nuclear-news

The News That Matters about the Nuclear Industry Fukushima Chernobyl Mayak Three Mile Island Atomic Testing Radiation Isotope

Debunking James Hansen’s claims in favour of nuclear power

John Wayne squares off against Jim Hansen, Medium,  Albert Bates, 11 Jan 2020    “……. I greatly admire James Hansen …….  What annoys me, however, about Hansen, then and now, is his insistence, in utter disregard of best science, that nuclear energy can somehow save humanity from climate change because it is clean, safe, too cheap to meter and besides all that, is carbon-free. I watched with pity more than scorn when he took his time to repeat this nonsense at the recent UN climate conference in Madrid. He mounted fallacy upon fallacy in a pyramid of lies that had been heard since the 1940s coming from the Atomic Energy Commission, Nuclear Regulatory Commission, International Atomic Energy Agency and others in thrall to the atomic devil.
Of course all of those assertions by Hansen are utter nonsense. It just goes to show that being a good climate scientist doesn’t automatically give you a doctorate in health physics. I was blessed to have met many of the world’s preeminent health physicists in the 1970s and 1980s while representing atomic victims in battles for fair compensation and writing my fifth book, Climate in Crisis: The Greenhouse Effect and What We Can Do. ………
So, when James Hansen ignorantly opines that there were no radiation fatalities from Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, or Fukushima and that the new generation of thorium metal reactors is inherently safe, I try to not gag ……..
 Comparing effluent to effluent, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has reported that emissions from presently licensed facilities produced under normal operating conditions will cause 1.7 million cancers and birth defects in the world population, barring accidents. That several-hundred page report was summarized in the Federal Register in 1979 (46 Fed. Reg. 39580). However, it excluded consideration of health effects from tritium, Tc-99, C-13 and 14 and other radionuclide emissions that were too inaccurate to estimate, they said.
By too inaccurate they meant that tritium is easily incorporated into water, and so passes through living cells very easily, and carbon is the building block of organic chemistry, inseparable from life, so if one were to try to measure their impact inside the human body, the mortality and morbidity rates would need to be raised orders of magnitude higher than 1.7 million. This could make nuclear power unacceptable so, for reasons having to do with their institutional DNA, the NRC was not going to do that……….
It is not difficult to debunk Thorium-141’s popular mythology using simple physics, as Drs. Arjun Makhijani and Helen Caldicott have, because thorium is not a naturally fissionable element and so must first be mixed with enriched Uranium-235 or Plutonium-239 before it can be fissioned under controlled conditions to make steam for a power plant. To do that mixing, never mind the reacting, is a dangerous, deadly, polluting and extremely expensive process generating loads of long-lasting and unrecoverable poisons. After reaction, the thorium blend leaves dangerous wastes like U-232, a potent high-energy gamma emitter that can penetrate one meter of concrete and will have to be kept safely out of our air, food, and water forever.
……… Officially, TMI caused no immediate deaths. But unofficial investigations and lawsuits claimed there were above-average rates of cancer and birth defects in the surrounding area. Anecdotal evidence among the local human population has been devastating.    Hansen would say that anecdotal evidence is not science, but when public health agencies are prohibited from doing the scientific studies that does not equate with no effects. We know from anecdotal evidence that large numbers of Pennsylvanians suffered skin sores and lesions that erupted while they were out of doors as the fallout rained down on them. Many quickly developed large, visible tumors, breathing problems, and a metallic taste in their mouths that matched that experienced by victims of Hiroshima, or who were exposed to nuclear tests in the South Pacific, Ukraine, Kazakstan, and Nevada.
Approximately 2 million people in the immediate area were exposed to doses that were sub-lethal for early exposure, but the latent genetic effects have been calculated, by Gofman among others, to cause life-shortening in the global population for perhaps one million people. Moreover, there is reason to suspect the doses those estimates are based upon were much lower than what may have actually occurred and gone unreported. Entire bee hives expired immediately after the accident, along with a disappearance of birds, many of whom were found scattered dead on the ground. A rash of malformed pets were born and stillborn, including kittens that could not walk and a dog with no eyes. Reproductive rates among the region’s cows and horses plummeted. The state and federal governments did nothing to track the health histories of the region’s residents. Instead, they significantly understated the scale of the release and the magnitude of the exposures, as later peer reviewed studies showed.
A National Institute of Health study in 1998 found “Results support the hypothesis that radiation doses are related to increased cancer incidence around TMI.”
Harvey Wasserman, writing for Common Dreams, said: “Meanwhile, the death toll from America’s worst industrial catastrophe continues to rise. More than ever, it is shrouded in official lies and desecrated by a reactor-pushing “renaissance” hell-bent on repeating the nightmare on an even larger scale.”
 ……….one thing for certain that can never be said of nuclear energy is that it is carbon neutral. Once you take into account the entire nuclear fuel cycle from exploration and mining, shipment of ores from Africa and China, milling, enrichment to fuel grade (enough gas and coal energy goes into that to power Australia), power generation, fuel removal and waste disposal, the fossil fuel footprint is so enormous as to be well beyond any suggestion of carbon neutrality.
[Here follows a long discussion on Marie curie, and then on John Wayne]
……… Declassified health physics reports from the Manhattan Project indicate that the senior scientists believed at least as early as 1945 that:

“. . . the genetic effect has no threshold and exposure is not only cumulative in the individual, but in succeeding generations. On this basis, there would be no tolerance dose, but rather an acceptable injury-limit.”[Parker, H.M., Instrument ation and Radiation Protection (March, 1947), Health Physics, 38:957,970, June 1980]

and:

“Even sub-tolerance radiations produce certain biological changes (cosmic rays are supposed to have some biological effects), so tolerance radiation is not what one strives to get but the maximum permissible dose.”[Morgan, K.Z., The Responsibilities of Health Physics, The Scientific Monthly, 93 (August 1946); reprinted in Health Physics 38:949–952, June 1980.]

The question of what percentage of the population can be acceptably damaged came first to the attention of the AEC at a meeting of the Advisory Committee on Biology and Medicine on January 16–19,1957. At this meeting the AEC advisors determined that a 20 percent increase in the rate of bone cancers and birth defects nationwide would be an “acceptable” effect of U.S. nuclear weapons testing activities. These scientists also acknowledged at this time that the long-term genetic effects were totally unknown.

The historical record indicates that prominent radiologists, health physicists, and geneticists of the time recognized even at the outset of America’s atomic power program that any large population exposure to even very minute amounts of ionizing radiation could create lingering public health problems and genetic damage, and these scientists went to some lengths, including sacrificing their own illustrious careers, to express their views publicly. [ long list of references given here]

[ discusses Fukushima]

….. atmospheric physicists should not opine on health physics. There is no dose of radiation below which there is not a negative biological effect. Indeed, there is a “superlinear” ratio of dose to effect at low doses, because doses that do not kill a cell cause genetic damage that is a larger health threat than dead cells, so humans and animals exposed to low doses are at greater health risk than those exposed to higher doses.

While there are hundreds of different radioactive isotopes within a nuclear reactor, the isotope Cesium-137 is easily measured and has become a standard by which to calculate impacts. During the two-day accident, 18 quadrillion becquerels of cesium were released into the Pacific (18 with 15 zeros). A typical abdominal or pelvic CT scan (the most often performed) is 14–18 thousandths of a becquerel, so during the accident the cesium dose to the environment was the same as about 1 quintillion (1 with 18 zeros) CT scans (repeated every second, continuously, for the next 300 to 600 years). Depending on the type of scan and the age and sex of the patient, a single CT scan will produce 1 cancer for 150 to 3300 exposures, or a median risk of 10 cancers per becquerel (or seivert).  [table here on original]

