Why Japan’s response to Fukushima radiation failed while Utah’s response succeeded

August 18, 2022, 7:02AMNuclear NewsJames Conca

Aboveground atomic bomb test at the Nevada Test Site while troops look on. These clouds of material often wafted over to Utah during the 1950s. (Photo: NNSA)

In 1953, the United States detonated above­ground nuclear weapons during tests at the Nevada Test Site. In 2011, the Fukushima Daiichi meltdown occurred in Japan. Both events spread radioactive material over many miles and over population centers. Neither event resulted in any adverse health effects from that radiation.

But the response to the Fukushima event was disastrous because of the irrational and misinformed fear of radiation. That fear—not radiation—killed at least 1,600 people and destroyed the lives of at least another 200,000. That fear seriously harmed the entire economy of Japan, stopped cold the fishing industry and other agriculture in that area, and, overnight, reversed the country’s progress in addressing climate change.

The U.S. tests spread two to three times more radiation than did the events of Fukushima over the people of Utah, particularly the town of St. George. Like with Fukushima, no one was hurt, there was never any increase in cancer rates, and no one died as a result. But in Utah, the economy and people’s lives were unaffected. Why was there such a different result?

ANS Grand Challenge: Low-dose radiation

July 25, 2022, 3:18PMNuclear NewsAmir A. Bahadori

The June 2017 special report on the ANS Nuclear Grand Challenges (available online at ans.org/challenges/) identified low-dose radiation as a crucial focus area for ANS. Specifically, the challenge is to “Establish the scientific basis for modern low-dose radiation regulation.” This is particularly difficult given the long review cycles associated with International Commission on Radiological Protection (ICRP) and National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements (NCRP) recommendations. Additionally, while the Environmental Protection Agency is tasked with issuing guidance on radiation exposure standards in the United States, responsibility for implementing and enforcing radiation protection regulations is distributed throughout the federal government. Finally, while it is accepted that tissue reactions (previously called deterministic or nonstochastic effects) exhibit a dose threshold, there is still substantial scientific debate over the shape of the dose response at low doses for stochastic effects, such as cancer. Despite these hurdles, substantial progress has been made over the past five years on the low-dose radiation grand challenge.

ANS virtual event: Experts share their expectations for low-dose radiation research

July 20, 2022, 3:00PMANS News

The National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Mathematics released a report in June recommending that the United States invest a total of $1.5 billion in low-dose radiation research over the next 15 years. Congress is working through the Fiscal Year 2023 appropriations process at this writing, and many in the nuclear community are hopeful that research programs that have been starved of funding and leadership will be reinvigorated and bring long-overdue clarity to questions of low-dose radiation science, policy, and regulation.

Register now for ANS virtual event on the future of low-dose radiation research

July 11, 2022, 7:00AMANS News

The United States could invest a total of $1.5 billion in low-dose radiation research over the next 15 years if Congress, the Department of Energy, the National Institutes of Health, and other stakeholders carry out the recommendations set forth in a National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Mathematics report released in June.

Join ANS Executive Director/CEO Craig Piercy on July 15 at 12 p.m. (EDT) for a free public webinar—“High Expectations for the Future of Low-Dose Radiation Research"—on the impact of the National Academies report as the U.S. embarks on a new era of low-dose radiation research.

NASEM report: U.S. low-dose radiation research needs DOE/NIH leadership

June 3, 2022, 9:29AMNuclear News

A new report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) estimates that $100 million annually will be required for the next 15 years to develop a coordinated research program led by the Department of Energy and the National Institutes of Health to study how low doses of radiation affect disease risk. The recommended research would investigate causal links to specific health conditions and better define the impacts of radiation doses, dose rates, types of radiation, and exposure duration.

