The Skeptical Teacher

Musings of a science teacher & skeptic in an age of woo.

Anti-Nuclear Stupidity: When Ideology Trumps Science & Reason

Posted by mattusmaximus on April 15, 2011

I just wanted to post a follow-up to my earlier posts on the Fukushima nuclear power plant crisis (for reference, those earlier posts are here and here) and the related ideologically driven, anti-nuclear hysteria that is being pushed by far too many people.  An excellent example of this kind of zealotry is on display on the comment sections of my two previous posts, and I just want to focus on a few particular comments made here by people who are misrepresenting facts at best and engaging in some pretty despicable fear-mongering at worst.  I think it serves as a pretty useful exercise in critical thinking to examine such claims…

Comment #1: Here is the first comment I want to examine, regarding my blog post titled Japanese “Nuclear Fallout Map” is a FAKE!!!

Well, I’ve been keeping track of all this fallout business from the beginning and I have to say, it’s not looking good. There are reports from Arkansas and several other states concerning elevated radiation levels in milk and municipal water supplies, as anyone who’s been keeping track of this has probably heard by now.
So if this is all B.S. then why is radiation showing up all over the U.S.? And most importantly, why isn’t the media talking about it?

First of all, this commenter is equating the detection of “elevated” radiation levels with “dangerous” radiation levels, and they are not the same thing.  As has been pretty thoroughly reported, radiation from Fukushima has in fact reached various parts of the United States (as well as other nations); however, what this commenter is not saying is that such levels of radiation have been detected in trace amounts.  In the context of radiation, “trace” essentially means “so small that you don’t have to worry about it.”  And whether or not the amount of radiation detected is higher than the normal background isn’t as relevant as whether or not the amount is near the danger level – and, in all the cases of such radiation detected in the U.S. the danger level is no where close to being reached.

What this commenter also neglects to mention is the fact that, as I’ve stated before, there are other (natural & artificial) sources of radiation around us all the time!  As this link to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency shows, there are sources of radiation everywhere – from the sky, the ground, your house, your food, etc.  Hell, chances are that you have received a higher dose of radiation from reading these words on your computer screen than you’ve gotten from the Fukushima power plant.

As for the last comment: “why isn’t the media talking about it?” – I have no idea where this innuendo of conspiracy comes from, seeing as how the media has been going on and on about this story for well over a month now, and all along most media outlets are screwing up the science just as is this commenter.

The comment continues:

Telling the public that radiation levels are only “slightly elevated” and causes no health hazards. Just like our Government “experts” told the natives living around the Atoll islands out in the Pacific the same line of nonsense after they tested twenty-three nuclear devices including the first hydrogen bomb between 1946 and 1958. 10 years later 90% of them had died from cancer.

Again, this smacks of blatant conspiracy mongering.  Also note the outlandish claim that 90% of the inhabitants of the islands within the Pacific Proving Ground had died of cancer within ten years – there is evidence that those people were negatively affected (through higher rates of cancer & birth defects) by the related fallout, but nothing to support the claim of a 90% death rate within 10 years time.  This is precisely the kind of hyperbole which displays zealotry trumping facts & reason.

Continuing on:

Also it has been announced that Fukushima will most likely surpass Chernobyl as far as radiation emission levels are concerned.
Now, if radiation from Chernobyl was detected all over the northern hemisphere (and that is a fact)and the Fukushima event is supposedly far worse, what fool in their right mind would question whether or not radiation from the Fukushima event would make it to the U.S.?
It has and it will continue to do so.

While Fukushima has been upgraded to a level-7 event on the International Nuclear Event Scale (INES), the same INES rating as Chernobyl, to claim that it is just as bad – or even worse! – than Chernobyl is simply laughable.  First of all, it has been clearly documented that the total amount of radiation released from Fukushima is only about one-tenth that of Chernobyl, and that radiation release is much more localized & less lethal than Chernobyl ever was.  In fact, the Chernobyl accident resulted in a direct death toll of 56 (due to immediate radiation sickness) as well as estimated 4,000 additional cancer fatalities among people exposed to elevated doses of radiation. As a result, the city of Chernobyl (pop. 14,000) was largely abandoned, the larger city of Pripyat (pop. 49,400) was completely abandoned.  It should be noted that, so far, there has yet to be a single death confirmed to be related to radiation released at Fukushima.

So, despite the similar INES rating of 7, comparing the two events – in terms of severity of radiation release & dispersal as well as human fatalities – is like comparing apples and hammers.

As for the rambling about radiation reaching the United States, see my previous notes on that.  Once again, “detectable” does not equal “dangerous”.

Last, but not least:

Now to say this is “fear mongering” is ridiculous, I have checked my facts and I suggest everyone else does the same. Because it doesn’t seem like the people we pay to keep us informed concerning such things, are doing their jobs very well. As far as hair and teeth falling out, I don’t think it will get anywhere near that bad but, the long term health effects of low level exposure should be considered at least.