By that calculation, the cesium released during the Fukushima accident was capable of causing roughly 10 quadrillion cancers, but with one important difference.
When you receive radiation treatment like a CT-scan it is sudden and one-off. One second. The technician presses the button and it is on and then off. There is no danger from the machine when it is off. When radioactive elements like cesium-137 (and remember that is just one of hundreds of elements in a nuclear reactor) are released to the environment, there is no off-switch. Thus, the cesium released during the Fukushima accident is capable of roughly 10 quadrillion cancers per second. Inhaling or ingesting it can kill a person, a dolphin or a seagull, but then as the individual’s body decomposes after death — as bacteria, worms and fungi eat away the flesh and bone — the isotope goes back into the food chain to strike another individual, and another, and so on. The danger is limited only by the isotope’s half-life — the time it takes to decay to a harmless element, which for cesium-137 is 30.17 years. Scientists generally use 10 or 20 half-lives to bracket safety concerns, so for cesium 137, “safe” levels arrive in 302 to 604  years (around year 2322 to year 2624), admittedly an imperfect measurement since any residue, no matter how microscopic, may still be lethal, as we have known since before the Manhattan Project. Cesium is one of 256 radionuclides released during Fukushima, so we would need to calculate quantities, biological effectiveness, and the decay time of each of those to get the full health picture. Other isotopes in the Fukushima fuel include Uranium-235, with a half-life of 704 million years, and Uranium-238, with a half-life of 4.47 billion years, or longer than the age of the Earth.
At Fukushima, the end of the accident was not the end of the story. In 2013, 30 billion becquerels of cesium-137 were still flowing into the ocean every day from the damaged and leaking reactor cores. That is 300 billion cancer doses per second of man-made cesium added every day, or 109.5 trillion cancer doses per second added every year. To stop this assault on ocean life, and our own, over the next 5 years the owner of the plant constructed more than 1000 tanks to hold contaminated water away from the ocean. In September 2019, the Japanese government announced that more than one million tons were in storage but that space would run out by the summer of 2022 so it planned to begin releasing those billions of bequerels to the ocean again.

Swimmers and sailors who plan to compete in open water events at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics might want to think about that, as might any who fish those waters or consume the catch.

What happens to ocean creatures who ingest radionuclides from leaking nuclear power plants is not very different from what happened to John Wayne, his sons and his co-stars. As the isotopes decay within the body of a dolphin or a coral polyp they send microscopic bullets hurling through DNA chains, causing tumors, sicknesses, defective offspring and death for untold generations. The chance that a single mutation will produce a beneficial result are less than one in a million. Radioactivity is, for practical purposes, forever, as we can see just by looking up at our Sun, a benevolent nuclear reactor providing us energy from the relatively safe distance of 93 million miles.

Even that radiation will kill a number of us, but far fewer than would die if, by some devilish plan or panic response, we follow Dr. Hansen’s advice. https://medium.com/@albertbates/john-wayne-squares-off-against-jim-hansen-42a258b2260d

January 21, 2020 Posted by | Reference, spinbuster, thorium | Leave a comment

Climate change afflicting the health of the world’s children

Warning: Climate change will bring major new health risks for kids   https://thebulletin.org/2020/01/warning-climate-change-will-bring-major-new-health-risks-for-kids/?utm_source=Newsletter&utm_medium=Email&utm_campaign=MondayNewsletter01202020&utm_content=ClimateChange_HealthRisks_01172020#

By Kathleen E. Bachynski, January 17, 2020  As we enter a new decade, headlines from across the world make all too clear that the effects of climate change are not just looming. They’re here, they’re now, and they’re devastating communities on every continent. For example, in Australia, unprecedented fires have emitted roughly 400 million tons of carbon, killed at least 25 people, and destroyed 2,000 homes. In Indonesia, terrible flooding has killed at least 67 people and caused 400,000 to abandon their homes. The loss of sea ice in the Arctic is shrinking access to food resources that numerous indigenous communities have depended on for generations.

But the health effects of climate change go beyond even the most immediate and obvious consequences of fires, floods, and melting ice. In November 2019, the medical journal The Lancet published a detailed report examining the effects that climate change will have on human health under two scenarios: one in which the world reins in emissions according to commitments laid out in the Paris agreement, and one in which the world does not. In both cases, children will be most vulnerable to the numerous health harms resulting from decisions made by their parents and grandparents. Children are particularly likely to suffer the effects of climate change for numerous reasons: Their immune and organ systems are still developing, they drink relatively more water and breathe in more air than do adults relative to their body weight, and they tend to spend more time outdoors. Understanding the full scope of the public health consequences of a changing climate, then, involves examining how the risks will affect the bodies of the youngest people.

According to the Lancet report, air pollution—specifically, exposure to fine particulate matter known as PM 2.5—represents the largest environmental risk factor for premature deaths across the globe. When people think of the public health effects of air pollution, they often imagine the worst-case scenarios. For example, the smoke from the fires in Australia is currently so severe that a day spent inhaling the air in east Sydney represents the equivalent of smoking 19 cigarettes.

But air pollution need not reach such extreme levels to cause serious harm. Far more commonly, people are unaware of the daily pollution that they are breathing in due to the burning of fossil fuels, such as coal and gas. In fact, more than 90 percent of children are exposed to concentrations of PM 2.5 higher than the World Health Organization’s guidelines on outdoor air pollution. Over a lifetime, unhealthy air damages lungs and increases risks for a host of diseases, from asthma to pneumonia. And due to their small body size and the factors cited above, children absorb more of this pollution than do adults.

Similarly, The Lancet report notes that children are particularly vulnerable to the effects of heat. Specifically, young children are at greater risk for experiencing electrolyte imbalance, fever, respiratory disease, and kidney disease during periods of extreme heat. Rates of heat-related deaths are four times higher among children younger than one year old as compared to people aged 1-to-44.   Changing temperature and precipitation patterns are also influencing the transmission of disease from insects to humans. In particular, malaria and dengue are spread by mosquitoes, and climate suitability for transmission of these diseases is increasing in numerous parts of the world. Because children tend to spend more time outdoors, they are more likely to contract these diseases. In 2017, children accounted for 61 percent of all malaria deaths worldwide, and climate change is putting more children at even greater risk.

Changing climate patterns, droughts, and fires also threaten to reduce crop yields and increase food insecurity. Moreover, rising carbon dioxide appears to diminish the nutrient quality of crucial staple foods such as wheat and rice. Combined, these trends are likely to exacerbate the already serious global health problem of malnutrition, which currently accounts for nearly one-fifth of premature deaths and poor health globally.   The consequences of malnutrition are particularly severe among children. In 2018, 22 percent of children under five years of age were stunted, meaning they experienced impaired growth and development. Stunting is largely irreversible and includes serious consequences, from poorer cognition to increased risk of nutrition-related chronic diseases later in life.

Finally, The Lancet report observes that climate change has other health implications that are more challenging to quantify but crucial to address, such as mental health effects. Researchers have found that children are at high risk of mental health problems following the types of natural disasters that are likely to increase due to climate change. For example, one study found that 31 percent of a group of children who were evacuated during Hurricane Katrina reported clinically significant symptoms associated with depression and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. According to the Centers for Disease Control, children are at particular risk for stress after a disaster because they often understand less about what is occurring, feel less able to control events, and have less experience coping with difficult situations.

Protecting children from air pollution, heat-related deaths, infectious diseases, malnutrition, and mental health effects associated with climate change will involve the mobilization of all sectors of society to drastically reduce emissions and invest in health systems and infrastructure. The Lancet report notes a few promising signs, such as increased public and political engagement, and increasing health adaptation spending to improve communities’ resilience to a changing climate. Unfortunately, however, current efforts are falling far short of what is needed to meaningfully reduce carbon emissions on the scale needed to address the threat posed to human health. According to a 2019 United Nations report, greenhouse gas emissions must begin falling by 7.6 percent this year in order to meet the most ambitious goals laid out in the 2015 Paris climate accord. But the world is nowhere near this goal, and many countries are heading in the opposite direction. Notably, in 2018, energy-related carbon dioxide emissions rose by 2.7 percent in the United States. The United Nations has warned that every year of delay “brings a need for faster cuts, which become increasingly expensive, unlikely, and impractical.”

Waiting until action becomes more difficult, or perhaps even impossible, has appalling moral consequences. The longer we fail to act to address the risks of climate change, the more human lives we place on the line. And the majority of those lives will belong to the most vulnerable among us. It is no wonder, then, that children across the world have taken the lead in advocating for urgent, necessary action. The public health stakes for them—and for all people—grow higher with each passing year. Our health is fundamentally tied to our planet’s health. We must all consider, then, what actions we need to take to protect our planet—and thereby our communities, our children, and our selves.

 

January 21, 2020 Posted by | 2 WORLD, children, climate change, Reference | Leave a comment

John Wayne and the movie crew killed by nuclear radiation

John Wayne squares off against Jim Hansen, Medium,  Albert Bates, 11 Jan 2020     “……..The famous cowboy actor John Wayne may have been felled by the same foe, as was Marie Curie. From 1951 to 1962 the US Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) detonated more than 100 bombs in the southwestern US desert, sending huge pinkish plumes of radioactive dust across the stony valleys and canyons of southern Utah and northern Arizona. It gave each “shot” names like Annie, Eddie, Humboldt and Badger. Eleven of those tests were part of a series called Upshot-Knothole in Utah in 1953. In 1954, the Upshot-Knothole site was chosen as the location for a John Wayne film called The Conqueror.

