By Dan Fumano, The Province, January 19, 2014
The Japanese earthquake and tsunami of March 2011 is still being discussed three years later, particularly in relation to the catastrophic meltdown of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.
Faced with a lack of available official information on Fukushima and its effects, millions have tried to educate themselves on the Internet. People’s Facebook feeds are suddenly awash with alarming news and confusing YouTube videos. Some have even sworn off seafood.
Almost three years after the meltdown, there has been a recent tidal wave of Fukushima stories — some true, some half-true, and some outright falsehoods.
Stories of men with Geiger counters strolling radioactive beaches in California, fearful warnings from respected public figures, and toxic fish tales are spreading around the globe like plumes of radiation on the currents of social media.
Are you freaked out by Fukushima?
Are you not sure what to think? Neither were we, so we went to the people who should know, to separate the science from the science fiction.
Here are five Fukushima fears you may be wondering about, answered by the experts — including nuclear physicists, oceanographers, marine biologists, a public health expert, an internationally-renowned energy analyst and a couple of sushi chefs.
WHAT DID SUZUKI SAY?
One of the most dire and widely shared Fukushima warnings came in October from one of Vancouver’s favourite scientific sons.
Dr. David Suzuki, speaking at the University of Alberta, said: “I have seen a paper which says that if in fact the fourth (nuclear) plant goes under in an earthquake and those rods are exposed, it’s bye-bye Japan and everybody on the west coast of North America should evacuate,” he said. “If that isn’t terrifying, I don’t know what is.”
Suzuki’s statements on Fukushima’s “terrifying” risk to the West Coast made waves. “David Suzuki’s Fukushima Warning is Dire and Scary,” read the Huffington Post headline.
The David Suzuki Foundation says the paper Suzuki cited was the 2013 World Nuclear Industry Status Report.
In that 140-page paper, an international group of authors reports that “the worst-case scenario” if the fuel pool of Fukushima’s Unit Four collapses in the future, it could require “evacuation of up to 10 million people in a 250-km radius of Fukushima, including a significant part of Tokyo.”
It’s a frightening warning, but there’s no mention of evacuating the west coast.
The Province reached out to the lead author of that report, the France-based nuclear energy analyst Mycle Schneider, who has been a critic of nuclear energy during his long career.
“I’m indeed a little confused about David’s statement,” Schneider told The Province. “To be very clear, I have never seen any credible source for a scenario implying the evacuation of the west coast of North America. In fact, much of the attitude of people on the west coast — like no more swimming in the ocean — seems utterly disconnected from reality.” Speaking from his office in Paris last week, Schneider said: “I’m really, really shocked about the way it’s being discussed in Canada. It’s just totally insane.”
Asked to clarify his comments, David Suzuki replied to The Province by email to say his October statement was “an off-the-cuff response.”
He said he knew his speech was being recorded, but didn’t know it would end up on the Internet.
“I regret having said it, although my sense of potential widespread disaster remains and the need for an urgent international response to dealing with the spent rods at Fukushima remains,” Suzuki said.
The Bottom Line: According to nuclear physicists, there’s never been a warning about evacuating the west coast.