Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Atomic Energy: Unsafe in the Real World

Nuclear power requires “perfection” and “no acts of God,” we were warned years ago. This has been brought home by the ongoing disaster caused by the earthquake and tsunami that struck the Fukushimi Daiichi nuclear plant complex, the flooding along the Missouri River in Nebraska now threatening two nuclear plants, and the wildfire laying siege to Los Alamos National Laboratory, the birthplace of atomic energy.

Earthquakes, tsunamis, floods, fire—these and other disasters will inevitably occur. Add nuclear power with its potential to release massive amounts of deadly radioactive poisons when impacted by such a disaster, and it is clear that atomic energy is incompatible with the real world.

There’s no perfection in human beings or in technology. Accidents will happen. And there will always be natural disasters—we can’t eliminate them. But we can—and must—eliminate atomic energy.

Nobel Prize-winning physicist Dr. Hannes Alfven explained in 1972 in declaring his strong opposition to nuclear power: “Fission energy is safe only if a number of critical devices work as they should, if a number of people in key positions follow all their instructions, if there is no sabotage, no hijacking of the transports, if no reactor processing plant or reprocessing plant or repository anywhere in the world is situated in a region of riots or guerilla activity, and no revolution or war—even a ‘conventional one’—takes place in those regions. The enormous quantities of extremely dangerous material must not get into the hands of ignorant people or desperados. No acts of God can be permitted.” Dr. Alfven was writing in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

“Nuclear power is an unforgiving technology. It allows no room for error,” wrote Carl J. Hocevar of the Union of Concerned Scientists in 1975. Hocevar had earlier been an engineer working on reactor safety at Idaho National Engineering Laboratory. “Perfection must be achieved if accidents that affect the general public are to be prevented,” he wrote in his foreword to the book We Almost Lost Detroit. The book is about the partial meltdown at the Fermi 1 nuclear power plant in 1966 that threatened nearby Detroit, one of numerous near-misses and many other accidents involving nuclear power in addition to the disasters at Three Mile Island in 1979, Chernobyl in 1986 and now Fukushima.

In We Almost Lost Detroit, Hocevar described the blind faith of scientists in atomic energy and their wrong assumptions. “The scientists involved were most confident that they had covered all possible problem areas. They had built safeguards on top of safeguards. Yet in spite of the precautions in the design and construction of the Fermi reactor, and in spite of the reassurances by the scientists that a serious accident could not happen, one did occur. The results far exceeded the expectations of anyone involved with the project. Fortunately, at the time of the accident, the reactor was operating at a very low power level or the consequences could have been much worse.”

“The Fermi accident and others described in this book demonstrate the fact that no matter how much diligence is exercised in the design, construction, and operation of a nuclear reactor, things can and do go wrong,” Hocevar related. “Design errors occur, the unexpected happens, human error is a very real possibility.”

Still, “for many years, the [nuclear] industry vigorously defended the nuclear power
program as being essentially risk-free. Nuclear power was claimed to be perfectly safe. It was said that no serious accidents would ever happen,” he noted. “Such a position was of course necessary to promote the acceptance of nuclear power by the general public. It has not been until just recently that the proponents of nuclear energy have admitted that accidents can and will happen, and the public should prepare itself for such eventualities.”

Wei Zhaofeng, an energy official in China, which is now reconsidering its plans for nuclear power because of the Fukushima catastrophe, said recently: “We have to ensure 100 percent safety of these nuclear power plants.”

That cannot be. Nuclear power can never be 100 percent safe. And it must be. That is why it should not be. And, instead, we must get rid of it and fully implement the clean, renewable technologies such as solar, wind and others now available which can provide, as major studies in the last several years have shown, all the energy we need—and are safe.

As physicist Amory Lovins, chairman and chief scientist at the Rocky Mountain Institute, recently wrote: “Nuclear power is uniquely unforgiving.” It’s “the only energy source where mishap or malice can kill so many people so far away.”

That’s been made evident by the Fukushima disaster, the crisis along the Missouri River in Nebraska and the wildfire at the gates of Los Alamos National Laboratory.