A critical shift in low-dose radiation research and communication

July 2, 2021, 2:15PMUpdated December 30, 2021, 7:15AMNuclear NewsSusan Gallier
A hot cell at Argonne National Laboratory was used to demonstrate a process for purifying molybdenum-99, an important diagnostic medical isotope. (Photo: Wes Agresta/ANL)

As 2021 comes to a close, Nuclear News is looking back at the feature articles published in each monthly issue this past year. The article below was featured in our July issue, which focused on health physics and low-dose radiation and also included the ANS president's profile. The article below describes efforts to shape a new national low-dose radiation research program under a strategic plan being developed by a committee of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.

The biggest impact of radiation in our lives may come not from radiation itself, but from regulations and guidelines intended to control exposures to man-made sources that represent a small fraction of the natural radiation around us.

RaFTS: The Radiation Field Training Simulator

July 9, 2021, 2:43PMNuclear NewsGreg White, Steve Kreek, William Dunlop, Joshua Oakgrove, Dan Bower, Dave Trombino, Erik Swanberg, and Steven Pike

One of the biggest challenges in training for incidents and emergencies that involve high-radiation-dose hazards is balancing between realism and safety. To be truly prepared for the realities of real-world nuclear and radiological emergencies, responder personnel need experience against those hazards but without introducing additional and very personal risks associated with unnecessary radiation exposure. The difficulty is in figuring out how we can achieve a level of realism that encompasses the entire process, from the initial detection of a hazard or threat, through its characterization, to recommending actions and leadership decision-making.

Radiation myths continue

May 13, 2021, 9:30AMANS Nuclear Cafe

Hargraves

Atomic fission can provide all the world’s people with as much emission-free electricity as they need for prosperity, but the cost of nuclear energy has risen due to excessive regulations that have been enacted in reaction to the general public's excessive fear of radiation. That’s according to Robert Hargraves, who teaches energy policy at Dartmouth’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute and is a cofounder of nuclear engineering company ThorCon International.

In an article published by RealClearEnergy, Radiation: More Terrifying Than Night Air?, Hargraves posits that many people fear radiation because they don’t understand it, much like Americans who believed until the 20th century that night air was poisonous.

Critical Look: PBS Newshour’s coverage of 10th anniversary of the Fukushima nuclear accident

March 15, 2021, 3:00PMNuclear News

Along with many other media outlets on March 11, the PBS NewsHour reported on the continuing recovery efforts from the earthquake and tsunami that devastated northeastern Japan 10 years ago. The segment, "Japan marks 10th anniversary of Fukushima nuclear disaster," is just over eight minutes long, most of which discusses the effects of the earthquake and tsunami on the region and Japan’s preparedness for the next major natural incident.

Calming fears about low-dose radiation

March 8, 2021, 12:00PMANS NewsMary Lou Dunzik-Gougar

Mary Lou Dunzik-Gougar

During my time as vice president and president of ANS, I have been advocating for a new approach to implementing dose limits across the nuclear industry. A lack of understanding and an unfounded fear of radiation has resulted in widespread efforts to minimize dose, rather than to optimize radiation protection in a holistic sense. I want to put the “reasonably” back into ALARA (“as low as reasonably achievable”). Such a paradigm shift, from minimization to optimization, while easily said, equates to a major cultural change spanning international government agencies, industry, nongovernmental organizations, professional societies, and even academia. It is essential to have the active participation of all stakeholders in a transparent process to effect such a change. This process will not only lead us toward a more level playing field for nuclear, it will also greatly impact public perception of nuclear and radiological technology.

Farming in Fukushima

February 12, 2021, 11:57AMANS Nuclear Cafe

Screenshot of the video from Vice.

Vice News has published a video on YouTube that follows two farmers from the Fukushima Prefecture, Noboru Saito and Koji Furuyama. Saito, who grows many different crops on his farm, says that the rice grown in the area is consistently rated as the best. Furuyama specializes in peaches and explains his strategy to deal with the stigma of selling fruit from Fukushima: grow the best peaches in the world.

