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SKEPTOID BLOG:

More Fukushima Scaremongering Debunked

by Mike Rothschild

October 28, 2013

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Donate Another day brings another science-free but hysteria-packed screed of terror about how radiation from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant incident will bathe all of us in torrents of cesium-soaked death. A few months ago, I took on one of these rambles, Gary Stamper's not at all melodramatic "At the very least, your days of eating Pacific Ocean fish are over" and determined that nothing of the sort is even close to true, with the evidence behind it either willfully misinterpreted or simply incorrect.

Now it's time to get the knives out for a newer piece of Fukushima scaremongering, published just over a week ago on "Activist Post." While it's just as wrong and hysterical as Stamper's piece, it's also just as popular, with 28,000 shares on Facebook already. It's sad that far more people are drawn in by crap than in the debunking of said crap, but that doesn't mean we stop spreading the correct message: that the radiation released by Fukushima, while serious enough to be cleaned up and monitored, is having a negligible effect on everyone but the unfortunate people living in that area.
28 Signs That The West Coast Is Being Absolutely Fried With Nuclear Radiation From Fukushima
And we're off to the races: specifically, the Gish Gallop, a fallacious debating technique that involves overwhelming your opponent with information, without any regard for its accuracy. Also, I'd like to know what "absolutely fried" means. Is it measurable? Is there a unit that denotes "absolutely fried" as opposed to "mostly fried" or "somewhat fried?" How many AF's (absolutely frieds) does the radiation from Fukushima contain? And what's a survivable dose of AF's? I have many questions about the science underlying this clearly scientific measuring tool.
Michael Snyder
Activist Post
According to his blurb on Activist Post, Michael Snyder is a former Washington D.C. attorney who now publishes The Truth. His new thriller entitled "The Beginning Of The End" is now available on Amazon.com.

Snyder's site appears to be some kind of Christian doomsday prepper clearinghouse, and his novel is about (surprise) the economic collapse of America. So if you're looking for a way to incorporate hoarding precious metals into your fellowshipping, Snyder is your man. None of this is a knock against him, but he does seem to have a vested interest in trying to convince you the world is about to end. Spoiler alert: it's not.
The map below comes from the Nuclear Emergency Tracking Center. It shows that radiation levels at radiation monitoring stations all over the country are elevated. As you will notice, this is particularly true along the west coast of the United States.


The name "Nuclear Emergency Tracking Center" sounds a lot like a government regulatory body. It's so incredibly the opposite of that. The website is a slapped together map of the supposed radiation levels at nuclear sites around the world. It's got no indication where it's getting its information or what it means, but it does have a fee based service that will alert you to radiation spikes anywhere in the world. And Bible quotes.
Every single day, 300 tons of radioactive water from Fukushima enters the Pacific Ocean. That means that the total amount of radioactive material released from Fukushima is constantly increasing, and it is steadily building up in our food chain.
I already covered this in the Stamper piece, and why it seems much worse than it actually is. The short of it is that 300 tons of radioactive water is literally a drop in the bucket compared to the 187 quintillion gallons that make up the Pacific Ocean. Whatever radioactivity is in that water will be diluted to the point of harmlessness.
[...]
We are talking about a nuclear disaster that is absolutely unprecedented, and it is constantly getting worse.

It's not unprecedented. Chernobyl remains the worst nuclear disaster in human history, much worse in virtually every measurable way than Fukushima.
The following are 28 signs that the west coast of North America is being absolutely fried with nuclear radiation from Fukushima...
Bring it, list. Bring it.
1. Polar bears, seals and walruses along the Alaska coastline are suffering from fur loss and open sores...
Stamper referenced the same article that Snyder does. And if I may be so bold as to quote myself: "The article Stamper links to specifically says 'Reuters noted that preliminary studies do not support a theory that the disease is due to contamination from the tsunami-wrecked Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan.'"

