Wednesday, December 11, 2013
28 Fallacies about Fukushima
This item is a handy rebuttal to the gross misinformation running around the net on the Fukushima disaster. There are serious local problems as would be expected and there are major issues regarding the whole decommissioning process which has now begun. As this makes quite clear the remaining issues are still well below safe thresholds for the time been.
Of course the problem remains in the decommissioning itself. That is both serious and also riskier than most admit. Core meltdowns have only been handled rarely as at Three Mile Island. There they succeeded in removing the whole mass.
We will be extremely lucky to do this again as well when the problem is at least twice the job.
28 fallacies about the Fukushima nuclear disaster’s effect on the US West Coast
The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant is back in the news, with recent reports of continued leaks. Coming on the heels of these new reports is a viral blog post entitled . The article is a paranoid, poorly reasoned attempt to link the tragedy of the Fukushima disaster to just about every environmental issue facing the US west coast in the last few months. At its best, it’s an illogical piece of post-modern absurdism. At its worst, its empirically false and intentionally misleading, rife with out-of-context quotes and cherry-picked data. The author had 28 chances to make a single reasonable point, and every single one rang hollow.
Of course it went viral.
Since I believe in open, honest discourse, let me begin by pointing out that I am not a physicist, nor do I have any particular credentials when it comes to nuclear energy. I am a marine ecologist. You’ll find, however, that for these 28 points, the devil is not in the details. Most are the result of logical fallacies, rather than technical inaccuracies. Many are simply articles taken out of context or unbelievably tenuous observations followed by “couldn’t it be Fukushima?” In a follow up, the author even argues that he’s a phrase I thought was long ago relegated to Glenn Beck parodies. A fifth of these points don’t even have to do with the North American West Coast.
So here we go, with a point by point debunking of this unfortunate article. I’ve broken them out into larger themes which I hope will make the many logical fallacies apparent. For reasons that will become obvious, we begin with point 20.
The title of this article is “28 Signs That The West Coast Is Being Absolutely Fried With Nuclear Radiation From Fukushima”, but buried deep in the text is point 20 — the radioactive plume won’t reach the West Coast of the United States until 2014. Are you familiar with the old robot folk-saying “Does not compute”? Keep this point in mind while reading through the rest of these points. Interestingly, the whole paragraph that the 2014 line was cherry picked from reads:
“Ocean simulations showed that the plume of radioactive cesium-137 released by the Fukushima disaster in 2011 could begin flowing into U.S. coastal waters starting in early 2014 and peak in 2016. Luckily, two ocean currents off the eastern coast of Japan — the Kuroshio Current and the Kuroshio Extension — would have diluted the radioactive material so that its concentration fell well below the World Health Organization’s safety levels within four months of the Fukushima incident. But it could have been a different story if nuclear disaster struck on the other side of Japan.”
These are real issues affecting the ocean but there is no evidence that any of them are connected to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster. Remember, the original article itself even noted that the first radioactive ocean plumes wouldn’t reach the Pacific coast of North America until 2014.
From the actual article cited:
“Reuters noted that preliminary studies do not support a theory that the disease is due to contamination from the tsunami-wrecked Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan.”
This is true, and those dead sea lions were killed by starvation. One theory is that a decline in food fish populations has made it harder for mothers to nurse newborn pups.
From one of the sources:
“Sarah Wilkin is a marine biologist with the National Marine Fisheries Service. Asked why it has reached this point, she said: “We’re looking at whether the prey that these animals should be eating just isn’t available to them for some reason, and that could be because there’s less of it or because it’s moved and it’s not accessible.””
There is no mention in the source article of anyone blaming Fukushima. Salmon populations have been struggling for decades. What the article does say is:
“Conservation groups have sounded the alarm, saying Alaskan commercial fishermen are contributing to the problem as Skeena River sockeye get caught in the nets of Americans fishing for pink and chum sockeye.”
4. Something is causing fish all along the west coast of Canada to bleed from their gills, bellies and eyeballs.
The 2011 earthquake and tsunami was an unprecedented natural disaster. The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster was an unprecedented human disaster. They are related, but they are not the same thing. There was a large amount of debris washed into the Pacific by the tsunami. A very small component of that debris may have come from Fukushima. There is not a California-sized island of radioactive debris making its way across the Pacific.
Technically true, egregiously misleading. From the source:
Tentatively assuming a value of 10 petabecquerel (PBq) for the net 137Caesium (Cs) input during the first weeks after the Fukushima incident, the simulation suggests a rapid dilution of peak radioactivity values to about 10 Bq/m³ during the first 2 years, followed by a gradual decline to 1–2 Bq/m³ over the next 4–7 years. The total peak radioactivity levels would then be about twice the pre-Fukushima values. “While this may sound alarming, these levels are still lower than those permitted for drinking water,” said Böning.
