There have been significant, severe, rains in Japan. Scores have lost their lives and some 2 million are being told to move, evacuate. All a tragedy of course, most especially for those dead and those they leave behind. However, it does give us an opportunity to put something into perspective – the damage done by that nuclear power plant at Fukushima blowing up. The financial damage done was of course vast. That to humans and human life, not so much. And very much less than these rains of course:

Shinzo Abe, Japan’s Prime Minister, has warned of a “race against time” to rescue flood victims as authorities issued new alerts over record rains that have killed at least 48 people and left dozens missing.

The torrential downpours have caused flash flooding and landslides across central and western parts of the country, prompting evacuation orders for more than two million people.

“Rescues, saving lives and evacuations are a race against time,” Mr Abe said as he met with a government crisis cell set up to respond to the disaster.

Yes indeed, a tragedy. But do you recall what we were told about that reactor failure at Fukushima? Something so dangerous that it was going to poison our entire world? Certainly, so dangerous that it led to Germany entirely abandoning nuclear power. Something which is going to kill many more people than the nuclear industry ever has. For the levels of radiation released were large in total, sure, but compared to other sources they’re trivial:

Most of us haven’t a clue what that means of course. We don’t instinctively understand what a becquerel is in the same way that we do pound, pint or gallons, and certainly trillions of anything sounds hideous. But don’t forget that trillions of picogrammes of dihydrogen monoxide is also the major ingredient in a glass of beer. So what we really want to know is whether 20 trillion becquerels of radiation is actually an important number. To which the answer is no, it isn’t. This is actually around and about (perhaps a little over) the amount of radiation the plant was allowed to dump into the environment before the disaster. Now there are indeed those who insist that any amount of radiation kills us all stone dead while we sleep in our beds but I’m afraid that this is incorrect. We’re all exposed to radiation all the time and we all seem to survive long enough to be killed by something else so radiation isn’t as dangerous as all that.

At which point we can offer a comparison. Something to try and give us a sense of perspective about whether 20 trillion nasties of radiation is something to get all concerned about or not. That comparison being that the radiation leakage from Fukushima appears to be about the same as that from 76 million bananas. Which is a lot of bananas I agree, but again we can put that into some sort of perspective.

If just the water falling from the skies is going to kill scores then an entire nuclear power plant blowing up without any deaths at all is small beer, right? And no one has died as a result of radiation from Fukushima – while tens of thousands died from the tsunami itself – and it’s most, most, unlikely that anyone ever will die from that radiation release.

Oh, and as to Germany? By abandoning nuclear in panic they’ve turned to using more lignite, brown coal. Yep, despite that trillion and more they’ve spent on all those renewables CO2 emissions from the country have risen. And we are all onboard with all the climate science, aren’t we, that CO2 emissions are the very devil which will murder us all in our beds?

It’s necessary, despite Douglas Adams, to have a sense of proportion about these things.

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1 COMMENT

  1. Tim’s Forbes article finds that the Fukushima emissions were trivial by only considering a trivial part of those emissions. The article discusses two statistics, one about a specific groundwater spillage and one about total tritium emissions. Tritium is produced in tiny quantities in a fission reactor; the 40TBq of tritium discussed in the article is about a tenth of a gram. Estimates of the total emissions from Fukushima vary; TEPCO’s own May 2012 estimate was 1020 PBq, mostly released in the first few days after the accident, although I’ve seen other estimates that are around half that.

    The emissions from weapons testing in the Pacific were much worse than from Fukushima, but Fukushima was still a serious pollution incident.