Cancer Incidence from Fukushima Disaster: Negligible

On this one-year anniversary of the tragic Japan earthquake and Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster, there’s one bit of positive news. It turns out that the release of radioactivity was far less than initially feared. It was so small that, according to Japanese government researchers as cited by a Wall Street Journal article, so far no one has gotten cancer from that radiation exposure.

Among people living in three towns that were at high risk, 95 percent of them were exposed to less than 5 millisieverts, which is half as much what one is exposed to during a typical CT scan. The highest level of radiation that anyone was exposed to, a worker at the disaster site, was 679 millisieverts. So far he’s fine. In fact his chances of getting cancer from that are still quite low. According this chart, exposure to 500 millisieverts puts you at a lifetime cancer risk of 1 in 250. That means if 250 people were exposed to that amount, just 1 would get cancer during their lifetimes, as a result of that exposure.

To be sure, the article also says that over the long run, 300 to 500 people could develop thyroid problems as a result of the Fukushima radiation release.

So one can rest a little easier over nuclear power plant worries, at least in developed countries. Even a large-scale disaster like Fukushima resulted in far fewer radiation exposures than initially feared.

Hey Germany, ya think you acted a little too hastily in deciding to shut down all of your nuclear power plants, in the wake of Fukushima?

Of course, sabotage of nuclear power plants is always a concern, as is terrorism and destruction resulting from war. Regarding terrorism, a common worry is crashing an airliner into a reactor. But here’s one bit of reassurance: when they crashed an F-4 Phantom jet into a 6-foot concrete wall, the jet disintegrated and nothing happened to the wall. I’m certainly no expert but perhaps crashing an airliner into the thick metal and concrete containment building of a nuclear reactor would yield similar results.

What about shooting a barrage of missiles into a containment structure, and/or a full-scale release of radiation? I actually got hold of a book on that. Book report to come soon.