Nuclear Meltdown Would Cause Fewer Deaths than Thought, NRC Finds

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A new analysis being produced by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) estimates that a meltdown at a nuclear plant would cause far fewer human fatalities than previously believed.

While earlier studies calculated that a meltdown caused by a prolonged loss of electric power could release as much as 60 percent of the radioactive cesium contained in a typical plant’s reactor core, the new study suggests that just 1 to 2 percent of the radioactive material would likely escape, with most of the material remaining inside the reactor building.

And even large-scale nuclear releases would occur over a long period of time, allowing people living within a 10-mile radius enough time to evacuate, according to the New York Times, which received a draft copy from the watchdog group, the Union of Concerned Scientists.

According to the report, which officials intended to release next spring, just one person in 4,348 living within 10 miles would be expected to develop “latent cancer” as a result of exposure to radiation. Critics called the NRC calculations overly optimistic.

Among other things, the calculations assume successful evacuation and “average” weather conditions, said Edwin Lyman, a nuclear physicist with the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Article appearing courtesy Yale Environment 360.

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Yale Environment 360 is an online magazine offering opinion, analysis, reporting and debate on global environmental issues. We feature original articles by scientists, journalists, environmentalists, academics, policy makers, and business people, as well as multimedia content and a daily digest of major environmental news. Yale Environment 360 is published by the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies and Yale University. We are funded in part by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. The opinions and views expressed in Yale Environment 360 are those of the authors and not of the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies or of Yale University.

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