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Stanford scientists measure health effects of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident

On March 11, 2011, the strongest earthquake ever recorded in Japan rocked the country. A tsunami followed, killing as many as 20,000 people. Then, a series of explosions, fires and partial meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station released radioactive gas directly into the atmosphere, and traces of radioactive material later turned up in Tokyo's water supply and the ocean.

Implications of the worst nuclear accident since the Chernobyl disaster, 25 years earlier, were not immediately known, but Stanford scientists John Ten Hoeve, a recent PhD graduate, and Mark Jacobson, PhD, a professor of civil and environmental engineering and senior fellow at the Precourt Institute for Energy and at the Woods Institute, have now analyzed the global health effects. Their work appears today in the journal Energy and Environmental Science.

Stanford News Service reports:

A month after the disaster, the head of the United Nations Science Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation... predicted that there would be no serious public health consequences resulting from the radiation.

Evaluating the claim, Ten Hoeve and Jacobson used a 3-D global atmospheric model, developed over 20 years of research, to predict the transport of radioactive material. A standard health-effects model was used to estimate human exposure to radioactivity.

Because of inherent uncertainties in the emissions and the health-effects model, the researchers found a range of possible death tolls, from 15 to 1,300, with a best estimate of 130. A wide span of cancer morbidities was also predicted, anywhere from 24 to 2,500, with a best estimate of 180.

Calling the worldwide values "relatively low," Ten Hoeve said the findings should "serve to manage the fear in other countries that the disaster had an extensive global reach." In the paper, he and Jacobson also evaluated the Japanese government's response to the accident, and they ran an analysis of what would happen if an identical meltdown took place at a power plant in California.

Previously: Radiation expert to Fukushima: Don’t worry, be happy?
Photo by ssoosay

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