly.

              Your assertions about cost are, similarly, just incorrect unless you restrict yourself to levelised cost of electricity for marginal additions to a mature system, rather than a whole system.

              And really, you come here and tell me about developments by Audi when 1.6 billion people have no electricity?

              It is, of course, up to you. However as I see it, you need to take about 10 steps back in your reasoning about energy and the world we live in and start over, testing everything as you go. Check in: do you actually know these things you say, or do you simply believe them?

              If that sounds like fun then please, keep engaging. If that sort of thing is not of interest, then this is probably not the blog for you.

        2. Where’s the risk? I keep hearing this fearsome word “risk”. As though nuclear plants are just giant eggshells that just can’t wait to blow — even after nature shoves its worst on them. You can pack all the fatalities incurred by nuclear plants _worldwide_ over 60 years — both in normal operation AND worst accidents on a single Grayhound BUS. You just can’t build enough OCEAN LINERS to accommodate the fatalities — forget public health casualties and consequences — incurred by fossil energy production just during that same time period. Isn’t that proof record enough?? Yet we just keep on hearing this loaded fearsome word “risk”. I guess all those generations stricken with fossil fuel aliments are just small potatoes next to the imaginary mega-victim afflictions of a nuclear energy. I can tell you right now that there are LOTS of people in Vermont who have great misgivings about abandoning a nil-footprint, minimally environmental and aesthetically intrusive nuclear plant to instead have the historical heritage of its magnificent mountaintops and ridgelines and meadows shaved off and mowed over to erect monstrous windmills and sprawling solar farms mostly to placate the radiophoboic.

          James Greenidge
          Queens NY
          Go, Yes,Vermont Yankee!

          1. @James,
            Nice story. Only it doesn’t fit:

            Risk also imply the chance on damage with huge financial consequences. Damage in the range of $500 billion as Chernobyl and Fukushima show.

            Recent study by the famous MIT from US:
            ~50% chance on a new Chernobyl before 2050: http://www.technologyreview.com/view/536886/the-chances-of-another-chernobyl-before-2050-50-say-safety-specialists/

            Fatalities incurred by nuclear plants also concern preliminary cancers, etc. The estimations regarding Chernobyl alone are already in the range of a million. The New York Academy of Sciences publishes a book with that info written the three most prominent radiation experts/professors of Ukraine, Belarus, Russia. Despite huge opposition of pro-nuclear US scientists.

            Btw. It’s easy to calculate that covering all roofs with PV-panels will deliver more than enough to supply the whole country. Also in Vermont.

            1. Darius

              …actually, @all_future_readers, because I’m satisfied Darius is unwilling to engage in adult discussion. This is clear when considering his first claim regarding risk and cost of nuclear accidents in light of the content of the blog post that it is attached to, which he clearly has not comprehended.

              Now, his citations. First up is a terrifying headline. Let’s see who’s behind that? Oh, surprise, it’s Benjamin Sovacool! His questionable, motivated reasoning is well-appreciated. http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Benjamin_K._Sovacool

              He’s the sort of anti-nuke who cannot let a good word for nuclear stand, yet his reasoning is flimsy and biased http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/es402211m

              Next, the “New York Academy of Sciences” Chernobyl study, eh? What a crowd pleaser, except no one at the Academy wants to take responsibility for it https://www.scribd.com/doc/63975527

              Indeed, it is wrapped up with Mangano and Sherman, 2 of the shonkiest anti-nuclear “researchers” currently availing themselves of the predatory publishing industry http://nuclearpoweryesplease.org/blog/2011/06/17/shame-on-you-janette-sherman-and-joseph-mangano/

              A peer reviewed take down, for your convenience

    3. There isn’t much of a risk. (1) This disaster was due to badly located backup generators. After shutting down, a nuclear power plant needs a small supply of cooling water to be circulated for at least 3 days afterward. The accident was due to having no emergency electricity supply. That can’t happen with modern reactors; they will always have a means to circulate cooling water. (2) This disaster actually emitted some radiation, but it killed no one. The majority of deaths in many areas were due to the prolonged relocation: “In Nahara no one died from radiation and likely no one will. Fifteen people died from a tsunami and 110 people died from the consequences of evacuation, relocation and forced estrangement from their homes.”

      Wind and solar are intermittent and can’t penetrate the grid above 50%, so you’re only cutting carbon emissions from electricity by 50% at most. Electricity only accounts for 17% of energy use in Australia. Full scale deployment of wind and solar can cut Australian emissions by 8.5% at most. Nuclear power can manage to cut all Australian electricity emissions, up to 17% in this example.

    1. Radiophobia and its enablers have a lot to answer for!

      However, there has been a gradual return of evacuees in our part of Tohoku for the past few years. I believe those remaining will be the hold-outs.

      1. I wonder if there is a resource that has kept track of that return process? Because that’s part of the problem as well; there has been blanket coverage of evacuation, and nearly no coverage of repatriation. Can you assist?

