Nuclear accidents

MAPW commentators

MAPW expert members are available for comment, or to speak on the tragic situation in Japan. Please call us: 03 9023 1958 (office, Monday to Thursday); or 0431 475 465 other times. Speakers include our President, Dr Bill Williams MBBS; and executive member Dr Peter Karamoskos MBBS, FRANZCR - a nuclear radiologist and community representative on Australia's nuclear regulatory body, ARPANSAi; together with Associate Professor Tilman Ruff, and Dr Sue Wareham OAM. See our media contacts page.

Key MAPW resources on Japan and other nuclear accidents
(See also our pages on radiation, and nuclear power, and more nuclear accident resources listed at the foot of the page)

Up-to-date news on Japan

  • An ACPD (Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics Discussion) report released in October 2011 concludes that the amount of xenon-133 released into the atmosphere at the time of the Fukushima disaster was greater than that released at Chernobyl by a factor of 2.5.
  • The IAEAi has a general Fukushima update page as well as a press briefings page including links to statistics, on the reactors, and on radiation, where they exist. Slideshow presentations prepared by IAEAi relating to the disaster are also available. 
  • The World Health organisation has advice on food contamination and food safety in Japan. Last updated September 2011.
  • During April the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists ran a very succinct and useful daily summary of nuclear issues from Japan
  • Japan's NHK television's Science and Technology unit (English) has up-to date data on radiation levels in Fukushima.
  • Japan's Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) releases regular data of environmental radiation levels by prefecture.
  • An article from the New York Times, 2 November 2011, on the latest startling admissions by the Fukushima nuclear plant operators.
  • Energy News is a website which lists links largely concerned with the Fukushima disaster. It is constantly updated.
  • January 2012 report to the US Congress by the Federation of American Scientists giving an overview of the disaster.

Japan information and analysis

Nuclear power and public health

Radiation and health: why there is no "safe" level of ionising radiation

Nuclear industry "spin"

  • The nuclear industry: a history of misleading claims. Link to 2007 Energyscience briefing paper by MAPW's Dr Sue Wareham OAM alerts us to the prevalence of "spin" aiming to minimise the effects of nuclear accidents: "From the time of the disaster, official reports have minimised the potential for harm from Chernobyl".
  • Spinning Fukishima: Dr Jim Green analyses, several days after the earthquake and tsunami,  how nuclear power advocates systematically downplayed the risks to nuclear power stations and human health.
  • Japan's nuclear scandals and the Fukushima disaster is a briefing paper written by Dr Jim Green of FOEi in March 2012, one year after the earthquake and tsunami.

The nuclear industry after Fukushima

The history of nuclear accidents

All technology and all human behaviour, to a greater or lesser extent, are prone to error. Nuclear facilities are not exempt from this, but the accidents are often under reported, and their effects insufficiently monitored and undocumented.

The explosions and fire at the nuclear power reactor at Chernobyl in the Ukraine, in 1986, is an ongoing example. Besides the 9,000 deaiths attributed to the accident by the WHO/IAEAi, effects of the Chernobyl accident include:

  • 30,000 to 60,000 estimated future excess deaiths from cancer (ie deaiths that would not have otherwise occurred)
  • 8.4 million people exposed to radiation across Europe, with the worst effects in Belarus, Ukraine and Russia
  • an increase of up to 34-fold in rates of thyroid cancer documented (with the highest in females up to 14 years old at the time of exposure)
  • almost 400,000 people needed to be resettled
  • Around 40% of Europe’s surface area – almost four million square kilometres – contaminated by radioactive caesium-137.
  • Restrictions on producing or eating food: from farms (in areas of the UK, Finland and Sweden); and from hunting and gathering (in parts of Germany, Austria, Italy, Sweden, Finland, Lithuania and Poland)
  • In January 2003, the Ukraine government had registered almost 100,000 individuals with 'disabilities connected with the Chernobyl disaster'
  • The effects of Chernobyl have been understated, not fully reported, and often not recorded through failure to monitor health effects outside the three most affected countries.

Numerous other incidents and near misses underscore that the risks of serious nuclear accidents are not confined to specific types of reactors or particular countries. Some other notable examples are:

  • 1999 criticality accident at the Tokai-mura nuclear power plant in Japan
  • 1979 partial core meltdown at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant in the United States
  • 2002 accident at the Davis-Besse nuclear power plant in Ohio, USA, where boric acid corroded a hole within half a centimetre of breaching the steel reactor vessel head that contained the reactor coolant, risking meltdown of the nuclear core

A complete chronology of nuclear accidents, titled Let the facts speak, has been published by the Greens. The fourth edition, available here, was released on 11 March 2012, the first anniversary of the Fukushima disaster.

Many nuclear power plants around the world were constructed in the 1960s and 1970s. Because nuclear power plants have relatively short life spans (~40 years), many of these early reactors are now nearing or past their planned end date for use, increasing the probability of reactor failure, and causing a new problem in how to effectively clean up and decommission the plants.