As of March 2011, U.S. Naval Reactors have run 6300 reactor-years, driving 528 reactor cores on 220 ships over 145,000,000 miles without a single radiological incident or injurious radiation exposure to crew or public. Because of the shielding from the hull and the seawater, crews at sea generally get less radiation, living within 100 meters of an operating nuclear reactor, than their families at home. All of the radiological information about the ships and associated shore facilities is released to the public in documents in which the detailed data are accumulated without a break since 1954.
With respect to the international nuclear power industry at large, John Ritch, the Director-General of the World Nuclear Association, made the following statement to the science editor of station NDTV on 24 October 2011: “Perhaps I would think this problem is more serious if we had been besieged by many large fatality accidents in nuclear power. But I think I am correct in saying that in fourteen thousand five hundred reactor-years of civil nuclear power production we have not seen a fatality apart from the limited number of deaths that occurred as a result of the Chernobyl accident...Very few industries have produced such beneficial results with such an extremely low toll of damage to the environment or the public. This industry has an amazing record of safe performance and beneficial contribution. That basic fact is much too little appreciated by the public.”
During the same period, the following non-nuclear accidents occurred:
Banqiao Dam Failure: One of 62 hydroelectric dams in Zhumadian Prefecture in China that failed catastrophically or were intentionally destroyed in 1975 during Typhoon Nina. An estimated 172,000 people were killed, 11 million people lost their homes, and about one-third of the electric power capacity of the national grid was destroyed. The resulting damage to the farmland is not reported.
Bhopal Pesticide Factory Release: A leak of methyl isocyonate gas from a Union Carbide pesticide plant in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh, India in 1984 led to 558,125 injuries, including 38,478 temporary and partial, and 3900 severely and permanently injured. An estimated 3000 died within weeks and another 8000 have since died from the incident. Some believe these official estimates grossly understate the situation.
Deaths from Coal: From coal’s air pollution alone, there have been 30,000 deaths per year in the US, 500,000 per year in China. These figures do not include deaths of coals miners, the destruction of stream beds destroyed by pushing mountain-tops into stream beds, the effect of mercury and other toxins on fish, etc.
BP Oil Spill: The environmental and health impact of this event has not been estimated. And there are many other spills that have received little attention.
The fact is that it is simply not true that nuclear radiation is uniquely hazardous, even when totally uncontrolled releases occasionally occur.
Another fact is that unwarranted fear of harmless levels of radiation has caused unprecedented damage. People are afraid to return to their homes and businesses. They’ve terrified themselves, their friends and their children. The health effect of such widely enforced terrorism is itself devastating. The effect on the economy is paralyzing.
In Fukushima, amid thousands of non-nuclear deaths, international investigation under IAEA concluded:
"To date no health effects have been reported in any person
as a result of radiation exposure from the nuclear accident"
But the Government is concerned about letting people return to their homes.
There is no defensible scientific basis for discouraging people from living where radiation levels are “high,” when they are still lower than the highest natural radiation levels in Iran, Brazil, Norway, India, China and other regions where people have dwelt healthfully for countless generations with backgrounds hundreds of times higher than deemed “permissible.”
More fundamentally, why should radiation level be the prime consideration as to where and how one chooses to live? Many people make decisions that increase their radiation dose many-fold by moving to mountainous regions, or by cladding their houses in brick or stone, or by visiting radioactive health spas. By what authority do the radiation protection police have their particular concern outrank all others? Are we going to let them strip the natural soil off the ground in Japan, to lower the radiation background to some arbitrary number?
Why should we fear “nuclear waste”? The only way it can harm anyone is if it is eaten. It is not in soluble form, so we store it in shielded cans until it is needed to be recycled as fuel in a reactor designed for that purpose. This is not difficult; the process has been demonstrated, but it Is currently cheaper to just store the used fuel until needed. Non-nuclear industry produces millions of times more lethal doses of other poisons. The main difference is that the nuclear material gets less toxic every day, and after a few hundred years, becomes no more toxic than some natural ores. But the non-nuclear wastes maintain full toxicity forever. Fukushima and 9/11 have shown that we should design the plants to perform under even more extremes of conditions, and these improvements have been underway in America since immediately after 9/11.
Putting radiation numbers in perspective:
Marshall Brucer, “the father of nuclear medicine,” in his canonical Chronology of Nuclear Medicine, shows how widely radiation backgrounds vary. On page 323, he lists various radiation background levels (with cosmic ray contribution removed) from New York City at 0.62 mSv/year to SW France up to 876; to the potash fertilizer area in Florida up to 1750. He notes, “If you live in one place on earth, your background may vary from day to day by a factor of ten, or even 100…The inside exposure rate can change by a factor of 10 within hours, just by opening windows.” He notes that building with brick, rather than wood, can nearly double your daily radiation dose, but that the radioactivity of bricks and concrete is also highly variable: from 0.05 to 4.93 mSv/yr for bricks, and from 0.29 to 25.4 for concretes. “A factor of 10 daily variation [in radiation dose] marks the diets of most people.” [mR in original, converted here to mSv]
People have lived healthily for millennia with natural radiation up to following mSv/yr:
Ramsar, Iran (260), Kerala, India (35), Guaripari, Brazil (35), Yangiang, China (5.4)