Details from scientific sources

Yamagata

I thank Richard Wilcox for his Nov. 25 letter, “Secrecy feeds nuclear skepticism” (which was a reply to my Nov. 11 letter, “Scientific fact vs. unfounded fear“). I agree that interpretation of data is a key skill. Unfortunately Wilcox makes a few errors in his letter.

Wilcox says I suggested that radiation was not leaking out from the Fukushima site. I did not. I commented that water leakages were unlikely to affect the drinking water because of basic hydrology, as coastal groundwater generally flows down to the sea. The fact that nuclear engineer Masahi Goto (whom Wilcox cited) is concerned about drinking water carries little weight, as he is a nuclear engineer — not a hydrologist.

Wilcox quotes a figure of 0.3 terabecquerels leaking into the ocean per month. Although this figure might seem high, oceanographer Jota Kanda (whom Wilcox quotes) considers the current contaminated water from the site to be a minor contributor to fish contamination, which he attributes to marine sediment contaminated in the initial phases of the disaster.

Wilcox also says the theory that sea fish expel cesium naturally when removed from the source of contamination is a “bit of a stretch.” That statement was not mine, but rather professor Ken Buesseler’s. His work appears in such prestigious science journals as Nature and Science. Buesseler has also reported that even with radioactive water being discharged at Fukushima, immersion in the water would bring only 1 microsievert dose per day, and that water nearby met international drinking standards!

Wilcox worries that workers in the cleanup at Fukushima will have radiation-induced illnesses covered up. Amid the increased press scrutiny these days, I doubt it. Though the effects of radiation can be seen down to 0.1 sievert, it must be remembered that the effect at that level is small. If 100 people were exposed to that dose, one person would be expected to develop a cancer from it. This contrasts with 42 persons naturally developing cancer in the 100.

As for nuclear energy being “the most dangerous experiment that humanity has ever undertaken,” you have to consider some things. Even some academic opponents of nuclear power, such as Stanford scientists John Ten Hoeve and Mark Jacobson, have put the mortality risk of Fukushima at a worldwide average of 130 extra deaths over 50 years. Indeed, it was found that if Japan’s nuclear plants had been gas- or coal-fired, mortalities in Japan would have been 60 to 530 percent higher.

In a year when the burning of oil, gas and radioactive coal has led to a decrease in Arctic ice volume to 20 percent of its 1979 value, thus increasing the threat of a devastating global temperature increase of 4 degrees Celsius, the madness is a push to cut nuclear power — which provides 13 percent of global electrical power -instead of the infinitely more dangerous coal-, oil- and gas-fueled power stations. (Scientific references provided for this letter.)

The opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of The Japan Times.

e. watters