Shuntaro Hida died. He had been a doctor in the Japanese imperial army and a doctor for the “hibakushas”, an activist against atomic weapons and nuclear energy, he was also known for his research on the dangers of internal contamination by radioactivity.
Shuntaro Hida, a former Imperial Japanese Army doctor who survived the U.S. atomic bombing of Hiroshima during World War II and treated survivors, died Monday, sources close to him said. He was 100.
Hailing from Gifu Prefecture, Hida became a doctor after graduating from the academy of medicine of the Imperial Japanese Army in 1944 and was assigned to a Hiroshima army hospital.
Hida was working in a village some 6 km north of the hypocenter when the atomic bomb detonated over the city on Aug. 6, 1945.
He entered devastated areas immediately after the bombing to help survivors, many of whom suffered severe burns. Afterward, he continued treating victims who were suffering from leukemia and other illnesses.
Hida, who made his first trip to the United States in 1975, visited about 150 cities in more than 30 countries where he told the story of the bombing. He spent 15 years until 1989 detailing the misery the atomic-bomb victims suffered.
He also served as director of the counseling center at the Japan Confederation of A- and H-Bomb Sufferers Organizations
After the Fukushima nuclear crisis triggered by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami disaster, Hida attended anti-nuclear events in Tokyo and elsewhere to call for a world free of nuclear power.
He is also known for his research on the dangers of internal exposure to radiation.
Karl Grossman is a full professor of journalism at the State University of New York College at Old Westbury. For more than 45 years he has pioneered the combination of investigative reporting and environmental journalism in a variety of media. He is the host of the nationally aired television program Enviro Close-Up, the narrator and host of award-winning TV documentaries on environmental and energy issues, the author of six books and writer of numerous magazine, newspaper and Internet articles.
He is program host and writer of TV documentaries produced by New York-based EnviroVideo including the award-winning Chernobyl: A Million Casualties, Three Mile Island Revisited, Nukes in Space: The Nuclearization and Weaponization of the Heavens and The Push to Revive Nuclear Power.
He is chief investigative reporter for WVVH-TV on Long Island.
He is a regular contributor to Internet sites including CounterPunch, OpEd News, Enformable, NationofChange and The Huffington Post.
His weekly column appears in The Southampton Press, The East Hampton Press, The Sag Harbor Express, The Shelter Island Reporter, South Shore Press, Sound Observer and other Long Island newspapers and on websites on Long Island including Smithtown Matters, RiverheadLOCAL and SoutholdLOCAL.
His articles also appear on LIPolitics.com
Grossman was an investigative reporter as well as columnist for the Long Island Press, a major daily newspaper serving metropolitan New York and, with the demise of the paper in 1977, continued investigative journalism in books, magazines and newspapers, on radio and TV and, in recent years, on the Internet.
His books include: Cover Up: What You Are Not Supposed to Know About Nuclear Power; The Wrong Stuff: The Space Program’s Nuclear Threat to Our Planet; The Poison Conspiracy; and Weapons in Space.
He has given presentations at colleges and universities in the United States and abroad and before other venues including at the United Nations in New York and Geneva, the Russian Academy of Sciences and the British Parliament.
Awards he has received for investigative reporting include the George Polk, Generoso Pope, James Aronson and John Peter Zenger awards. He also has received citations from the New York Press Association, Press Club of Long Island, Society of Professional Journalists, Psychologists for Social Responsibility, Citizens Campaign for the Environment, New York Civil Liberties Union, Long Island Coalition for Fair Broadcasting, Citizens Energy Council and Friends of the Earth. His TV documentaries have received Gold and Silver awards at the WorldFest-Houston International Film Festival and other honors. His journalism has been repeatedly cited by Project Censored, the media initiative at Sonoma State University, as involving the most “under-reported” issues.
At the State University of New York College at Old Westbury he has taught courses including: Investigative Reporting; Environmental Journalism; Politics of Media; Introduction to Journalism; TV and Radio Journalism; and TV Documentary: Theories and Techniques. He also runs an Internship in Journalism and Media program placing students at media throughout metropolitan New York.
He was honored in 2003 at the State University of New York “Chancellor’s Recognition Dinner Honoring Research and Scholarship in the Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences.”
- Cover Up: What You Are Not Supposed to Know About Nuclear Power (1980)
- The Poison Conspiracy (1982)
- Nicaragua: America’s New Vietnam? (1984)
- Power Crazy:Is LILCO Turning Shoreham Into America’s Chernobyl? (1986)
- The Wrong Stuff: The Space Program’s Nuclear Threat to Our Planet (1997)
- Weapons in Space (2001)
Grossman’s articles have appeared in many magazines and newspapers including: The New York Times, USA Today, The Village Voice, The Boston Globe, The Christian Science Monitor, Newsday, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Miami Herald, The Globe and Mail, The Ecologist, Earth Island Journal, E: The Environmental Magazine, The Crisis, The Nation, The Progressive, The Baltimore Sun, The Plain Dealer. The Orlando Sentinel, Columbia Journalism Review, Liberal Opinion Week, Science Communication. The Globe and Mail, Z Magazine, San Francisco Bay Guardian, CovertAction Quarterly, The Miami Herald, Space News, and Extra!.
Among the Internet sites he contributes articles to are: CounterPunch, The Huffington Post, Enformable, CommonDreams, Truthout, Nation of Change and OpEd News.
- His Blog
- Money Is the Real Green Power Behind Nuclear: The Hoax of Eco-Friendly Nuclear Energy
- Nuclear Abolition – Prospects and Initiatives
- Cancer – The Number One Killer – And Its Environmental Causes
- Parallel Atomic Universes
- Target: Plum Island
- An Atomic Credibility Gap: Obama Goes Nuclear
The most recent edition of Cover Up is available free online thanks to its publisher via . Grossman encourages its download and use of the material—notably facsimiles of government and industry documents useful in exposing the dangers of nuclear power—that the book contains.
Karl Grossman’s website is at: karlgrossman.com And his blog is also featured on his http://www.karlgrossman.com website.
Nexit – Nuclear Exit
It took the world 48 years to gradually ramp up to a peak of 438 commercial nuclear power plants in 2002. Today, in 2016, we have dropped to 402 reactors with further closures foreshadowed.
There is about 200 years of uranium, if we consume it at the current rate. Scale up to 3000 reactors and we have only about 25 years of power left.
Humans globally consume roughly 15,000 gigawatts (GW) of power, in oil, coal, gas, nuclear, and renewables all added together.1 To put it another way, it means that, on average, we use 15,000 gigajoules (GJ) of energy every second of every day. That is an enormous number, equivalent to switching on 15 billion electric kettles.
On the other hand, 15,000 GW is a relatively small number as it is 5000 times less than the average solar power hitting the planet’s surface. And remarkably, it is six times less than the solar power utilised by all plant life on Earth for photosynthesis.2 By far, the plant kingdom has already beaten the human race to the punch in terms of the sheer magnitude of solar collection achieved.
Yet this means that maintaining our current levels of consumption in a sus-tainable manner requires harnessing only 0.02% of the light at the surface of our planet. So do we really need nuclear power? Is nuclear sustainable? Given the awesome potential of renewable energy, is there an economic place for nuclear power? Why is nuclear power globally in decline at present? What are the limitations?
These are some of the key questions we’ll now examine.
Before we discuss power generation, it is important to first highlight that any robust government energy policy must be grounded by the concept of energy conservation. To understand why energy conservation and energy efficiency form the bedrock of policy, let us consider how power consumption can quickly add up and get out of hand.
Imagine 5 billion people all make one cup of tea per day, and overfill their kettles by as little as a quarter of a cup. Over a day, this excess requires an additional 2 GW of average power, which is equivalent to the output of the whole Hoover Dam.3
Consider the possibility of everyone on the planet driving a medium sized car for only one hour per day. That alone would average to two thirds of our total present global consumption, which is clearly unsustainable.
Suppose there were one billion medium-sized houses on the planet all heating or cooling by as little as 3°C relative to the outside temperature. By not having home wall insulation, the excess power needed would on average equal our total present global consumption. This alone illustrates the critical importance of having insulation standards for new buildings.
On the flip side, take an estimate of about 10 billion tungsten light bulbs in the world. On average each light bulb will be on about 10% of the time. If each was replaced with a modern LED light bulb – with a saving of 50W each – that equals a saving of 50 GW, the equivalent to about 50 nuclear power plants.
As such, there cannot be a future drive towards sustainable power generation without it being married to measures of energy effciency and conservation.
Nexit: Nuclear Exit
Around the world the nuclear industry is in gradual, inexorable decline. Starting from 1954, it took the world 48 years to gradually ramp up to a peak of 438 commercial nuclear power plants in 2002. Today, in 2016, we have dropped to 402 reactors with further closures foreshadowed.4
A report from the Swiss banking investment sector5 states “big, centralised power stations will not fit into the future European electricity system” and that they will share “the fate of the dinosaurs: too large, too inflexible, on their way to extinction.”
Participating countries are closing down nuclear power plants (NPPs) faster than they are being built. Nuclear apologists point to China as a role model that is actively building a number of NPPs. The fact is that China has built $160 billion in overcapacity of coal plants that are unused.6 Will their NPPs, which are presently under construction, become similarly redundant?
There simply aren’t enough Chinese students rushing to enrol into nuclear engineering courses, to produce the workforce for an expanded nuclear program.7 China’s ambitious nuclear expansion plans would require at least 50,000 students to be trained by 2030, but barely a few hundred students raise their hands each year.8 The shortage of trained nuclear technicians and engineers has already led to safety incidents.8
By contrast, in 2015, China invested five times more in renewables than nuclear power.4 Those nuclear projects will take many years to complete, whereas renewables are deployed and put to immediate use. Moreover, China’s nuclear investments may have an uncertain future and may meet the same fate as their renowned ghost cities. Significant Chinese street protests against nuclear, in 2013 and 2015, indicate a growing groundswell of discontent.9,10
Let us now examine some of the limitations of nuclear power generation that contribute to its uncertain future and an impending global energy market nexit.
Nuclear marketeers brand NPPs as taking up a small physical land area with respect to renewables. However, consider all the processes and steps from mining uranium, processing it, burning it, and then dealing with the waste. Mark Z. Jacobson from Stanford University, has added up the footprint of all the globe’s NPPs, their exclusion zones, and supporting infrastructure.11 Jacobson found that if you divide that area by the total number of NPPs in the world, we obtain an average nuclear footprint12 of about 4.5 km x 4.5 km, which is roughly the same for equivalent solar power.
A hypothetical nuclear utopia powering the entire world’s energy needs would require in the order of 15,000 NPPs. This is a daunting scale-up compared to the dwindling number of 400 NPPs the world has at present. To see how impossibly challenging this would be, take a map of anycountry of the world and mark 100 possible locations for nuclear stations close to water and far from population centres. Even trying to place ten NPPs in acceptable locations is not an easy task. This obstacle alone counts out a nuclear utopia.
Uranium resource limits
But is a more modest vision of, say, 3000 reactors possible? This would at least replace all the world’s coal-fired plants.
Based on the known mining reserves of uranium there is about 200 years of uranium, if we consume it at the current rate.13 Scale up to 3000 reactors and we have only about 25 years of power left. Clearly this is a proposition that isn’t at all sustainable.
Nuclear apologists will then raise the question of yet undiscovered reserves of uranium. However, this makes little difference; if we double or quadruple the figure of 25 years, this is hardly a legacy investment for the future. One can’t pluck imaginary figures that are any larger, as we know the abundance of uranium in the Earth’s crust is about the same level as for rare earth metals.14
Proponents of nuclear power will then point out that there’s over 500 years worth of uranium in seawater. However, this is a fruitless suggestion as the uranium concentration is tiny, at 3.3 parts per billion. The energy it takes to lift a bucket of seawater by 50 metres is equal to the energy you’d get from its uranium.14 The energy return on investment simply doesn’t add up.15
In order to address this issue, the coun-terpunch is the promise of breeder-style Generation IV reactors. These will potentially increase fuel lifetime by a factor of 60. This indeed would be impressive, as we can now lift the bucket of seawater by 3 km. However, these types of reactors are riddled with advanced materials issues that have not yet been solved. The metal parts of these reactors are exposed to higher temperatures, a higher corrosive environment, and a higher neutron flux than in conventional reactors16 – suitable alloys that can withstand these conditions have not yet been found for long-term commercial operation.17
Governments do not form today’s energy policy based on arguments that largely hinge on commercially unproven or non-existent hardware. This would be akin to forming health policy based on promised drugs that are yet, unproven or undiscovered.
