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WSJ put Fukushima panic in perspective

August 19, 2012

I have been working on renewable energy (photovoltaics) for 16 years as a scientist at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.  It is quite obvious to me that abundant energy, in one form or another, has been the key to human advancement.  This fact is not going to change.  That is why it worries me  when largely uninformed, irrational and panic drive perspectives on nuclear energy come to dominate the issue.

It was refreshing to see a more down-to-earth perspective on the radiation hazard resulting from the tsunami driven Fukushima disaster in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal.  Here are a few glimpses of the article “The Panic over Fukushima” by Richard Muller.

Denver has particularly high natural radioactivity. It comes primarily from  radioactive radon gas, emitted from tiny concentrations of uranium found in local granite. If you live there, you get, on average, an extra dose of .3 rem of radiation per year…The International Commission on Radiological Protection recommends evacuation of a locality whenever the excess radiation dose exceeds .1 rem per year…It is worth noting that, despite its high radiation levels, Denver generally has a lower cancer rate than the rest of the United States…Applied strictly, the ICRP standard would seem to require the immediate evacuation of Denver.

The “hot spots” in Japan [after the Fukushima tsunami disaster] that frightened many people showed radiation at the level of .1 rem, a number quite small compared with the average excess dose that people happily live with in Denver.In hindsight, it is hard to resist the conclusion that the policies enacted in the wake of the disaster in Japan—particularly the long-term evacuation of large areas and the virtual termination of the Japanese nuclear power industry—were expressions of panic.

Read the entire article…

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