Irrational fear of radiation as well as fake news surrounding the issue of nuclear energy has prevented the country to use nuclear energy as one of its energy sources.
This was the claim of former Pangasinan Congressman Mark Cojuangco during the Philippine Mining Conference (PMC) where he was a keynote speaker.
“The fear of low dose radiation is overstated and it has paralyzed and panicked us into inaction and paralyzed us into not using the great benefits that nuclear power can give us,” Cojuangco said.
He explained that doing your daily activities can also cause you to be exposed to radiation such as eating, commuting, as well as getting a CT scan.
He also debunked the myth that many people were injured due to the radiation after the Fukushima meltdown.
“The average radiation in Fukushima is still lower than that of Seattle or Denver. Meaning, the incident was not able to raise average radiation in Fukushima above that Seattle or Denver,” Cojuangco explained.
“Zero casualties in radiation. Nobody died. Nobody was injured because of radiation,” he added.
However, in a 2018 report of Time, the Japanese government had recognized for the first time the first death that was caused by radiation exposure.
The worker died of lung cancer. He was measuring the radiation levels at the plant in the immediate aftermath of the meltdown. He was in his 50s and it was not known when he died.
There were no recorded injuries or fatalities during the nuclear meltdown itself, but around 40 patients who were evacuated later died.
In a video segment from “60 Minutes Australia” which Cojuangco presented during the talk, it showed that people are exposed to radiation all the time. However, it does not necessarily mean that it is dangerous to human health.
“You swim in the sea, you’re exposed to Uranium in the sea. Another thing people don’t usually think about, but you can’t avoid it,” Professor Geraldine Thomas was quoted in the video.
“It’s not killing us. If it kills us, why are we such a long-lived species? Why is it that the man has evolved to live longer and longer, if radiation was so deadly at least at low levels,” she added.
Cojuangco pointed out how the media’s portrayal affects the public’s perception when it comes to nuclear power. He said that there are fake news that were circulating in the mainstream media such as BBC, CNN, etc, such as the map that was being sold as the spread of radiation across the entire Pacific Ocean, when it was in fact a wave height map.
“It has nothing at all to do in radiation. Yet, it was sold as the spread of deadly radiation across the Pacific Ocean and everybody believed this.”
The dramatization of HBO’s TV Series “Chernobyl” also overly dramatized the real events that happened in Chernobyl.
“We need to separate dramatization from facts and reality,” Cojuangco said.
The effects of news coverage on nuclear energy perception
A 2012 Bigthink report reviewed the nuclear media coverage specifically the events and accidents that took place in the Chernobyl and Fukushima.
The report noted that the coverage on Chernobyl’s nuclear accident was improved but wasn’t perfect, citing the remoteness of the accident and lack of accessibility to information.
On the other hand, the reporting on the Fukushima incident varied but the television reporting of the accident was problematic.
Televisio reports explaining radiation were brief due to the time constraints of television broadcasts. In addition, sensationalism appears to dominate the report coverage.
From the Bigthink report, veteran journalist Christine Russel also noted that framing matters in reporting. She argued that the main concern when it comes to reporting nuclear accidents was the persistent use of “meltdown” without providing the context of its meaning.
Russel added that sensationalist reporting resulted in the general public’s weariness and suspicion on nuclear energy. She also noted that the general media’s tone in reporting nuclear energy is more on the negative outlook of nuclear, which hinders it to become a global power producer.
The Philippines’ dependence on coal
Cojuango noted that coal is more expensive than nuclear as the transport expense of coal is more costly as it would need the whole shipping infrastructure to transfer the fuel source for the coal plants.
“Will it be more of the same, coal and gas, or are we gonna try something new? Something that will save us $7 billion a year in avoided coal and gas importation,” Cojuangco concluded.
The cost of fuel for one reload is around $40 million based on an 18-month refueling cycle for a typical 1,000 MWe BWR or PWR.
On the other hand, operational costs of coal power plants vary depending on location, unit type, unit size, environmental regulation and owner strategies. However, trends keep showing that operational costs of coal power plant continue to increase whereas cost of renewable energy is decreasing.