David Iles introduced our speaker first by commenting on previous introductions that were so long they required someone to thank them.  This morning he introduced Gordon Greeniaus by saying he’s really smart, he’s from Winnipeg and he specializes in experimental sub atomic physics at UVic.  He is going to talk about the Fukushima nuclear disaster.


Gordon started by saying he gave this same talk at his home Rotary club, the Victoria Club.  His main concern is the sensational headlines that have followed the disaster, particular as they relate to perceived nuclear dangers.  He gave examples of these headlines:

Fukushima – are we all going to die?  This is so far wrong.

Reactor #4 – 85 times the radiation of Chernobyl.  As noted later, a total fallacy!

18,000 still born babies in North America as a result of Fukushima.  A total untruth.

Radioactive tuna.  Truth is there’s more danger from mercury in tuna than from radiation.

100 million gallons of liquid death released into Pacific.  The truth is that it’s the equivalent of 100 Olympic swimming pools.  A mere drop in the huge Pacific bucket.

California beaches slammed with Fukushima radiation.  The truth is that the measured radiation occurs naturally in sand.

Fukushima radiation hits airplanes.  Truth is that because of their height in the atmosphere, airplanes are being hit by natural cosmic radiation.

Gordon defined a number of scientific measurements that were way over this scribe’s head, but were useful in later parts of his talk in relative terms.

He then went on to describe the world of radiation e live in.  We are constantly exposed to natural cosmic radiation.  Natural radiation occurs in areas where there is a lot of granite, such as the Canadian Shield.  And then there’s the man-made radiation from CT scans, X-rays, angiograms, etc.  In a table of exposures of this type, the angiogram had the highest radiation, but even it was less than 40% of the allowable ‘safe’ annual limit.

In the order of magnitude of the radiation effects on the ocean, Chernobyl rates an 85, Fukushima a maximum of 60, and nuclear tests 400.  Naturally occurring uranium and potassium rate 37,000 and 15,000,000 respectively.  So it is relatively clear that the nuclear effect of Fukushima has been grossly exaggerated.  And a map shows that there is only a small area that was exposed to radiation that exceeded the ‘safe’ annual limit.

Obviously, the human cost of Fukushima was devastating.  But the relatively low rating for the nuclear incident is surprising, given the 50 foot tsunami that overwhelmed the 24 foot sea wall.  It knocked out the primary electricity and killed the backup generators.  The explosions destroyed the buildings housing the reactors and the reactors melted down, but reaction is not an issue.  The issue now is that they continue to generate heat.  The backup generators that were knocked out were poorly designed and situated.  Had they been built up the hill from the reactors, they would not have been damaged.

The worst reactor accident in history was Chernobyl (Ukraine) in 1986.  It was caused by a bungled test on cooling and poorly designed fuel roads.  The fire burned for weeks and carried radiation all over western Europe, as far as Norway and Spain.  There is still restricted access to the site now, some 28 years later.

There are readings constantly being taken for radiation from Fukushima on the west coast of North America.  Nothing has been detected yet, although the models show that if there is any, it should be arriving this year.  Interestingly, the funding for this work comes not from governments but from crowd funding.

Compare the apparent benign effects from Fukushima with the effects of nuclear tests in the 50s and 60s, which produced radiation 10 to 20 times the normal levels of natural radiation.  And we have to accept this range of numbers as governments aren’t telling us.

Richard Burke thanked Gordon for his presentation, admitting that he was thoroughly confused.