A nuclear reactor has a lifetime of roughly 40 years.4 Due to heat, high-energy neutrons, and corrosion, the metal nuclear vessel eventually cracks. Every device runs and gets hot – this sets a limit to the reliability and lifetime of any machine. Everything from a light bulb to a car engine eventually pops, and nuclear reactors are no exception. At the end of its 40-year life, a nuclear station has to be decommissioned.
The nuclear vessel itself becomes radio-active, weighs up to 500 tonnes, and has to be buried. The costs of decommissioning a reactor at today’s prices are commensurate with building them in the first place. Attempts are made by NPPs to factor in decommission cost into their economics. However, who can predict what the costs will be 40 years into the future? Typically costs blow out and the taxpayer ultimately foots the bailout.
When an NPP comes to the end of its 40-year life, the metal reactor vessel and core are radioactive, as they have been exposed to high-energy neutrons. If there were a vast nuclear scale-up, where would we put all these ‘glowing’ vessels? Moreover, inside the vessel, hafnium may be used as a neutron absorber, beryllium a neutron reflector, and zirconium is used for fuel rod cladding. The steel that is used to construct the vessel has to be hardened against neutron damage, and so it is typically alloyed with elements such as molybdenum, niobium, and tantalum to name a few.18
Many high performance alloys in other industries use exotic metals too, but the point is that those metals can be recycled. Rare earth metals used in the renewable industry are recyclable too. In the case of NPPs the metals become radioactive and so a scale up to 15,000 reactors in the world would be out of the question, as it would limit our elemental diversity.
Is nuclear fusion the solution?
Nuclear fusion, if it ever becomes commercially useable, would be an even worse offender in terms of reduction in elemental diversity. What is not publicised is that the nuclear fusion process irreversibly consumes lithium.18 Every laptop, mobile phone, and electric car needs this coveted element. Moreover, fusion reactors end up with radioactive vessels and still require decommissioning, so the quandary of that waste remains. For these signicant practical reasons, fusion is unsustainable and not the panacea it is cracked up to be.
Nuclear power plants globally produce about 10,000 tonnes of spent fuel waste per annum.19 When a spent fuel rod is removed from a reactor, the radiation level is so high that a one-minute dose at a metre’s distance is lethal to humans. Each spent fuel rod generates heat and has to be stored in a pool of water at least for five to ten years to cool down.
When a spent fuel pool runs out of room, the rods are then transferred into 100 tonne containers called dry casks. Each cask costs about $1 million each, and the spent fuel assemblies are transferred into the casks using costly robotic equipment to avoid human exposure. The casks are then filled with helium and are welded shut, at a cost of $500,000 each.
Dry casks are stored above ground, and the idea is that after about 50 years of further cooling the fuel can then be sent to a deep underground repository. Though, no country has yet succeeded in following through on this final costly step. A dry cask, which is stored above ground, in the meantime may corrode and leak, and transfer into a replacement cask is costly.20
Some isotopes in the spent fuel have decay half-lives over 10,000 years, and so an underground repository is the only viable final resting place for such waste.21
To repackage spent fuel from a dry cask to a special repository canister is incredibly costly. For the manufacture of canisters and provision of the equipment to perform the repackaging operation, one is looking in the vicinity of $50 billion.22
When a canister is placed in a deep repository, bentonite clay is used to delay the penetration of water and moisture. The canister eventually cracks and corrodes with time. This is accelerated due to the radiation, from the inside, and by natural bacteria23 from the outside. Once there is a leak, radioactive iodine-129 isotopes from the fuel can diffuse through rock.19
Radioactive actinides from the spent fuel are released into the biosphere through water.19 Should water ever breach the canisters, numerous chemical reactions can take place including the generation of explosive mixtures of hydrogen and oxygen.19
Why is nuclear so expensive?
The principal costs of NPPs are the capital cost of the power station and decommissioning. Then consider the enormous number of steps involved in preparing the fuel, its deployment in a highly complex nuclear station, and then the repackaging and disposal steps needed at the end of the fuel cycle. At each step there are safety risks to nuclear workers and so the complexity of the management flow snowballs due to the necessary governance structures that are put into place. As there are so many steps with attendant risks, the full end-to-end cost appears to climb.
Nuclear decommission costs are high, and it is estimated that the decommissioning contracts over the next 15 years will amount to $220 billion.24 This sum is equivalent to the creation of solar power that would replace 44 nuclear stations.25
Renewables vs. nuclear
While nuclear power plants experience economic decline, renewables are rapidly growing and penetrating the market on an exponential curve. The global annual increase in renewable generation for 2015 alone was 50 GW for solar panels, 63 GW for wind power, and 28 GW for hydropower.26
Nuclear power is large and centralised, with enormous entry and exit costs. By contrast, renewables are made up of small modular units that yield a faster return on investment. The revolution we are witnessing is akin to the extinction of big powerful dinosaurs versus resilient swarms of small ants working in cooperation. Nuclear power is sinking under the weight of its complexity, costs, and the headache of its waste issue. On the other hand solar power is brought to us via free sunshine exposing the promises of nuclear as mere moonshine.
Nuclear advocates point out high electricity spot prices in regions with high renewable penetration.27 However, it is a misdirection to conclude that renewables are therefore costly – after all, renewables have zero fuel costs. The plants with flexible controllable power (eg. gas turbines) naturally take advantage of the situation and bid higher prices during times when renewable generation is low.28 Thus the solution is not to reduce the proportion of renewables, but instead to revise pricing policy to reflect the change in market dynamics and structure. The current policies are out-dated and based around the outmoded paradigm of all-controllable power generation.
A possible solution is that flexible controllable power sources (eg. gas, waste biomass fuelled power plants, solar thermal plants, pumped hydro, batteries etc) ought to be also rewarded for the ‘insurance’ they provide in backing up intermittent uncontrollable sources (eg. wind and rooftop solar), rather than solely for the energy they deliver so that they are not drawn into a price bidding game. Rewarding controllable sources for their back-up ability may provide investment incentives for such generators.
A common argument nuclear proponents raise is that renewables are intermittent; therefore nuclear power is essential to keep the lights on 24/7. This is wrong on a number of levels.
First, intermittency does not automatically imply unreliability. Take the analogy of rainfall. Rain is very intermittent and yet we have a continuous supply of water when we turn on the taps. Why? Because there is reservoir storage, river flow, and many pipe-interconnected collection areas and aquifers. Our water supply would be unreliable if we didn’t adequately design an appropriate grid of pipework, dams, and reservoirs. There’s no equivalent of a ‘nuclear station’ providing a constant baseload supply of water. The intermittency in rainfall becomes reliable due to planned storage and spatial diversity. The same principles apply to electricity.
Second, nuclear plants are intermittent too as they need planned shutdowns for maintenance and fuel rod changes. Then there are unplanned shutdowns, for example, if a pump breaks down or a critical pipe leaks. These ‘minor’ shutdowns often mean that 1 GW of nuclear power goes offine for 2–4 weeks. The ultimate in intermittency is when a nuclear station is closed down to due an accident or if a licence renewal has been refused due to old age. Then there’s over a 10-year lead-time before a replacement nuclear plant comes online. So nuclear power is intermittent too, but simply on a different timescale.29
By contrast, it makes no difference to a grid when a solar panel is damaged. Moreover, it can be replaced within a day. The modularity and diversity of a network of renewable sources can be designed to be much more robust than any large centralised power station.
Nuclear lobbyists create a further false dilemma by suggesting renewables make the electricity grid unstable and therefore nuclear power is required to ensure stability. First, nuclear power is not required because controllable renewable sources (with synchronous generation, such as solar thermal, hydroelectric power, and pumped hydro) already stabilise the grid. It is true that other renewable sources do give rise to grid management issues, but this is bread and butter for grid engineers.30 There are numerous research papers by grid engineers developing solutions for increased renewable penetration and none are suggesting the need for nuclear power.
In an Australian context, how does one adopt proven storage techniques for grid stability such as pumped hydro, when the country is mostly devoid of mountains? It is a fallacy to assume mountains are needed; as plateau regions provide perfect locations for pumping up water for later release and energy generation. For example, there is an ideal plateau of about 270 m high, between Port Augusta and Whyalla where seawater can be pumped for energy storage.
Nuclear in bed with renewables?
In desperation, nuclear advocates are putting a new spin on their marketing. The slogan now is that nuclear and renewables make perfect marriage partners, as nuclear provides the grid with ‘baseload’ power.
Unfortunately this pick up line cannot woo renewables into bed. The fact is that generators designed for constant baseload operation are exactly what uncontrollable renewable generators don’t need. Uncontrollable renewables need flexible controllable sources of power such as hydroelectric power, pumped hydro, waste biofuels, solar thermal, and solar generated hydrogen or syngas to provide power when generation from intermittent renewable sources is insufficient to meet demand. Nuclear power plants work best when they provide a constant power output and they lack the agility to follow the variability of renewable generators.
One can manage different uncontrollable and controllable renewable sources to work together, making baseload gen-eration redundant.31,32 The concept of operating a power system with a traditional baseload plant is becoming outmoded5 and signifficant future cost penalties are likely to be attached to generators designed for baseload operation33.
Nuclear promotion goes to some lengths to greenwash its image, in an attempt to make it appear on a par with renewables. But as we have demonstrated in this article, non-recyclable nuclear is highly resource-limited and therefore it isn’t a renewable source.
Another form of greenwashing is the catchphrase ‘nuclear saves lives’ reminding us that radiotherapy is used in hospitals. Amputating gangrenous limbs also saves lives too, but it would be a logical fallacy to use that fact to improve the image of chainsaws.34
What really matters is rate of carbon footprint reduction
The spin put on nuclear power as having a ‘low carbon’ footprint is a further case of greenwashing. For example, if there were a threefold ramp up of nuclear power this century, it would result in a modest 6% carbon reduction.35 On the other hand, the exponential uptake of renewables this century will far outstrip 6%.
What really matters is not the present carbon footprint today of each power source, but the rate of footprint reduction that they introduce. Presently nuclear is in decline, and solar uptake is exponentially growing. Thus the reduction in carbon footprint from solar will experience a ‘compound interest’ type of effect. Because the solar market is fast and flexible, whereas nuclear is economically slow and stunted, solar will vastly exceed nuclear in terms of rate of carbon mitigation.
In summary, the branding of nuclear as ‘green’ is fallacious and the opportunism of nuclear advocates proclaiming environ-mental concern is about as comforting as Donald Trump in a Mexican hat.
Should Australia adopt nuclear power?
The size of the Australian electricity market is of the order of $10 billion per annum,36 which is relatively small. Therefore there isn’t a business case to foot the bill for even one nuclear power station with its construction cost, decommission cost, and cost of spent fuel handling and repackaging.
Moreover, Australia simply doesn’t have the existing infrastructure, training, and governance structures to support a nuclear industry. It would be risky for Australia to enter an area fraught with high uncertainty, given the present global decline.
Should Australia store nuclear waste?
Possible motivations to build a deep underground repository for international high-level nuclear waste, in Australia, are the promises of income, increased employment, and support of a waning Australian uranium export industry.37
However, it is important to note that no pro-nuclear power country has yet opened such a repository. To enter a new business space, where even the highly experienced players have not delivered, is to take on considerable economic risk and uncertainty.
To invest in an industry that is in global decline, does not appear to be as rational as investing in a growth area such as renewable energy. Renewable energy is a business space where Australia has a multitude of trained engineers, existing infrastructure, and an abundance of sunshine. Building intentional renewable overcapacity in Australia will potentially be a wise investment, as that surplus can then be used to generate hydrogen or other fuels that can be liquefied and traded on overseas markets.