More conspiracy mongering.  I think this section of this person’s comment can be best summed up as follows:

Comment #2: This one is a later comment from the previous commenter (in response to another comment), and it shows more of the same sloppy, conspiracy-driven thinking but with an added bit of nastiness…

lol oh really? Well, I’m not much into insulting people I don’t know but, if you can’t communicate any better with someone than that, then you deserve this………….
If you’re too ignorant to figure out how a search engine works or how to do your own research, then why should I go out of my way to explain anything to someone who is obviously either in denial or a professional troll?
Everything you said is a flat out lie.

Well, what can I say to such iron-clad & well-researched logic as that?  Moving on:

As I explained before, the elevated radiation levels in milk and water were confirmed by the U.S. media. So if I understand your statements correctly, you are trying to imply this radiation didn’t come from Japan? Where did it come from then genius?
It takes less than 5 minutes to find articles outlining all of this by CBS news, NBC news, the New York Times and local news stations all over the country.

First of all, yes there have been some slightly elevated levels of radiation found in milk & water.  However, remember that “detectable” is NOT the same thing as “dangerous”.  In fact, if you take some time to actually read up on the science of radiation and do a little math, you will understand that this is no problem.  That’s because, according to this excellent article from NPR, when milk (in Japan) was displaying its highest levels of radiation from Fukushima you would have had to drink 58,000 glasses of it before getting a dangerous dose.  You read that right… 58,000 glasses of milk… in Japan… when the levels of detected radiation were the highest (and they’ve gone way down by now).

Not to mention, notice how our conspiracy-mongering commenter isn’t even consistent within their own arguments.  Didn’t they state in an earlier comment: “why isn’t the media talking about it?” (yup, they sure did – see comment #1) and now they’re saying this: “It takes less than 5 minutes to find articles outlining all of this by CBS news, NBC news, the New York Times and local news stations all over the country.”

So which is it?  Is the media not reporting this information, or is this information easily available with a quick five-minute Internet search because the media is reporting it so well?  This kind of inconsistent argumentation where the person ties themselves up in knots is par for the course for such conspiracy theorists.

Comment #3: Next is a comment from another commenter (on my post titled Know Nukes: The Japanese Earthquake & Anti-Nuclear Hysteria) who was, shall we say, rather loose with his/her presentation of the facts…

Headline: Japan: 27,437 people died or reported missing after national calamity

Just more overreaction and hysteria? Another example of sloppy reporting? What will it take to convince you that this disaster really IS that bad? How many deaths will it take? How many dollars? How many deformed babies? How long are you going to continue to defend an industry that is indefensible?

This is particularly stupid, because the implication in this comment is that the deaths reported are from the nuclear accident at Fukushima.  But if one actually reads the very article referenced, you see the following:

Fatal casualties and the number of missing persons as a result of the devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan have reached 27,437. The Chief Police Agency of Japan reported those specified figures on Friday. [emphasis mine]

So the deaths reported were not from the Fukushima nuclear plant (in fact, I know of not one single death related to radiation exposure from that plant).  When I responded that this presentation didn’t fit the facts, as presented in the article that was referenced by the anti-nuclear zealot, another commenter came in and made the following – beyond appalling – statement:

You are not figuring in all the people who got radiation who aren’t dying tomorrow, but will in decades. Just like quality of life, there is certainly also a quality of death. I’d rather die instantly in a tsunami than get radiated and die slowly and painfully. These people (and there will be alot) will have it much worse than the 27,000. I agree with Tricynical. You can’t defend an industry that is indefensible because of the huge, irrepairable inherent danger of it all.

Urrr, what?  What the frakkin’ frak?!!

So the 27,000 people who were killed by the earthquake & tsunami have it “easier” than some people exposed to a bit of radiation which, while more than their usual environmental exposure (from both natural & artificial sources), is still within acceptable limits and will – in all likelihood – not be a detriment to their health?

Folks, that’s just plain sick.  And it is a perfect example of ideological zealotry trumping not only reason but basic human decency as well.  But when science, reason, and facts are not on your side – not to mention any semblance of consistent argumentation – then such obscene tactics such as those displayed here are par for the course.

3 Responses to “Anti-Nuclear Stupidity: When Ideology Trumps Science & Reason”

  1. Prasad said

    Japan’s Nuclear problem will take couple of years so Japan has to take some other countries help to come out early from this situation.

    • YH said

      Japan is getting a lot of support from various countries (in the nuclear department) including France and the US. PR isn’t their forte so you won’t hear the fanfare but rest assured that it is happening. Besides external technological support, scientific efforts have also been made internally like this:
      I hope that there is more to come.

  2. Nate said

    People are so readily anti-nuclear because they do not understand it. Most people over the age of 20 have grown up in an age where “nuclear” was almost always associated with “disaster”. Coincidentally, this is an age where the media will go to any length to make a wild story, and is totally willing to take advantage of people who do not fully understand concepts of radiation and nuclear power. Nuclear physics and nuclear engineering are difficult and specialized subjects which leaves a dissappointingly small number of “ambassadors” to convey messages. I have met people who believe a single particle of radiation could kill you, and I always get questions regarding whether or not a nuclear reactor can behave like an atom bomb.

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