Energy

Despite Media Headlines, Radiation From Fukushima Still Going Down

REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes

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Andrew Follett Energy and Science Reporter

The press is in total panic mode over some high radiation readings deep inside the Fukushima nuclear power plant.

“Radiation levels are soaring,” claimed Gizmodo, while The Guardian claimed radiation levels are “at their highest since the plant suffered a triple meltdown almost six years ago.” The Japan Times called it a “blazing radiation reading.”

These claims appear to be inaccurate.

The alarming headlines stem from a Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) announcement of high radiation measurements at the Fukushima site.

But TEPCO’s announcement doesn’t mean that radiation levels at Fukushima on the whole are rising, as media reports suggest. Radiation measurements outside the plant are falling, according to TEPCO. Their findings suggest no radiation is escaping from the Fukushima reactors into the surrounding area.

“In short, the reported radiation levels are higher, because these are the first readings taken this far into the reactor,” Jarret Adams, a spokesperson for the Nuclear Energy Institute, told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “More importantly, TEPCO has reported that radiation levels outside the plant have been falling.”

TEPCO measured radiation levels at Fukushima’s reactor 2 at 530 sieverts per hour, which is higher than the 73 sieverts measured shortly after the disaster. For context, exposure of 4 sieverts per hour is often enough to kill a person. Those readings could be the result of some melted fuel found from the reactor — which is part of the decommissioning process.

In 2011, the Fukushima nuclear plant was hit by an earthquake and then a tsunami, causing a meltdown and radiation leaks. No deaths or cases of radiation sickness were reported, but 100,000 citizens were evacuated from the area, according to the World Nuclear Association.

Prior to the disaster, the Japanese government planned to build enough reactors to provide 50 percent of the country’s electricity. Officials promised to replace nuclear power with wind or solar, but this caused the price of electricity to rise by 20 percent.

Japan aims to restart at least 32 of the 54 reactors it shut down following the Fukushima disaster. Officials want nuclear power to account for 20 percent of Japan’s total electricity generation by 2030.

Nuclear power provided 29 percent of Japan’s total electricity before 2011, but will decline to 13.6 percent by 2023 and 1.2 percent by 2040, according to reports. Japan got 24 percent of its electricity from coal in 2010 and the country plans to get more than a third of its power from coal by 2040.

Japan’s transition to green energy hasn’t gone well, and the country likely won’t meet its goals, according to the report. Japan remains a top importer of oil, coal and natural gas, and the government estimated that importing fuel costs the country more than $40 billion annually.

Nuclear power, even accounting for high-profile nuclear accidents, is statistically the safest way of generating electricity. Coal power kills 280,000 people for every trillion kilowatt hours it produces. Rooftop solar kills 440 for the same amount of electricity. Nuclear energy only kills 90, by this measure, including deaths from disasters.

Deaths from nuclear power are very rare relative to deaths from industrial accidents, mining accidents or pollution.

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