The antiquated Linear, No-Threshold theory of radiation effects upon which current radiation protection is based is having a very high cost, both to humans and animals in the Fukushima exclusion zone. If you’re new to my blog, please read this article before proceeding.
To recap, the LNT theory says that a low dose of radiation received by a large number of people will have the same negative effects (increased cancer, etc) as that same total amount of man-REM applied to an individual or a few people. That is, of course, silly but them’s the rules.
The LNT theory raises the day-to-day operating cost of any facility that deals with radiation, be it a nuclear plant or your local hospital’s nuclear medicine department. The cost is especially highlighted in the case of an event such as Fukushima.
The government has established a 20 km radius of exclusion around the plant (one source reports that as of Friday the radius was reduced to 8 km) with the use of force authorized to keep people out.
This is all based on the goal of limiting civilian exposure to 2 REM/year, a trivial dose compared to the approx half to 3/4 REM/yr received naturally by everyone. Again, this is based on the concept that if 1000 people get 2 REM (2000 man-rem) then there will be the same number of excess cancers as if 10 people received 200 REM (also 2000 man-REM). This is silly and is unsupported by any credible science.
First consider the human costs. One source I read said that about 50,000 people are displaced from the exclusion zone (I’m assuming the original 20 km radius is used here). That’s 50,000 people whose lives have been disrupted, businesses destroyed, earthquake recovery delayed and a huge amount of psychological damage done from the fear of radiation instilled in these people.
This photograph (from cryptome.org) shows the abandoned streets of the Futaba township. The first thing to note is all the small shops that are closed. Very few small proprietors can withstand such a closure. The next thing that catches the eye is the earthquake damage. There will be considerable work required to restore vital services before people can return and that is not being done because of the exclusion zone.
Lastly, note the dog in the foreground. He represents the other tragedy this exclusion is causing. The starvation death of thousands of animals, principally livestock.
The NHK news service is reporting that three-thousand cows, 30-thousand pigs, and 600-thousand chickens have died so far from starvation in the Fukushima prefecture. This includes about 60% of the total dairy herd. Farmers are being denied access to euthanize the remaining animals rather than let them starve.
Now I’m no animal rights nazi but this really bothers me. I’m an animal person and can’t stand to think about them suffering like that, particularly since it is for no good reason. Remember that all this is to prevent anyone from receiving more than 2 REM/yr of radiation!
Nobody’s asked me, of course, but if I were in charge here’s what I’d do. Radiation workers are allowed (and always have been) 5 REM/yr of dose. I’d set that as the goal for the population. From what I’m reading about the dose levels at the plant boundary that would eliminate essentially all of the exclusion zone. In the few hot spots that remain I’d allow people in and out to accomplish vital missions such as caring for animals and starting infrastructure repair while allowing 10 REM/yr dose. Remember that the emergency limit for radiation workers at the plant is 25 REM/yr.
The earthquake disaster is bad enough, with over 25,000 reported dead or missing. It’s a shame that the government and radiophobia are making it worse for the residents around the plant.