Nuclear fearmongering

Oh dear, the Tokyo olympics are in danger due to the extreme radiation that is going to envelope the entire Northern hemisphere and destroy the earth!!!!

I hate all the fearmongering that came out of the Fukushima incident. The linked article is a classic example of that. What happened at Fukushima was bad, but it wasn’t earth-shattering. The problem is that we will never know how bad because the anti-nuclear people spread so much misinformation (maybe the pro-nuclear people do too, but they seem to be a lot less vocal about it). And of course you should take anything said by anyone with a vested interest in nuclear power with a grain of salt.

I picked one nugget of information in that article and researched it, as a kind of litmus test for accuracy.

It failed.

The article says:

“The US has allowed food measuring up to 1,200 Becquerels per kilo to be sold in the US from Japan, while the Japanese allowable concentration for food is only 100 Becquerels per kilo. What does the US government think it is doing purposely exposing people to radioactive food?”

What a load of needlessly scary crap.

The becquerel is a unit which simply describes how many atoms decay every second. One becquerel = 1 atom decayed in one second. It is a tiny, tiny figure, and 1200 atomic decays per second across 1kg of produce is not much at all. For reference, in 1kg of water, there are more than 100,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 atoms. The number for 1kg of food will be slightly smaller because food has heavier elements, but it is a good reference point.

The becquerel doesn’t even tell you what type of nuclear decay it is. Is it emitting gamma radiation? Alpha particles? Beta particles? They all have different effects on the body, and the number of becquerels alone doesn’t tell you anything about what the radioactivity will do to you. The measure you want to pay attention to is sieverts. Sieverts show how much damage the radiation does to a body. I refer you to XKCD for the best visualisation of the impact of sieverts.

Here’s a last nugget of info: did you know that the natural potassium in your body produces more than 4000 becquerels (260,000 atoms per minute ≈ 4300 becquerels)? That’s right, you are producing more than 3 times the legal per kilogram food limit in your own body, and that’s just from the potassium. There is also carbon, and hydrogen, and any other natural radioactive isotopes that you have in your body.

I’m not specifically pro-nuclear, but I think it should be considered in a measured way against all alternatives. It won’t always be the best option, but sometimes it will, and we need to make the decision based on actual facts and known risks rather than some emotive fear of the unknown.


4 thoughts on “Nuclear fearmongering

  1. The funny thing is that even TEPCO has admitted things are getting out of control, just days after the Olympics were assigend to Tokyo for 2020.

    Is it “scaremongering” too, when TEPCO says it?

    • My complaint is that there is so much scaremongering that it is very hard to find objective truth. I’d like to form my own opinion of the incident, but I can’t because I don’t have accurate information. I agree that if Tepco are saying it’s bad then it probably is, although I also can’t rule out the possibility that they have an agenda. I suspect it will be quite a number of years before the real truth comes out.

      • Well, I agree with you, actually: there is a lot of wrong information out there. But equally astonishing is the lack of information actually given to us by those in charge. Most of it turns out to be wrong, changes every day, comes out too late (or in convenient little steps, at convenient timing), etc etc.

        And this is what Abe calles “under control”. It’s ridiculous.

  2. Justin says:

    @Rob. Conspiracy theories about the Japanese government notwithstanding, a cover-up does not serve as evidence that Fukushima is bringing the apocalypse.

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