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Deaths from Nuclear Energy Compared with Other Causes

My first reaction to the aerial photos of Fukushima power plant site was: why did they put the auxiliary transformers, that provide power to the plant, and the emergency diesel-generators, that provide power to the auxiliary transformers, on the OCEAN side? They should have been on the land side, protected from earthquakes, and out of reach of any tsunami.


The lack of emergency power to operate the cooling pumps caused the reactor cores to overheat, melt and evaporate and the pressure vessel to crack. Gases released inside the concrete building caused an explosion blowing out the walls and roofs.


The result of the tsunami was much loss of life, extensive property damage, social and economic stress and an economic recession. 


To offset the loss of electrical energy production, Japan needed to import more fossil fuels, mostly high-cost LNG, that caused its balance of payments surplus to be reduced, as the products made with the more expensive energy became less competitive.


It is useful to look at the present and predicted future loss of life of the Fukushima events and compare it to other causes of loss of life to place matters in perspective, and to reduce opportunities for some people to take advantage for self-serving purposes.


For example: The self-serving, scare-mongering by various global warming/climate change activists and promoters of renewable energy regarding the dangers of nuclear energy shows itself to be irrational after comparing some real-life numbers.




Radiation Measurements: Readings of radiation were taken during the June 6 – July 7 period. The values shown on the below map are in nanoSieverts/hr. 


The highest readings are 6,400 nSv/hr, or 8,760 x 6,400 = 56,064,000 nano Sv/yr = 56 milliSv/yr, about 15 – 20 times background. The two purple dots close to the plant indicate 19,000 nSv/hr and 206,000 nSv/hr. People were exposed to these levels for a few hours, or a few days, until being evacuated.


Deaths and Adverse Health Effects To-Date: Up till now, no one has died of radiation exposure. The main adverse health effects due to the Fukushima accident have been psychological. 


Kazuo Sakai of Japan’s National Institute of Radiological Sciences said: 


“Since the accident in Fukushima, no health effects from radiation have been observed, although we have heard reports some people fell ill due to stress from living as evacuees and due to worries and fears about radiation. 


We know from epidemiological surveys among atomic-bomb victims in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, if exposure to radiation is greater than 100 millisieverts, 100 mSv, the risk of developing cancer will gradually rise. The risk of developing cancer will not rise, if a person is exposed to less than 100 mSv. Most people measured were exposed to 20 mSv or less. 


Note: A 20 mSv exposure for a few days before evacuation, say a week, would result is an exposure of 20/52 = 0.38 mSv/yr which is well within (background + manmade) radiation range.  


The Fukushima exposures are below the levels that would cause adverse health effects, taking into account exposure from the atmosphere and ingestion from food. 


Regarding the thyroid cancers recently reported in Fukushima: there is no clear link between those cancers and exposure to radiation due to Fukushima, as empirical knowledge shows it takes several years before thyroid cancer is detected after exposure to radiation.”


Estimated Future Deaths from Radiation Exposure: According to a recent study, the most likely number of Fukushima cancer deaths will be about 130 OVER THE YEARS; the estimated range is 15 to 1,300


Deaths from Evacuations: After the accident, about 600 deaths occurred due to non-radiological causes, such as mandatory evacuations. Some evacuations were to avoid exposure to radiation, others were due to excessive destruction from the tsunami. 


The study estimates evacuations reduced deaths from radiation by 28 OVER THE YEARS; the estimated range is 3 to 245. 


Even the “245 lives saved” high-end estimate is less than the deaths due to non-radiological causes.


Deaths from the Tsunami: The above numbers are in addition to the about 20,000 NEAR-INSTANT deaths caused by the tsunami itself. These deaths are not related to nuclear energy generation.


Deaths From Increased Use of Fossil Fuels: After the Fukushima tsunami, Japan idled almost all of its nuclear plants and used energy from fossil fuels to make up for the nuclear energy.


NOTE: With no tsunami anywhere, Germany followed Japan’s lead, idled about 50% of its nuclear plants and fired up old coal plants and is building new ones to make up for the nuclear energy.


According to the World Data Bank, Japan’s coal generation increased by 57 TWh, natural gas 58 TWh, and oil 9 TWh through 2011. It is reasonable to assume this remained the same through 2012. 


Deaths/TWh/yr from coal, gas, oil, and nuclear-based generation are 24, 3, 19.2, and 0.052, respectively. See URL


EXTRA fossil deaths and serious ailments over 2 years: 


Coal = 24 people x 57 TWh x 2 years = 2,736 deaths, plus 25,000 serious ailments 

Gas = 3 x 58 x 2 = 348 deaths, plus 3,400 serious ailments 

Oil = 19.2 x 9 x 2 = 342 deaths, plus 2,900 serious ailments

Total EXTRA fossil deaths = 2,736 + 348 + 342 = 3,426, plus 31,300 serious ailments


Nuclear = 0.052 x (57 + 58 + 9) x 2 = 13 deaths, plus 54 serious ailments


Opponents of nuclear energy are completely irrational regarding the “dangers of nuclear”. Note that natural gas is 8 times less deadly than coal. These deathrates are operative as long as Japan’s nuclear plants are idled!!




Deaths from Nuclear vs Coal Energy: If Japan had never adopted nuclear energy generation, accidents and pollution from increased use of coal and gas energy generation would have caused deaths many times greater than those caused by accidents and radiation from nuclear energy generation. 


