Nuclear Energy Much Safer than Previously Thought

(p. A14) ROCKVILLE, Md. — The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is approaching completion of an ambitious study that concludes that a meltdown at a typical American reactor would lead to far fewer deaths than previously assumed.

The conclusion, to be published in April after six years of work, is based largely on a radical revision of projections of how much and how quickly cesium 137, a radioactive material that is created when uranium is split, could escape from a nuclear plant after a core meltdown. In past studies, researchers estimated that 60 percent of a reactor core’s cesium inventory could escape; the new estimate is only 1 to 2 percent.
. . .
Big releases of radioactive material would not be immediate, and people within a 10-mile radius would have enough time to evacuate, the study found. The chance of a death from acute radiation exposure within 10 miles is therefore near zero, the study projects, although some people would receive doses high enough to cause fatal cancers in decades to come.
One person in every 4,348 living within 10 miles would be expected to develop a ”latent cancer” as a result of radiation exposure, compared with one in 167 in previous estimates.
”Accidents progress more slowly, in some cases much more slowly, than previously assumed,” Charles G. Tinkler, a senior adviser for research on severe accidents and one of the study’s authors, said in an interview at a commission office building here. ”Releases are smaller, and in some cases much smaller, of certain key radioactive materials.”

For the full story, see:
MATTHEW L. WALD. “N.R.C. Lowers Estimate of How Many Would Die in Meltdown.” The New York Times (Sat., July 30, 2011): A14.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the article is dated July 29, 2011.)
(Note: I am not sure the whole article appeared on p. A14—only saw the online version.)

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