Lack of public acceptance
Obtaining public acceptance in a country that has traditionally been free of nuclear power would likely be insurmountable, given the decreasing world-wide levels of public support.40
Lack of public acceptance cannot be underestimated. Even in pro-nuclear France, riots took place in the 1990s that overturned the government’s move to build a nuclear repository.41 Renewed protests have taken to the streets in China only this year.42
The citizens in the countries, with the most nuclear experience, show increasing opposition40 to expanding the nuclear industry,
1. Germany (90% opposed)
2. Mexico (82% opposed)
3. Japan (84% opposed)
4. UK (63% opposed)
5. USA (61% opposed)
6. China (58% opposed)
7. France (83% opposed
8. Russia (80% opposed).
With the current debacle of escalating costs of the Hinkley nuclear plant, in the UK, it is likely a fresh poll would show even stronger UK opposition against nuclear and further support for renewable energy.
Nuclear power is a clunky technology borne out of a bygone Cold War era. Its best days are over and it cannot form a key part of sustainable energy policy.
The world doesn’t have the capacity to rapidly scale up nuclear power generation. As well as resource and geographic limitations, there simply isn’t the nuclear-trained workforce base. To install renewables, on the other hand, takes regular engineers of which there are millions in the world. Renewables therefore have a strong workforce base to draw upon.
Nuclear simply does not scale up in the time we need it. Renewables are flexible and uptake is fast with relatively low entry costs. Nuclear is burdensome and does not have the economic agility to survive a dynamically changing electricity market – it cannot adapt fast enough tocompeting game changers.
An economically declining nuclear industry is a dangerous one, as there is always the temptation to cut costs and fall short on safety standards.
The Economist43 aptly points out: “As renewable sources of energy become more attractive, the days of big, ‘baseload’ projects…. are numbered.”
There’s been a game change, and it is game over for nuclear.
Professor Derek Abbott is a physicist and electrical engineer based at the University of Adelaide. He won a 2004 Tall Poppy Award and the 2015 David Dewhurst Medal, Engineers Australia. He is a Fellow of the Institute of Electrical & Electronic Engineers (USA), a Fellow of the Institute of Physics (UK), a Fellow of Engineers Australia, and an Australian Research Council Future Fellow.
A Brave New World: Understanding the Ethics of Human Enhancement
1 For further discussion of the charge of ‘Playing God’ see C. A. J. Coady (2009) ‘Playing God’, in J. Savulescu and N. Bostrom (eds.) Human Enhancement, Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 155-180.
2 Fukuyama, F. (2002). Our Posthuman Future. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
3 Kass, L. (2003). ‘Ageless Bodies, Happy Souls: Biotechnology and the Pursuit of Perfection’, The New Atlantis, Spring, 9-28.
4 Kekes, J. (1998). A Case for Conservatism. Ithica: Cornell University Press; Scruton, R. (2001). The Meaning of Conservatism, Third Edition. Houndsmills: Palgrave.
5 Kekes, J. (1998). A Case for Conservatism. Ithica: Cornell University Press; Scruton, R. (2001). The Meaning of Conservatism, Third Edition. Houndsmills: Palgrave.
6 Saletan, W. (2005). ‘The Beam in your Eye: If Steroids are Cheating why isn’t LASIK?’, Slate, April 18th. http://www.slate.com/id/2116858/
7 Buchanan, A. (2011). Beyond Humanity?: The Ethics of Biomedical Enhancement. Oxford University Press: Oxford.
8 Vedder, A. and Klaming, L. (2010). ‘Human Enhancement for the Common Good: Using Neurotechnologies to Improve Eyewitness Memory’, American Journal of Bioethics –Neuroscience,1, 3, 22-33.
9 Woollaston, V. (2013). ‘We’ll be uploading our entire MINDS to computers by 2045 and our bodies will be replaced by machines within 90 years, Google expert claims’ Daily Mail, 20 June: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2344398/Google-futurist-claims-uploading-entire-MINDS-computers-2045-bodies-replaced-machines-90-years.html
Nuclear Power: Game Over
1 International Energy Outlook 2016, US Energy Information Agency (EIA) http://www.eia.gov/forecasts/aeo/data/browser/#/?id=2-IEO2016 This shows it is about 17,000 GW, but for convenience we have rounded this o to 15,000 GW. At this scale the exact numbers do not matter.
2 D. Abbott, “Keeping the energy debate clean: How do we supply the world’s energy needs?” Proceedings of the IEEE, Vol. 98, No. 1, pp. 42–66, 2010. http://dx.doi.org/10.1109/JPROC.2009.2035162
3 D. Abbott, “Hydrogen without tears: addressing the global energy crisis via a solar to hydrogen pathway,” Proceedings of the IEEE, Vol. 97, No. 12, pp. 1931–1934, 2009. http://ieeexplore.ieee.org/stamp/stamp.jsp?arnumber=5306145
4 M. Schneider and A. Froggatt, The World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2016. http://www.worldnuclearreport.org/IMG/pdf/20160713MSC-WNISR2016V2-HR.pdf
5 Global Utilities, Autos & Chemicals, UBS, 2014. http://www.qualenergia.it/sites/default/les/articolodoc/ues45625.pdf
6 F. Green, “China’s coal cuts continue amid boom in redundant coal-fired power stations,” The Interpreter, 2016. http://www.lowyinterpreter.org/post/2016/07/22/Chinas-coal-cuts-continue-amid-boom-in-redundant-coal-red-power-stations.aspx
7 X. Yi-chong, The Politics of Nuclear Energy in China, Macmillan, 2010.
8 S. Chen, “Technician shortage in China threatens nuclear plant safety,” South China Morning Post, 2016. http://www.scmp.com/news/china/policies-politics/article/2000147/technician-shortage-china-threatens-nuclear-plant
9 L. Hornby, “China protests force rethink on nuclear waste site,” Financial Times, 2016 http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/003ecb60-5ec7-11e6-bb77-a121aa8abd95.html#axzz4HPHIkidz
10 M. Chan and H. Huifeng, “Jiangmen uranium plant is scrapped after thousands take part in protests,” South China Morning Post, 2016. http://www.scmp.com/news/china/article/1281748/jiangmen-uranium-plant-scrapped-after-protest
11 M. Z. Jacobson, “Review of solutions to global warming, air pollution, and energy security,’’ Energy Environ. Sci., vol. 2, pp. 148–173, 2009.
12 This is a little smaller than the area required by solar, with storage, to achieve an equivalent power. Solar thermal power typically uses up unused desert, whereas NPPs need to be located near large bodies of coolant water. Note that for wind farms on rural properties, land use continues in the normal way excepting for the relatively small area of the turbine tower footings and so the actual footprint is negligible.
13 Supply of Uranium, WNO, 2016. http://www.world-nuclear.org/information-library/nuclear-fuel-cycle/uranium-resources/supply-of-uranium.aspx
14 D. Abbott, “Is nuclear power globally scalable?” Proceedings of the IEEE, Vol. 99, No. 10, pp. 1611–1617, 2011. http://dx.doi.org/10.1109/JPROC.2011.2161806
15 Moreover, the quantities of seawater needed for processing and the quantity of uranium absorbent needed is simply unsustainable for large-scale deployment.
16. K. L. Murty and I. Charit, “Structural materials for Gen-IV nuclear reactors: Challenges and opportunities,” Nuclear Mater., vol. 383, pp. 189–195, 2008. http://www.cmt.ua.ac.be/golib/Rajabboy_aka/1-s2.0-S0022311508004960-main.pdf
17 Moreover the ‘better’ designs use liquid sodium as a coolant and it is notoriously dicult to mitigate against sodium leaks. Optimistic estimates are predicting these types of reactors will be online after 2040, but this is uncertain and relies on solutions to the materials issues. And then who knows how many years it will take thereafter to become commercially proven at economically feasible prices? One may be waiting around for a century for that. Or perhaps it may never come to pass.
18 D. Abbott, “Limits to growth: Can nuclear power supply the world’s needs?” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Vol. 68, No. 5, pp. 23–32, 2012. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0096340212459124
19 R. C. Ewing, “Long-term storage of spent nuclear fuel” Nature Materials, Vol. 14, No. 3 pp. 252–257, 2015. http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nmat4226
20 There are many mechanisms for breach of the dry cask, when one considers corrosion in combination with the radiation. One example is that alpha particles from the fuel create pockets of helium in the metal lattice of the cask. Those helium bubbles then crack the metal and then the contents can come into contact with the environment.
21 At signifficant further cost, the fuel could in theory be further ‘burned,’ but isotopes with 500-year decay times remain and a repository is still required.
22 S. Cooke, “The hidden costs of US nuclear waste,” 2016.http://www.energy-intel.com/pages/worldopinionarticle.aspx?DocID=929464
23 K. Pedersen, “Subterranean microorganisms and radioactive waste disposal in Sweden,” Engineering Geology, Vol. 52, pp. 163–176, 1999.
24 B. Felix and B. Mallet, “France’s EDF sets sights on $200 bln nuclear decommissioning market,” 2016. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/wires/reuters/article-3674101/Frances-EDF-sets-sights-200-bln-nuclear-decommissioning-market.html
25 In my early days, as a physics student, we would jokingly call our nuclear physics lectures, ‘unclear’ physics. The anagram is apt, because nuclear is unclear power riddled with economic uncertainties.
26 Renewables 2016 Global Status Report. http://www.ren21.net/wp-content/ uploads/2016/06/GSR_2016_KeyFindings.pdf
27 I. Hore-Lacy, “South Australia’s green dream, or its nightmare?” World Nuclear News, 2016. http://www.world-nuclear-news.org/V-South-Australian-green-dream-or-its-nightmare-2607161.html
28 B. Mountain, South Australia’s Wholesale Electricity Market What Really Happened in July 2016?http://cmeaustralia.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/160815-FINAL-south-australia-7-july-getup-report-.pdf
29 Moreover, the gaps in nuclear intermittency create a much larger power shortfall than renewables and in this sense is much a greater challenge.
30 M. Milligan, et al., “Alternatives no more: Wind and solar power are mainstays of a clean, reliable, aordable grid,” IEEE Power and Energy Magazine, Vol. 13, No. 6, pp. 78–87, 2015. http://dx.doi.org/10.1109/MPE.2015.2462311
31 B. Elliston, I. Macgill, and M. Diesendorf, “Least cost 100% renewable electricity scenarios in the Australian national electricity market,” Energy Policy, Vol. 59, pp. 270–282, 2013. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.enpol.2013.03.038
32 M. Z. Jacobson, et al., “100% clean and renewable wind, water, and sunlight (WWS) all-sector energy roadmaps for the 50 United States,” Energy & Environmental Science, Vol. 8, No. 7, pp. 2093–2117, 2015. https://web.stanford.edu/group/efmh/jacobson/Articles/I/USStatesWWS.pdf
33 Indeed, generators designed for baseload operation are in a sense a more expensive form of uncontrollable generation than intermittent generation.
34 Nearly all radiotherapy cancer treatments are carried out with X-ray units that do not use isotopes. In fact, most radiotherapy units with isotopes are obsolete technology. In any case, radiotherapy may well become a thing of the past given the promising emergence of new immunotherapy techniques. Immunotherapy may well become the ‘renewables’ of medicine and oust radiotherapy.
35 M. Englert, L. Krall, and R. C. Ewing. “Is nuclear ssion a sustainable source of energy?” MRS Bulletin, Vol. 37, No. 4, pp. 417–424, 2012.http://dx.doi.org/10.1557/mrs.2012.6
36 National Electricity Market Fact Sheet, AEMO. http://www.aemo.com.au/Electricity/-/media/CFE8057F1A304D7DBFDD8882D8089357.ashx
37 Australia’s uranium exports dropped from a peak of about A$1.2 billion around 2009 to about half that amount last year. http://www.minerals.org.au/resources/uranium/uranium_nuclear_forecasts
38 Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission Report, 2016. http://nuclear.yoursay.sa.gov.au/system/NFCRC_Final_Report_Web.pdf
39 The Royal Commission makes an implicit economic assumption that overseas countries will be willing to pay the considerable cost of sending waste to South Australia and will not break any signed commitments to do so. However, the Commission’s report is silent on the issue of fuel repackaging.