        1. I will check, but I doubt that there is an easy central source for such figures. I would think the data resides at municipality level, with residency applications.

        2. I’ve been unable to find a good resource. It’s possible that Leslie Corrice’s Fukushima Accident Updates will have some facts gleaned from the media.

  6. Chris Busby is an interesting fellow, sort of like the nuclear version of conman Peter Foster. Instead of selling tea to stop weight gain, Chris sells “anti-radiation vitamins” to stop radiation poisoning. Unfortunately the damage from the fear he creates goes well beyond fleecing the naive. It was incredibly irresponsible after Fukushima that many media outlets turned to people like Caldecott and Busby for the environmental point of view.

    Looking past a couple of cranks, we have a recognition, communications and trust failure in the World bodies (UNSCEAR, WHO and IAEA) that the media should be turning to for information.


  7. Ben, get hold of Quadrant magazine December 2004 and July /August 2005 and check the two articles by evolutionary biologist Emeritus Professor Peter Parsons. Among other things he has established that the LNT assumption is invalid. The Dec 2004 piece is entitled, “Radiation Phobia and Phantom Risks and the 2005 piece is entitled ,”Radiation and the No-Risk Society.He lives in Adelaide.



  8. The fact that SA has about half of Australia’s installed wind capacity plus 25% solar homes in some suburbs is often mentioned in energy blogs. They seem to omit the fact that about 50% of SA electricity comes from burning gas piped in from either Moomba (MAP pipeline) in the Cooper Basin or Pt Campbell Vic (SEA Gas pipe) in the Otway Basin. Both basins have been tapped for decades with enthusiasts saying there’s plenty more to be discovered by drilling. Maybe not
    I suggest SA’s 30% wind and solar penetration is partly enabled by the high gas fraction. Before mid century the gas contribution could be just 10% or so. That suggests nuclear capacity for SA should have good load following capability i.e. it has to replace not only coal but baseload, intermediate and peaking gas generation.

    1. Alternately, if putative South Australian nuclear can be sold over the border to displace Victorian lignite, I’d argue it should be enabled (infrastructure, policy, market) as far as technically and economically viable.

      1. I think this would need some kind of disincentive for brown coal power, recently priced at $32 a Mwh. If I understand it correctly the SA-Vic Heywood Interconnector may be beefed up from about 500 MW to 700 MW transmission capacity. We could also take up BZE’s proposal of a Norseman-Pt Augusta HVDC cable to join the SWIS grid to the NEM. I suspect WA will less precious about cutting coal dependence than Vic. Their Kintyre yellowcake will be shipped out of Pt Adelaide. We may not get a carbon constraining federal govt for another decade to put the squeeze on Vic brown coal then again AGL say they will exit by 2050. Latrobe Valley plants already have cooling towers and transmission and recently smoked out the locals with coal fires. Perhaps they should have NP there and leave the lignite to grow potatoes.

  9. Regarding the dose rates such as 8-18 mSv per year mentioned in the article, I believe these generally refer to the air dose rate one meter above ground outdoors. In practice an individual living in such areas would incur an 8-18 mSv dose only if they spent a whole year outdoors, 24 hours a day. In practice actual dose would be expected to be substantially less.

    Gerry Thomas advocates provision of personal dosimeters to people worried about their radiation exposure. Among other things this gives a person both knowledge of, and therefore potentially some control over their exposure. And that provides a considerable degree of reassurance and reduces feelings of helplessness.

  10. What most folk don’t realize is that the Rad-Con** maps you see there are about 3 to 7 times higher than they would be if measured in the prescribed way. Those plots are based on aerial measurements and improperly projected to 1m ground-shine terms. In doing the projections, they neglected the “ground shielding” term which divides the result by 3.

    Most Rad-Con emissions from nuclear accidents that contribute to ground-shine are fairly dense and settle down into low spots and cracks in the surface. Thus, when emitting radiation, some or all of the radiation that is emitted sideways toward a target from more than a very short distance away is shielded by the ground above it. The method used to make those maps assumed the ground was perfectly flat and you would get the full sideways dose from all those remote sources.

  11. Amazing that those who should know better still refuse to consider that living in a high external dose area means you will get internal and it will be 20 to 100 times worse. 112000 times worse if its plutonium or americium.

    1. @stock: Do you have a point?

      The people of Kerala have both high internal and external radiation but just 1/3 the cancer rate of Australia. There’s no shortage of evidence that a thousand (or whatever number you pull out of some propaganda sheet) times bugger all is still bugger all and very much much safer than eating sausages … which is a carcinogen which has more than merely theoretical impact … meaning it produces actual cancers instead of just pretend cancers.


      1. @Geoff, yes a very strong point. Ah yes, lets just ignore the compelling and growing body of epidemiological studies which show just the opposite, and that even 4mSV cumulative can be shown as statistically significant cause of cancers.

        Here is a nice summary showing low dose does cause cancer. BTW 50% to 66% of us get cancer these days. in 1900 it was 6%.

