2014/02/23

The Hibakusha who Apologized for Hiroshima and Nagasaki

In the summer of 1998, representatives of the Dene people of Great Bear Lake went to Hiroshima to express their remorse for having hauled ore from the Port Radium mine to supply fuel for the atomic bombs dropped on Japan. They had no foreknowledge of what they were participating in, and they suffered horribly afterwards from the effects of radiation, but still they felt responsible.
Until the 1990s, because of their isolation and neglect by the Canadian government, they had little understanding of where those “money rocks” had gone, and little awareness of the rocks’ connection to numerous deaths among them from strange new illnesses. But then journalists, academics and filmmakers began to appear with questions about the past and information about the causes of those illnesses. The Dene were dismayed by the neglect they had suffered, but were equally burdened by the new awareness of what they had helped to bring upon Japanese people. Their sense of responsibility knew nothing of the civilized impulse toward self-exculpation. They felt responsible for not having asked questions about what they had agreed to work on, for not having made every effort to understand the implications of their participation. That’s an ethical standard that few people could live up to.
In 1998, Canadian journalists shed light on the story of the Port Radium mine, and in 1999 the documentary film Village of Widows covered the story and the trip by the Dene to Japan. Peter van Wyck returned to it more recently in his book Highway of the Atom (2010). Nonetheless, the story is forgotten (or never-known) history for most Canadians. When a nuclear-powered Soviet satellite crashed over the Northwest Territories in 1978, widely dispersing radioactive waste in the region, it was an irony lost on everyone.
The most interesting twist in the story is that in 2005-06, during the peak of the so-called “nuclear renaissance,” a film director, David Henningson, headed up to Great Bear Lake to make a film called Somba ke: The Money Place about the relations between the Dene and Hiroshima and Nagasaki (watch it on youtube here). During preparations he found that attitudes had shifted, and he ended up making a film very different from the one he had set out to make. The Dene were now reluctant to speak of the past because a mining company called Alberta Star had concluded an agreement with them to reopen the mine. Canadian author Douglas Coupland was a major shareholder, along with his brother, the CEO. This time, of course, the Dene were promised that things would be different. The next year, in 2008, the Deline Land Corporation (Dene controlled) announced they would oppose all future uranium development until remaining issues with the old Port Radium mine were resolved. Alberta Star's stock was $3 in the days of the "nuclear renaissance," but today (Feb. 23, 2014) in the post-Fukushima world, it trades at $0.21. 
   At other active uranium mine sites in Northern Canada, aboriginal communities are divided on their support for nuclear energy(1), but for the most part they have made peace with the atom and are working for and with uranium mining companies. As far as I know, none of them have offered apologies for Fukushima Daiichi.
   The article below gives a good overview of the history of Port Radium from the 1930s to 1990s. It no longer exists on the Calgary Herald website, though the journalist who wrote it, Andrew Nikiforuk, has been active since, covering the Alberta Tar Sands and the energy crisis. A few versions of this article are posted on web pages that seem to have not been attended to since the 1990s. I’ve tried to restore it to a readable version that does not have each sentence and quotation formatted as a separate paragraph.

(1) Andrew Loewen. "Legal action seeks transparency from Northern Village of Pinehouse regarding uranium contracts." Briarpatch Magazine. January 27, 2014.
http://briarpatchmagazine.com/announcements/view/legal-action-pinehouse
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Echoes of the Atomic Age: Cancer kills fourteen aboriginal uranium workers
by Andrew Nikiforuk
Calgary Herald, Alberta, Canada
originally published on Saturday, March 14, 1998

At the dawn of the nuclear age, Paul Baton and more than 30 Dene hunters and trappers innocently called uranium “the money rock.” Paid $3 a day by their white employers, the Dene hauled and ferried burlap sacks of the grimy ore from the world’s first uranium mine at Port Radium, across the Northwest Territories to Fort McMurray. Since then, at least 14 Dene who worked at the mine between 1942 and 1960 have died of lung, colon and kidney cancers, according to documents obtained through the N.W.T. Cancer Registry.
The Port Radium mine supplied the uranium to fuel the $2-billion effort to make the first atomic bombs. “Before the mine, you never heard of cancer,” said Baton, 83. “Now, lots of people have died of cancer.” Charged Cindy Gilday, chairwoman of the Deline’s Uranium Committee: “In my mind it’s a war crime that has been well hidden. The Dene were the first civilian victims of the war and are the last to be addressed.”
The Dene, who say they were never told of uranium’s hazards, will decide next weekend whether to sue or seek a settlement with the federal government. Declassified U.S. documents show that the U.S. government, which was the buyer, and Ottawa, then the world’s largest supplier, withheld health and safety information from miners, as well as natives.