40. R. Black, “Nuclear power gets little public support worldwide,” BBC News, 2011. http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-15864806
41 J. Palfreman, “Why do the French like nuclear power?” PBS online.http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/reaction/readings/french.html
42 D. Stanway, “China halts work on $15 billion nuclear waste project after protests,” Reuters, 2016. http://www.reuters.com/article/us-china-nuclearpower idUSKCN10L0CX
43 “Hinkley pointless,” The Economist, 2016. http://www.economist.com/news/leaders/21703367-britain-should-cancel-its-nuclear-white-elephant-and-spend-billions-making-renewables
Rejuvenating the Brain: Ageing with Cognitive Sparkle
1 Oce for National Statistics, United Kingdom.
2 den Dunnen WF, Brouwer WH, Bijlard E, Kamphuis J, van Linschoten K, Eggens-Meijer E, Holstege (2008) No disease in the brain of a 115-year-old woman. Neurobiol Aging. Aug; 29(8):1127-32.
3 Claudia L. Satizabal, Ph.D., Alexa S. Beiser, Ph.D., Vincent Chouraki, M.D., Ph.D., Geneviève Chêne, M.D., Ph.D., Carole Dufouil, Ph.D., and Sudha Seshadri, M.D. (2016) Incidence of Dementia over Three Decades in the Framingham Heart Study. N Engl J Med 374:523-532
4 Qizilbash N, Gregson J, Johnson ME, Pearce N, Douglas I, Wing K, Evans SJ, Pocock SJ. (2015) BMI and risk of dementia in two million people over two decades: a retrospective cohort study. Lancet Diabetes Endocrinol. June 3(6):431-6. doi: 10.1016/S2213-8587(15)00033-9. Epub 2015 Apr 9.
5 Hsu DC, Mormino EC, Schultz AP, Amariglio RE, Donovan NJ, Rentz DM, Johnson KA, Sperling RA, Marshall GA. (2016) Lower Late-Life Body-Mass Index is Associated with Higher Cortical Amyloid Burden in Clinically Normal Elderly. Harvard Aging Brain Study. J Alzheimers Dis. June 18;53(3):1097-105. doi: 10.3233/JAD-150987.
6 Vukovic J, Borlikova GG, Ruitenberg MJ, Robinson GJ, Sullivan RK, Walker TL, Bartlett PF. (2013) Immature doublecortin-positive hippocampal neurons are important for learning but not for remembering. J Neurosci. April 10;33(15):6603-13. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.3064-12.2013.
7 Walker TL, White A, Black DM, Wallace RH, Sah P, Bartlett PF. (2008) Latent stem and progenitor cells in the hippocampus are activated by neural excitation. J Neurosci. May 14;28(20):5240-7. D
8 Leinenga G, Götz J. (2015) Scanning ultrasound removes amyloid-β and restores memory in an Alzheimer’s disease mouse model. Sci Transl Med. March 11;7(278):278ra33
Cell Therapies – Australia playing catch up?
1 World Health Organisation, [website], 2016, http://www.who.int/media-centre/factsheets/fs210/en/index2.html, (accessed 19 August 2016).
2 Giangrande, P.L., 2000. The history of blood transfusion. British Journal of Haematology, 110(4), p.760.
3 World Health Organisation, [website], 2016, http://www.who.int/media-centre/factsheets/fs210/en/index2.html, (accessed 19 August 2016).
4 Seattle Children’s Hospital, ‘Seattle Chlidren’s T-Cell Immunotherapy Clinical Trial for Children With Relapsed Leukemia Shows 93% Complete Remission Rate, Strong Against Cancer, [web blog], 2 June 2016, https://strongagainstcancer.org/news/seattle-childrens-t-cell-immunotherapy-clinical-trial-children-relapsed-leukemia-shows-93-complete-remission-rate/, (accessed 19 August 2016).
5 Kelly Scientic 2016. Global & USA Cancer Immunotherapy Market Analysis to 2020 – Updated Edition [abstract]6 2016 Regenerative Medicine & Advanced Therapies State of the Industry Briefing, 2016, available at le:///C:/Users/Natalie/Downloads/ARM_SOTI_2016_FINAL_web_version.pdf
7 Cell and Gene Therapy Catapult, [website], 2016, https://ct.catapult.org.uk/about-us/who-we-are/, (accessed 19 August 2016).
8 Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research, [website], 2016, http://www.wehi.edu.au/about-history/notable-scientists/professor-don-metcalf, (accessed 19 August 2016).
9 Alliance for Regenerative Medicine, ‘Q2 Quarterly Data Report’, 2016, p.2.
10 Australian Bureau of Statistics, [website], 2016, http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs%40.nsf/94713ad4451425ca25682000192af2/1647509ef7e25faaca2568a900154b63?OpenDocument, (accessed 19 August 2016).
11 Roos, G. (2015). ATSE Focus Advanced Manufacturing. 192nd ed. [pdf ] Australia: Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering (ATSE). Available at https://www.atse.org.au/Documents/focus/192-advanced-manufacturing.pdf
12 CSIROpedia, [website], 2009, https://csiropedia.csiro.au/extended-wear-contact-lenses, (accessed 19 August)
13 Stem Cells Australia, [website], 2016, http://www.stemcellsaustralia.edu.au/AboutUs/OurInvestigators/Dr-Robert-Nordon.aspx, accessed 19 August 2016).
Supporters of nuclear power like to argue that nukes are the key to combatting climate change. Here’s why they are dead wrong.
Every nuclear generating station spews about two-thirds of the energy it burns inside its reactor core into the environment. Only one-third is converted into electricity. Another tenth of that is lost in transmission. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists:
Nuclear fission is the most water intensive method of the principal thermoelectric generation options in terms of the amount of water withdrawn from sources. In 2008, nuclear power plants withdrew eight times as much freshwater as natural gas plants per unit of energy produced, and up to 11 percent more than the average coal plant.
Every day, large reactors like the two at Diablo Canyon, California, individually dump about 1.25 billion gallons of water into the ocean at temperatures up to 20 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than the natural environment.
Diablo’s “once-through cooling system” takes water out of the ocean and dumps it back superheated, irradiated and laden with toxic chemicals. Many U.S. reactors use cooling towers which emit huge quantities of steam and water vapor that also directly warm the atmosphere.
These emissions are often chemically treated to prevent algae and other growth that could clog the towers. Those chemicals can then be carried downwind, along with radiation from the reactors. In addition, hundreds of thousands of birds die annually by flying into the reactor domes and towers.
The temperature increase in the bodies of water can have serious adverse effects on aquatic life. Warm water holds less oxygen than cold water, thus discharge from once-through cooling systems can create a “temperature squeeze” that elevates the metabolic rate for fish. Additionally, suction pipes that are used to intake water can draw plankton, eggs and larvae into the plant’s machinery, while larger organisms can be trapped against the protective screens of the pipes. Blocked intake screens have led to temporary shut downs and NRC fines at a number of plants.
And that’s not all.
All nuclear reactors emit Carbon 14, a radioactive isotope, invalidating the industry’s claim that reactors are “carbon free.” And the fuel that reactors burn is carbon-intensive. The mining, milling, and enrichment processes needed to produce the pellets that fill the fuel rods inside the reactor cores all involve major energy expenditures, nearly all of it based on coal, oil, or gas.
And of course there’s the problem of nuclear waste. After more than a half-century of well-funded attempts, we’ve seen no solution for the management of atomic power’s intensely radioactive waste. There’s the “low-level” waste involving enormous quantities of troublesome irradiated liquids and solid trash that must be dealt with outside the standard civilian waste stream. And that handling involves fossil fuels burned in the process of transportation, management, and disposal as well
As for the high-level waste, this remains one of humankind’s most persistent and dangerous problems. Atomic apologists have claimed that the intensely radioactive spent fuel rods can somehow be usable for additional power generation. But after a half-century of efforts, with billions of dollars spent, all attempts to do that have utterly failed. There are zero successful reactors capable of producing more reactor fuel than they use, or able to derive more energy from the tens of thousands of tons of spent fuel rods they create.
Some reactors, like Fukushima, use “mixed-oxide” fuels that have proven to be extremely dirty and expensive. It’s possible some of this “MOX” fuel containing plutonium, actually fissioned at Fukushima Unit Three, raising terrifying questions about the dangers of its use. The mushroom cloud that appears on video as Fukushima Unit Three exploded stands as an epic warning against further use of these impossible-to-manage fuels.
The MOX facility under construction near Aiken, South Carolina, is now projected to require another ten years to build with another ten possible after that to phase into production. U.S. Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz said on September 13, 2016, at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace that the mismanaged project was “impossible” to carry out and that it could cost $30 billion to $50 billion. Even the current pro-nuclear Congress won’t fully fund the project and the Department of Energy DOE continues to recommend abandoning it.
There are no credible estimates of the global warming damage done by the intensely hot explosions at the four Fukushima reactors, or at Chernobyl, or at any other past and future reactor meltdowns or blowups.
Atomic apologists argue that the disposal of high-level reactor wastes should be a relatively simple problem, lacking only the political will to proceed. The industry touts New Mexico’s Waste Isolation Pilot Project, or WIPP, which has long been the poster child for military attempts to deal with high-level trash from the nuclear weapons program. Accepting its first shipment of waste in 1999, WIPP was touted as the ultimate high-tech, spare-no-expense model that proved radioactive waste disposal “can be done.”
But a series of disastrous events in February, 2014, led WIPP to stop accepting wastes—the sole function for which it was designed. Most significant was the explosion of a single barrel of highly radioactive waste materials (it was mistakenly packed with organic rather than clay-based kitty litter). About a dozen WIPP workers were exposed to potentially harmful radiation. The entire facility remains closed. In a phone interview, facility management told me it may again accept some wastes before the end of this year. But at least part of the cavernous underground labyrinth may never be reopened. The Los Angeles Times estimated the cost of this single accident at $2 billion.
Overall, the idea that atomic power is “clean” or “carbon free” or “emission free” is a very expensive misconception, especially when compared to renewable energy, efficiency, and conservation. Among conservation, efficiency, solar and wind power technologies, there are no global warming analogs to the heat, carbon, and radioactive waste impacts of nuclear power. No green technology kills anywhere near the number of marine organisms that die through reactor cooling systems.
Rooftop solar panels do not lose ten percent of the power they generate to transmission, as happens with virtually all centralized power generators. S. David Freeman, former head of numerous large utilities and author of All Electric America: A Climate Solution and the Hopeful Future, says: “Renewables are cheaper and safer. That argument is winning. Let’s stick to it.”
No terrorist will ever threaten one of our cities by blowing up a solar panel. But the nuclear industry that falsely claims its dying technology doesn’t cause global warming does threaten the future of our planet.
by Lorna Salzman at Hunter College, Energy Studies program, 1986
After the Chernobyl nuclear reactor disaster in the Soviet Union, there was much finger-wagging in the US about the suppression of information there, and the purported differences in reactor design and safety requirements between Russia and the US, which made a similar accident here unlikely if not impossible.
But the similarities between how technical information and failure are handled there and here, as well as those in reactor design and the potential for reactor failure are striking. These similarities extend to the press as well as government, but in this respect there is a major difference. In the Soviet Union censorship is imposed by the central government. In the US it is self-imposed.
For example, there was and is nothing in this country to prevent a scientist or journalist or academic researcher from reporting fully and accurately on the consequences of the Chernobyl accident. In this respect we are indeed fortunate to have had independent and impartial scientists like Dr. John Gofman, the leading radiation health expert in the US and formerly of the government-supported Lawrence Livermore Laboratory in California.
Dr. Gofman, using the admittedly incomplete data released by Russia and other European countries, applied rigorous analysis in the context of what is known about Chernobyl-type and size reactors and in the context of highly responsible statistical and epidemiological calculations based on standard radiation dose/response relationships. What Gofman came up with, and what no one in government or the nuclear industry has been able to refute, is an estimate that about one million people throughout the world will develop cancer from Chernobyl fallout, half of whom will eventually die.