Example: Assuming Japanese nuclear energy production at an average of 250 TWh/yr, annual deaths from nuclear energy generation would be 0.04/(TWh/yr) x 250 TWh/yr = 10, whereas annual deaths from an equal quantity of coal energy generation would be about 50/(TWh/yr) x 250 TWh/yr = 12,500. See below section “DEATHS BY ENERGY SOURCE”


In China, the annual deaths per TWh of coal energy generation is much greater than in Japan. In the US, the annual deaths from coal energy generation is about 15/(TWh/yr) x 1,700 TWh/yr = 25,500; the same order of magnitude as US annual traffic deaths of 34,000.


Note: Deaths from PV solar-rooftop and IWT energy generation are about 16 and 4 times the deaths of nuclear energy generation, respectively, according to the World Health Organization. 


Deaths from Cigarettes: Cigarette smoking causes about 1 of every 5 deaths in the United States each year. Cigarette smoking is estimated to cause the following annual deaths:


US: 443,595 deaths per year, of which 49,400 from secondhand smoke exposure; 269,655 among men; 173,940 among women. 


Worldwide: Tobacco use causes more than 5 million deaths per year, and current trends show that tobacco use will cause more than 8 million deaths annually by 2030.


Deaths from Traffic and Cancer: World traffic deaths are about 1.23 million per year, and world cancer deaths are about 8-9 million per year; 7.9  million in 2007.




Background radiation comes from outer space (cosmic, solar), the earth (radon, potassium, uranium, thorium), food, and even other people. US natural background radiation exposure is an average of 3.6 mSv/yr; Australia 2.4 mSv/yr; Ramsar (Iran) 260 mSv/yr


Manmade average exposure is 2.6 mSv/yr, of which CT scans 55%, other diagnostic & therapeutic 24%, other 21%


US total radiation exposure (background + manmade) is an average of 3.6 + 2.6 = 6.2 mSv/yr per person, increased from 3.6 mSv/yr about 20 years ago when CT scans were much less common. 


The 6.2 mSv/yr average is misleading, because the majority of people have only x-rays during their lifetime, whereas a small percentage of people have CT scans, cancer treatments with radioactive isotopes, angiograms, stent implants, etc. These people have exposures several times greater than 6.2 mSv/yr during their treatment periods.


Example: On October 1, 2011, radiation at a hospital entrance (people walking in and out) near Fukushima in Japan was measured at 0.51 microSv/hr. Someone working at the entrance would be exposed to  0.51 x 2,000 hr/yr = 1.02 mSv/yr which is well within (background + manmade) radiation range. This radiation exposure has to be typed, converted to dose and adjusted with factors to estimate any health impact.


Notable Radiation Events: According to UN and US National Academy of Sciences Reports:


– More than 500 atmospheric atomic device detonations released about 70 billion curies; almost all of it is from instantaneous, short-life, gammy radiation, little from medium and long-life isotopes.


– Chernobyl, 1986, released about 100 million curies; most of it spread as medium and long-life isotopes over a large geographical area; the plant had no concrete containment vessel, as many other former USSR plants.


Radioactive iodine concentrates in the thyroid which may cause thyroid cancer 2-3 years after exposure. Of all the children exposed by drinking milk from 1986 to 2002, 16 years, about 4,000 were diagnosed with thyroid cancer. As of September 2005, 15 had died, with more to come in future years. 


– Fukushima Daiichi, 2011, released about 10 million curies; most of it spread as medium and long-life isotopes by the prevailing winds over the Pacific Ocean.


– Three Mile Island, 1979, released about 50 curies; the plant has a concrete containment vessel, as do all other US nuclear power plants.


Note: Worldwide, nuclear plants without proper containment vessels should be decommissioned and dismantled, i.e., no more Chernobyls!


1 curie = 37 billion atomic disintegrations per second = 37 billion Becqerel


High Radiation Exposure Occupations: Examples of industries with significant occupational radiation exposure IN ADDITION to the above background + manmade exposure:


– Airline crew (the most exposed population), 4.6 mSv/yr

– Industrial radiography

– Medical radiology and nuclear medicine

– Uranium mining

– Nuclear power plant and nuclear fuel reprocessing plant workers, 3.6 mSv/yr

– Research laboratories (government, university and private)

Note: Pilots are more likely to get colon, rectal, prostate and brain cancers; female crew members are twice as likely to suffer breast cancer, and, if pregnant, increase the risk of Down’s syndrome and leukemia for their unborn children; the fetus statutory limit is an additional 1 mSv/yr. An explanation for the pilots may be their sedentary working conditions, the poor airline food, the radio headset and the instrument and radar radiation in the cockpit.


Here is a URL which calculates radiation doses for various isotopes, distance from the source, shielding, etc.




Excerpt from this article:


Much is written about the dangers of nuclear energy. However, it is the safest source of energy for producing electric power, in accordance with studies by the World Health Organization and the european study EXTERNE based on data from past decades. Any deaths due to future global warming, partially the result of the CO2 from fossil fuels, was not considered by these studies.


The USA: 30,000 deaths/yr from coal pollution of 2,000 TWh/yr, or 15 deaths/yr/TWh, a ratio that will likely remain about the same over the years.


China: 500,000 deaths/yr from coal pollution of 1,800 TWh/yr, or 278 deaths/yr/TWh, a ratio that will likely decline, as China implements safer mining practices and more efficient, cleaner-burning coal power plants over the years.


Energy Source Mortality Rates; Deaths/yr/TWh


Coal – world average, 161

Coal – China, 278

Coal – USA, 15

Oil – 36

Natural Gas – 4

Biofuel/Biomass – 12

Peat – 12

Solar/rooftop – 0.44-0.83

Wind – 0.15

Hydro – world, 0.10

Hydro – world*, 1.4

Nuclear – 0.04


* Includes the 170,000 deaths from the failure of the Banquao Reservoir Dam in China in 1975

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