To err is human, it’s realized. Technology fails, it’s comprehended. And we must also understand that atomic energy is unsafe in the real world. It can never be safe. It must be eliminated in favor of energy we can live with.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Big Fukushima Lie Flies High

The global nuclear industry and its allies in government are making a desperate effort to cover up the consequences of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster. “The big lie flies high,” comments Kevin Kamps of the organization Beyond Nuclear.

Not only is this nuclear establishment seeking to make it look like the Fukushima catastrophe has not happened—going so far as to claim that there will be “no health effects” as a result of it—but it is moving forward on a “nuclear renaissance,” its scheme to build more nuclear plants.

Indeed, next week in Washington, a two-day “Special Summit on New Nuclear Energy” will be held involving major manufacturers of nuclear power plants—including General Electric, the manufacturer of the Fukushima plants—and U.S. government officials.

Although since Fukushima, Germany, Switzerland and Italy and other nations have turned away from nuclear power for a commitment instead to safe, clean, renewable energy such as solar and wind, the Obama administration is continuing its insistence on nuclear power.

Will the nuclear establishment be able to get away with telling what, indeed, would be one of the most outrageous Big Lies of all time—that no one will die as a result of Fukushima?

Will it be able to continue its new nuclear push despite the catastrophe?

Nearly 100 days after the Fukushima disaster began, with radiation still streaming from the plants, with its owners, TEPCO, now admitting that meltdowns did occur at its plants, that releases have been twice as much as it announced earlier, with deadly radioactivity from Fukushima spreading worldwide, and with some countries now changing course and saying no to nuclear power, while others stick with it, a nuclear crossroads has arrived.

“No health effects are expected among the Japanese people as a result of the events at Fukushima,” the Nuclear Energy Institute, the nuclear industry trade group, flatly declared in a statement issued at a press conference in Washington last week.

“They’re lying,” says Dr. Janette Sherman, a toxicologist and contributing editor of the book Chernobyl: The Consequences of the Catastrophe for People and the Environment published by the New York Academy of Sciences in 2009. Using medical data from between 1986 and 2004, its authors, a team of European scientists, determines that 985,000 people died worldwide from the radioactivity discharged from the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.

The Fukushima disaster will have a comparable toll, expects Dr. Sherman, who has conducted research into the consequences of radiation for decades. “People living closest to the plants who receive the biggest doses will get sick sooner. Those who are farther away and receive lesser doses will get sick at a slower rate,” she says.

“We’ve known about radioactive isotopes for decades,” says Dr. Sherman. “I worked for the Atomic Energy Commission in the 1950s and we knew about the effects then. To ignore the biology is to our peril. This is not new science. Cesium-137 goes to soft tissue. Strontium-90 goes to the bones and teeth. Iodine-131 goes to the thyroid gland.” All have been released in large amounts in the Fukushima disaster since it began on March 11.

There will inevitably be cancer and other illnesses—as well as genetic effects—as a result of the substantial discharges of radioactivity released from Fukushima, says Dr. Sherman. “People in Japan will be the most impacted but the radiation has been spreading worldwide and will impact life worldwide.”

The American Nuclear Society, made up of what its website says are “professionals” in the nuclear field, is also deep in the Fukushima denial camp. “Radiation risks to people living in Japan are very low, and no public ill effects are expected from the Fukushima incident,” it declares on its website. As to the U.S., the Illinois-based organization adds: “There is no health risk of radiation from the Fukushima incident to people in the United States.”

Acknowledging that “radiation from Fukushima has been detected within the United States,” the American Nuclear Society asserts that’s because we are able to detect very small amounts of radiation. Through the use of extremely sensitive equipment, U.S. laboratories have been able to detect very minute quantities of radioactive isotopes in air, precipitation, milk, and drinking water due to the Fukushima incident…The radiation from Fukushima, though detectable, is nowhere near the level of public health concern.”

Says Joseph Mangano, executive director of the Radiation and Public Health Project, “The absurd belief that no one will be harmed by Fukushima is perhaps the strongest evidence of the pattern of deception and denial by nuclear officials in industry and government.”