The AEC sent a scientist with a Geiger counter to show Wayne that the location was safe enough for him to bring his wife and children to visit the set. The Geiger counter is said to have crackled so loudly Wayne thought it was broken. Waving it over clumps of cactus, rock and sand produced the same loud result. The Duke, by all accounts, shrugged it off. By 1980, 91 out of 220 cast and crew on The Conquerer had contracted cancer and 46 of them, including Wayne and co- stars Dick Powell, Pedro Armendáriz, Agnes Moorehead, and Susan Hayward had died. Those numbers did not include the families of the cast and crew. John Wayne’s wife and two sons all got cancer. While the two sons survived, the daughter of one of Wayne’s sons also died of cancer. Hayward’s son Tim Barker had a benign tumor removed from his mouth. Many of the Native American Paiute extras went on to die of cancer also……..https://medium.com/@albertbates/john-wayne-squares-off-against-jim-hansen-42a258b2260d

January 21, 2020 Posted by | health, PERSONAL STORIES, Reference, USA | Leave a comment

Marie Curie’s illness and death caused by ionising radiation

John Wayne squares off against Jim Hansen, Medium,  Albert Bates, 11 Jan 2020     “…….. In 1896, Henri Becquerel discovered that uranium emitted rays that resembled X-rays. Marie Curie suspected that the radiation was not the outcome of some interaction but came from the atom itself. Her work with uranium disproved the conventional wisdom going back to ancient Greece that atoms were indivisible and set up the later discovery of subatomic particles. Curie discovered that thorium, radium, polonium and radioactive bismuth occurred naturally with uranium. Radium was known to glow in the dark, which made it useful for painting the hour and minute hands on watches and clocks. It was later discovered that radium “radiated” more than just neutrons, but also protons and electrons, becoming another unstable element, radon, and that element radiated its subatomic particles to become others, polonium and bismuth, until those eventually became a  stable element, lead. Indeed, the radium Curie discovered was the progeny of another unstable element, thorium, which was the progeny of yet another unstable element, uranium.

Madame Curie was a physicist, not a medical doctor, so she did not recognize the health effects of handling uranium, thorium, radium and the other radionuclides. Indeed, she suspected the effects would be beneficial. One of the papers she and her husband published in the late 19th century announced that, when exposed to radium, diseased, tumor-forming cells were destroyed faster than healthy cells (the basis for today’s radio-chemotherapy). She carried test tubes containing radioactive isotopes in her pockets and stored them in her desk drawer. Although her many decades of exposure to radiation caused chronic illnesses (including near-blindness due to cataracts) and ultimately her death, she never acknowledged the inherent health risks. She likely did not recognize the symptoms when she began to feel weak and lose her hair. She died in 1934 from aplastic anemia without ever knowing that she fought the same mortal enemy as those who had painted the hands on watches and clocks, or those who had mined and processed the uranium on which she worked. After her death, and to this day, her papers and effects are too radioactive to be handled and her laboratory is unsafe to enter.also……..https://medium.com/@albertbates/john-wayne-squares-off-against-jim-hansen-42a258b2260d

January 21, 2020 Posted by | PERSONAL STORIES, radiation, Reference | Leave a comment

Britain’s £1.2bn cleanup begins, of Berkeley power station, closed 30 years ago

January 6, 2020 Posted by | decommission reactor, Reference, UK | Leave a comment

War planners ignore the fire effects of nuclear bombing

City on fire, Nuclear Darkness, by Lynne Eden, 30 Dec 19, By ignoring the fire damage that would result from a nuclear attack and taking into account   blast damage alone, U.S. war planners were able to demand a far larger nuclear arsenal than necessary.

For more than 50 years, the U.S. Government has seriously underestimated damage from nuclear attacks. The earliest schemes to predict damage from atomic bombs, devised in 1947 and 1948, focused only on blast damage and ignored damage from fire, which can be far more devastating than blast effects.

The failure to include damage from fire in nuclear war plans continues today. Because fire damage has been ignored for the past half-century, high-level U.S. decision makers have been poorly informed, if informed at all, about the extent of damage that nuclear weapons would actually cause. As a result, any U.S. decision to use nuclear weapons almost certainly would be predicated on insufficient and misleading information. If nuclear weapons were used, the physical, social, and political effects could be far more destructive than anticipated.

How can this systematic failure to assess fire damage have persisted for more than half a century? The most common response is that fire damage from nuclear weapons is inherently less predictable than blast damage. This is untrue. Nuclear fire damage is just as predictable as blast damage.

One bomb, one city

To visualize the destructiveness of a nuclear bomb, imagine a powerful strategic nuclear weapon detonated above the Pentagon, a short distance from the center of Washington, D.C.1 Imagine it is a “near-surface” burst-about 1,500 feet above the ground-which is how a military planner might choose to wreak blast damage on a massive structure like the Pentagon. Let us say that it is an ordinary, clear day with visibility at 10 miles, and that the weapon’s explosive power is 300 kilotons-the approximate yield of most modern strategic nuclear weapons. This would be far more destructive than the 15-kilotonbomb detonated at Hiroshima or the 21-kiloton bomb detonated at Nagasaki.2

Washington, D.C., has long been a favorite hypothetical target.3 But a single bomb detonated over a capital city is probably not a realistic planning assumption.

When a former commander in chief of the U.S. Strategic Command read my scenario, he wanted to know why I put only one bomb on Washington. “We must have targeted Moscow with 400 weapons,” he said. He explained the military logic of planning a nuclear attack on Washington: “You’d put one on the White House, one on the Capitol, several on the Pentagon, several on National Airport, one on the CIA, I can think of 50 to a hundred targets right off. . . . I would be comfortable saying that there would be several dozens of weapons aimed at D.C.” Moreover, he said that even today, with fewer weapons, what makes sense would be a decapitating strike against those who command military forces. Today, he said, Washington is in no less danger than during the Cold War.

The discussion that follows greatly understates the damage that would occur in a concerted nuclear attack, and not only because I describe the effects of a single weapon. I describe what would happen to humans in the area, but I do not concentrate on injury, the tragedy of lives lost, or the unspeakable loss to the nation of its capital city. These are important. But I am concerned with how organizations estimate and underestimate nuclear weapons damage; thus, I focus largely, as do they, on the physical environment and on physical damage to structures.

With this in mind, let us look at some of the consequences of a nuclear weapon detonation, from the first fraction of a second to the utter destruction from blast and fire that would happen within several hours. This will allow us to understand the magnitude of the damage from both effects, but particularly from fire, which is neither widely understood nor accounted for in damage prediction in U.S. nuclear war plans.

Unimaginable lethality

The detonation of a 300-kiloton nuclear bomb would release an extraordinary amount of energy in an instant-about 300 trillion calories within about a millionth of a second. More than 95 percent of the energy initially released would be in the form of intense light. This light would be absorbed by the air around the weapon, superheating the air to very high temperatures and creating a ball of intense heat-a fireball.

Because this fireball would be so hot, it would expand rapidly. Almost all of the air that originally occupied the volume within and around the fireball would be compressed into a thin shell of superheated, glowing, high-pressure gas. This shell of gas would compress the surrounding air, forming a steeply fronted, luminous shockwave of enormous extent and power-the blast wave.

By the time the fireball approached its maximum size, it would be more than a mile in diameter. It would very briefly produce temperatures at its center of more than 200 million degrees Fahrenheit (about 100 million degrees Celsius)-about four to five times the temperature at the center of the sun.

This enormous release of light and heat would create an environment of almost unimaginable lethality. Vast amounts of thermal energy would ignite extensive fires over urban and suburban areas. In addition, the blast wave and high-speed winds would crush many structures and tear them apart. The blast wave would also boost the incidence and rate of fire-spread by exposing ignitable surfaces, releasing flammable materials, and dispersing burning materials.

