Fukushima tribulations

20/03/2011

Common sense vindicated

Today I am proud to be a Finn. The latest poll shows that in Finland there has been no change in attitudes towards nuclear power after the Fukushima incident. Despite the onslaught of media hysteria the Finns have kept a cool head and used their common sense. The predicted massive change in public opinion has fallen flat, at least in this country.

The plain fact is that what happened in Japan has no relevance for nuclear plants in Finland (and in most other places). We have no tsunamis or severe earthquakes. This did not matter for the media, intent on making the most of the news by fanning nuclear panic. The major devastation and numerous victims of the tsunami was a side issue. Reading the papers became a nauseating experience.

Facing strong media prejudice, the experts contorted themselves in assuring that safety will be reconsidered in the light of the evaluation of the incident, and so on. In reality there is not much to reconsider. The Fukushima plant is old and the planning obviously faulty. In modern plants the electricity supply and reactor cooling, which failed in Fukushima, are multiply secured by many layers. It is very difficult to imagine a meaningful improvement.

Common sense should also be concerned about the consequences of a meltdown incident like Fukushima. It is too early to accurately assess the damage done to human life and health. But all available facts point at a very limited public exposure. The impact will remain minimal, at least compared with the depressing overall picture.

In the public eye, the fear of radiation is vastly overblown. According to the authoritative WHO report of 2005, the disastrous Chernobyl incident directly caused less than fifty deaths, most of them among rescue workers. The number of potential victims was set at less than 4000. It is based on a conservative model, where all radiation is considered equally harmful. But in all probability, low radiation exposure does not cause harm, and may even be beneficial.

Natural background radiation varies widely. Some areas exhibit more than hundred times the average value. Yet public health remains unaffected. If anything, increased radiation correlates with improved health. These simple facts have not penetrated the public mind. The reporters should know better, but are in the thrall of sensational journalism. They are responsible for the hysteric scare sweeping the world whenever a nuclear power plant is involved. This can cause serious health problems. We should only be afraid of fear itself.