Gofman delivered the results of his study before the American Chemical Society annual meeting in Anaheim, California. His figures pointed to 424,300 cancers in the Soviet Union, and 526,700 in Europe and elsewhere over a 70-year period as a result of cesium exposure and ingestion from the accident of April 1986, plus another 19,500 leukemias and an unknown number of thyroid and other cancers from other radioisotopes. These figures are over five times greater than the highest previous estimates, which range from 2000 to 75,000 premature deaths.
The reasons for this huge discrepancy – reasons never explored by the press nor revealed by our government and therefore unknown to the public – lie in the fact that the long-term effects of low-level radiation exposure have consistently been downplayed, distorted or concealed by scientists, the nuclear industry and the government. Even though a patient search of government information can sometimes reveal the phrase “There is no such thing as a safe dose of radiation”, this simple sentence conceals multitudes of information. Gofman says: “There is no dose so small that the body can perfectly repair all resulting damage to DNA and the chromosomes”. The nuclear industry and the government have long promoted the notion that non-observable, long-term latent effects of low doses of radiation are in effect non-existent; they can safely do this because such effects are not manifested for years or decades, and a specific cancer or genetic defect cannot be traced back to any particular radiation exposure. Accordingly, as Gofman puts it, nuclear power is “mass, random, premeditated murder”.
“Undetectable” of course does not mean non-existent. For each amount of radioactivity released into the environment, there will be a statistically certain number of cancers, leukemias and other ill effects that will occur somewhere at some time; only the date and victims’ names are unknown. Right down to a zero radiation dose, these victims will appear. And, as Gofman’s Chernobyl figures show, people outside the immediate area can be at greater risk than those closer in. As a means of comparison, Gofman notes that the malignancies that arise from one nuclear reactor accident rival the number caused by all the above-ground nuclear bomb tests of the US, UK and USSR combined.
An information blackout occurred in this country as a result of directives from the White House, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), the Dept. of Energy (DOE), and the Dept. of Agriculture (DOA) right after Chernobyl. Government scientists were instructed not to talk to journalists. Even United Press International (UPI) backed down by saying that it could not stand by its initial estimate of 2000 immediate deaths, all of which led the public to conclude that the Soviets were the victims of censorship, while we here in the US had a free press.
It seems that while the US and the USSR had a hard time cooperating on nuclear arms at that time, they had a tacit agreement to cover up each other’s nuclear power mistakes. In 1957, what was probably the worst nuclear accident in the world before Chernobyl took place in the Ural Mountains at what is believed to be a nuclear waste dump. Over a thousand square kilometers in the southern Urals were drenched with radioactivity and rendered permanently uninhabitable. Hundreds died immediately, and long-term effects will never be known. The entire industrial area was evacuated; whole rivers, lakes and watersheds became irreversibly contaminated and the area was fenced off to prohibit entry.
Zhores Medvedev, a renowned Soviet scientists, knew about the accident, and in 1973, living in England, was astounded to learn that no one in the West knew about (or cared to admit they knew) the accident. Medvedev published an article in 1976 about the accident which was then reprinted in many western newspapers. The response from the UK, France and the US nuclear establishment was unanimous: they denied that such an accident was technically possible. The then-chairman of the UK Atomic Energy Authority, Sir John Hill, called Medvedev’s report “rubbish” and his comments were printed in the NY Times on Nov. 8, 1976 in a Reuters dispatch. Though Medvedev’s research, published later in his book “Nuclear Disaster in the Urals”, provided detailed information that indicated a nuclear waste accident, nuclear scientists preferred to blame the Soviets for poor radioactive waste handling, thus averting the issue of nuclear power safety entirely. Medvedev’s Freedom of Information Act requests to the US Energy Research & Development Authority and the CIA came back to him heavily censored; most documents he had requested were classified and never released.
The Soviets were not the only ones willing to kill their own people, however. In the 1950s, the US Army, with the complicity of Congress, the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), nuclear scientists and physicians, and top levels of government, deliberately marched American soldiers to within 100 yards of ground zero in nuclear bomb tests in Nevada; those victims are still dying today as may any defective offspring. Here are some of the testimonials to those tests:
“Nuclear testing, by and large, has been one of the safest things that was ever done”, Robert Newman, Nevada test site manager.
“No one has ever been crippled, killed or severely maimed in a nuclear weapons test”, Gordon Jacks, former Army Colonel, 18-year veteran of atomic testing.
“People have got to learn to live with the facts of life, and part of the facts of life are fallout”, Willard Libby, AEC Commissioner, AEC meeting of Feb. 23, 1955.
What was behind these blanket denials of the truth? First, keep in mind that these facts, like all those about nuclear power and nuclear weapons testing, were kept secret and released only through the efforts of private citizens and a few courageous researchers and journalists. The AEC, in the 1950s, was fearful of being put out of business and in particular of the consequences if the public became suspicious about nuclear fallout, especially because they had gone to such lengths to separate the civilian nuclear power program from the military nuclear weapons program. Data on actual fallout as well as human exposure and the resultant health effects were held only by the AEC lab at Oak Ridge, Tennessee. The AEC in fact dismissed the notion that humans could ingest strontium from milk and insisted they could ingest it only from eating bone splinters from poorly butchered animals. Regarding radioactivity in the food chain, from animals eating plants growing in fallout areas, they said: “…experiments have indicated that there is no hazard to human health from this source”, although it is doubtful that such experiments ever took place.
At least 250,000 American troops were directly exposed to atomic radiation during the 17 years of bomb testing here and in the Pacific, but they have been totally ignored by the government and the Army. Receiving continual unabated assurances of complete safety, these troops were employed literally as human guinea pigs to demonstrate how people could function in a fallout-contaminated area in the event of a nuclear war. It took 30 years before the US government even agreed to conduct any studies of health effects on these troops, and even now the government and Army reject the notion that they are liable in any way for the horrendous and pitiful condition of the survivors and the families of those who died. The Smoky test in Nevada in 1957 showed over twice the normal leukemia rate among servicemen, and later this was amended to three times the rate…and this test exposed only 1% of all those servicemen exposed to nuclear test fallout. There is little doubt that hundreds died and that countless others developed illnesses that led to death from various cancers, blood disorders and chronic body ailments. Today the government still rejects all claims for such illnesses.*
How did the media handle this? On Sept. 28, 1980, on CBS” “Sixty Minutes”, there were brief interviews with some atomic veterans but the program concentrated mainly on the Defense Nuclear Agency director, Vice-Admiral Robert Monroe. Monroe stated to Morley Safer and millions of viewers that the Army took “meticulous precautions to insure that exposures were within limits” and denied that there was any statistical increase in cancer deaths from the tests, adding: “This weapon testing is a very, very, very, very tiny amount of low-level radiation”. No opposing views were presented on the program, nor was any mention made of the Center for Disease Control’s new study that showed a leukemia rate for veterans of over twice the expected rate. In response to angry viewers, which included some atomic veterans, CBS told them to get in touch with –you guessed it – the Defense Nuclear Agency.
The press also played a role in soothing public fears. NY Times science writer William Laurence, writing about the Bikini tests in the Pacific, said: “Before Bikini, the world stood in awe of this new cosmic force. Since Bikini, this feeling of awe has largely evaporated and has been supplanted by a sense of relief…”
The Nevada test site fallout didn’t stay put, however. It drifted downwind into Mormon areas in Utah. Several years later, leukemias, lymphomas and other cancers and genetic defects began emerging in this area, particularly among children. The AEC continually stated to local residents that “There is no danger”, and most studies done about this area and about nuclear tests in general were secret until 1979. An AEC booklet distributed six years after testing said: “…Nevada test fallout has not caused illness or injured the health of anyone living near the test site”.
The effects of weapons testing fallout wasn’t limited to nearby residents. The cast and film crew of a Howard Hughes movie, filmed near St. George, Utah in 1954 for three months, took an enormous toll over the next 25 years. John Wayne, Susan Hayward, Agnes Moorehead and Dick Powell all died of cancer between 1960 and 1979. Of a total number of 220 in cast and crew, 91 had gotten cancer by 1980 and half of those had died by then, not counting the native Americans who served as extras in the film.
What did the press do about public protests? The Los Angeles Examiner writer Jack Lotto, in March 1955, blamed these on a Communist scare campaign to stop weapons testing. US News & World Report published an article by Willard Libby citing AEC evidence that fallout would “not likely be at all dangerous”. Syndicated columnist David Lawrence cited “world-wide propaganda” that was duping people and “some well-meaning scientists” were “playing the Communist game unwittingly by exaggerating the importance of radioactive substances known as ‘fallout’, and contended that the Nevada tests were “for a humanitarian purpose”.
It is interesting to note that two years prior to the Smoky test, in 1955, AEC Chairman Lewis Strauss suppressed a paper by geneticist Hermann Muller on the genetic effects of radiation. Muller was the discoverer in 1927 of the fact that X-rays caused increased mutations in plants and animals, for which he later received the Nobel Prize. The AEC also was responsible for removing his paper from a UN meeting on “peaceful uses of the atom”, held that year in Geneva, mostly, they said, because he mentioned Hiroshima, which they considered “definitely inadmissible” at such a conference.
The fact is that the US has led the world in setting examples of deliberate deceit, suppression of information and harassment of nuclear critics, of which the best example was the Three Mile Island (TMI) accident in Pennsylvania in 1979. Just twelve days before the accident, Gov. Richard Thornburgh had appointed as state Secretary of Health a distinguished doctor and engineer, Gordon MacLeod, in order to restore the reputation of the state health department. Eight months after the accident, only a little over one-quarter into the two-year term MacLeod had agreed to serve, Thornburgh called MacLeod into his office and requested his resignation, claiming a “difference in institutional style”.
More to the point was the fact that MacLeod had been a critic of the Thornburgh administration’s handling of the TMI accident. The day after the accident news got out, MacLeod urged the governor to evacuate pregnant women and children from a five-mile radius around the plant (later he said he should have urged this for puberty-age children too, who are extremely radiation-sensitive). But no one else in the state agencies agreed and said the evacuation was unnecessary. Thornburgh finally, two days later, agreed to the evacuation after consulting with the chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), Joseph Hendrie.
MacLeod tried valiantly to take all possible steps to minimize radiation exposure. He requested, in vain, a Federal radiation health expert from the NRC and was told they had no radiation physicians on staff or anyone trained in radiation medicine. He tried to get potassium iodide pills from the Federal government, to block thyroid absorption of iodine-131. Five days later, far too late to be of any use, 11,000 vials arrived, more than half of which were unlabelled. Many had only half the dose required, some droppers did not fit the vials, and others had visible contamination. MacLeod also took issue publicly with the testimony of Pennsylvania’s chief of radiation monitoring, Thomas Gerusky, before the Federal Kemeny investigative commission and stated his objections in a letter to Kemeny. That seemed to be the “last straw for the Thornburgh administration”, and MacLeod was removed soon after.
Meanwhile, what scientists call “cooked” statistics started emerging from the Pennsylvania Dept. of Epidemiological Research, headed by Dr. George Tokuhata. Vital statistics on infant mortality began looking inordinately small, but Tokuhata claimed “printing error”. The NY Times enthusiastically printed the state’s claims about no increase in infant mortality. The statistics, still being held confidential by the state, did begin leaking out through anonymous calls to MacLeod, who then released what he knew in a church sermon to force the state to release them. The figures showed a sharp increase in the six-month period after TMI. It was later shown that the state had deliberately eliminated the black population in Harrisburg when calculating the data, because of their higher rate of infant mortality than whites. Such subtraction had been done only for the 1979 statistics, the year of the TMI accident, not for any other years, and when the black infant mortality was added in, the local rates for the area under study showed a sharp increase.
Similar withholding and distortion of information occurred regarding thyroid deficiency problems in young children to the southeast of the plant; again, Tokuhata trimmed off some cases to bring the state’s figures down to a normal rate. MacLeod pointed out that even accepting Tokuhata’s subtractions, there was still a five- to ten-fold increase. Again the NY Times accepted Tokuhata’s figures unquestioningly, and printed an editorial about “scare stories” regarding radiation damage from TMI,savagely attacking MacLeod who, they said, “irresponsibly publicized some of the raw data suggesting the existence of health problems”.