Within minutes of a detonation, fire would be everywhere. Numerous fires and firebrands-burning materials that set more fires-would coalesce into a mass fire. (Scientists prefer this term to “firestorm,” but I will use them interchangeably here.) This fire would engulf tens of square miles and begin to heat enormous volumes of air that would rise, while cool air from the fire’s periphery would be pulled in. Within tens of minutes after the detonation, the pumping action from rising hot air would generate superheated ground winds of hurricane force, further intensifying the fire.4

Virtually no one in an area of about 40-65 square miles would survive.

A little farther away…….

Within minutes of a detonation, fire would be everywhere. Numerous fires and firebrands-burning materials that set more fires-would coalesce into a mass fire. (Scientists prefer this term to “firestorm,” but I will use them interchangeably here.) This fire would engulf tens of square miles and begin to heat enormous volumes of air that would rise, while cool air from the fire’s periphery would be pulled in. Within tens of minutes after the detonation, the pumping action from rising hot air would generate superheated ground winds of hurricane force, further intensifying the fire.4

Virtually no one in an area of about 40-65 square miles would survive.

A little farther away……

Three miles from ground zero……..

A hurricane of fire…..

January 2, 2020 Posted by | Reference, USA, weapons and war | 1 Comment

Ionising radiation damages brain connections

December 28, 2019 Posted by | radiation, Reference | Leave a comment

USA’s Hanford nuclear site could suffer the same fate as Russia’s Mayak – or worse

Comment from Dtlt 21 Dec 19, TRUMP IS CUTTING THE BUDGET TO MONITOR AND TRY TO CLEAN THE HANFORD MESS IN HALF
Massive Nuclear Explosion similar to Kyrshtym by Mayak Can Happen at Hanford if the site is not Monitored and tanks not taken care of.

A Ten Thousand Gallon Tank at Mayak Exploded from Heat Decay. The Heat Deacy was from Strontium 90, Cesium 137, Cobalt 60 and Plutonium Stored in the Underground Tank. The explosion was equivalent to 100 tons of TNT. There are 55 million gallons of the same Radionuclide Mix stored at Hanford, in UnderGround Tanks. They used nitic acid to extract radionuclides at hanford as they did at Kyahym, by Mayak. The nitrates mixed with heat decaying rand hydrogen gas generating radionuclides are very much like the explosive brew that went off in Kyshtym in 1957 and there are 55 million gallons of the explosive brew at Hanford. The heat decay, heat emitting Radionuclides and Hydrogen gas generating explosive mix and the nitrates in the brew are very much at risk for a massive catastrophic chemical-radionuclide explosion . The Kyshtym disaster was a radioactive contamination accident that occurred on 29 September 1957 at Mayak, a plutonium production site in Russia for nuclear weapons and nuclear fuel reprocessing plant of the Soviet Union.

If the exlplosive stew becomes too concentrated and hot, the same thing will Happen there, contaminating a Great Portion of the Pacific NW USA and southe western Canada.

Medvedev, Zhores A. (4 November 1976). “Two Decades of Dissidence”. New Scientist.
Medvedev, Zhores A. (1980). Nuclear disaster in the Urals translated by George Saunders. 1st Vintage Books ed. New York: Vintage Books. ISBN 978-0-394-74445-2. (c1979)
In 1957 the cooling system in one of the tanks containing about 70–80 tons of liquid radioactive waste failed and was not repaired. The temperature in it started to rise, resulting in evaporation and a chemical explosion of the dried waste, consisting mainly of ammonium nitrate and acetates (see ammonium nitrate/fuel oil bomb). The explosion, on 29 September 1957, estimated to have a force of about 70–100 tons of TNT,[10] threw the 160-ton concrete lid into the air.[8] There were no immediate casualties as a result of the explosion, but it released an estimated 20 MCi (800 PBq) of radioactivity. Most of this contamination settled out near the site of the accident and contributed to the pollution of the Techa River, but a plume containing 2 MCi (80 PBq) of radionuclides spread out over hundreds of kilometers. Previously contaminated areas within the affected area include the Techa river, which had previously received 2.75 MCi (100 PBq) of deliberately dumped waste, and Lake Karachay, which had received 120 MCi (4,000 PBq).
In the next 10 to 11 hours, the radioactive cloud moved towards the north-east, reaching 300–350 km (190–220 mi) from the accident. The fallout of the cloud resulted in a long-term contamination of an area of more than 800 to 20,000 km2 (310 to 7,720 sq mi), depending on what contamination level is considered significant, primarily with caesium-137 and strontium-90. This area is usually referred to as the East-Ural Radioactive Trace EURT

December 21, 2019 Posted by | incidents, Reference, wastes | 1 Comment

USA House Democrats let Jared Kushner suck them in to a very bad space weapons deal

 

December 21, 2019 Posted by | Reference, USA, weapons and war | 2 Comments

Analysis of decontamination of irradiated soil of Fukushima area

Fukushima: Lessons learned from an extraordinary case of soil decontamination  https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/12/191212081926.htm

Source:
European Geosciences Union
Summary:
Following the accident at the Fukushima nuclear power plant in March 2011, the Japanese authorities decided to carry out major decontamination works in the affected area, which covers more than 9,000 km2. On Dec. 12, 2019, with most of this work having been completed, researchers provided an overview of the decontamination strategies used and their effectiveness.
On December 12, 2019, with most of this work having been completed, the scientific journal SOIL of the European Geosciences Union (EGU) is publishing a synthesis of approximately sixty scientific publications that together provide an overview of the decontamination strategies used and their effectiveness, with a focus on radiocesium. This work is the result of an international collaboration led by Olivier Evrard, researcher at the Laboratoire des Sciences du Climat et de l’Environnement [Laboratory of Climate and Environmental Sciences] (LSCE — CEA/CNRS/UVSQ, Université Paris Saclay).

Soil decontamination, which began in 2013 following the accident at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant, has now been nearly completed in the priority areas identified1. Indeed, areas that are difficult to access have not yet been decontaminated, such as the municipalities located in the immediate vicinity of the nuclear power plant. Olivier Evrard, a researcher at the Laboratory of Climate and Environmental Sciences and coordinator of the study (CEA/CNRS/UVSQ), in collaboration with Patrick Laceby of Alberta Environment and Parks (Canada) and Atsushi Nakao of Kyoto Prefecture University (Japan), compiled the results of approximately sixty scientific studies published on the topic.

This synthesis focuses mainly on the fate of radioactive cesium in the environment because this radioisotope was emitted in large quantities during the accident, contaminating an area of more than 9,000 km2. In addition, since one of the cesium isotopes (137Cs) has a half-life of 30 years, it constitutes the highest risk to the local population in the medium and long term, as it can be estimated that in the absence of decontamination it will remain in the environment for around three centuries.

“The feedback on decontamination processes following the Fukushima nuclear accident is unprecedented,” according to Olivier Evrard, “because it is the first time that such a major clean-up effort has been made following a nuclear accident. The Fukushima accident gives us valuable insights into the effectiveness of decontamination techniques, particularly for removing cesium from the environment.”

This analysis provides new scientific lessons on decontamination strategies and techniques implemented in the municipalities affected by the radioactive fallout from the Fukushima accident. This synthesis indicates that removing the surface layer of the soil to a thickness of 5 cm, the main method used by the Japanese authorities to clean up cultivated land, has reduced cesium concentrations by about 80% in treated areas. Nevertheless, the removal of the uppermost part of the topsoil, which has proved effective in treating cultivated land, has cost the Japanese state about €24 billion. This technique generates a significant amount of waste, which is difficult to treat, to transport and to store for several decades in the vicinity of the power plant, a step that is necessary before it is shipped to final disposal sites located outside Fukushima prefecture by 2050. By early 2019, Fukushima’s decontamination efforts had generated about 20 million cubic metres of waste.

Decontamination activities have mainly targeted agricultural landscapes and residential areas. The review points out that the forests have not been cleaned up — because of the difficulty and very high costs that these operations2 would represent — as they cover 75% of the surface area located within the radioactive fallout zone. These forests constitute a potential long-term reservoir of radiocesium, which can be redistributed across landscapes as a result of soil erosion, landslides and floods, particularly during typhoons that can affect the region between July and October. Atsushi Nakao, co-author of the publication, stresses the importance of continuing to monitor the transfer of radioactive contamination at the scale of coastal watersheds that drain the most contaminated part of the radioactive fallout zone. This monitoring will help scientists understand the fate of residual radiocesium in the environment in order to detect possible recontamination of the remediated areas due to flooding or intense erosion events in the forests.