True, but again, misleading. Cesium-137 doesn’t biomagnify like mercury. Cesium has a biological half-life of 70 days. Claiming that cesium-137 will travel up the “food chain” like mercury and other heavy metals do is simply wrong.
Again, the article ignores the fact that they found low-levels of cesium. From the source:
Low levels of radioactive cesium from Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident turned up in fish caught off California in 2011, researchers reported Monday.
The bluefin spawn off Japan, and many migrate across the Pacific Ocean. Tissue samples taken from 15 bluefin caught in August, five months after the meltdowns at Fukushima Daiichi, all contained reactor byproducts cesium-134 and cesium-137 at levels that produced radiation about 3% higher than natural background sources
There are important health issues associate with seafood caught near the power plant. Because of that, Japan has since near Fukushima and established an exclusion zone.
The source for this is talking about fish from Japan, not Canada, although the author makes it sound like he’s talking about fish caught in Canada. Points 9 and 10 are actually the same point.
The science says otherwise:
The additional dose from Fukushima radionuclides to humans consuming tainted PBFT in the United States was calculated to be 0.9 and 4.7 μSv for average consumers and subsistence fishermen, respectively. Such doses are comparable to, or less than, the dose all humans routinely obtain from naturally occurring radionuclides in many food items, medical treatments, air travel, or other background sources. Although uncertainties remain regarding the assessment of cancer risk at low doses of ionizing radiation to humans, the dose received from PBFT consumption by subsistence fishermen can be estimated to result in two additional fatal cancer cases per 10,000,000 similarly exposed people.
The mass of water in an olympic swimming pool is 2500 tons. At this rate, it would take more than 8 days for that contaminated water to fill an olympic swimming pool. The Pacific ocean is significantly larger.
Again, the article gives us no indication of whether those numbers are meaningful? Is that a lot?
What does that mean? Where is the context. Just throwing out big numbers without providing any sort of explanation is nothing but scaremongering.
Fukushima is on the coast. Chernobyl was in the middle of the Ukraine. Of course there was more radiation released into the ocean by Fukushima. That doesn’t change the fact that the total radiation released by Fukushima is about 5.5% of that released by the Chernobyl disaster.
There are no scientific studies cited by this source. Harvey Wasserman is an anti-nuclear activist. There’s nothing inherently problematic about that, and I’m sure he’s got some interesting ideas to discuss, but I need to see the data backing up these (very vague) claims and the data is not provided.
These next 6 points have plenty of issues, but the most pressing of which is that they have nothing to do with the US West Coast or how it is currently being fried by radiation from Fukushima. As they are non-sequitors, they do not warrant further analysis here.
It is not easy to find direct comparisons between nuclear weapons and nuclear reactors, which makes me think this factoid was invented whole cloth. The closest I can find are comparisons in ‘units-Hiroshima’. In the Pacific, Castle Bravo alone had a 1000 times greater yield than Hiroshima. And Castle Bravo was only one of over 100 high yield nuclear weapons tests conducted by the United States. An additional 193 test were conducted by France in Polynesia. The most liberal sources I can find, place Fukushima at somewhere around 4000 Hiroshimas. That’s high, but it’s nowhere near the claim of 5 to 10 times higher than the Pacific nuclear weapons testing era.
No. Just no. Planet InfoWars? No.
I have been to the California Coast, recently. It does not look anything like this bizarre article describes.
The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster was an unparalleled environmental catastrophe and we will be seeing fallout from it for years to come. I honestly cannot think of any reason to fabricate a bunch of paranoid talking points to make it seem worse. Thousands of people were displaced from their home, many of them permanently. Contaminated waste was, and still is, being dumped into the water surround the plant. The energy infrastructure of an entire nation was compromised. Do we really need to blame Fukushima on a viral outbreak in British Columbia, too?
To put things in perspective, . That number will either be reassuring or terrifying, but, really, it should be both.
There is another reason why articles like this are so compelling, particularly to those in rich, developed countries. It gives us the ability to blame the “foreign other” for our own environmental crises. It’s not our fault that salmon stocks are collapsing, it’s the Japanese! We aren’t the ones driving polar bears and marine mammal moralities, Fukushima did it! The West Coast of the United States is being fried. It’s being fried by over-fishing, agricultural run-off, runaway development, and a host of other issues, but it’s not being fried by Fukushima, and articles that promote that fallacious argument are distracting us from the dominant causes of environmental degradation on our coasts: Us.