The question I am most often asked by the pblic is: if the nuclear establishment and its families are equally at risk from nuclear power as the rest of us, why do they lie about its dangers? There are various reasons. Professionals, in order to perform their work, resist truth strongly if it calls the morality of their work into question. They sincerely believe they are helping humankind. In addition, scientific research involves so many uncertainties that scientists can, with an easy conscience, rationalize away dangers that are hypothetical or not immediately observable. They also have an intellectual investment if not a financial one in continuing their work as well as families to support, and nuclear science in particular has been endowed not only with government money and support but great status and prestige. The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), which publishes the journal Science, just chose a nuclear physicist and former Assistant Director of Research for the AEC, Alvin Trivelpiece, as its executive director.
In order to perform professional work, one must not only believe one is doing good but must also rationalize the dangers. Indeed, with regard to ionizing radiation, this is quite easy inasmuch as the risks of radiation exposure at any level are statistical and not immediately manifested. If the odds of dying from a given amount of exposure are one in 100,000, it is easy for a scientist to rationalize that it won’t be him. A recent article in the NY Times on the obituary page caught my eye; a man named Mack, aged 52, died of cancer. The article noted that he and his sister were the first two children who ventured onto the site of a nuclear test in the 1950s, where their father worked as a scientist. The article also noted that Mack’s sister had died of cancer the previous year. I wondered if the father is still alive, and if he ever had second thoughts about allowing his young children onto that site, or whether his pride (or guilt) had prevented him from acknowledging that he had literally sacrificed his children to the nuclear priesthood.
As you may have noticed, there is no relationship between these incredible conspiracies of silence and distortion and the political party in power. Those in Congress who permitted these things have first loyalty to the institution in which they serve, not to truth; anything that threatens that institution is subversive, even if what they are doing harms the public. It is the same in foreign policy. The illegal violent intervention – state terrorism actually -committed by the US government against innocent Nicaraguans is a policy whose roots were planted deeply not by right-wingers or Republicans but by New Deal-type democrats, primarily Pres. Harry Truman, as was the virulent anti-Communism of that same era.
With regard to the various US interventions in Latin America, and specifically Nicaragua, the press meekly accepts the government handouts as fact, along with the myth that Commnists will take over the world and south Texas unless we overthrow the Sandinistas. But the facts are otherwise and indisputable as any reading of Nicaraguan history will show. Ignoring such history the US Congress readily accepts the Reagan-Kennedy-Truman doctrine of “containing” Communism at all costs, accompanied by “excuse us, we’re really sorry about the deaths of those innocent farmers, doctors, teachers, nurses and babies”.
Some of this history is in order. Nicaragua is not a Marxist-Leninist state. Most of its directorate were Social Democrats, some were Christian Democrats and some were Conservatives. What none of them were was Communist. Communists were excluded from the Sandinista directorate because they OPPOSED the revolution against Somoza (not the first or last time the Communist Party would oppose popular pro-democracy uprisings). Why did they oppose it? Because the revolution was not inspired or controlled by Moscow and the Communist Party. It was, rather, a homespun, nationalist, socialistic revolution stressing social welfare reforms, not a centralized authoritarian revolution. Some Left critics of the Sandinistas are upset because land reform has not gone far enough. The notion that Nicaraguans pose a threat to the US is on a par with the notion that Grenada’s former left government posed such a threat. Half of Nicaragua’s population is under the age of sixteen, and Nicaragua does not even possess an air force.
The Reagan doctrine of hegemony was developed long ago, and is best expressed by a statement made by George Kennan, in a 1948 document, when he headed the planning staff of the Dept. of State. He wrote: “…we have about 50% of the world’s wealth but only 6.3% of its population. In this situation we cannot fail to be the object of envy and resentment. Our real task in the coming period is to devise a pattern of relationships which will permit us to maintain this position of disparity without positive detriment to our national security. To do so, we will have to dispense with all sentimentality and day-dreaming and our attention will have to be concentrated everywhere on our immediate national objectives. We need not deceive ourselves that we can afford today the luxury of altruism and world-benefaction…We should cease to talk about vague and -for the Far East – unreal objectives such as human rights, the raising of the living standards, and democratization. The day is not far off when we are going to have to deal in straight power concepts. The less we are then hampered by idealistic slogans, the better”.
After a democratic civilian government was overthrown with US help in El Salvador, John F. Kennedy said that “governments of the civil-miltary type of El Salvador are the most effective in containing Communist penetration in Latin America”. Of course what he and modern-day “liberals” call Communism has nothing to do with Soviet Russia. Rather, as a 1955 study of the National Planning Association and the Woodrow Wilson Foundation noted, the main threat of “Communism” is that it could lead to transformation of Communist powers “in ways which reduce their willingness and ability to complement the industrial economies of the West”. Such complementary roles were and are played magnificently not only by the former Somoza dictatorship in Nicaragua but by similar military dictatorships in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. Thus, the real threat posed by Nicaragua lies in its nature as a nationalist, non-aligned, independent revolution not beholden to and controlled by the US interests – in other words, that it was a true popular democratic revolution that put human social welfare and equity first, in direct confrontation with foreign hegemonic powers, US or Soviet. Such popular-based revolutions set a powerful example to other oppressed nations, hence their unacceptability to the US.
That Congress, the press, academia, the military and Big Science collaborate and conspire with whichever faction rules the White House is not recent nor surprising. Their interests and the continuation of political and economic conditions that reinforce their powers and the institutions that support them – corporations, universities, research institutions, think tanks, mass media, often the courts, supranational agencies like the World Bank and other international agencies not accountable to the public – are what both rule this country and facilitate domestic and foreign policy. This is a lesson that political activists need to heed. American society, in its diversity and tolerance, supported by a remarkable Constitution, has many ways of absorbing various demands such as equal rights for minorities, welfare state programs, etc. Such incremental reforms pose no threat whatsoever to either the economic or foreign policy hegemony exerted over the rest of the world. Social issues can and will eventually be accommodated, without rocking the real boat.
What is threatening, however, are movements that directly challenge such hegemony, whether in the form of Star Wars nuclear weapons in space or ecologically based movements questioning the US (and global) model of untrammeled economic growth and resource consumption, and of course anti-intervention movements. These go to the heart of the very values and objectives of the central state, which in the case of the US is not readily indistinguishable from the Soviet Union. In fact, as Noam Chomsky has pointed out, the existence of civil rights and liberties in the US has functioned to draw attention away from the execrations of foreign policies that assist in, directly or indirectly, the commission of some of the most revolting human rights violations in history, accurately called state terrorism.
The Philadelphia Inquirer courageously printed a series of articles on the Pentagon’s’ “Black Budget” the $35 billion or so of under-the-counter money given them, with carte blanche with Congressional approval. The Iran-Nicaragua arms deal to support the contras in Nicaragua was part of this, as are indeed many of the other assassinations and subversions of the CIA and NSA. There is no public oversight over this budget or over the use of these funds; it is the equivalent of the KGB in the Soviet Union. The Philadelphia Inquirer stood virtually alone in sticking out its neck, to show the dirty underside of what purports to be a democracy. Let us hope others follow their example.
(Sources: Cover Up: What you are not supposed to know about Nuclear Power, Karl Grossman, Permanent Press; The Washington Connection & 3rd World Fascism, Noam Chomsky & Edward S. Herman, South End Press; The Turning Tide, Noam Chomsky, Pluto-South End Press; Killing Our Own, Harvey Wasserman & Norman Solomon, Delta (Dell) Publishing.)
*As of 2001, the DOE has acknowledged culpability and has agreed to compensate survivors for damages.
(Lecture delivered by Lorna Salzman at Hunter College, Energy Studies program, 1986).
A Bellona remembrance.
Alexei Yablokov, the towering grandfather of Russian ecology who worked with Bellona to unmask Cold War nuclear dumping practices in the Arctic, has died in Moscow after a long illness. He was 83. Alexei Yablokov, the towering grandfather of Russian ecology who worked with Bellona to unmask Cold War nuclear dumping practices in the Arctic, has died in Moscow after a long illness. He was 83. As a member of the Russian Academy of Sciences, he was also the lead author of the seminal 2007 book, “Chernobyl: Consequences of the Catastrophe for People and the Environment.” The book presented the conclusion that the 1986 Chernobyl disaster was responsible for 985,000 premature deaths – the boldest mortality tally to date – by analyzing 6,000 source materials on the accident. Bellona President Frederic Hauge Tuesday remembered Yablokov as a friend of three decades standing. “He was an inspiration, a great friend and a great scientist, one of the world’s most significant environmental heroes,” said Hauge. “To know him and to work with him, someone of such cool and keen intellect is a memory we should all take care of and treasure.” Yablokov commanded a broad environmental and political mandate in Russia, and published over 500 papers on biology, ecology, natural conservation and numerous textbooks on each of these subjects. He founded Russia’s branch of Greenpeace and was the leader of the Green Russia faction of the Yabloko opposition party. While serving as environmental advisor to President Boris Yeltsin’s from 1989 to 1992, Yablokov published a searing white paper that detailed the gravity of the radiological threat posed by dumped military reactors and scuttled nuclear submarines in the Arctic. The catalogue of waste dumped at sea by the Soviets, includes some 17,000 containers of radioactive waste, 19 ships containing radioactive waste, 14 nuclear reactors, including five that still contain spent nuclear fuel; 735 other pieces of radioactively contaminated heavy machinery, and the K-27 nuclear submarine with its two reactors loaded with nuclear fuel. Yablokov’s white paper spearheaded an epoch of environmental openness that led to more than $3 billion in international aid to Russia to clean up 200 decommissioned submarines and to secure decades of military nuclear waste. The paper’s findings dovetailed an early Bellona report in 1992 on radioactive waste dumped by the Russian Navy in the Kara Sea. Hauge said that Yablokov was “the first person in a position of power in Russia who was brave enough to step forward and support our conclusions.” “He helped open serious discussion about what was a Chernobyl in slow motion,” said Hauge. The partnership became critical. In 1995, Bellona’s Alexander Nikitin was charged with treason for his contribution to a report expanding on Bellona’s conclusions about nuclear dangers in the Arctic. The report was called “The Russian Northern Fleet: Source of Radioactive Contamination.” Throughout the endless hearings leading up to Nikitin’s eventual acquittal, Hauge said Yablokov’s “calm, collected” knowledge of the Russian constitution helped guide the defense. “His coolness during the Nikitin case was remarkable,” said Hauge on Tuesday. “He really emphasized that the constitution was the way to Nikitin’s acquittal.” In 2000, Russia’s Supreme Court agreed, and acquitted Nikitin on all counts, making him the first person to ever fight a treason charge in Russia and win. Yablokov was a constant luminary at Bellona presentations in Russia, the European Union, the United States and Norway, most recently presenting his 2007 book in Oslo on the 30th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster. He was also a tireless defender of environmental activists in Russia, suggesting at a 2014 Bellona conference in St. Petersburg that ecological groups should publish a list of those government officials who harass them. “We must constantly support our comrades who have been forced to leave the country or who have ended up in jail on account of their environmental activism,” he told the conference. That same year, Yablokov championed the presentation of a report on environmental violations that took place at Russia’s showcase Winter Olympics in Sochi. Yablokov arranged for activists from the Environmental Watch on the Northern Caucasus – many of whom were jailed, exiled or otherwise harassed into silence – to present their shocking report on Olympic environmental corruption in Moscow when every other venue had turned them away. “He was a friend and advisor to us from the beginning and in a large part we owe the success of our Russian work to his steady advice and guidance,” said Hauge. Yablokov’s death was mourned across the spectrum in Moscow. Igor Chestin, head of the WWF called Yablokov Russia’s “environmental knight.” Valery Borschsev, Yablokov’s colleague in the human rights faction of the Yabloko party said of him that “he was a person on whom the authorities had no influence.” http://bellona.org/news/nuclear-issues/2017-01-alexei-yablokov-grandfather-of-russian-environmentalism-dies-at-83
“Since Fukushima, there has been a dearth of funds for research into the effects of the on-going radioactive releases worldwide and barriers to publishing papers that look for associated effects. Since the Chernobyl meltdown in 1986, we must thank those who observed, collected and published their findings. The original Chernobyl book was published in Russian; since then it has English and Japanese editions. In 2008, Alexey Yablokov brought me a copy of his Russian edition, which I cannot read, and said they needed an editor to put it into English, but did not have any money to pay the person. I have written two books and enjoy writing and editing, so said I would edit it, but I did not realize how long it would actually take: 14 months. The Chernobyl Catastrophe is a story of people – many of whom don’t know they are part of it. It includes essentially all who live in the Northern Hemisphere, the path of the radioactive fallout, but some people must be recognized for what they did under not only adverse environmental conditions, but also adverse political conditions. The senior author is Professor Yablokov, who holds two doctoral degrees – one in biology for marine mammals and a second in science for population biology – and is the author of more than 400 scientific publications and 22 books. From 1992 to 1997, he was chairman of the Interagency Committee for Ecological Security for the National Security Council of the Russian Federation, then president of the Center for Russian Environmental Policy and deputy chairman of the Council of Ecological Problems of the Russian Academy of Science and vice president of the International Union of Conservation of Nature, as well as a consultant to Russian presidents Gorbachev and Yeltsin. The second author is Vassily Nesterenko, who at the time of the Chernobyl catastrophe was director of the Nuclear Energy Institute at the Belarus Academy of Science. He requisitioned a helicopter and flew over the burning reactor, recording some of the few measurements available.” http://sfbayview.com/2015/04/less-than-one-lifetime-eyewitness-to-nuclear-development-from-hunters-point-to-chernobyl-and-fukushima-issues-a-warning/#.VTLzW6cmwhQ.facebook
Lessons of Chernobyl, with Dr. Alexey Yablokov. http://optimalprediction.com/wp/lessons-of-chernobyl-with-dr-alexey-yablokov/
Chernobyl: Consequences of the Catastrophe for People and the Environment. PDF: http://www.strahlentelex.de/Yablokov_Chernobyl_book.pdf
Svetlana Alexievich, a Belarusian writer who won a Nobel Prize for her book on the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, visited evacuees in Fukushima Prefecture recently to hear about their experiences.
