Fukushima evacuations were not worth the money, study says

by

Kyodo

The costs of evacuating residents from near the Fukushima No. 1 plant and the dislocation the people experienced were greater than their expected gain in longevity, a British study has found.

The researchers found that at best evacuees could expect to live eight months longer, but that some might gain only one extra day of life. They said this does not warrant ripping people from their homes and communities.

The team of experts from four British universities developed a series of tests to examine the relocations after the Fukushima crisis and earlier Chernobyl disaster in 1986.

After a three-year study, the academics have concluded that Japan “overreacted” by relocating 160,000 residents of Fukushima Prefecture, even though radioactive material fell on more than 30,000 sq. km of territory.

“We judged that no one should have been relocated in Fukushima, and it could be argued this was a knee-jerk reaction,” said Philip Thomas, a professor of risk management at Bristol University. “It did more harm than good. An awful lot of disruption has been caused However, this is with hindsight and we are not blaming the authorities.”

The team used a wide range of economic and actuarial data, as well as information from the United Nations and the Japanese government.

In one test, an assessment of judgment value, the researchers calculated how many days of life expectancy were saved by relocating residents away from areas affected by radiation.

They compared this with the cost of relocation and how much this expenditure would impact the quality of people’s lives in the future.

From this information, they were able to work out the optimal or rational level of spending and make a judgment on the best measures to mitigate the effects of a nuclear accident.

Depending on how close people were to the radiation, the team calculated that the relocations added a period of between one day to 21 days to the evacuees’ lives.

But when this was compared with the vast amounts of money spent, the academics came to the conclusion that it was unjustified in all cases.

In some areas, they calculated that 150 times more money was being spent than was judged rational.

Thomas adds, the tests do not take into account the physical and psychological effects of relocating, which have been shown to have led to more than 1,000 deaths among elderly evacuees.

Other studies have also found that once people have lived away for a certain period of time it can become increasingly difficult to persuade them to return.

After Chernobyl, the world’s worst nuclear disaster, around 116,000 people were initially relocated away from the disaster zone.

Looking back on the incident, the team judged it was only worthwhile to relocate 31,000 people because they would have lost in excess of 8.7 months in life expectancy had they remained.

However, for the rest of the 116,000 people, it would have been a more rational decision to keep them where they were, given that their average loss of life was put at three months.

Four years later, a further 220,000 people were relocated from areas close to Chernobyl. Researchers found this unjustified.

Thomas says the loss in life expectancy following a nuclear accident has to be put into context alongside other threats all people face.

For example, it has been claimed that the average Londoner will lose about 4½ months in life expectancy due to high pollution levels.

Thomas concludes governments should carry out a more careful assessment before mounting a relocation operation of at least a year. A temporary evacuation could be a good idea while authorities work out the risk from radiation, he said.

In the future, Thomas would like to see more real-time information made available to the public on radiation levels in order to avoid hysteria and bad planning.

On a plus note, the team found that other remedial measures — decontaminating homes, deep ploughing of soil and bans on the sales of certain food products — were far more effective.

Thomas has already discussed his findings with colleagues at the University of Tokyo and he is keen that his findings can help better quantify the risks from radioactive leaks.

The project was sponsored by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, Britain’s main agency for funding research in engineering and the physical sciences. It was intended to give advice for nuclear planners both in Britain and India.

The research team comprised specialists from City University in London, Manchester University, the Open University and Warwick University.

  • Shiva Murti

    I found this disturbing. But I always said it was a waste of money saving the British from the Nazis, since it seems they are becoming like them anyway.

    • Starviking

      Well, well – bigotry and anti-science viewpoints in one post.

    • Starviking

      Well, well – bigotry and anti-science viewpoints in one post.

    • QuibONO

      A defective premise from the start.

    • QuibONO

      A defective premise from the start.

  • Sam Gilman

    Does anyone have a link to the study? I can’t track one down. The potential shortened lives figure sounds either far too high or has been misinterpreted.

    I’m not fond of this kind of study as far as it’s being presented. Evaluating people’s lives and welfare in terms of money isn’t how people make decisions. (Missing out the stress and trauma of being evacuated also means that a proper judgement cannot be made).

    However, I do think it’s good that we all start to have a conversation about the evacuations and other responses to Fukushima. Many decisions were made not on a scientific basis, but a political one masquerading as science based. We need to look at who is responsible for the over-reaction. Who decided it was better to appear macho about just how in control they were rather than to carefully weigh up the welfare of potential evacuees?

  • Roy Warner

    My previous attempt at commenting, which pointed out that the agency funding this work is a bureaucracy led by a government supporting increased reliance on nuclear power apparently was deemed inappropriate. I shall try again. The fact that the British government also chooses not to protect further its citizens from risks of other forms of pollution in London (and elsewhere) does not justify exposing them to risks from radiation. It does not justify its agency’s diminution of risks that Japan, an earthquake and tsunami prone nation, faces. Gentlemen in England now a-bed will that Japanese citizens accept risks that gentlemen in England do not face? Was the evacuation wrong, or was its ineptness, lack of sufficient highways, hospitals and medical care, and adequate housing for evacuees wrong? Was an evacuation wrong or was an evacuation done on the cheap wrong?

  • Frank Energy

    Welcome to the new world order, where bought and paid for scientists shall be your new “clerics”

  • Sam Gilman

    And so the conspiracy theories start as the fearmongers get scared that they’re losing control of the narrative to the reality-based community.