The Toxic Pigs of Fukushima kicks off an online documentary series

February 4, 2021, 7:00AMANS Nuclear Cafe

A film titled The Toxic Pigs of Fukushima gets top billing as part of The Short List with Suroosh Alvi, an online documentary series curated by the founder of the media company Vice. The film, which first aired on Vice TV on January 31, follows local hunters who have been enlisted to dispose of radiated wild boars that now roam abandoned streets and buildings in Fukushima Prefecture, Japan, in the aftermath of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami that caused the nuclear accident there.

LA Times asks, “How safe is the water off SONGS?”

December 3, 2020, 6:46AMANS Nuclear Cafe

A California surfer. Photo: Brocken Inaglory/Wikicommons

The Los Angeles Times published an article on December 1 about a recent collaboration between the Surfrider Foundation and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution to determine how safe the water is off the coast of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS).


Nuclear power: Are we too anxious about the risks of radiation?

September 30, 2020, 11:59AMANS Nuclear Cafe

Rowlatt

Following U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s recent restatement of the United Kingdom’s commitment to nuclear power, BBC News chief environment correspondent, Justin Rowlatt, wrote an article aimed at separating fact from fiction regarding the safety and benefits of nuclear energy.

Among his points, Rowlatt defended the use of nuclear power to combat climate change, examined the data behind deaths from radiation exposure directly caused by the Chernobyl and Fukushima accidents, and explained that exposure to low levels of radiation is not a major health risk.

Harnessing the promise of radiation: The art of reasonableness

September 11, 2020, 3:04PMNuclear NewsPaul Locke, Amir Bahadori, Antone Brooks, Shaheen Dewji, Mary Lou Dunzik-Gougar, Marilyn Kray, and Alan Waltar

Radiation has benefited mankind in many ways, including its use as an energy source and an indispensable tool in medicine. Since the turn of the 20th century, society has sought ways to harness its potential, while at the same time recognizing that radiological exposures need to be carefully controlled. Out of these efforts, and the work of many dedicated professionals, the principles of justification, optimization, and limitation have emerged as guiding concepts.

Justification means that the use of radiation, from any radiation source, must do more good than harm. The concept of optimization calls for the use of radiation at a level that is as low as reasonably achievable (ALARA). Dose constraints, or limitation, are meant to assist in reaching optimization and protection against harm by setting recommended numerical levels of radiation exposure from a particular source or sources. Together, these three principles form the bedrock of the international radiation protection system that drives decision-­making and supports societal confidence that radiation is being used in a responsible manner.

Low-dose radiation has found its analogue

September 9, 2020, 7:58AMANS NewsCraig Piercy

Craig Piercy

Originally published in the September 2020 issue of Nuclear News.

This issue of Nuclear News is dedicated to highlighting advancements in health physics and radiation protection as well as the contributions of the men and women who serve in these fields. It comes at a time when COVID-19 is providing the entire world with an immersive primer on the science of epidemiology and the importance of risk-informed, performance-based behavior to contain an invisible—yet deadly—antagonist.

Piercy discusses wide-ranging topics on Titans of Nuclear podcast

June 19, 2020, 3:42PMANS News

ANS Executive Director/CEO Craig Piercy was a recent guest on the Titans of Nuclear podcast, hosted by Bret Kugelmass. The podcasts feature interviews with experts throughout the nuclear community, covering advanced technology, economics, policy, industry, and more.

The wide-ranging discussion with Piercy tackled diverse subjects—from his Washington, D.C., policymaking background, to ANS’s role in addressing challenging nuclear issues, to waste management and climate change.

Elettra designated an IAEA collaborating center

May 27, 2020, 7:48AMNuclear News

A collaborating center agreement was signed by Elettra Sincrotrone Trieste and the International Atomic Energy Agency in May. The agreement focuses on advanced light sources and will support countries in research, development, and capacity building in the application of advanced and innovative radiation technologies.