Be Cautious with the Precautionary Principle: Evidence from Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Accident

Via The Economist: Be Cautious with the Precautionary Principle: Evidence from FukushimaDaiichi Nuclear Accident by Matthew Neidell, Shinsuke Uchida and Marcella Veronesi. The abstract says it all really:
This paper provides a large scale, empirical evaluation of unintended effects from invoking the precautionary principle after the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident. After the accident, all nuclear power stations ceased operation and nuclear power was replaced by fossil fuels, causing an exogenous increase in electricity prices. This increase led to a reduction in energy consumption, which caused an increase in mortality during very cold temperatures. We estimate that the increase in mortality from higher electricity prices outnumbers the mortality from the accident itself, suggesting the decision to cease nuclear production has contributed to more deaths than the accident itself.
Is this study reliable? I of course can't tell. It looks as science-y as you'd hope. I'm not entirely sure the hook to the PP is justified; the Japanese shut down their reactors more from public panic than anything else, and the Economist is obliged to confess that No Nooks remains popular there.

Let's look at some of their numbers. The estimates for deaths from the accident are No deaths have yet to be directly attributable to radiation exposure, though projections estimate a cumulative 130 deaths (Ten Hoeve and Jacobson 2012). An estimated 1,232 deaths occurred as a result of the evacuation after the accident1. And the deaths from the shutdown of the other Nooks are higher electricity prices resulted in at least an additional 1,280 deaths during 2011-2014. Since our data only covers the 21 largest cities in Japan, which represents 28 percent of the total population, the total effects for the entire nation are even larger. Well there you have it. Oh, except for Given that fossil fuels are far dirtier than nuclear power, the shift almost certainly added to air pollution and thus to respiratory ailments, the authors add, although they did not try to quantify this effect; and of course, the additional GHE.


* Pop, pop, pop and More stupidity about Fukushima.
New York Drops 2 of 4 Fraud Charges Against Exxon, Focuses on Martin Act Violations


1. The Economist says At least 2,000 people died because of the Fukushima evacuation, some in the chaos immediately after the accident, and more from secondary health problems such as stress, suicide and interrupted medical care, and of course I don't know which to believe.


Anonymous said...

The other problem with the PP hook is that, well, the first word in PP - e.g., "precautionary". The theory being that we should accept some certain cost to reduce the risk of potential catastrophic cost. So you expect, 99 times out of 100, that when a PP decision is made, the cost of the PP will exceed the damages resulting from the remaining event. The appropriate PP comparison is not "deaths attributable to Fukushima" but rather "deaths from possible disaster resulting from keeping nuclear plants open".

Now, do I think shutting down Japan's nuclear plants was a good idea? No. Do I think the study is still useful? Yes, because it puts a mortality number on the decision to shut down plants. I can even grant that there is an interesting comparison to be made between the Fukushima deaths and the deaths-resulting-from-shutting-down-nuclear. But that by itself does not prove that PP is bad.


David B. Benson said...

Not PP but pandering to the Japanese radiophobia. Which exists due to Hiroshima and the failure of schools to adequately explain the actual hazards from ionizing radiation and from airbourne particulate matter.

Andy Mitchell said...

The guiding principle in the free world's nuclear programmes is supposed to be that safety is the number one priority. That was supposed to be the key difference between us and the Russians: the difference that made a Chernobyl-like accident unlikely (not the different technology) in the free world. Fukushima showed that, in at least one instance, that was not the case: the profit motive allowed a substandard plant with known issues to continue operating without rectifying those issues.

A review of the safety case for every Japanese plant was needed. As the plants could be considered to have no proven safety case until the review was complete, the same guiding principle given in my first sentence would dictate their shut down.

Nathan said...

What's interesting to me is that in this paper:

The authors don't appear to look at actual numbers of cold-related deaths, nor actual mortality rates. It's all based around a model of how many would be expected to die assuming temps go below 0C


Surely the authors should have tested their hypothesis with actual death rate data?

And yet maybe it wasn't so bad.


And also:

So that's more than the apparent cold-related deaths..

To my eye the paper referred to in the Economist looks useful, but half complete. They haven't actually tested their hypothesis and may have missed a lot of other 'death' data.