The analysis recommends further research on:

  • the issues associated with the recultivation of decontaminated agricultural land3,
  • the monitoring of the contribution of radioactive contamination from forests to the rivers that flow across the region,
  • and the return of inhabitants and their reappropriation of the territory after evacuation and decontamination.

This research will be the subject of a Franco-Japanese and multidisciplinary international research project, MITATE (Irradiation Measurement Human Tolerance viA Environmental Tolerance), led by the CNRS in collaboration with various French (including the CEA) and Japanese organizations, which will start on January 1, 2020 for an initial period of 5 years.

Complementary approaches

This research is complementary to the project to develop bio- and eco-technological methods for the rational remediation of effluents and soils, in support of a post-accident agricultural rehabilitation strategy (DEMETERRES), led by the CEA, and conducted in partnership with INRA and CIRAD Montpellier.

Decontamination techniques

  • In cultivated areas within the special decontamination zone, the surface layer of the soil was removed to a depth of 5 cm and replaced with a new “soil” made of crushed granite available locally. In areas further from the plant, substances known to fix or substitute for radiocesium (potassium fertilizers, zeolite powders) have been applied to the soil.
  • As far as woodland areas are concerned, only those that were within 20 metres of the houses were treated (cutting branches and collecting litter).
  • Residential areas were also cleaned (ditch cleaning, roof and gutter cleaning, etc.), and (vegetable) gardens were treated as cultivated areas.

1 In Fukushima prefecture and the surrounding prefectures, the decision to decontaminate the landscapes affected by the radioactive fallout was made in November 2011 for 11 districts that were evacuated after the accident (special decontamination zone — SDZ — 1,117 km2) and for 40 districts affected by lower, but still significant levels of radioactivity and that had not been evacuated in 2011 (areas of intensive monitoring of the contamination — ICA, 7836 km2). 2 128 billion euros according to one of the studies appearing in the review to be published on 12 December 2019 in SOIL. 3 Relating to soil fertility and the transfer of radiocesium from the soil to plants, for example.

The study was conducted by Olivier Evrard (Laboratoire des Sciences du Climat et de l’Environnement (LSCE/IPSL), Unité Mixte de Recherche 8212 (CEA/CNRS/UVSQ), Université Paris-Saclay), J. Patrick Laceby (Environmental Monitoring and Science Division (EMSD), Alberta Environment and Parks (AEP)), and Atsushi Nakao (Graduate School of Life and Environmental Sciences, Kyoto Prefectural University).

December 16, 2019 Posted by | Fukushima continuing, Reference | Leave a comment

Paducah, Kentucky – its nuclear waste tragedy is compounded by climate change

I never said a bad thing about the plant the whole time I was growing up,” Lamb said. “It made the economy good. But then we got sick.”  

“People who were not highly educated could make really good money working in these industries

“Not only that but the government was saying, this is your patriotic duty. We need this. So everybody just went along because the compensation was pretty good.”

GAO report released in November showed that 60 percent of U.S. Superfund sites are at risk from the impacts of climate change.

Instead of focusing on cleanup plans, some state lawmakers and federal agencies are loosening regulations on hazardous sites…… Last year, the DOE also moved to relax restrictions on the disposal and abandonment of radioactive waste

December 5, 2019 Posted by | climate change, investigative journalism, Reference, USA, wastes | Leave a comment

New report on Iraqi babies, deformed due to thorium and uranium from U.S. military actions and bases

IRAQI CHILDREN BORN NEAR U.S. MILITARY BASE SHOW ELEVATED RATES OF “SERIOUS CONGENITAL DEFORMITIES,” STUDY FINDS   https://theintercept.com/2019/11/25/iraq-children-birth-defects-military/  Murtaza Hussain, November 26 2019,  MORE THAN A decade and a half after the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, a new study found that babies are being born today with gruesome birth defects connected to the ongoing American military presence there. The report, issued by a team of independent medical researchers and published in the journal Environmental Pollution, examined congenital anomalies recorded in Iraqi babies born near Tallil Air Base, a base operated by the U.S.-led foreign military coalition. According to the study, babies showing severe birth defects — including neurological problems, congenital heart disease, and paralyzed or missing limbs — also had corresponding elevated levels of a radioactive compound known as thorium in their bodies.

“We collected hair samples, deciduous (baby) teeth, and bone marrow from subjects living in proximity to the base,” said Mozhgan Savabieasfahani, one of the study’s lead researchers. “In all three tissues we see the same trend: higher levels of thorium.” Savabieasfahani, who has authored studies on the radioactive footprint of the U.S. military presence in Iraq for years, says that the new findings contribute to a growing body of evidence about the serious long-term health impact of U.S. military operations on Iraqi civilians. “The closer that you live to a U.S. military base in Iraq,” she said, “the higher the thorium in your body and the more likely you are to suffer serious congenital deformities and birth defects.”
The new study piles onto a growing wealth of knowledge about severe ill effects of the U.S. military on the environments in which it operates. All industrialized military activity is bad for ecological systems, but the U.S., with its enormous military engaged in activities spanning the globe has a particular large environmental footprint. Not only does the U.S. military lead the world in carbon output, but its prodigious presence around the globe leaves a toxic trail of chemicals that local communities have to deal with, from so-called burn pits on bases releasing poisonous smoke to the radiation of depleted uranium rounds mutating the DNA of nearby populations.

The suffering of Iraqis has been particularly acute. The results of the new study added to a laundry list of negative impacts of the U.S.’s long war there to the long-term health of the country’s population. Previous studies, including some contributed by a team led by Savabieasfahani, have pointed to elevated rates of cancer, miscarriages, and radiological poisoning in places like Fallujah, where the U.S. military carried out major assaults during its occupation of the country.

The study published in Environmental Pollution was conducted by a team of independent Iraqi and American researchers in Iraq during the summer and fall of 2016. They analyzed 19 babies born with serious birth defects at a maternity hospital in the vicinity of Tallil Air Base, compared with a control group of 10 healthy newborns.
“Doctors are regularly encountering anomalies in babies that are so gruesome they cannot even find precedents for them,” said Savabieasfahani. “The war has spread so much radiation here that, unless it is cleaned up, generations of Iraqis will continue to be affected.”

SOME OF THESE negative health effects of the American war in Iraq can be put down to U.S. forces’ frequent use of munitions containing depleted uranium. Depleted uranium, a byproduct of the enriched uranium used to power nuclear reactors, makes bullets and shells more effective in destroying armored vehicles, owing to its extreme density. But it has been acknowledged to be hazardous to the environment and the long-term health of people living in places where the munitions are used.

“Uranium and thorium were the main focus of this study,” the authors note. “Epidemiological evidence is consistent with an increased risk of congenital anomalies in the offspring of persons exposed to uranium and its depleted forms.” In other words: The researchers found that the more you were around these American weapons, the more likely you were to bear children with deformities and other health problems.

In response to an outcry over its effects, the U.S. military pledged to not use depleted uranium rounds in its bombing campaigns against the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria, but, despite this pledge, a 2017 investigation by the independent research group AirWars and Foreign Policy magazine found that the military had continued to regularly use rounds containing the toxic compound.

These depleted-uranium munitions are among the causes of hazards not only to the civilians in the foreign lands where the U.S. fights its wars, but also to American service members who took part in these conflicts. The chronic illnesses suffered by U.S. soldiers during the 1991 war in Iraq — often from exposure to uranium munitions and other toxic chemicals — have already been categorized as a condition known as “Gulf War syndrome.” The U.S. government has been less interested into the effects of the American military’s chemical footprint on Iraqis. The use of “burn pits” — toxic open-air fires used to dispose military waste — along with other contaminants has had a lasting impact on the health of current and future Iraqi generations.

Researchers conducting the latest study said that a broader study is needed to get definitive results about these health impacts. The images of babies born with defects at the hospital where the study was conducted, Bint Al-Huda Maternity Hospital, about 10 kilometers from Tallil Air Base, are gruesome and harrowing. Savabieasfahani, the lead researcher, said that without an effort by the U.S. military to clean up its radioactive footprint, babies will continue to be born with deformities that her study and others have documented.

“The radioactive footprint of the military could be cleaned up if we had officials who wanted to do so,” said Savabieasfahani. “Unfortunately, even research into the problem of Iraqi birth defects has to be done by independent toxicologists, because the U.S. military and other institutions are not even interested in this issue.”