Robie Chatterjee, head of health physics and risk with the Atomic Energy Control Board, responded to the news of the high incidence of cancers among the Dene by saying: “We were not aware of this (the cancers). It definitely deserves more investigation.”
The federal government owned Eldorado Mining and Refining and regulated the uranium industry. It privatized the firm in 1988.
During the mine’s heyday in the 1950s, many Dene slept on the ore, ate fish from water contaminated by radioactive tailings and breathed radioactive dust while on the barges, docks and portages. More than a dozen men carried sacks of ore weighing more than 45 kilograms for 12 hours a day, six days a week, four months a year. “That might be comparable to taking a chest X-ray every week for a year with an old machine,” said Dr. David Bates, an environmental health analyst and chair of British Columbia’s royal commission on uranium in 1980.
“The people at the time didn’t speak English,” said Shirley Baton-Modest, 33, a Deline resident. “I think my people were used as guinea-pigs. They were never informed of the dangers.” A 1991 federal aboriginal health survey found the Deline community reporting twice as much illness as any other Canadian aboriginal community. But the federal government has never studied the Dene’s health-related concerns -- specifically cancer.
André Corriveau, the Northwest Territories’ chief medical officer of health, noted that high cancer rates among the Dene don’t differ significantly from the overall territorial profile. However, the death rate is skewed by high rates of smoking among the Inuit, he said.
Andy Orkin, an Ontario lawyer who deals with aboriginal and environmental issues, will present a brief to the Dene next week. “We left them to die and hoped they would never ask any questions,” he said.
Fourteen of the 30 Dene who worked at the Port Radium, N.W.T. uranium mine have died of cancer. Declassified documents on the U.S. atomic weapons and energy program reveal that both the Canadian and American governments knew in the early 1940s of the deadly hazards of uranium extraction. Yet for two decades Ottawa failed to warn thousands of miners and natives of the risks they faced daily. Now, the elders of Deline must decide whether to seek a settlement -- or sue for compensation.
Just south of the Arctic Circle on the shores of Great Bear Lake, the surviving elders of Deline now say the Prophet warned them. These are the people whose dead husbands and brothers hauled the raw uranium ore that helped make the bombs that obliterated Hiroshima and Nagasaki; the ones who still have no word for radiation.
In immaculate white-walled bungalows, the elders nod at a stark photograph of a bearded figure and say in hushed and saddened tones, “Yes, Grandfather told us.” Until his death in 1940, Louis Ayah, one of the North’s great aboriginal seers, repeatedly warned his people that the waters in Great Bear Lake would turn a foul yellow. According to “Grandfather,” the yellow poison would flow toward the village, recalls Madelaine Bayha, one of a dozen scarfed and skirted “uranium widows” in the village. “The prophet spoke about that poison. He said that there would be sickness and that people would go through hard times and that there would be deaths,” says Bayha, 82. Her husband, Joseph, worked for years at the uranium mine and died as many white miners did: coughing himself to death.
Fifty years after the first atomic bomb, the Cold War and the economic boom that was uranium, the elders in this community of 600 people are beginning to understand the meaning of that disturbing vision. They realize that the ore mined from their ancestral hunting grounds became the ingredient of mass destruction; that the poison was none other than radiation and its deadly progeny; and that the source was Port Radium, the world’s first uranium mine -- a primitive and often secret Crown company called Eldorado Mining and Refining, run by the federal government from 1942 to 1960.
They also suspect that many of the 18 deaths caused by cancer or lung diseases in the community in the past 30 years may be all part of the forgotten mine’s radioactive legacy and that of its transport arm, Northern Transportation Co. Ltd. And they have many questions. Why did the federal government, their guardian, and Eldorado, a defunct Crown corporation, never tell them of the dangers of uranium mining? Why, in a community where cancers were unknown and elders once lived into their 90s, have so many men died in their 60s and 70s?
“Something’s wrong. A lot of people have died of cancer in the last 15 years,” says Paul Baton, 83. As a young man he and more than 30 other Dene men barged or hauled 100-pound bags of uranium ore concentrate along a 2,100-kilometre transportation web of rivers, rapids and portages known as the “Highway of the Atom.” In addition to serving as coolies for the war effort, the Dene ate fish from contaminated dredging ponds. Their children played with the dusty ore at river docks and portage landings. And their women sewed tents from used uranium sacks.
The boatmen often slept atop ore-filled barges and nearly a dozen families regularly hunted, camped and fished at areas that a federal government study on radioactive wastes identified in 1994 as having “elevated gamma radiation, due to spillage of uranium ore.”
