This paper and commentary were first published in the Imperial Engineer, Issue Fifteen, Autumn 2011. The Imperial Engineer is the periodical magazine published for members of The City & Guilds and The Royal School of Mines Associations at Imperial College, London University, UK. This paper, together with discussion and our comments, is republished here with permission, March 2013. Copyright remains with authors Bill McAuley and Robin Grimes.

Editor's Note | Fukushima - by Bill McAuley and Robin Grimes
The Earthquake and its Immediate Aftermath  | Present Status | Root Causes | Then and Now
Health Scare Exaggerated | We Need Nuclear | 1000 Deaths | Editor's Postscript

Health Scare Exaggerated
Says Don Higson (Chem Eng 57)

"I would say the 'immediate threats to public health' from radiation at Fukushima are essentially zero (except for the mental health effects caused by removal of people from their homes and by unwarranted anxiety about radiation). Temporary evacuation was justified as a precaution, at potential dose levels well below levels that would be dangerous to physical health, but I do hope that the evacuation is not prolonged more than is absolutely necessary.

I think the figure of 60 for the total fatalities in the Chernobyl incident is a bit high, if you mean near term fatalities attributable to radiation. I would put it at less than 50. There were, of course, another two who died immediately from other causes and one who disappeared, presumed dead. The figure of 20 deaths, referred to in my paper as having 'since died from illnesses that are considered to have been associated with acute exposure' actually includes a number of cases where radiation was really not a likely cause (e.g. when I last looked, it included someone killed in a car accident). Deaths from thyroid cancer came years later.

I doubt that the number of thyroid cancer deaths that were probably caused by radiation will ever reach 500, but we will never know. I expect there will eventually be about 2,000 identifiable cases of thyroid cancer more likely to have been caused by radiation from Chernobyl than anything else, and that these cases would eventually lead to around 100 deaths. Some people might call this 'a major public health impact'.

There will also he statistical predictions of increased incidences of other cancer deaths but these increases will not he significant compared with normal. Essentially, they will be speculative. No individual case (apart from thyroid cancers discussed above) will be identifiable as having been caused by the Chernobyl accident."

Subsequent to the preparation of this web site paper, Don Higson sent us this Email on 02-19-2013:

"Hi Folks

In the report to the UN General Assembly of its 59th Session (21-25 May 2012), the UN Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR) confirmed that there have been no health effects attributed to radiation exposure observed among children or any other member of the population at Fukushima.

UNSCEAR has also withdrawn its previous support for the assumption of a linear relationship between dose and risk (the LNT model). The Committee now recommends against the application of this assumption for estimating risks from doses 'that are typical of the global average background levels'.

No member of the public at Fukushima was exposed to radiation at a rate outside the range of variation of natural background radiation around the world. Hence, no public health effects attributable to radiation exposure should be expected.

Although about 170 occupationally exposed people are reported to have received doses from which there is a small risk of future health effects, no health effects attributed to radiation exposure have been observed.

Best regards, Don Higson"

Then and Now  Then and Now

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