November 26, 2019 Posted by | children, Iraq, Reference, thorium, weapons and war | Leave a comment

On nuclear radiation – past and future – extract from article on Chernobyl

DOES CHERNOBYL STILL MATTER? Public Books, BY GABRIELLE HECHT , 25 Nov 19, “……. The question is not whether an accident of Chernobyl’s gravity can happen elsewhere, but how to prepare for the consequences when it does.

That’s one of the questions Kate Brown considers in Manual for Survival. Offering a wealth of new information and analysis, Brown speeds past the reactor explosion. Instead, she focuses on dozens of previously untold stories about how people coped with their newly radioactive lives.

Brown’s protagonists include women who worked at a wool factory fed by contaminated sheep and butchers ordered to grade meat according to radioactivity. Ukraine, we learn, kept serving as the Soviet breadbasket, despite food radiation levels that exceeded norms. The concentrations of radionuclides were biomagnified by receptive organisms and ecologies, such as mushrooms, wild boar, and the Pripyat Marshes. Defying expectations, some foods, over time, have even become more contaminated.

Brown’s descriptions add historical flesh to arguments first developed by Olga Kuchinskaya, in her 2014 book on Belarus’s Chernobyl experience, The Politics of Invisibility: Public Knowledge about Radiation Health Effects after Chernobyl.

Since the first studies of bomb survivors in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, science on the biological effects of radiation exposure has been subject to controversy. Like all scientific work, these early survivor studies had limitations. Exposure estimates were unreliable.

The largest study began data collection five years after the Hiroshima and Nagasaki blasts, so it didn’t include people who died or moved between 1945 and 1950. Another problem lies in the applicability of these studies. Bomb exposures, such as those in Japan, mostly consist of high, external doses from one big blast. Yet postwar exposures have mainly consisted of low doses, delivered steadily over a long period. They often involve internal exposures—such as inhalation of radioactive particles or consumption of irradiated food—which can be deadlier.

Irrespective of their limitations, however, the findings of these survivor studies have served as the basis for establishing regulatory limits for all types of radiation exposures. Critics argue that extrapolating from the Japan data underestimates low-dose effects: If you’ve already decided that the only possible health effects are the ones you’ve already found, surely you’re missing something? Among other limitations, studies of external gamma radiation exposures cannot illuminate the long-term health effects of inhaling radioactive alpha particles.

Brown injects the work of Dr. Angelina Gus’kova into this story. Gus’kova started treating radiation-induced illnesses in the 1950s, while working at the top-secret Mayak plutonium plant (where the radioactive spills from a 1957 accident continue to contaminate people, land, and water). A neurologist, Gus’kova made observations that extended beyond the narrow cancer focus of most Western practitioners who studied the health effects of radiation exposure. Her patients displayed a wide range of symptoms, which Gus’kova and her colleagues dubbed “chronic radiation syndrome.” Not that they neglected cancer: a 40-year study of 1.5 million people who lived near Mayak found significantly higher cancer and death rates than those reported in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The Soviet rubric of “chronic radiation syndrome” did not exist in the West. Yet Gus’kova’s findings did align with those of dissident scientists in the US and the UK. Thomas Mancuso, for example, was pushed out of the US Atomic Energy Commission because he refused to give the Hanford plutonium plant a clean bill of health after finding that workers there sustained high rates of cardiovascular disease, immune system damage, and other illnesses.

Alice Stewart, meanwhile, was shunned by the British establishment after her 1956 research showed that x-raying pregnant women increased the risk of cancer and leukemia in their children by 50 percent. Over the years, these and other scientists whose data challenged the findings of American and European nuclear establishments found themselves sidelined and defunded.

In tandem with perestroika, Chernobyl opened communication between Soviet and Western nuclear experts, engendering what Brown calls an “unholy alliance.” In 1990, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) sent a mission to Belarus and Ukraine to assess radiation damage. Belarusian scientists reported rising rates of many diseases in contaminated areas. Nevertheless, the IAEA team rejected radiation as a possible cause. Such correlations didn’t appear in Western data.

Instead, the IAEA teams used dose estimates provided by distant Moscow colleagues and ignored local Belarusian and Ukrainian descriptions of people’s actual consumption habits, which included significant amounts of contaminated food and milk. The IAEA assessments neglected the internal exposures resulting from this consumption. Yet these assessments now serve as international reference points. “Underestimating Chernobyl damage,” Brown warns, “has left humans unprepared for the next disaster.” …….

Brown is on the right track. Many modes of scientific inquiry aren’t equipped to address our most urgent questions. Clear causal chains are a laboratory ideal. The real world brims with confounding variables. Some scientists studying Chernobyl’s “exclusion zone”—the region officially declared uninhabitable due to contamination—are trying new techniques to grapple with this reality. Tim Mousseau and Anders Møller, for example, collect data on the zone in its ecological entirety, rather than focusing on single organisms. Their findings belie romantic tales of wildlife resurgence (such as the one offered up by a 2011 PBS special on the radioactive wolves of Chernobyl). They too have met resistance. …..

we can refuse to see Chernobyl and its kin as discrete events of limited duration. Brown, for example, treats Chernobyl as an acceleration of planetary-scale contamination that began with the atomic arms race.

Let’s be clear: the contamination continues. After the triple meltdown at Fukushima, scientists found highly radioactive, cesium-rich microparticles in Tokyo, 150 miles south of the accident site. When inhaled, such particles remain in human lungs, where their decay continues to release radioactivity for decades. Contaminants from future accidents will, in turn, accrete on the radioactive residues of their predecessors.   https://www.publicbooks.org/does-chernobyl-still-matter/

November 26, 2019 Posted by | 2 WORLD, radiation, Reference | Leave a comment

The global uranium industry is really on the skids

Uranium bulls ‘as rare as white unicorns’ Jim Green, Online Opinion, 26 November 2019, https://onlineopinion.com.au/view.asp?article=20623&page=0

Uranium bulls are “as rare as white unicorns” according to a commentary in FNArena in September 2019, and the market is “sick and dying” with uranium “quickly becoming a dinosaur of a commodity”.

Canadian company Cameco recently said it cannot see any case for construction of new uranium mines for some years to come. Chief financial officer Grant Isaac said that new mines will not win financial backing without a far stronger recovery in demand for uranium than is currently on the horizon.

“It’s pretty hard to say you’re going to take the risk on an asset … that isn’t licensed, isn’t permitted, probably doesn’t have a proven mining method, when you have idle tier one capacity that’s licensed, permitted, sitting there,” Isaac said.

Moreover, Cameco has no plans to restart mines put into care-and-maintenance in 2016 and 2017: McArthur River (and the Key Lake mill) and Rabbit Lake in Canada, and the Crow Butte and Smith Ranch-Highland in-situ leach mines in the US. Plans to expand Crow Butte were abandoned in March 2019.

Instead, Cameco will continue to meet its contracts by purchasing uranium on the spot market. Delivering the company’s third-quarter results (a small loss), chief exec­utive Tim Gitzel said that only 9 million pounds of uranium oxide will be produced from its mines next year, with the remainder of its requirement of 30‒32 million pounds supplied from spot market purchases.

Cameco’s workforce in Canada has halved. Before the Fukushima disaster, the company employed more than 2,100 people in Saskatchewan. Since then, 810 mine and mill workers have been sacked, along with 219 head office employees in Saskatoon. Continue reading

November 26, 2019 Posted by | business and costs, Reference, Uranium | Leave a comment

Studies on Chernobyl nuclear disaster show that it’s relevant today, and for the future

DOES CHERNOBYL STILL MATTER? https://www.publicbooks.org/does-chernobyl-still-matter/ 11.22.2019 BY GABRIELLE HECHT  Since it first announced electricity “too cheap to meter,” in the 1950s, the nuclear industry has promised bountiful futures powered by a peaceful—and safe—atom. Design principles, the industry claims, limit the chances of core damage to one incident every 50,000 reactor-years of operation. History, however, has delivered a different verdict: together, Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and the three Fukushima reactors represent five meltdowns in only 100 reactor-years. What lessons do these accidents hold for the future of nuclear power?

Each meltdown has impelled design, operational, and regulatory changes, increasing the cost of nuclear power. Today, says the industry, the technology is safer and more vital than ever. No other source of electricity can offer so much baseload power with so few carbon emissions. But who can make money when a single US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) inspection costs $360,000?

For the current US administration, the remedy for waning profits lies in cutting inspection hours. In a July 2019 proposal, which drew heavily on nuclear industry recommendations, the NRC also suggested crediting utility self-assessments as “inspections” and discontinuing press releases about problems of “low to moderate safety or security significance.” Translation: fewer inspections, less transparency, and weaker environmental and health oversight at the nation’s nuclear power plants.

