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BBC Wrong on Fukushima Risk

Britain’s state-owned network BBC has a track record of downplaying the risks of fallout from nuclear disasters. So the 5th anniversary of Fukushima provided the BBC with another opportunity to persuade us that if our communities should one day become contaminated with fallout from a major nuclear disaster, even at levels currently requiring evacuation, we should have no concern whatsoever. [1]

In my video here we see BBC’s Rupert Wingfield-Hayes walking the streets of an evacuated Fukushima town and taking a measurement of the radiation with his dosimeter. See the gigantic error arising therefrom that is used to support the safety of levels of fallout that are internationally recognized as warranting evacuation:

In a supplemental BBC News article, [2] Wingfield-Hayes writes:

On recent visits to the towns of Okuma and Namie inside the radiation exclusion zone I measured a “received dose” of around 3 microsieverts of radiation per hour. These are in areas that are off-limits and have had no remediation work done. If I were to stand outside here for 12 hours a day, every day of the year, I would receive an annual extra dose of radiation of around 13 millisieverts.That is not insignificant, but it is far below what the data suggest is dangerous to long-term health.

In most countries nuclear industry workers are allowed to receive up to 20 millisieverts a year. There are places in Cornwall in the UK where background radiation levels reach 8 millisieverts a year.

The world’s highest background radiation rate is found in the city of Ramsar in Iran, which has the astonishing rate of 250 millisieverts a year.

Wingfield-Hayes arbitrarily cuts in half the annual dose associated with the dose-rate he measured in the Fukushima town (seen in the video above). So rather than properly saying 26 millisieverts a year, he merely says 13 millisieverts a year. However, the annual dose-rate for background radiation in a region assumes 24-hour exposure. Here, for example, is a dose-rate map in the city he cites, Ramsar, Iran, [3] over which I have laid the corresponding Google satellite image [4]:

click on the image to enlarge

 

Background dose-rates attributed to geographic regions are based not on arbitrary times you might be standing outside, but on the continuous 24/7 radiation emitted therefrom. So in his comparison, by only calculating 12 hours per day, Wingfield-Hayes unfairly handicapped the Fukushima dose-rate, minimizing its comparative standing to the other regions he cites and thereby minimizing the comparative risks that would be faced by residents if that town was occupied.

Furthermore, notice how small the hotspots actually are in the residential area of Ramsar, itself a small town. In fact, the tiny area receiving over 240 millisieverts a year has no house therein, as the Google overlay shows (click on the map to see that clearly). So rather than a whole town receiving “250 millisieverts a year,” as the BBC piece could easily lead us to believe, probably nobody in Ramsar receives an annual dose close to that high. In fact, the annual dose in Ramsar as a whole is given as just 3.11 millisieverts. [5]

As to the question of any health impact of high background radiation on residents of Ramsar, Ghiassi-nejad and colleagues observed that the only health data for Ramsar was anecdotal. [3] And more recently Abbaspour and colleagues stated in their conclusion: “due to the unavailability of related mortality and morbidity statistics, the health hazards of the assessed values on the population were not calculated.” [5] As Carl Sagan would say in a situation like this, an absence of evidence about health outcomes is not evidence of an absence of negative health outcomes. Nevertheless, frequently nuclear advocates claim there is even less cancer in Ramsar.

In the video above, you will see examples from the peer-reviewed literature demonstrating that the measured dose rate in the evacuated Fukushima town is even higher than dose rates associated with statistically significant elevations of genetic damage among radiation workers and cancers in children. You will also see another example of misinformation from the BBC downplaying the cancer risk attributable to the Chernobyl accident. While my viewing of the BBC is extremely limited, I have yet to see the BBC fairly portray the risks associated with fallout from a major nuclear disaster.

Notes

[1] BBC News (2016). Has Fukushima’s radiation threat been exaggerated?

[2] Wingfield-Hayes (2016). Is Fukushima’s exclusion zone doing more harm than radiation? BBC News.

[3] Ghiassi-nejad et al (2002). Very high background radiation areas of Ramsar, Iran: preliminary biological studies. Health Physics. 82(1):87-93.

[4] Google satellite of region of Ramsar, Iran, mapped in [3].

[5] Abbaspour et al (2010). Relationship of soil terrestrial radionuclide concentrations and the excess of lifetime cancer risk in western Mazandaran Province, Iran. Radiat Prot Dosimetry. 142(2-4):265-72. See Table 4.