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...the Fukushima accident

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On 11 March 2011, Japan was shaken by what became known as the Great East Japan (Tohoku) Earthquake. It was followed by a tsunami which resulted in waves reaching heights of more than 10 meters.


The combined impact and repercussions of the earthquake and tsunami caused great loss of life and widespread devastation in north-eastern Japan and led to an accident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, which was ultimately categorized as a Major Accident — on the International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale. 

In 2021, when the International Atomic Energy Agency's Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi said at the Climate Conference COP26 in Glasgow that no one died from radiation due to the Fukushima incident the audience met his comment with laughter.


However, his statement was not neither a laughing matter nor untrue. The head of the IAEA correctly stated that indeed thousands of people died but explained that this was not due to radiation exposure but because of the tsunami and as a result of wide spread evacuation measures which were taken. 

And indeed, only in 2018, one death of a plant worker was officially attributed to be a direct consequence of the radiation exposure at the power plant. The number of indirect deaths related to stress caused by the evacuation was estimated at 1.600 according to data which was summarised at

Estimated number of deaths: 


...the Chornobyl accident


The Chornobyl accident, by many considered the worst disaster in the civil usage of nuclear energy, occurred on 26 April 1986. The Number Four RBMK reactor at the nuclear power plant at Chornobyl, Ukraine, went out of control during a test, leading to an explosion that demolished the reactor building and released large amounts of radiation into the atmosphere. Safety measures were ignored, the uranium fuel in the reactor overheated and melted through the protective barriers.


RBMK reactors do not have what is known as a containment structure, a concrete and steel dome over the reactor itself designed to keep radiation inside the plant in the event of such an accident. Consequently, radioactive elements including plutonium, iodine, strontium and caesium were scattered over a wide area.  

How many people died due to the accident?

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The initial explosion resulted in the death of two workers and twenty-eight of the heroic firemen and emergency clean-up workers died in the first three months after the explosion from Acute Radiation Sickness and one of cardiac arrest. According to the UN this number could be as high as 50.

After the tragic accident a radiation plume spread across the European continent. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) stated that around 150,000 square kilometers in Belarus, Russia and Ukraine were contaminated as a result of the radiation release from Chornobyl. 


The actual long term effects and deaths caused by cancers which can be traced back to this release however is difficult to estimate and has been widely discussed by scientists. Up to this day depending on the source different numbers can be found.

Estimated number of deaths as consequence of the Chornobyl accident. 

The reason for the vast discrepancy in numbers is that some reports see already very low levels of radiation as harmful to human health which other scientists dispute. Another issue is that cancers are a common diseases and mortality statistic are influenced by a variety of factors which is why it is nearly-impossible to link a cancer outbreak years later directly to just one cause.


Also the scope of the studies was different. Whereas the WHO studies focused on Belarus, Ukraine and Russia, the report of Ian Fairlie and David Sumner also included deaths outside of these countries.

60.000 deaths

30.000 deaths

16.000 deaths

9.000 deaths

4.000 deaths

How dangerous is nuclear energy in comparison with
other energy sources?

To answer this question several studies were conducted. In 2007, an analysis in the medical journal "The Lancet" compared the death rates from nuclear energy, fossil fuels, hydropower and biomass and came to the conclusion that fossil fuels and the burning of biomass (wood, dung, and charcoal) are way less safe than nuclear energy when taking air pollution, accidents and green house gas emissions into account. A second study also examined the safety of renewables and...

...the following death rates were measured based on deaths from accidents and air pollution per terawatt-hour. (twh=annual electricity consumption of 187,000 citizens in Europe)



Brown coal

















The studies and data collated by show that despite its negative image nuclear power is way safer than fossil fuels and one could even argue that by displacing fossil fuels nuclear energy can safe lives. 

While the figures above are neither perfect nor fully comprehensive they still provide a good overview and illustrate that scientific studies do not support the popular notion that nuclear is a dangerous form of energy.


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