The cause, costs, and consequences of the 1986 Chernobyl accident loom large in these battles. Was Chernobyl a fluke, the result of faulty technology and a corrupt political system? Or did it signal a fundamentally flawed technological system, one that would never live up to expectations?

Even simple questions are subject to debate. How long did the disaster last? Who were the victims, and how many were there? What did they experience? Which branches of science help us understand the damage? Whom should we trust? Such questions are tackled, with markedly different results, in Serhii Plokhy’s Chernobyl, Adam Higginbotham’s Midnight in Chernobyl, Kate Brown’s Manual for Survival, and HBO’s Chernobyl (created by Craig Mazin).

Serhii Plokhy’s book and Craig Mazin’s miniseries, both entitled Chernobyl, focus primarily on the accident and its immediate aftermath. Both build on the standard plotline embraced by nuclear advocates.

In this narrative, Soviet love of monumental grandeur—or “gigantomania”—led to the selection and construction of Chernobyl’s RBMK1 design: an enormous 1000-megawatt reactor, powered by low-enriched uranium fuel, moderated by graphite, and cooled by water. The utterly unique RBMK had fundamental design flaws, hidden by corrupt state apparatchiks obsessed with secrecy, prestige, and productivism. Operators made inexcusable errors. The accident was inevitable. But the inevitability, Plokhy and Mazin affirm, was purely Soviet.

Plokhy gives more backstory. The enormous scale of Soviet industrialization put huge strains on supply chains, resulting in shoddy construction. Some of the men in charge had no nuclear background. The pressure to meet production quotas—and the dire consequences of failure—led bureaucrats and engineers to cut corners.

For both Plokhy and Mazin, these conditions at Chernobyl came to a head during a long-delayed safety test.   When the moment to launch the test finally arrived, shortly before midnight on April 25, 1986, there was confusion about how to proceed. The plant’s deputy chief engineer, Anatolii Diatlov, who did have extensive nuclear experience, believed he knew better than the woefully incomplete manuals. He pushed operators to violate the poorly written test protocol. (Disappointingly, Mazin’s miniseries portrays Diatlov more as a deranged bully than as someone with meaningful operational knowledge.)

The reactor did not cooperate: its power plummeted, then shot back up. Operators tried to reinsert the control rods. The manual didn’t mention that the RBMK could behave counterintuitively: in other reactor models, inserting control rods would slow down the fission reaction, but in the RBMK—especially under that night’s operating conditions—inserting the rods actually increased the reactivity. Steam pressure and temperature skyrocketed. The reactor exploded, shearing off its 2000-ton lid. Uranium, graphite, and a suite of radionuclides flew out of the core and splattered around the site. The remaining graphite in the core caught fire.

At first, plant managers didn’t believe that the core had actually exploded. In the USSR—as elsewhere—the impossibility of a reactor explosion underwrote visions of atomic bounty. Nor did managers believe the initial radiation readings, which exceeded their dosimeters’ detection limits. Their disbelief exacerbated and prolonged the harm, exposing many more people to much more radiation than they might have otherwise received. Firefighters lacked protection against radiation; the evacuation of the neighboring town of Pripyat was dangerously delayed; May Day parades proceeded as planned. Anxious to blame human operators—instead of faulty technology or (Lenin forbid!) a broken political system—the state put the plant’s three top managers on trial, in June 1987, their guilt predetermined.

Mazin’s miniseries follows a few central characters. Most really existed, though the script takes considerable liberties. The actions of the one made-up character, a Belarusian nuclear physicist, completely defy credibility. But hey, it’s TV. Dramatic convention dictates that viewers must care about the characters to care about the story. Familiar Cold War tropes are on full display: defective design, craven bureaucrats, and a corrupt, secrecy-obsessed political system. A few anonymous heroes also appear: firefighters, divers, miners, and others who risked their lives to limit the damage.

Nuclear advocates—many of whom believe that Chernobyl was a fluke, one whose lessons actually improved the industry’s long-term viability—object to the unrealistically gory hospital scenes portraying acute radiation sickness. But these advocates should feel appeased by the closing frames, which ignore the long-term damage caused by the accident.

Instead, the miniseries skates over post-1987 events in a few quick captions. The managers went to prison, a scientist committed suicide, people were evacuated. Yes, controversy persists over the number of casualties (31? That was the official Soviet number. How about 4,000? That’s the number issued by the Chernobyl Forum, an entity that includes representatives from the World Health Organization, the International Atomic Energy Agency, and other international organizations. As for the 41,000 cancers suggested by a study published in the International Journal of Cancer—that number isn’t even mentioned). But all is under control now, thanks to the new confinement structure that will keep the area “safe” for a hundred years. Mazin himself insists that the show isn’t antinuclear.

Instead, the miniseries skates over post-1987 events in a few quick captions. The managers went to prison, a scientist committed suicide, people were evacuated. Yes, controversy persists over the number of casualties (31? That was the official Soviet number. How about 4,000? That’s the number issued by the Chernobyl Forum, an entity that includes representatives from the World Health Organization, the International Atomic Energy Agency, and other international organizations. As for the 41,000 cancers suggested by a study published in the International Journal of Cancer—that number isn’t even mentioned). But all is under control now, thanks to the new confinement structure that will keep the area “safe” for a hundred years. Mazin himself insists that the show isn’t antinuclear.

Plokhy also addresses the accident’s role in the breakup of the USSR. In 2006, Mikhail Gorbachev famously speculated that “the nuclear meltdown at Chernobyl, even more than my launch of perestroika, was perhaps the real cause of the collapse of the Soviet Union.” Plokhy delivers details. Ukrainian dissidents trained their writerly gaze on Chernobyl, vividly describing the damage. Street demonstrations depicted the accident and its coverup as “embodiments of Moscow’s eco-imperialism.” This vision spread and morphed, animating protests in Belarus—also severely contaminated by the accident—and elsewhere. Chernobyl served as Exhibit A for why the republics should shed the Soviet yoke.

If you’re hoping for clear technical explanations, however, you’ll be disappointed. A stunning error mars the first few pages: Plokhy declares that each RBMK produced 1 million megawatts of electricity. This is off by a factor of 1,000. Typo? No, because he doubles down in the next sentence, affirming that the station produced 29 billion megawatts of electricity in 1985. He gets the orders of magnitude right later on, but these early missteps undermine reader confidence. Muddled technical descriptions and uninformative diagrams add to the confusion.

Readers seeking to understand the technology should turn instead to journalist Adam Higginbotham’s Midnight in Chernobyl. He uses global nuclear history to illuminate Soviet efforts to manage the Chernobyl crisis. By comparing the crisis to reactor accidents elsewhere, Higginbotham shows that deep vulnerabilities are widespread. Plokhy’s engineers and managers seem bumbling, verging on incompetent. Higginbotham’s more nuanced portrayal reflects how complex engineering projects of all types necessitate informed improvisation. The three-dimensional world doesn’t faithfully obey manuals. Adjustments are always required.

Higginbotham and Plokhy differ most starkly in their treatment of Soviet reactor choice. In the1960s, technocrats weighed the RBMK design against the VVER,2 the Soviet version of a pressurized light water reactor similar to those sold by Westinghouse and used in the United States. For Plokhy, it’s simple. The VVER was “safe.” The RBMK was not, but its size and cost appealed to Soviet productivism.

Higginbotham, however, wisely relies on Sonja Schmid’s pathbreaking Producing Power: The Pre-Chernobyl History of the Soviet Nuclear Industry (2015) to show that reactor safety isn’t a yes-no proposition. Plutonium-producing reactors similar to the Soviet RBMK (albeit half its size) existed in North America and Western Europe. Like nine of its French cousins, the RBMK could be refueled while continuing to operate. This presented significant advantages: light water reactors had to shut down for refueling, which entailed several weeks of outage. Even the risks presented by RBMK design vulnerabilities seemed manageable. “Nuclear experts elsewhere considered the RBMK design neither technologically novel nor particularly worrisome,” Schmid writes, noting that “what we consider good and safe always depends on context.” In the Soviet context, “selecting the RBMK made very good sense.”