Alexievich was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2015 for her writing about human suffering through the testimonies of witnesses of the Chernobyl disaster. She has been highly praised for her oral history of that event.
Alexievich was invited to speak at a university in Tokyo.
“It may be impossible to stop nuclear power plants right away, but it’s important to consider what you can and should do,” she said at the event.
Alexievich’s books are written collages of testimonies by ordinary people. Her book, “Chernobyl Prayer: A Chronicle of the Future,” published in 1997, is representative of her work. It’s a collection of statements from the victims of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster 30 years ago in the former Soviet Union.
About a quarter of the land in Alexievich’s home country of Belarus was contaminated and seriously damaged by radioactive material. Even now, many former residents are not allowed to return to their hometowns.
Alexievich spent more than 10 years interviewing over 300 people, sometimes on camera.
“In the last few days, whenever I lifted my husband’s body, his skin would peel off and stick to my hand,” the wife of one firefighter told her.
She then wrote about their deep shock and continual sadness.
The Nobel Committee described her work as “polyphonic writings, a monument to suffering and courage in our time.”
“I try to listen to people no one sees or hears,” Alexievich says. “There’s much more power in their emotions than in economic or medical data…. So I think it’s important to remember their lives.”
Alexievich came to Japan to hear what people in Fukushima prefecture have to say, and visited temporary housing to listen to residents’ stories.
She met with a former resident of Iitate village, a town that’s still under an evacuation order.
“I was a dairy farmer in Iitate, but now I’m unemployed,” Kenichi Hasegawa told her.
Before the earthquake, he had about 50 cows, and was living with 7 members of his family that spanned 4 generations. Hasegawa drove Alexievich to his former home, which still stands empty.
After the accident, all of his cows had to be put down or let go. Unable to continue dairy farming due to radiation, Hasegawa decided to demolish the cow shed. His family is now scattered.
“Wasn’t it difficult to leave home?” Alexievich asked him.
“Yes, it was… We can’t live the way we did before the accident, because of the radiation,” Hasegawa said.
Government officials say the evacuation order on Iitate will be lifted next March, but Hasegawa is anxious about the future.
“They say we’ll be able to return home, but haven’t mentioned their plans for the village after that,” he says. “My children won’t be returning.”
“In Fukushima, I saw the exact same situation I’d seen in Chernobyl. The destroyed homes, the empty villages and cities, the victims’ despair — they’re all the same,” Alexievich said. “In both countries, governments rushed to develop new technology, but they weren’t able to fulfill their responsibilities. They were irresponsible toward ‘the ordinary people.’”
Alexievich was also told the story of a dairy farmer who committed suicide. A close friend of the farmer took her to the place where he died.
“He left a note saying, ‘I wish there’d been no nuclear power plants here,'” Hasegawa said.
Alexievich has spent years focusing on the suffering of ordinary people and making their voices heard. Visiting the 2 disaster-stricken regions has renewed her sense of determination.
“No one completely understands the horror of nuclear power. Literature should communicate it, and so should philosophers. It’s not a job for politicians alone,” Alexievich said. “In other words, we need to look at what happened in Chernobyl and Fukushima and put them together, to form new knowledge…. I saw the future, not the past, and we need to work on that future.”
It has been 30 years since the nuclear disaster in Chernobyl, and 5 years since the one in Fukushima. The future depends on never letting the voices of “the ordinary people” go unheard — that’s the message from Nobel laureate Svetlana Alexievich.
The industry ministry has put forth a ridiculous proposal on financing compensation payments to victims of nuclear accidents.
In essence, the ministry’s proposal is designed to bail out operators of nuclear power plants that have failed to set aside compensation money for possible accidents at facilities that have been in service for decades.
To secure necessary funds for potentially huge compensation payments, the ministry wants to require old customers to bear part of the burden.
The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, which regulates the power industry, has submitted this proposal to a panel of experts discussing the issue.
This effectively means shifting the cost of bad management to people who are not responsible, an approach that defies common sense in the world of business management and obscures the responsibility of the operators. The ministry should withdraw the proposal.
The law concerning compensation for nuclear accident-related damages stipulates that in principle operators are responsible for paying compensation for all damages caused by accidents at their facilities.
But the 2011 disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, operated by Tokyo Electric Power Co., prompted the government to set up an entity to pay compensation to the victims. Under this arrangement, TEPCO and other established electric utilities will pay back the money over a long period of time.
This new system, based on the notion of mutual help, is designed to get nuclear power plant operators involved in a joint effort to cover the risks of nuclear accidents.
The utilities involved are allowed to raise their electricity rates to finance contributions to the system. So the burden is actually borne by customers of the utilities.
The ministry’s new proposal would widen the scope of contributors to the pool of money for compensation payments. The new contributors include electricity suppliers that have entered the market in response to its liberalization even though they don’t operate nuclear power plants.
Specifically, the new utilities would be required to make contributions through the increased fees they pay to use the power transmission lines operated by established utilities. That would force almost all people in this country to shoulder part of the burden.
Here’s the ministry’s case for this scheme.
The money needed to pay compensation for damages caused by nuclear accidents should have been set aside since the 1960s, when nuclear power generation started in Japan. So it is appropriate to require people who paid low electricity rates that didn’t include this cost to bear the burden now.
Behind the ministry’s move is the fact that the total compensation amount related to the Fukushima nuclear disaster has already surpassed the original estimate and is now reaching 6 trillion yen ($54 billion). The amount is expected to grow in the coming years.
Even so, if past beneficiaries of low electricity rates are involved, the established utilities should be first forced to use the profits they accumulated in the past through their nuclear power operations.
At the very least, no consumer would accept such a new financial burden unless the utilities are held responsible for failing to save up for emergencies during the past half century.
The ministry has also proposed similar plans to tap the fees paid by new power suppliers for use of established utilities’ transmission cables to cover the costs of decommissioning the reactors at the crippled Fukushima plant and aging reactors at other plants.
The latest proposal is the third scheme based on this approach.
Imposing part of the burden on newcomers in the power market is tantamount to giving preferential treatment to nuclear power and undermines the fair competitive environment that is the foundation for power deregulation.
Some consumers have switched from established utilities to new power suppliers because of their aversion to nuclear power generation.
Clearly, adequate compensation should be paid to victims of nuclear accidents.
But the costs related to nuclear power generation should be shouldered by the operators of nuclear plants. An unreasonable scheme to shift this burden from the operators is simply unacceptable.
The Fairewinds Crew created this special 2-minute animation to show you why building new nukes is a lost opportunity for humankind with precious time and money wasted on the wrong choice. At least $8.2 Trillion would be needed to build the 1,000 atomic reactors the nuclear industry wants – that’s 1 reactor every 12-days for 35-years. Watch the animation to see what it means and why!
If you want more information, we have issued a paper, and presented this topic at several major universities and forums , and wanted to make it more accessible to people throughout the world. Truthout published Arnie Gundersen’s summation of this project in a news analysis entitled: Nuclear Power Is Not “Green Energy”: It Is a Fount of Atomic Waste.
How does the Fukushima Daiichi meltdown disaster show the enormous risk potential for the continued operation of the Diablo Canyon atomic reactor? Filmed by Ecological Options Network (EON) at Point Reyes Station in California, Fairewinds Chief Engineer Arnie Gundersen presents A World in Danger. This presentation from the 2015 California speaking tour precedes a panel discussion “Tell All” between chief engineer Arnie Gundersen, Fairewinds founder and president Maggie Gundersen, and EON co-directors Jim Heddle and Mary Beth Brangan. The follow-up conversation can be found here.
by Uzaemonnaotsuka Toukai, Editorial Writer
People in Hiroshima, which marked the 71st anniversary of the atomic bombing, have still evaluated the visit by U.S. President Barack Obama highly. Meanwhile, there is still a long way to go to realize the abolition of nuclear weapons in international society. The Chugoku Shimbun interviewed Robert Jacobs, 56, a professor at the Hiroshima Peace Institute of Hiroshima City University, about how we can fill the gap between real politics and the desire of people in the A-bombed cities. Mr. Jacobs has been living in Hiroshima for 11 years, and is familiar with American public opinion and pop culture concerning nuclear issues.
I have heard your own experiences as a child is the point of origin that has driven you to continue your research activity in the A-bombed Hiroshima.
When I was an elementary school student in Chicago, U.S., I went through a training similar to “Duck and Cover” every month. In the training, I practiced what to do when a nuclear weapon exploded. After my teacher told the students that a tremendous flash happened, we ducked on the floor all at once. I was scared, because I thought I was going to die soon. From 1950s to 1960s, conducting such a training was quite popular at schools in the U.S. As I couldn’t stop thinking about horrors of nuclear war, I read a lot of books on nuclear weapons. Then, I took part in the antinuclear movement in my teens, and I developed a strong belief that nuclear weapons must be eliminated. So, I think it was inevitable for me to come to Hiroshima.
What is your main research theme at the Hiroshima Peace Institute?
I have been studying how horrible results have been wrought by the development and testing of nuclear weapons, and how American and world culture and society have been affected by them. In addition, through a project titled “Global Hibakusha Project,” I have been investigating an initiative to connect the nuclear victims throughout the world. In the project, young people in Republic of the Marshall Islands, a nation which was involved in a U.S. hydrogen bomb test at Bikini Atoll, and several other countries have been developed as memory keepers. They have also been interacting with the youth in Hiroshima via Skype, an internet video and also in person workshops.
As an American, what did you think about President Obama’s visit to Hiroshima?
It was a historic event. The U.S. media also reported it very positively. However, from my perspective, I am disappointed that he didn’t mention anything about a concrete path towards the abolition of nuclear weapons, including how American nuclear policy would be changed.
You mean a world without nuclear weapons cannot be realized soon.
