A study on the aftermath of the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power station accident of March 2011 has found surprising connections between Japan’s reaction to the accident, claiming the reaction has provoked its own negative consequences, including fatalities.
Japan’s shut down of all of its nuclear power plants in the aftermath of the Fukushima disaster was a response born in emotion, not logic, says the paper: Be Cautions with the Precautionary Principle: Evidence from Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Accident. As a direct consequence of the temporary shut down of the nuclear power industry in Japan, fossil fuels were imported, the price of heating homes went up and some people died as a consequence of freezing temperatures and unfavorable economics.
“Given its protective effects from extreme weather, the reduced electricity consumption led to an increase in mortality during very cold temperatures,” the paper concludes. “We estimate that the increased mortality resulting from the higher energy prices outnumbered mortality from the accident itself, suggesting that applying the precautionary principle caused more harm than good.”
The paper goes on to ask: “Why do governments invoke this principle?” And it offers a reason: “One possible explanation is that salient events, such as a nuclear disaster, affect perceived risk, which is often based more on emotions and instinct than on reason and rationality.”
As an example, the paper notes that the accident affected housing prices “as far away as the United States despite no change in underlying risk,” in a location so distant from ground zero in Eastern Japan.
The paper does not put a number to the number of deaths caused by higher energy prices, but says that “the effect of an additional hour below 0 (zero) degrees Centigrade and 4 degrees Centigrade significantly increases the mortality rate by 0.028 percent compared to temperatures in the 15-19 degree Centigrade range. This implies that one day below 0 (zero) degrees Centigrade increases mortality by 0.672 percent.”
The paper notes that the other significant impact of the nuclear power shut down was on local air quality. In this regard, air pollution from nuclear power is negligible. However, “fossil fuels, on the other hand, emit a wide range of pollutants that deteriorate local air quality and have significant effects on morbidity and mortality.”
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