Beware Media Exaggeration

The media wants you scared:

Spiegel talks about scientific teams, especially experts from GSF, that have analyzed several events that led to increased levels of radiation,

  1. Hiroshima in 1945
  2. Radioactive rivers and explosions in the Soviet Union preparing their nuclear bomb after 1949
  3. Chernobyl 1986

In all cases, it is found that the actual effects of "radiation illness", including birth defects and delayed deaths, were several orders of magnitude below the description available in the media. For example, almost all people who died as a consequence of the Little Boy did so either instantly or within a few hours, because of burned skin. Casualties who died after a long time because of radiation illnesses were very rare.

Similar conclusions hold for the contaminated river and the 1957 Chelyabinsk explosion of a tank with 80 tons of nuclear waste produced by the Soviet Union as well as for the Chernobyl tragedy. There doesn’t seem to be any reliable source that would really prove an elevated frequency of birth effects and similar complications. Among 6,293 men who worked in the chemical plant preparing the radioactive material for the Soviet bomb (without masks!), only 100 died of lung cancer related to radiation. Greenpeace’s proclamations that 50% of adults in those regions are infertile seem to be pure silliness.

Which is not to say that radiation is anything to screw around with, or that it is not dangerous, just that its dangers have been exaggerated by orders of magnitude.  Just like some other natural phenomena I can think of. 

I posted similar findings about Chernobyl over a year ago:

Over the next four years, a massive cleanup operation involving 240,000 workers ensued, and there were fears that many of these workers, called "liquidators," would suffer in subsequent years. But most emergency workers and people living in contaminated areas "received relatively low whole radiation doses, comparable to natural background levels," a report summary noted. "No evidence or likelihood of decreased fertility among the affected population has been found, nor has there been any evidence of congenital malformations."

In fact, the report said, apart from radiation-induced deaths, the "largest public health problem created by the accident" was its effect on the mental health of residents who were traumatized by their rapid relocation and the fear, still lingering, that they would almost certainly contract terminal cancer. The report said that lifestyle diseases, such as alcoholism, among affected residents posed a much greater threat than radiation exposure….

Officials said that the continued intense medical monitoring of tens of thousands of people in Ukraine, Russia and Belarus is no longer a smart use of limited resources and is, in fact, contributing to mental health problems among many residents nearly 20 years later. In Belarus and Ukraine, 5 percent to 7 percent of government spending is consumed by benefits and programs for Chernobyl victims. And in the three countries, as many as 7 million people are receiving Chernobyl-related social benefits.

Wow – exaggerated projections of catastrophe result in ill-considered government spending.  Who would have thought this could happen?

7 thoughts on “Beware Media Exaggeration”

  1. Oh, and now you’re an apologist for nuclear neglect and radioactive pollution too?

    Is there much point in arguing that true impact is not as bad as some of the predictions? For that will always be the case as long as some crackpot is predicting the sky will fall.

    I also doubt you are suggesting that the occasional batch of pollution, death, birth defects, miscarriages, and lost farming land are all acceptable costs of nuclear power generation – all part of the package deal. You would surely be in favour of any course of action that prevented the reoccurence of any such incidents, especially if we can have the power with lower risks.

    Now considering that I have *seen* the birth defects created by Chernobyl, such as a boy born with his brain outside his skull, and that there are whole orphanages of such misery, it is alarming to see you downplaying this nuclear disaster purely so that you can point out that the media exaggerates things frequently. There is no shortage of evidence for media exaggeration, and you don’t need to talk like a schill for the nuclear industry to prove it.

    I actually wonder if you’ve taken this report too uncritically, since it only measures the number of people who have died without accounting for people with terminal cancer or other radiation induced illnesses, let alone the birth defects and untold numbers of miscarriages. These are the effects that a simple bodycount will not tell you, yet they are part of the real legacy of Chernobyl.

    I guess what I’m saying is that your analogy with AGW fails in this case because Chernobyl really was as extremely bad as was claimed and splitting hairs about exactly how bad it was doesn’t help much.


  2. Here come the anti-nuclear zealots.

    Yeah, Chernobyl was a wonderful experiment in state-run high technology. Incidentally, the Palo Verde Nuclear Plant (local) has 4 foot containment domes, and even thicker base construction.

    We don’t have that stupidity here. Too bad idiots like this OZJuggler won’t let us build more.

    I guess what I’m saying is that environmentalists are morons.

  3. “Now considering that I have *seen* the birth defects created by Chernobyl..” How do you know what caused them?

  4. The fact that OZ has seen birth defects does not contradict this post. The author admits that the event itself had effects, just like Hiroshima did. The defects OZ saw probably came from women who were pregnant at the time of the disaster. This post is talking about the effects on people who were in the area afterwards.

  5. Quick tip for Mesa Econoguy, you might want to try comprehending people’s posts before replying to them. Keyword based knee-jerk reactions are a poor substitute for thought.

    The above commenters will all be surprised to find that I am pro-nuclear. Nothing I said in my 1st post contradicts this, if only you would have read it properly. Modern reactor designs, especially the pebble bed variety, are vastly safer and superior sources of electricty. We should build more of them, especially in my home country of Australia which has huge sources of Uranium and empty stable desert bedrock perfect for disposing of the entire world’s nuclear waste if only the government would ignore the spineless wishes of the sheeple and just go ahead and build it.

    My main point, and sorry if it got lost amidst my incredulity at Warren’s whitewashing of past nuclear tragedies, was that there are always ultra-gloomy predictions amongst the sane ones in any controversial topic. Given that publishing media will always be sensationlist, the only time we should be outraged or even surprised at dire predictions not eventuating is when the newspaper actually invented the story instead of reporting it as told. Expecting newspapers that profit from headline impact to be the font of all knowledge is naïve.

    I also didn’t think his analogy with AGW worked because the 3 fallout incidents were examples of what happens when NO government money is spent on averting possible dangers, and the actual impact was as bad as was predicted by the tree huggers (eg- birth defects, poisoned land, cancers). This is a somewhat moot point since crazy predictions will be published regardless of the actual topic.

    Basically, you can’t prove the non-existence of Anthropogenic Global Warming by proving the guilt of mass media headlines. It’s a logical fallacy. I’m all for blowing AGW into smithereens, but try to stick to valid arguments. I’m questioning methods, not intentions.

  6. Quicker tip for OZgigantism:

    Uh, que?

    Let’s see, state-run Soviet nuke goes haywire, and since its state-run, all casualty numbers are suppressed. But you knew that already, so your endorsement of said technology is that not enough state money was spent on said technology.

    Here’s a similar headline:

    NASA Announces Plan To Bring Wi-Fi To Its Headquarters By 2017

    So, please tell me again, why you think government is such a wonderful advocate? Oh, wait, I already know why. Thanks for your clarification.

Comments are closed.