Citing an article that specifically refutes the point you're trying to make is not the way to make that point.
2. There is an epidemic of sea lion deaths along the California coastline...
There is an epidemic of sea lion deaths along the west coast, happening for as-yet unknown reasons. But it's sea lion PUPS dying, not sea lions as a whole. Radiation does not distinguish whether an animal is young or old, so it's highly unlikely, if not impossible, that Fukushima has anything to do with this.
3. Along the Pacific coast of Canada and the Alaska coastline, the population of sockeye salmon is at a historic low. Many are blaming Fukushima.
And they would be wrong. Sockeye salmon stocks are low in Canada's Fraser Basin, with experts in the field researching a number of causes for it. But it's a decline that began in 1992, long before Fukushima was scaring the crap out of people.
4. Something is causing fish all along the west coast of Canada to bleed from their gills, bellies and eyeballs.
Just as "many" does not equal "people who understand this stuff," "something" does not equal "Fukushima." The link Snyder sites doesn't even talk about "fish all along the west coast of Canada." It mentions one school of herring found to be mysteriously bleeding. The cause of this is unknown right now, but even the biologist who discovered the herring isn't blaming Fukushima — and she discovered them before the plume of radiation would have reached Canada.
5. A vast field of radioactive debris from Fukushima that is approximately the size of California has crossed the Pacific Ocean and is starting to collide with the west coast.
I don't know where the "size of California" bit comes from, and I can't find any reputable source to back it up. There is a large field of debris from the post-earthquake tsunami that will hit the west coast, but interestingly, the link Snyder cites has another link to a BBC article that says it won't happen until March, 2014. And the debris is not likely to have anything more than traces of radioactivity.
6. It is being projected that the radioactivity of coastal waters off the U.S. west coast could double over the next five to six years.
True, and nothing to be concerned about, given how low the current radioactivity level of the west coast is. To quote Dr. Claus Boning from the Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research in Kiel, Germany: "The levels of radiation that hit the US coast will be small relative to the levels released by Fukushima. [...] But we cannot estimate accurately what those levels will be because we do not know for certain what was released by Fukushima."
7. Experts have found very high levels of cesium-137 in plankton living in the waters of the Pacific Ocean between Hawaii and the west coast.
This is entirely expected and in keeping with a radioactive leak. The amount of radioactivity in the plankton will continue to decay as it moves up the food chain, staying well within Japan's newly-raised acceptable levels of becquerels per kilogram of foodstuffs.
8. One test in California found that 15 out of 15 bluefin tuna were contaminated with radiation from Fukushima.
Yet another link Snyder cited without actually reading. It references a CNN article that states: "Tissue samples taken from 15 bluefin caught in August, five months after the meltdowns at Fukushima Daiichi, all contained reactor byproducts cesium-134 and cesium-137 at levels that produced radiation about 3% higher than natural background sources." (Emphasis mine)

A 3% increase in radiation is negligible. It's around the same amount of additional exposure you get flying in a plane, or sleeping next to someone. If that worries you, then it's time for separate bedrooms.
9. Back in 2012, the Vancouver Sun reported that cesium-137 was being found in a very high percentage of the fish that Japan was selling to Canada...
Again, perfectly within expectations. It's why Japan has since banned the selling of seafood from the Fukushima area.
10. Canadian authorities are finding extremely high levels of nuclear radiation in certain fish samples...
See #9. Making the same point over and over doesn't magically make it more correct.
11. Some experts believe that we could see very high levels of cancer along the west coast just from people eating contaminated fish...
There is absolutely no compelling evidence to support this assertion, and a great deal of solid scientific research that refutes it.
12. BBC News recently reported that radiation levels around Fukushima are "18 times higher" than previously believed.
Entirely possible. Also totally out of context, backed up by nothing and not relevant at all to the west coast of North America.
13. An EU-funded study concluded that Fukushima released up to 210 quadrillion becquerels of cesium-137 into the atmosphere.
What does this mean? Is that a lot? What's the context? How long will it take to spread and to dissipate? Is this unacceptably high? Has it been confirmed by other studies? Don't ask Snyder, because he only will give you a big scary number, not what the number means.
14. Atmospheric radiation from Fukushima reached the west coast of the United States within a few days back in 2011.
True and irrelevant. Small amounts of atmospheric radiation reached the west coast shortly after the disaster. It had no effect on the people or sea life in the area.
15. At this point, 300 tons of contaminated water is pouring into the Pacific Ocean from Fukushima every single day.
Say this twice, ten times, a thousand times. It will never, never mean something other than what it means.
16. A senior researcher of marine chemistry at the Japan Meteorological Agency's Meteorological Research Institute says that "30 billion becquerels of radioactive cesium and 30 billion becquerels of radioactive strontium" are being released into the Pacific Ocean from Fukushima every single day.
17. According to Tepco, a total of somewhere between 20 trillion and 40 trillion becquerels of radioactive tritium have gotten into the Pacific Ocean since the Fukushima disaster first began.
18. According to a professor at Tokyo University, 3 gigabecquerels of cesium-137 are flowing into the port at Fukushima Daiichi every single day.
Three more claims that lack any kind of context to put them into perspective. And again, the vastness of the Pacific Ocean will render the radiation in these terrifying-sounding numbers diluted well past the point of danger.
19. It has been estimated that up to 100 times as much nuclear radiation has been released into the ocean from Fukushima than was released during the entire Chernobyl disaster.
What the article Snyder cites actually says is: "In October, a U.S. study - co-authored by oceanographer Ken Buesseler, a senior scientist at the non-profit Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Woods Hole, Massachusetts - reported Fukushima caused history's biggest-ever release of radiation into the ocean - 10 to 100 times more than the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear catastrophe."