    The EPSRC is not an agency directed by politicians. It distributes money for studies according to the decisions of independent expert panels and is the main funding body for this area of research in the UK. The funding is given before the study begins, not as a prize at the end.

    The fact that the research is relevant to British government policy is not a cause for suspicion. What would the conspiracy theorists prefer? That no research was done on the consequences of policy? That we all head blind into the future? Would they want all funding to come from private sources and non-transparent processes?

  • Sam Gilman

    And so the conspiracy theories start as the fearmongers get scared that they’re losing control of the narrative to the reality-based community.

    The EPSRC is not an agency directed by politicians. It distributes money for studies according to the decisions of independent expert panels and is the main funding body for this area of research in the UK. The funding is given before the study begins, not as a prize at the end.

    The fact that the research is relevant to British government policy is not a cause for suspicion. What would the conspiracy theorists prefer? That no research was done on the consequences of policy? That we all head blind into the future? Would they want all funding to come from private sources and non-transparent processes?

  • Don Thomson

    I wonder if the study took into account ages of the evacuees. Young children was a major concern.

  • Tangerine 18

    Hmmm.

    Is there any particular reason my post just disappeared? Is it because it pointed out the very close ties between British nuclear industry insiders currently presenting themselves as impartial academics and the nuclear industry in Japan?
    And the wave of anti-Kan propaganda that has appeared on the internet of late, including this very thread.

  • Tangerine 18

    Oh, and any chance of a link to this study? I’ll wager it was performed by a company owned by Philip Thomas, the former employee of British Nuclear Fuels Limited and nuclear insider.

  • Sam Gilman

    Yes, that’s right. Mainstream science in [insert political football here] is all a huge conspiracy. But it’s fine everywhere else and I’ll keep taking my medicines and using my computers and following the weather forecast and…

    (c) anti-vaxxers
    (c) HIV-AIDS deniers
    (c) climate change denialists
    (c) Helen Caldicott

    Those of us who lived through the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown have very different memories

    I have a memory of lots of people spewing forth the idea on the Internet that the population of Japan were going to start dropping like flies from radiation and anyone who disagreed was a shill or a secret government agent and deserved to drown in the fuel pools along with their children. I have a memory of going and reading up on the scientific literature on Chernobyl and other radiological accidents because I wanted to know what the risk actually was to my family and to my friends, and not quite grasping that for these people putting out these messages of mass death, the reality didn’t matter. I have a memory of slowly realising that some people have invested their identities in believing something horrific that wasn’t actually true.

    Slowly but surely, the opinions of mainstream scientists have proven correct. I’m trying to think of a single individual from the crowd I describe above who has put their hands up and said “sorry, I was wrong”.

  • NudaWaya

    My perspecetive on ‘acceptable risks’ means it is something that I decide; not something ‘someone’ decides for me.

  • jimhopf

    It’s not just about money. The (unnecessary) evacuation inflicted tangible harm on the affected population. That includes deaths from evacuating elderly from a nursing home, the unhappiness caused by uprooting people from their home town, the fact that those towns may never recover (after being depopulated for so long), and psychological/emotional impacts, not only from being uprooted by all the (baseless) fear that was generated by the actions of both the Japanese govt. and the Japanese media. Studies have shown that those psychological impacts have actually led to health impacts that exceed any from the release itself.

  • jimhopf

    Let me translate and simplify what the researchers have said.
    London is a far less healthy place to live than ANY of the villages anywhere around Fukushima. The health impact (and loss of life expectancy) from London’s pollution far exceeds any impacts from Fukushima radiation, in ANY town around the plant.

    Note that that’s (relatively clean) London. Never mind Beijing!!
    Given all this, how could one possibly justify requiring the complete evacuation of those villages? How can it be that having a few tens of thousands of people be exposed to a relatively low health risk is declared unacceptable, while having tens of millions of people be exposed to a *larger* health risk (in the world’s large cities) is accepted (with the risks hardly even being talked about, let alone acted on).

    Some have said that, after being evacuated for so long, many of these towns may never recover (as it is hard to restart a community, from scratch). How can it be that a govt. would basically decide to destroy a town over a minor health risk (at most a ~1% increase in fatal cancer risk, vs. a base rate of ~33%). When have we ever done so much to avoid a minor health risk? Never. Certainly not in any of the world’s big cities.

    The double standard applied against all things nuclear is breathtaking. The Japanese people have been lied to (and screwed over) by their government.

  • Steve LaFontaine

    the problem is they used FRAUDULENT radiation data for this study.

  • AmIJustAPessimistOrWhat?

    No error bars on the estimates, no mention of the fact that that some members of the population are going to be much more susceptible to damage and pay a much higher price than others – e.g., pregnant women and young people will growing. Fundamentally flawed, this is not science.

  • Toolonggone

    >Philip Thomas, a professor of risk management at Bristol University said,

    “We judged that no one should have been relocated in Fukushima, and it could be argued this was a knee-jerk reaction,” It did more harm than good. An awful lot of disruption has been caused However, this is with hindsight and we are not blaming the authorities.”

    Sounds like paralipsis: “I’m not saying that. I’m just saying that.” It’s a typical argument made by some kind of business/e-con scholars. They like to use econometric data to determine the ‘value’ of study subject through phony measurements called VAM[Value Added Measurements]. Evaluating teacher based on student standardized test scores is a good example.

  • Fanandala

    Just google: “how deadly is my kilowatt”