“Before the mine, you never heard of cancer,” says Baton, a small man with clear eyes and a strong face. “Not once. . . . The river pilots I knew all died of cancer. The families that cut logs for the mine are all gone. Something is wrong.”
Although proving that a specific radioactive dose caused a specific individual cancer is problematic, scientists generally agree that there is no safe threshold for radiation exposure. All exposures carry some risk of cancer or genetic effects and there is no doubt that the many Dene were routinely exposed to gamma radiation and radioactive dust over a period of 20 years.
The first Dene to die of cancer, or what elders still call “the incurable disease,” was Old Man Ferdinand in 1960. He had worked at the mine site as a logger, guide and stevedore for nearly a decade. “It was Christmastime and he wanted to shake hands with all the people as they came back from hunting,” recalls Rene Fumoleau, then an Oblate missionary working in Deline. After saying goodbye to the last family that came in, Ferdinand declared: “‘Well, I guess I shook hands with everyone now,’ and he died three hours later.”
Others followed in the next decade. Victor Dolphus’ arm came off when he tried to start an outboard motor. Dolphus, who had worked at the mine site for years, needed a contraption to hold up his neck before the cancer finished him. Joe Kenny, a boat pilot, died of colon cancer. His son, Napoleon, a deck hand, died of stomach cancer. And so on. The premature death of so many men has not only left many widows but interrupted the handing down of culture. “In Dene society it is the grandfather who passes on the traditions and now there are too many men with no uncles, fathers or grandfathers to advise them,” says Cindy Gilday, Joe Kenny’s daughter, and chair of Deline Uranium Committee. “It’s the most vicious example of cultural genocide I have ever seen and it’s in my own home.”
Although the Atomic Energy Control Board and uranium companies have long argued that little was known about uranium’s hazards, evidence from U.S. and Canadian archives and survivors of the era tell a different story.
Unlike Ottawa, the U.S. recently declassified 250,000 documents on its atomic weapons and energy program, which reveal that government officials and scientists in both countries actively discussed uranium’s hazards in secret. Yet publicly they remained mute. The perils were well documented. As early as 1932, Canada’s Department of Mines published studies on Port Radium that repeatedly warned about radon’s poisonous effects on the lungs and “dangers from inhalation of radioactive dust.” The department’s own blood studies on Port Radium miners lead it to conclude “that a hazard may exist in the breathing of air containing even small amounts of radon.”
Wilhelm C. Hueper also knew this. In 1942 the founding director of the environmental cancer section of the U.S. National Cancer Institute reviewed 300 years of radon data on European miners. His conclusion: radon gas in cobalt mines routinely produced lung cancers that systematically killed more than half of all miners 10 to 20 years after their employment.
Hueper predicted a similar tragedy for radium miners in Great Bear Lake and the Belgium Congo. Warned the scientist: “In case the Belgian and Canadian operations should be conducted without the essential and comprehensive protective measures for the workers, the prospects for an epidemic-like appearance of lung carcinomas among their employees can be anticipated in the not too distant future.” Forty years later, two Canadian mortality studies confirmed Hueper’s foresight.
When Hueper began to issue similar warnings to U.S. uranium miners on the Colorado Plateau in the early 1950s, “the mine operators and politicians got all excited,” says Victor E. Archer, an epidemiologist who started the first cancer studies on U.S. miners in 1954 and is now a professor of occupational medicine in Salt Lake City at the University of Utah. Declassified U.S. documents also show that the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission told Hueper, a world expert on lung cancers, that references to occupational cancers among uranium miners were “not in the public interest” and “represented mere conjecture.”
Notes Archer: “The Canadians knew about the same things that the U.S. did and in general tagged along with the Atomic Energy Commission.” In fact Eldorado management and the Canadian government regularly received updates on radon and lung cancer studies on American uranium miners throughout the 1950s. But neither government nor mine owners wanted to scare miners away or implement better health safeguards that would force uranium prices up, says Archer.
“We always suspected that the Americans had more information about the hazards but we could never get the damn stuff,” recalls Hank Bloy, a retired engineer for Eldorado’s Port Radium and Beaverlodge mines in the late 1950s. “The Americans were buying our uranium and wanted it badly and didn’t cooperate too much on the health standards.”
In 1945, a federal research team from Montreal sent to monitor radon in the mine found conditions at Port Radium appalling. They reported that “the radon content seems to be so high as to be definitely dangerous to the health of those working in the mines.” Despite the installation of some fans in 1946, concerns about protection for miners at Great Bear Lake even became the subject of several 1949 memos at the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission, which at that time bought all the mine’s ore. This information was so confidential that one memo said: “It should not be quoted in any published report.”