The World Health Organization has added its voice to the denial group. “For anyone outside Japan there is currently no health risk from radiation leaking from the nuclear power plant,” Gregory Hartl, a WHO spokesman, has insisted. “We know that there have been measurements in maybe up to about 30 countries [and] these measurements are miniscule, often below levels of background radiation…and they do not constitute a public health risk.”

WHO, not too incidentally, has a formal arrangement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), in place since both were established at the UN in the 1950s, to say nothing about issues involving radiation without clearing it with the IAEA, which was set up to specifically promote atomic energy. On Chernobyl, together in an initiative called the “Chernobyl Forum,” they have claimed that “less than 50 deaths have been directly attributed” to that disaster and “a total of up to 4,000 people could eventually die of radiation exposure from the Chernobyl nuclear power plant accident.” That nuclear Big Lie precedes the new nuclear deception involving the impacts of Fukushima.

As to background radiation, Dr. Jeffrey Patterson, immediate past president of Physicians for Social Responsibility and professor emeritus at the University of Wisconsin’s School of Public Health, says: “We do live with background radiation—but it does cause cancer.” That’s why there is concern, he notes, about radon gas being emitted in homes from a breakdown of uranium in some soils. “That’s background [radiation] but it’s not safe. There are absolutely no safe levels of radiation” and adding more radiation “adds to the health impacts.”

“There has been a cover-up, a minimization of the effects of radioactivity since the development of nuclear weapons and nuclear technology,” says Dr. Patterson. Meanwhile, with the Fukushima disaster, “large populations of people are being randomly exposed to radiation that they didn’t ask for, they didn’t agree to.”

Dr. Steven Wing, an epidemiologist who has specialized in the effects of radioactivity at the School of Public Health of the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, said: “The generally accepted thinking about the safe dose is that, no, there is no safe dose in terms of the cancer or genetic effects of radiation. The assumption of most people is that there’s a linear, no-threshold dose response relationship and that just means that as the dose goes down the risk goes down, but it never disappears.”

Of the claims of “no threat to health” from the radioactivity emitted from Fukushima, that “just flies in the face of all the standard models and all the studies that have been done over a long period of time of radiation and cancer.”

“As the radiation clouds move away from Fukushima and move far away to other continents and around the world, the doses are spread out,” notes Dr. Wing. “But it’s important for people to know that spreading out a given amount of radiation dose among more people, although it reduces each person’s individual risk, it doesn’t reduce the number of cancers that result from that amount of radiation. So having millions and millions of people exposed to a very small dose could produce just as much cancer as a thousand or a few thousand people exposed to that same dose.”

He believes “we should be focusing on putting pressure on people in government and the energy industry to come up with an energy policy that minimizes harm,” is a “sane energy policy.” Those who have “led us into this situation” have caused “big problems.”

And they are still at it—even with radioactivity still coming out at Fukushima and expected to for months. On Tuesday and Wednesday in Washington, the “Special Summit on New Nuclear Energy” will be held, organized by the U.S. Nuclear Infrastructure Council.

Council members include General Electric, since 2006 in partnership in its nuclear plant manufacturing business with the Japanese corporation Hitachi.

Other members of the council, notes its information on the summit, include the Nuclear Energy Institute; Babcock & Wilcox, the manufacturer of the Three Mile Island nuclear plant which underwent a partial meltdown in 1979; Duke Energy, a U.S. utility long a booster of nuclear power; the Tennessee Valley Authority, a U.S. government-created public power company heavily committed to nuclear power; Uranium Producers of America; and AREVA, the French government-financed nuclear power company that has been moving to expand into the U.S. and worldwide.

Also participating in the summit as speakers will be John Kelly, an Obama administration Department of Energy deputy assistant for nuclear reactor technologies; William Magwood, a nuclear power advocate who is a member of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission; Matthew Milazzo representing an entity called the Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future set up by the Obama administration; and Congressmen Mike Simpson of Idaho, chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee Interior & Environment and Ed Whitfield of Kentucky, chairman of the House Energy & Power Subcommittee, both staunch nuclear power supporters.

