Overall the Fukushima situation is assessed by the IAEA as a level 4 incident, one with local consequences. French nuclear experts have reportedly assessed the situation as more like level 5 or 6. The famous Three Mile Island incident in the USA, which saw a reactor suffer fuel integrity damage ("partial meltdown") and significant releases of radioactive coolant – as has occurred at Fukushima, though without any quake or tsunami to blame – was rated as a level 5. Today the Three Mile Island site continues in operation as a nuclear powerplant, though the damaged reactor has long since been dismantled.
Subsequent health effects on people in the area of Three Mile Island were generally assessed as minimal if any, though naturally anti-nuclear activists have continued to claim that serious problems occurred. The way the incident was managed, and even more so the way it was covered in the news media, is generally seen as having delivered an enormous blow to the nuclear power industry worldwide – despite its extremely minor consequences when compared to losses of life and health from almost all other industries.
Damage to the Fukushima reactors and possible health consequences from that certainly appear to be totally insignificant to the other effects of the disaster in Japan. One provincial governor has predicted a death toll of 10,000 in his region alone. The lesson to learn here is that life is not made more dangerous by having nuclear reactors, not even in quake- and tsunami-prone Japan.
Nonetheless the reactor situation in most cases continues to lead the international media coverage, nuclear firms have taken stockmarket hits and it is being widely speculated that nuclear build programmes worldwide could be affected. ®
*Reaction to our earlier piece praising the actually rather brilliant response of the Fukushima reactors and their operators in the quake's wake has shown that hoary myths and legends surrounding Chernobyl persist, and that one will still, even after all this time, generally be pilloried for suggesting that Chernobyl – far and away the worst nuclear incident ever which didn't involve an atomic bomb – was genuinely not that serious.
We here at the Reg attended the launch of this rather excellent recent book, Flat Earth News, in which veteran Guardian investigative journalist Nick Davies dared to include the Chernobyl myths of thousands dead (actually the established figure is 56) alongside other great, baseless modern scares like the Millennium Bug.
Davies said that nothing else he has ever done in his life earned him as much flak as that.