Hiroshima has two significances to the U.S. While Hiroshima is known as a tragic city in the U.S. because of the atomic bombing, the U.S. used Hiroshima as an excuse to increase its nuclear arsenal during a cold war era. In those days, the U.S. government aroused its citizens’ sense of fear that the U.S. must have much more nuclear weapons than the former Soviet Union to not end up being like “Hiroshima.” Now, against a backdrop of a threat by the militant group known as the Islamic State, the nuclear weapons have gained prominent attention again. It could be a shocking fact to people in the A-bombed cities, but it’s still strongly believed in the U.S. that the nuclear weapons are necessary because of the tragedy, which occurred in Hiroshima.
Even if President Obama visited Hiroshima, the public opinion in the U.S. hasn’t been changed so much, has it?
In Japan, some people say that President Obama’s visit to Hiroshima has advanced a movement towards nuclear abolition. But I am afraid they may be too optimistic. Many Americans still believe they should maintain the option to keep nuclear weapons though they do also want to abolish them. It’s the same logic as the one for gun ownership: many U.S. households have a gun because they believe it might be necessary sometime in the future, although not everyone wants to use it.
If things are not changed, do you think a desire of people in Hiroshima to abolish nuclear weapons won’t take root in the nuclear nations?
You have to be more aware that a barrier to nuclear abolition, which the A-bombed cities should take focus on, is quite enormous. Even if a U.S. president advocates abolition of nuclear weapons, the real politics and military system won’t change so easily. The bottleneck is a giant military industry that has the power to influence the world of politics, and public opinion believing in nuclear deterrent force. I think just appealing for the inhumanity of nuclear weapons is not enough to fight against them.
Could you elaborate on it more?
I believe you should rather make an appeal based on the extensive moral framework of the whole society. As the living standard of the middle-class has declined in the U.S., more and more people have become pessimistic about their future. Meanwhile, the U.S. government is planning to spend a trillion dollars (about 100 trillion yen) for upgrading nuclear weapons over the next three decades. Is it acceptable to sacrifice living standard of people for such spending? Shouldn’t education and medical services be more prioritized than military affairs? Taking these perspectives into account, it’s important to appeal to international opinion opposing wars and military powers. If people in the A-bombed cities can collaborate with those working on these issues in the world, I believe you can generate a much bigger wave than now.
Born in Chicago, the United States, Mr. Jacobs obtained a doctor’s degree at the University of Illinois, and came to Hiroshima in 2005 to serve as an instructor for the Hiroshima Peace Research Institute. He assumed his current post from this year. Studying history as his major, he has been researching the history and culture of nuclear technologies and nuclear victims. He has written books including “The Dragon’s Tail: Americans Face the Atomic Age.”
(Originally published on August 8, 2016)
Seventy-one years ago Saturday, a United States B-29 bomber named the “Enola Gay” dropped the atomic bomb “Little Boy” over the Japanese city of Hiroshima.
The bomb fell just over 29,000 feet from the plane and detonated 1,900 feet above Shima Hospital, an active medical center with a history dating back to the 18th Century. Between four and five square miles of buildings were leveled in the blast generated by just 141 pounds of highly enriched uranium. The US Department of Energy (DoE) estimates 70,000 people died in the initial blast, resulting fires, and radiation burst on August 6, 1945, but that the five-year death toll may have exceeded 200,000 people.
President Harry Truman told Japan to surrender or “expect a rain of ruin from the air, the like of which has never been seen on this earth.” Three days later, a second bomb (this time plutonium-based) dropped from an American warplane over the city of Nagasaki. The DoE estimates 40,000 people died in the immediate aftermath, and that number may have reached 140,000 within five years.
These events remain the only cases, so far, of human beings attacking other human beings with nuclear weapons. But the survivors of these attacks are from from the only people to carry the marks of nuclear warfare in their bodies.
Every person alive on the 71st anniversary of those attacks holds in their flesh radioactive remnants of the nuclear era — a period centered in the early decades of Cold War when nuclear nations conducted atmospheric tests of ever-larger bombs.
That’s the period that left us images of bright, sky-piercing mushroom clouds like the one at the top of this article, and footage like this of the devastation these weapons could wreak.
Hundreds of bombs detonated in the open air (and several more in the ocean) during the heyday of atmospheric nuclear testing — with thousands more tests conducted underground.
The 1963 Partial Test Ban Treaty put a stop to exposed American and Soviet explosions, though France and China continued atmospheric tests until 1974 and 1980, respectively. Many countries pursued underground testing through the early 1990s. Only North Korea has detonated a weapon in the 21st Century.
Nuclear explosions produce radioactive substances that are rare in nature — like carbon-14, a radioactive form of the carbon atom that forms the chemical basis of all life on earth.
Once released into the atmosphere, carbon-14 enters the food chain and gets bound up in the cells of most living things. There’s still enough floating around for researchers to detect in the DNA of humans born in 2016. If you’re reading this article, it’s inside you.
That’s strange, if not a little unsettling. Though carbon-14 is completely harmless, it’s hard to wrap your mind around the idea that our species’ cruelest weapons left measurable traces in our bodies.
But it turns out that this can actually be helpful for scientists.
As Carrie Arnold reported in 2013 for Nova, the massive, unusual carbon-14 load of the era between 1955 and 1963 remains in the atmosphere. It’s called the “bomb pulse,” and it still makes its way, through plants, into the food web. But every second it decays a little more, leaving less in the atmosphere.
That means that every new cell created has a bit less carbon-14 than cells before it. And that slow decline proceeds in a predictable way.
In the last couple decades, researchers have taken advantage of that predictability to figure out exactly how old individual cells are. The process is fairly simple: Extract the cell’s DNA, measure its carbon-14 levels with a tool called a mass spectrometer, and check the result against tables of carbon-14 decay in the period since 1963.
This technique has been used, as Arnold reports, to trace the progress of cancers, advance our understanding of obesity and diabetes, and prove that brain cells continue to form through a human being’s lifetime.
However, barring a nuclear war or a rogue state conducting more dangerous above-ground tests, this method has a limited lifespan. Within a few decades, the bomb pulse will fade until it’s indistinguishable from our planet’s background carbon-14. (The researchers Arnold spoke to peg the date at 2050.)
If that happens, it will be good news for humanity. After all, it’ll mean we’ve gone long enough without a nuclear explosion that the bomb’s most widespread traces have disappeared. But for certain segments of medicine and science, it will mean the end of a once-in-history opportunity.
Translated by Kingsley Osborn
Political, economic, health, democratic and ethical
The nuclear lobby is beginning to openly assert that the evacuation of populations affected by a major nuclear accident is too expensive, is the source of lots of hassles, accidents, despair families, ruin the local economy.
To some additional cancers it will not be worth it to impose populations.
Sezin TOPÇU is PhD in sociology of science and technology, she is a researcher at the National Scientific Research Centre (CNRS) and teaches at the School for Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences (EHESS). She is the author of “Nuclear France. The art of governing disputed technology “(Le Seuil, 2013) and co-edited the book” Another story of the postwar boom. Modernization and pollution disputes in France after the war “(with Christophe Bonneuil Céline and Pessis, La Découverte, 2013).
Here is the introduction to his analysis:
Minimizing impacts of a catastrophic nuclear accident is set to become a classic of our time, and not only in countries where the presence of nuclear installations is important, such as France, or in countries that have already undergone an accident, such as Japan and Belarus, but also in countries that do not. This minimization, which seems to impose forcefully, is the ability to “resilience” of specialists in nuclear, that is to say, industrialists, nuclear states, and certain regulatory bodies, both national and international.
How the specialists in nuclear-they managed to trivialize the radioactive wrong with that? By what means, strategies and watchwords governing bodies have managed to formulate the problem in terms of evacuation procedures and even its legitimacy, when we should collectively discuss the legitimacy to continue to make use of facilities that have potential for processing and destruction unparalleled in the territories, natural resources, living species, and human body?
from these questions, this paper aims to contribute to the emergence of a political debate and citizen which is long overdue, around the issue of contaminated territories in case of nuclear accident.
Three Mile Island? The French nuclear officials there saw immediately that an “incident” or a “glitch”. Chernobyl? In 1996 again, the World Health Organization (WHO) only accounted for 32 deaths. Fukushima? The disaster paradoxically accelerated the offensive of the Japanese nuclear industry for exports. No other sector causes, accident, such bitter controversy and permanent (with expertise, evidence / no-evidence, observations, assessments and also contrasting and contradictory), on health impacts experienced by affected populations.
Beyond the very serious consequences on the health of populations, whose proof or recognition are made difficult due to the latency that require radiation-induced diseases to manifest itself, but also the secret or active factory ignorance that often surround them, a nuclear accident also means the sacrifice of entire territories.
the challenge for specialists in nuclear, since the 1990s at least, is indeed to minimize the sacrifice in the eyes of public opinion. To ensure that the renunciation of land does not occur, or only take place only temporarily. A instrumentalize, for this suffering, certainly real but no singular evacuees to believe that those who remain on their land, even though they would offer more than enough healthy living conditions, suffer for nothing. A claim that may well “learn to live” with ambient radioactivity.
The first part of this note reviews the genesis of panel discussions, legal arrangements and managerial tools for the management of contaminated territories. This is to recall that the unmanageable nature of damage caused by a major nuclear accident has been recognized by the nuclear experts in the 1950s, which has historically conditioned the doctrine prevailing today, whereby post-accident measures (including the abandonment of contaminated areas) will necessarily be limited or should be optimized.
The second part of the note looks at how the contaminated territories have been effectively treated in post-Chernobyl and post-Fukushima. Socio-economic and geo-political criteria that influence how to design the future of the evacuated areas, their status, and they could not “return to normal” are analyzed here.
The last part of the note stresses the importance of official strategies to psychologizing disasters to minimize abandonment of contaminated land, but also to push into the background the prospect of a fair assessment of the health damage caused in the event accident.
To read the entire article: The Show as PDF (400KB) The view on the EPF website
The website of the Foundation for Political Ecology: http://www.fondationecolo.org/
We’ve been warned: the next nuclear accident, we will be strongly urged to stay or return to live on contaminated territories.
Catastrophes nucléaires et « normalisation » des zones contaminées
From Chris Busby:
“This is the final version and the abstract in pubmed is new: I had to re-write it. It is far more poisonous to the nuclear industry than the previous web version. There was significant pressure on the journal from NIH to pull the paper, to remove it. I had to write to say that the paper was critical evidence in the High Court action and if they de-submitted it the issue would be a major media one and would be raised in the veterans case. Just read the new Abstract on PUBMED. Says it all.”
To investigate the accuracy and scientific validity of the current very low risk factor for hereditary diseases in humans following exposures to ionizing radiation adopted by the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation and the International Commission on Radiological Protection. The value is based on experiments on mice due to reportedly absent effects in the Japanese atomic bomb (Abomb) survivors.
To review the published evidence for heritable effects after ionising radiation exposures particularly, but not restricted to, populations exposed to contamination from the Chernobyl accident and from atmospheric nuclear test fallout. To make a compilation of findings about early deaths, congenital malformations, Down’s syndrome, cancer and other genetic effects observed in humans after the exposure of the parents. To also examine more closely the evidence from the Japanese A-bomb epidemiology and discuss its scientific validity.
Nearly all types of hereditary defects were found at doses as low as one to 10 mSv. We discuss the clash between the current risk model and these observations on the basis of biological mechanism and assumptions about linear relationships between dose and effect in neonatal and foetal epidemiology. The evidence supports a dose response relationship which is non-linear and is either biphasic or supralinear (hogs-back) and largely either saturates or falls above 10 mSv.
We conclude that the current risk model for heritable effects of radiation is unsafe. The dose response relationship is non-linear with the greatest effects at the lowest doses. Using Chernobyl data we derive an excess relative risk for all malformations of 1.0 per 10 mSv cumulative dose. The safety of the Japanese A-bomb epidemiology is argued to be both scientifically and philosophically questionable owing to errors in the choice of control groups, omission of internal exposure effects and assumptions about linear dose response.
Congenital malformation; Down´s syndrome; Environmental radioactivity; Internal radiation; Low level effects; Sex-ratio; Still birth
Free full text: http://e-eht.org/journal/view.php?doi=10.5620/eht.e2016001
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