Other participants, according to the program for the event, will be “senior executives and thought leaders from the who’s who of the U.S. new nuclear community.” Bruce Llewelyn, who hosts “White House Chronicle” on PBS television, is listed as the summit’s “moderator.”

There will be programs on the “State of the Renaissance,” “China, India & Emerging Global Nuclear Markets,” “Advancing Nuclear Technology” and “Lessons from Fukushima.”

As the nuclear Pinocchios lie, the nuclear promoters push ahead.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Nuclear Pinocchios

Published in Long Island newspapers this week.

“Remember, we can change the world. Or at least Long Island,” Nora Bredes, former executive director of the Shoreham Opponents Coalition, just wrote on her Facebook page. With her message was a New York Times article about a massive demonstration 25 years ago this month protesting the Shoreham nuclear plant.

“More than 600 protesters were arrested here today after 15,000 demonstrators gathered,” the piece began. The headline noted it was “One of the Largest Held Worldwide” against nuclear power.

Because of demonstrations, legal challenges, political initiatives and other actions by organizations and individuals, and work by Suffolk County, state and local officials, the Shoreham plant was stopped.

Two months before that June 1986 demonstration, the Chernobyl nuclear plant catastrophe occurred in the former Soviet Union clearly showing the deadliness of nuclear power, despite the claims of nuclear promoters—including on Long Island—that it was safe.

Now, the disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plants in Japan has again proven the lethality of nuclear power. A baseline for how many people will likely die from Fukushima radiation is provided by a 2009 book published by the New York Academy of Sciences, “Chernobyl: The Consequences of the Catastrophe for People and the Environment.” Using medical data from between 1986 and 2004, a team of eminent European scientists concludes that 985,000 people died worldwide from the radioactivity discharged from Chernobyl. And the Fukushima disaster involved not one but a cluster of nuclear power plants and is ongoing with radioactivity still streaming out and spreading worldwide.

But the nuclear Pinocchios are still at it.

Last week, the Nuclear Energy Institute, the nuclear industry trade group, held a press conference in Washington at which it issued a statement asserting: “No health effects are expected among the Japanese people as a result of the events at Fukushima.” And as for the rest of us: don’t worry.

“This is as believable as the Marlboro man offering you the same assurance,” said Paul Gunter, director of Reactor Oversight at the organization Beyond Nuclear ( “The global nuclear industry should focus on bringing this catastrophic nuclear accident to an end rather than damage control for its increasingly radioactive public image.”

Reaction to Fukushima has varied. Germany, Switzerland, Italy and other nations have declared they will now abandon nuclear power and instead pursue safe, clean, renewable energy technologies such as solar and wind. A difference between today and 25 years ago is that such technologies are more highly developed and if fully utilized can provide all the energy the world needs, as recent studies have shown. They render nuclear power unnecessary.

In Washington this week, a Congressional Renewable Energy & Energy Efficiency Expo and Forum involving safe energy advocates and members of Congress was held. But the Obama administration, heavily influenced by Steven Chu, the nuclear scientist who heads the Department of Energy, is still pushing atomic power. It wants, despite the Fukushima disaster, more nuclear plants built in the U.S. and is seeking $34 billion in taxpayer monies to build them. Next week, a New Nuclear Energy Summit to “advance” nuclear power will be held in Washington involving Obama administration and nuclear industry officials.

Shoreham was stopped, along with Long Island Lighting Company plans to build other nuclear plants here as well. Long Island is nuclear-free. But across the Sound in Connecticut, the two Millstone nuclear plants continue to operate, dangerously. The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission has just issued a report finding “pervasive performance lapses” by plant operators during a serious “unexpected power spike” at Millstone 2 on February 12, a month before the Fukushima meltdowns. Taking on Millstone is the Standing for Truth About Radiation Coalition, restarted by Priscilla Star of Montauk ( since Fukushima.

The threat of nuclear power continues, as does the struggle to end the deadly technology and shift to safe, clean, renewable energy.