The March 11, 2011, earthquake and tsunami killed 25,000 people in Japan and caused the worst nuclear disaster since the 1986 Chernobyl meltdown. A report from a nuclear engineers' group today adds fuel to a debate about the catastrophe's lingering effects.
The "off-site health consequences of the Fukushima Dai-Ichi accident may ultimately be negligible," reports the American Nuclear Society, an organization of nuclear engineers and scientists. The radiation plumes from the accident haven't caused direct deaths. There have been no measurable health consequences to workers and the public, which means that "confirming health effects will take more time," the group said.
The report comes as the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission is set to issue, within days, its first rules responding to the triple meltdown at Fukushima. The nuclear industry is already busy with a $100 million plan to safeguard reactors, which the Union of Concerned Scientists has attacked as an attempt to avoid potentially costlier regulations.
The American Nuclear Society said it has "found no aspect of the Fukushima Dai-Ichi accident to suggest that the level of safety of nuclear energy facilities in the U.S. is unacceptable." Those comments echo assurances by the NRC and the Nuclear Energy Institute, a Washington-based industry group, that the 104 reactors operating in the U.S. are safe.
The U.S. public may not be buying it. About 57 percent of 1,032 Americans surveyed by market-research group ORC International are less supportive of expanded nuclear power than they were before the disaster. Before Fukushima, surveys showed that about 60 percent of Americans supported nuclear power, according to the Civil Society Institute, the Newton, Massachusetts-based organization that commissioned the ORC survey.
The long-terms health effects from Fukushima appear to be less devastating than many worst-case scenarios. We can only hope. Public faith in the nuclear industry may take longer to heal.