First, this a number that actually makes quite a bit of sense, given that Fukushima took place on the Pacific Ocean, and Chernobyl took place in the middle of Ukraine, far from any ocean.

Furthermore, in an FAQ on the Woods Hole website, Buesseler himself dismisses the hysterical claims about the radiation from Fukushima. If the person who actually gave the quote isn't worried about it, why on earth should you be?
20. One recent study concluded that a very large plume of cesium-137 from the Fukushima disaster will start flowing into U.S. coastal waters early next year...
Will start flowing? WILL? Wait, I thought we were being Absolutely Fried!!! I demand an explanation for this inconsistency!

Since that's not likely to come this decade, I'll say this is yet more willful misinterpretation disseminated by Gary Stamper and carried on by Michael Snyder. Watch the clip from the Helmholtz Centre study. Get the context behind what this actually means. Then see if you're still afraid. You probably won't be.
21. It is being projected that significant levels of cesium-137 will reach every corner of the Pacific Ocean by the year 2020.
See #20. Then hit your head against the wall and weep for the scientific illiteracy of those who twist these facts into hysteria.
22. It is being projected that the entire Pacific Ocean will soon "have cesium levels 5 to 10 times higher" than what we witnessed during the era of heavy atomic bomb testing in the Pacific many decades ago.
This baseless, out-of-context and unsupported claim comes from Arnie Gundersen, a former engineer turned anti-nuclear activist. Take it with several thousand grains of salt.
23. The immense amounts of nuclear radiation getting into the water in the Pacific Ocean has caused environmental activist Joe Martino to issue the following warning...Your days of eating Pacific Ocean fish are over.
We've now hit an irony implosion of epic proportions. I don't know who Joe Martino is, but he didn't originate the ridiculous claim that "your days of eating Pacific Ocean fish are over." Gary Stamper did. For a blog post spewing purported scientific facts, not getting this simple attribution right is, frankly, a little embarrassing.
24. The Iodine-131, Cesium-137 and Strontium-90 that are constantly coming from Fukushima are going to affect the health of those living the the northern hemisphere for a very, very long time. Just consider what Harvey Wasserman had to say about this...
Harvey Wasserman is another anti-nuclear activist with a vested interest in trying to make Fukushima seem as horrific as humanly possible. He is also, quite notably, not a scientist nor someone with any background in how radiation works. The piece he wrote that Snyder used as proof has no scientific citations of any kind.
25. According to a recent Planet Infowars report, the California coastline is being transformed into "a dead zone"...
I can't even.
26. A study conducted last year came to the conclusion that radiation from the Fukushima nuclear disaster could negatively affect human life along the west coast of North America from Mexico to Alaska "for decades".
This is a misinterpretation (surprise!) of the findings of a study from the open access journal Chinese Science Bulletin. Here's what it actually says (in section 3.3): "The radioactive isotope [cesium-137] with a half-life of 30.1 years, can negatively affect human life for decades, so the transport and diffusion process of [cesium-137] should raise concern."

The study is right, this should raise concern. This is why scientists study and monitor these things. But "concern" does not equal "panic." The overall findings of the study agree completely with the Helmholtz Centre study: that cesium-137 levels will increase as the radioactive plume spreads, and then decrease as it dissipates.
27. According to the Wall Street Journal, it is being projected that the cleanup of Fukushima could take up to 40 years to complete.
This is TEPCO's projection of how long the decommissioning of Fukushima will take. How it equates to "the west coast is being absolutely fried by radiation" is completely beyond me.
28. Yale Professor Charles Perrow is warning that if the cleanup of Fukushima is not handled with 100% precision that humanity could be threatened "for thousands of years"...
The Huffington Post is well known for the dubiousness of its scientific claims. That doesn't make this particular claim wrong, but it does diminish its authority somewhat. Perrow himself is a sociology professor, has no background in nuclear science, and gives no evidence to support his claim that botching the Fukushima cleanup will threaten us for eons to come. He simply says it, then goes on at length about the history of nuclear accidents.
Are you starting to understand why so many people are so deeply concerned about what is going on at Fukushima?
I understand it completely. It is something to be concerned about — which is why scientists and researchers, people who do this kind of thing for a living, are testing and researching what kind of impact the incident is actually having. Concern does not mean panic. It certainly doesn't mean spreading hysteria-inducing claims around the internet with no thought given to how true they are — or if they're true at all.

Edited to add: I've written a third volume of skeptical examinations of claims about the Fukushima disaster, including the apocalyptic hysteria regarding the removal of fuel rods; and a fourth volume about rumors that surfaced after that.

by Mike Rothschild

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