When Radiation Isn’t the Real Risk

Friday, September 25th, 2015

A small group of scientists met in Tokyo this past spring to evaluate the deadly aftermath of Fukushima:

No one has been killed or sickened by the radiation — a point confirmed last month by the International Atomic Energy Agency. Even among Fukushima workers, the number of additional cancer cases in coming years is expected to be so low as to be undetectable, a blip impossible to discern against the statistical background noise.

But about 1,600 people died from the stress of the evacuation — one that some scientists believe was not justified by the relatively moderate radiation levels at the Japanese nuclear plant.

Evacuations can be prompted by the linear no-threshold model of radiation deaths. If one sievert of radiation causes fatal cancers in 5 percent of the people exposed, then one millisievert must cause fatal cancer in 0.005 percent of the people exposed:

By avoiding what would have been an average cumulative exposure of 16 millisieverts, the number of cancer deaths prevented was perhaps 160, or 10 percent of the total who died in the evacuation itself.

But that estimate assumes the validity of the current standards. If low levels of radiation are less harmful, then the fallout might not have caused any increase in the cancer rate.

The idea of hormesis goes further, proposing that weak radiation can actually reduce a person’s risk.

We’ve discussed Fukushima’s incredible death toll before — and the fact that radiation is good for you.


  1. Slovenian Guest says:

    And once again I recommend Glasstone:

    “A blog all about contradicting the widespread superstition that nuclear wars are unsurvivable and debunking hardened dogma of exaggerated nuclear effects.”

  2. A Boy and His Dog says:

    The big cause of cancer in Japan seems to be the H pylori bacteria. Japan’s stomach cancer rate is four times that of the U.K. because of it.

  3. Candide III says:

    In my opinion, the article would have been stronger if it hadn’t mentioned radiation hormesis, which is after all a much less well-substantiated hypothesis than linear-no-threshold. Instead it could have mentioned Chernobyl, for which the results are broadly similar to Fukushima if one excludes the unfortunate firemen and the ‘biorobot’ conscripts who cleaned up the immediate mess in classic Russian fashion — ‘don’t spare troops, women will pop out more’.

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