Two weeks ago, I wrote an article titled Nuclear plant issues in Japan are the least of their worries that attempted to provide a realistic prediction of the worst case consequences of the one-two punch from a very large earthquake and tsunami on a large nuclear power station on the coast of Japan. It has become increasingly apparent during the past week that my view from afar was not as clear as I would have hoped. I was overly optimistic about the final consequences of the events at Fukushima Daiichi.
On the catastrophic scale of commercial nuclear energy accidents, where Three Mile Island was in second place and Chernobyl was the clear leader, Fukushima Daiichi has moved into second. It is likely that it will end up to be far closer to Chernobyl than to Three Mile Island in overall economic, public health and geographic consequences.
Update: (Posted on March 27, 2011 at 0234) The above paragraph has been changed to specify commercial nuclear energy accidents to avoid complications with discussions about accidents that have occurred in the other aspect of nuclear technology. The commercial and military sides of nuclear are complicated enough to merit two mostly separate conversations. End Update.
There has been enough damage to the plants and enough radioactive material released to pose a danger to public health for someone who does not take any precautions, though actions to evacuate, shelter and monitor contamination have minimized the actual effects – so far. There have also been a fair number of plant workers and other emergency responders who have received substantial radiation doses in the range of 100-200 mSv (10-20 Rem). Those doses are about 20% of the dose required for early signs of radiation sickness (1 Sv or 100 REM) and at the threshold where there is a statistically significant increase in long term cancer risk.Continue reading…