Tag Archives: nuclear power

That Japanese Nuclear Plant Incident Resulted In Zero Deaths

Yes, you read that correctly: the 2011 meltdown of the Fukushima nuclear reactor, due to a tsunami created by the most powerful earthquake to ever hit Japan, has not killed and likely will not kill even one person. That’s in stark contrast to the news of the time, when we heard that death was inevitable for at least some of the workers trying to fix the radiation leak, and that it was a Chernobyl-level disaster. There were also worries about the environment being desolated, food being irradiated and generally what you’d expect from a post-apocalyptic landscape following nuclear war.

March 14, 2011: A Red Cross rescue worker, in red, is scanned for signs of radiation upon returning from Fukushima to his hospital in Nagahama, Shiga Prefecture. (AP/Fox News)

March 14, 2011: A Red Cross rescue worker, in red, is scanned for signs of radiation upon returning from Fukushima to his hospital in Nagahama, Shiga Prefecture. (AP/Fox News)


At the time, xkcd published an infographic showing that it would take about 4 weeks of someone staying in the plant before they would get the amount of radiation that’s clearly linked to cancer. (A flight from NY to LA gives you the same amount radiation as 11 days at the plant, during the incident.) Now, two years later, the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation has some findings:

  • Most Japanese got less radiation exposure from the incident than they would from normal background radiation
  • The six people that had the highest exposure, absorbed about 678 milliSieverts (mSv) of radiation, which is well below the 1000 mSv that causes radiation sickness or increases the chance of cancer
  • Most of the area’s background radiation is back to normal, and all of it will be by 2017
  • “The exposures on both marine and terrestrial non-human biota were too low for observable acute effects.”
  • The worst effect is a very negligible increase (6% of the normal rate) of female breast cancer and male leukemia.

Now, the quake and tsunami itself did kill about 16,000 people; but radiation killed zero. The worst nuclear disaster ever, Chernobyl, which was due to gross human error, killed 46 people. Contrast this to supposedly safe coal power, which claims an average of 35 lives and 4,000 injuries per year. Then consider that about 41% of the world’s electricity comes from coal, but only about 13% comes from nuclear plants.

World Electricity Power Sources

See also:

From UN Information Service, via The Age and Slashdot

Despite Everything, Nuclear Power Still Safe

The Straight Dope has an article on how despite Chernobyl, Fukushima and Three Mile Island, nuclear power is still among the safest sources of power, and probably the cleanest. Especially when compared to coal:

Each year. on average, 35 U.S. coal miners are killed and 4,000 are injured. In China, 2,600 coal miners were killed in 2009, following 3,200 dead in 2008. (Recent U.S. uranium mining deaths: zero.) Coal-burning power plants release close to three times as much radioactivity as nuclear plants. I focus on coal because it’s the one other energy source we can count on to deliver a big piece of predicted rising demand, but even solar cell manufacture involves toxic waste production.

Compare that with 46 deaths from Chernobyl, which was by far the worst nuclear power incident, and stemmed from gross human error and poor plant design.

From The Straight Dope