David Suzuki has admitted that his dire warning about the potential disaster another Fukushima earthquake might precipitate was an "off-the-cuff" response and something the B.C. environmentalist now regrets.
"I regret having said it, although my sense of potential widespread disaster remains and the need for an urgent international response to dealing with the spent rods at Fukushima also remains," Suzuki wrote in an email to The Province newspaper.
In a YouTube video, Suzuki predicted that, should a second earthquake befall the nuclear facility, it would mean "bye bye Japan" and an evacuation of the entire west coast of North America — a scenario disputed by scientists.
The environmentalist's suggestion that the probability of an earthquake serious enough to cause that degree of devastation "in the next three years is over 95 per cent" has sent the video viral since its November 2013 upload.
Writing on the David Suzuki Foundation website, Suzuki's position is expressed in far less volatile language than was recorded on video:
Any amount of leaked radiation is harmful to the planet and the health of all species, including humans. A major release of radioactivity, such as that from Fukushima, is a huge concern, with unknowns remaining around long-term health risks such as cancers.
People pay attention to Suzuki because he has environmental cultural capital. He is not, as bad science debunking website Skeptoid.com points out, "your average Internet crank."
But, the site asserts, people have failed to recognize that Suzuki was speaking well outside his area of expertise. "He's a highly respected guru, internationally honored and venerated for his groundbreaking work – in genetics," the article states. "What he is NOT is a nuclear physicist."
So is his prediction based on fact, or fear-mongering?
According to some scientists, he simply went too far in his rhetoric. Vice spoke to a number of experts in the field, and, apart from some consensus that TEPCO (Tokyo Electric Power Company) may indeed be, as Suzuki states, "lying through their teeth" about the disaster, the experts pretty much trashed the B.C. environmentalist's position.
They point out that over 20,000 people died in the tsunami that followed the earthquake, while there has not been one reported case of death by radiation. And if you take a broader view, the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear explosion was actually much worse.
As for the suggestion that Japan would be destroyed and the West Coast would require evacuation, UBC nuclear and particle physicist David Measday told Vice: “I'm sorry, but that is ridiculous. It's totally impossible! I can't believe he would say that. When he's in his own field, he's usually reasonable. But this is just crazy.”
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