          1. The evidence against LNT is overwhelming … scientists have known it was false since they discovered how efficiently DNA repair mechanisms fix double stranded breaks. If it were true, then all of that science on DNA repair in all genetic texts is wrong. It is presumed false in every radiotherapy department of every hospital on the planet … if it were true, then radiotherapy would be much cheaper because they wouldn’t bother fractionating doses.

            And if LNT were true, it would be irrelevant because the impact at doses like 4mSv is so tiny as to be irrelevant, it will never stick out above the noise of the big cancer causes: obesity, red and processed meat, cigarettes, inactivity, alcohol … and in some countries, sunshine. “Statistical significance” is conceptually very different from actual significance. The big cancer causes determine most of the difference between rates of 100 per 100,000 per annum in India and 320 per 100,000 per annum in Australia.

            This may interest you …

            Click to access LNT-and-NAS-Environ.-Res.-1.pdf

            1. You have ignored the data in the compilation of studies that I have presented.

              Shame on you, and shame to think that doubling the annual dose rate of Americans with “radiation therapy” is a good thing.

              someday, radiation therapy will be looked at as barbaric, it is, like blood letting or leeches.

              Read the data, base opinion on fact, not vested interests!

              1. Radiotherapy beats dying of cancer and is generally less toxic than chemo. Link me to actual studies and I’ll give them a look, but I don’t watch video blogs (be they from anti-vaccination nutters, religious nutters, or anti-nuke nutters). I also explained why I didn’t look at them, but let me have another go. There are about 14 million cancers each year. I’m interested in the things which cause large amounts of these and which we can do something about … are you? If you are, then clearly you and any children you have will be vegan … well done.

                Am I interested in something that might (but probably doesn’t) cause a few thousand? Will I bet the planet on technologies with a proven record of failure because of a debatable risk of a few thousand cancers caused by a technology which actually works? No.

            2. They are fractionating dose at 2 Gy, which is the threshold for deterministic effect, so even with LNT proven false it would still be done. Actually recognizing LNT as false would open a path instead for exposing people to radiation at much lower dose rate. As the current dogma is that the rate is unimportant, the most convenient and cheapest solution is to expose people to as much as possible at once, around 2 Gy. But if the importance of rate were properly recognized, it would make sense to expose to a large cumulative dose, but at a low radiation rate. Almost all cancer cells evolve very rapidly because they got rid with some or most normal DNA repair mechanisms (specifically about half of all cancer show a defective p53 gene which is at the center of DNA damage repair and control), so there would be a strategy here of exposing cell to a rate where normal repair mechanism still handle it properly, but that will kill a cancer cell (or force it to mutate to a stage of more efficient DNA repair which would stop it from being able to mutate so quickly to evade other treatments), that nobody explores because you know, LNT.

              1. @jmdesp. Well said. Yes, you are right about the reason for splitting doses across multiple treatments, but it also gives the cells which don’t get the full dose time to recover between doses. And @stock, note very carefully what @jmdesp said about the high mutation rate in cancer cells and the reason. Most cancer cells require multiple mutations to move from normal to malignant … even if a radiation dose causes a critical mutation which isn’t repaired, that won’t develope into cancer without a host of other mutations … and these will usually be brought on by lifestyle choices. The notion of something causing cancer is a gross oversimplification of the truth, which is that a cancer is a team activity more like a mutiny than anything else. It’s hard to describe without attributing planning to a tumour (which is wrong but hard to resist!). Radiation damage is essentially random, whereas chemical carcinogens can be very specific in their actions and knock out key genes like p53 that jmdesp mentioned … that’s why they can be more potent and drive more of the process.

          2. Your site with the pretended study on low dose cancer just doesn’t make any sense. If 4mSV cumulative were as statistically significant cause of cancers, then the US would have a statistically significant excess of cancer over Europe, because the average exposition of Americans to radiation is 6.2 mSv, and in a typical European country like France it’s around 3,7 mSv. The fact is the reverse the US get less cancer (mostly because the fight against smoking started earlier and was more efficient).

            The text you reference over-interprets some spurious correlation between low birth weight and Strontium 90 in New York. But why specifically New York and not any other town ? And why low birth weight when this is *not* documented as any specific effect of radiation ? If you search everywhere look for spurious correlation, you will find them, here’s a graph of an incredibly strong correlation between autism and organic food sales http://www.pd.infn.it/~dorigo/autism_organic_foods.jpg . Does organic food cause autism ? Of course not, causation is proven once you show that the correlation does not just randomly appears at some point, but is provably repeated everywhere.

        1. stock, a much larger percentage of people get cancer today than in 1900, because a much larger percentage of people can now reach an age were the incidence of cancer is high, and also because so many of the other causes of death at the time are now perfectly preventable. Displaying age corrected statistics from the IARC site clearly shows it’s being strongly going down in the last 30 years. There was a time in the XXth century were it was growing with regard to 1900, even with age correction, but that’s mostly due to the propagation of smoking and some other industrial pollution, like particulate matter pollution, which now are regressing.

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