Neither Schmid nor Higginbotham absolves the Soviet technopolitical system. The specific circumstances that led to Chernobyl’s explosions might not recur. But, as sociologist Charles Perrow has been arguing since his 1983 book Normal Accidents, highly complex technological systems create unpredictable situations, which inevitably lead to system failures. The question is not whether an accident of Chernobyl’s gravity can happen elsewhere, but how to prepare for the consequences when it does. 

That’s one of the questions Kate Brown considers in Manual for Survival. Offering a wealth of new information and analysis, Brown speeds past the reactor explosion. Instead, she focuses on dozens of previously untold stories about how people coped with their newly radioactive lives.

Brown’s protagonists include women who worked at a wool factory fed by contaminated sheep and butchers ordered to grade meat according to radioactivity. Ukraine, we learn, kept serving as the Soviet breadbasket, despite food radiation levels that exceeded norms. The concentrations of radionuclides were biomagnified by receptive organisms and ecologies, such as mushrooms, wild boar, and the Pripyat Marshes. Defying expectations, some foods, over time, have even become more contaminated.

Brown’s descriptions add historical flesh to arguments first developed by Olga Kuchinskaya, in her 2014 book on Belarus’s Chernobyl experience, The Politics of Invisibility: Public Knowledge about Radiation Health Effects after Chernobyl.

Since the first studies of bomb survivors in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, science on the biological effects of radiation exposure has been subject to controversy. Like all scientific work, these early survivor studies had limitations. Exposure estimates were unreliable.

The largest study began data collection five years after the Hiroshima and Nagasaki blasts, so it didn’t include people who died or moved between 1945 and 1950. Another problem lies in the applicability of these studies. Bomb exposures, such as those in Japan, mostly consist of high, external doses from one big blast. Yet postwar exposures have mainly consisted of low doses, delivered steadily over a long period. They often involve internal exposures—such as inhalation of radioactive particles or consumption of irradiated food—which can be deadlier.

Irrespective of their limitations, however, the findings of these survivor studies have served as the basis for establishing regulatory limits for all types of radiation exposures. Critics argue that extrapolating from the Japan data underestimates low-dose effects: If you’ve already decided that the only possible health effects are the ones you’ve already found, surely you’re missing something? Among other limitations, studies of external gamma radiation exposures cannot illuminate the long-term health effects of inhaling radioactive alpha particles.

Brown injects the work of Dr. Angelina Gus’kova into this story. Gus’kova started treating radiation-induced illnesses in the 1950s, while working at the top-secret Mayak plutonium plant (where the radioactive spills from a 1957 accident continue to contaminate people, land, and water). A neurologist, Gus’kova made observations that extended beyond the narrow cancer focus of most Western practitioners who studied the health effects of radiation exposure. Her patients displayed a wide range of symptoms, which Gus’kova and her colleagues dubbed “chronic radiation syndrome.” Not that they neglected cancer: a 40-year study of 1.5 million people who lived near Mayak found significantly higher cancer and death rates than those reported in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The Soviet rubric of “chronic radiation syndrome” did not exist in the West. Yet Gus’kova’s findings did align with those of dissident scientists in the US and the UK. Thomas Mancuso, for example, was pushed out of the US Atomic Energy Commission because he refused to give the Hanford plutonium plant a clean bill of health after finding that workers there sustained high rates of cardiovascular disease, immune system damage, and other illnesses.

Alice Stewart, meanwhile, was shunned by the British establishment after her 1956 research showed that x-raying pregnant women increased the risk of cancer and leukemia in their children by 50 percent. Over the years, these and other scientists whose data challenged the findings of American and European nuclear establishments found themselves sidelined and defunded.

In tandem with perestroika, Chernobyl opened communication between Soviet and Western nuclear experts, engendering what Brown calls an “unholy alliance.” In 1990, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) sent a mission to Belarus and Ukraine to assess radiation damage. Belarusian scientists reported rising rates of many diseases in contaminated areas. Nevertheless, the IAEA team rejected radiation as a possible cause. Such correlations didn’t appear in Western data.

Instead, the IAEA teams used dose estimates provided by distant Moscow colleagues and ignored local Belarusian and Ukrainian descriptions of people’s actual consumption habits, which included significant amounts of contaminated food and milk. The IAEA assessments neglected the internal exposures resulting from this consumption. Yet these assessments now serve as international reference points. “Underestimating Chernobyl damage,” Brown warns, “has left humans unprepared for the next disaster.”

For some, hope springs eternal. In 2017, Chernobyl’s “New Safe Confinement” finally became operational, after two decades of design and construction. This $1.7 billion structure aims to contain the spread of radioactive rubble while workers inside dismantle the reactor and its crumbling sarcophagus. Ownership was transferred from the builders of the structure to the Ukrainian government in July 2019.

At the transfer ceremony, newly elected Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky announced a tourism development plan for the radioactive exclusion zone, including a “green corridor” through which tourists could travel to gawk at the remains of Soviet hubris. “Until now, Chernobyl was a negative part of Ukraine’s brand,” declared Zelensky, who was nine years old when the reactor exploded. “It’s time to change.” (Zelensky further demonstrated his dedication to “branding” two weeks after this ceremony, when he emphasized his recent stay in a Trump hotel during his now-infamous phone conversation with the US president.)

Change also seems possible to Plokhy, who optimistically predicts that new reactor designs will be “cheaper, safer, and ecologically cleaner.” But Allison Macfarlane, who chaired the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission under Obama, recently noted that these “new” options are actually “repackaged designs from 70 years ago.” They still produce significant quantities of highly radioactive, long-lived waste.

Meanwhile, regulators in France—the world’s most nuclear nation—are taking the opposite approach from the United States’ NRC. Rather than rolling back oversight, France is intensifying inspections of their aging reactor fleet. After four decades of operation, many French reactors have begun to leak and crack. Keeping them operational will cost at least $61 billion. Despite the phenomenal cost, there are many who believe such an investment in the nuclear future is worthwhile.

Brown is far less sanguine about our nuclear future. Predictably, she has been denounced for believing marginal scientists and relying too heavily on anecdotal evidence. She does occasionally go overboard in suggesting conspiracy. Cover-ups clearly occurred on many occasions, but sometimes people were just sticking to their beliefs, trapped by their institutional and disciplinary lenses. Brown’s absence of nuance on this point matters, because the banality of ignorance—its complicity in all forms of knowledge production—can be more dangerous than deliberate lies: more systemic, harder to detect and combat.

Overall, though, Brown is on the right track. Many modes of scientific inquiry aren’t equipped to address our most urgent questions. Clear causal chains are a laboratory ideal. The real world brims with confounding variables. Some scientists studying Chernobyl’s “exclusion zone”—the region officially declared uninhabitable due to contamination—are trying new techniques to grapple with this reality. Tim Mousseau and Anders Møller, for example, collect data on the zone in its ecological entirety, rather than focusing on single organisms. Their findings belie romantic tales of wildlife resurgence (such as the one offered up by a 2011 PBS special on the radioactive wolves of Chernobyl). They too have met resistance.

How, then, can we harness the immense power of scientific analysis while also acknowledging its limitations? The nuclear establishment is quick to lump its opponents together with climate change deniers and anti-vaxxers. Some may deserve that. But much dissident science is well executed. So how do we, the lay public, tell the difference? How can dissent and uncertainty serve, not as a block to action, but as a call?

One way: we can refuse to see Chernobyl and its kin as discrete events of limited duration. Brown, for example, treats Chernobyl as an acceleration of planetary-scale contamination that began with the atomic arms race.

Let’s be clear: the contamination continues. After the triple meltdown at Fukushima, scientists found highly radioactive, cesium-rich microparticles in Tokyo, 150 miles south of the accident site. When inhaled, such particles remain in human lungs, where their decay continues to release radioactivity for decades. Contaminants from future accidents will, in turn, accrete on the radioactive residues of their predecessors.

And, we might add, on the ocean floor. The Russian state-run firm Rosatom recently announced the inauguration of its first floating reactor, towed across the melting Arctic to serve a community in Siberia: yet another manifestation of how climate change favors nuclear development. Rosatom is currently negotiating contracts for reactors (floating and otherwise) in some 30 countries, from Belarus to Bangladesh, Egypt to South Africa.

Threatened, the US nuclear industry sees Russian expansion as “another reason that the United States should maintain global leadership in nuclear technology exports.” And so we hurtle forward: rolling back oversight, acceleration unchecked.

This article was commissioned by Caitlin Zaloom.

November 26, 2019 Posted by | history, investigative journalism, Reference, Ukraine | Leave a comment