The next reference to ongoing radiation hazards at the mine surfaced at a secret 1953 meeting at Chalk River, Ont. When Canadian officials expressed concerns about high radon concentration in uranium mines, their American counterparts replied that “our problem is different because we have no concentration of uranium of any magnitude.” This was a lie: By 1953, the U.S. Public Health Services had established that American miners on the Colorado Plateau were being exposed to the same radiation doses as Hueper’s European miners.
Dr. André Cipriani, a Canadian biologist keenly concerned about health safety in the whole uranium industry, then reported “that there had been three or four cases of cancers in employees” at Port Radium. When the Canadian government finally sent two physicists to the area in the mid-1950s to check on radon levels at Port Radium’s sister mine on Lake Athabasca -- a mine with much lower grade ore -- they found lots of radon. But according to one retired senior civil servant, that report, like Hueper’s concerns, never saw the light of day. “We printed it in green covers, which means declassified, and sent a copy up to Chalk River. And the next thing I knew we got orders from the assistant deputy minister to collect every copy and get them back to the department because not one was to go out. That report was squashed. “I know that Eldorado was extremely cautious and didn’t want anything coming out and I guess they said, ‘For God’s sake, stop this!’ and it never came out,” says the pensioned official, who is still bound to silence by the Official Secrets Act.
Because this health information was withheld, Canada’s energy minister, Gordon Churchill, was able to declare in 1959 “that there are no special hazards attached to the mining of uranium that differ from other mining activities.” Notes Robert Bothwell, a University of Toronto historian and author of Eldorado, a lengthy history of the Crown company: “The profound and deliberate falsification of nuclear hazards began at the top.”
The Port Radium record was eventually repeated at uranium mines across Canada. When the Ontario government appointed James Ham to study mine safety at Elliot Lake, another Eldorado uranium property, in 1974, he concluded that “neither the workers nor their representatives were advised about the emerging status of the problem of lung cancer.” Although Elliot Lake has now been closed for nearly 10 years, former miners with lung cancer and other radiation related ailments make an average of one compensation claim a week in Ontario.
The Atomic Energy Commission still has not adopted the latest radiation exposure guidelines issued by the International Commission of Radiation Protection. The ICRP, based in Sweden, issued the recommended levels in 1991.
Later Canadian studies found just what scientists early on had predicted would be found. One pilot study on Port Radium found 10 cases of lung cancer among 76 men who had worked more than five years at the mine. They died between 1953 and 1975. Ontario and Newfoundland studies found miners exposed to radon had three to five times the average lung cancer rate. And on it went.
Watching a uranium miner die of a radioactive damaged lung is a job only for the brave. Al King, an 82-year-old retired member of the Steelworkers union in Vancouver, has held the hands of the dying. He recalls one retired Port Radium miner whose chest lesions were so bad that they had spread to his femur and exploded it. “They couldn’t pump enough morphine into him to keep him from screaming before he died.”
“The ethical issues raised by this case are profound,” says Andy Orkin, a well-known Ontario lawyer who advises the community and also represents the Cree of northern Quebec. “We did it to them. Somebody knew the stuff was dangerous. Even by standards of the day, they had a right to know.”
Before the mine, the Dene, a nomadic people, hunted and fished along the rocky shores of Great Bear, the world’s fourth-largest and least-studied inland lake. But the stability of that caribou life changed when the Dene unwittingly met the atom in 1930. That’s the year Gilbert and Charlie LaBine started to mine a rich load of pitchblende or radium just an eight-hour boat ride north of Deline (then Fort Franklin). According to the elders, a Dene hunter traded a sample of the black lustrous mineral to a Kentucky-born fur trapper, who then alerted the LaBines, failed gold-seekers. In exchange for the right to mine an ore then worth more than $70,000 a gram on world markets, the Dene received a few sacks of flour, lard and baking powder. “On that day, the babies of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were doomed to death by the time they would become 15 years of age,” noted a 1945 Herald article on the historic mine.
Radium, which consists largely of uranium oxides, was then used for watch dials, medical X-rays and cancer treatments. It is just one of the radioactive byproducts of uranium, a constantly decaying metal that releases a wide spectrum of deadly energy particles, much like shrapnel from a grenade. Port Radium contained so much of its namesake that in 1932 the Herald hailed the find as a “treasure house” and “Great Bear’s rich citadel.” As a consequence, the mine immediately broke the world monopoly on radium held by a Belgium firm in the Congo.
Rather than ship tonnes of chemicals to Great Bear to refine the radium, Eldorado established a refinery in Port Hope, Ontario. It sold uranium as a waste product for $1.35 a pound or scattered radioactive tailings around the city -- a source of later scandals. Before the mine temporarily closed in 1940 due to the war and declining radium demand, the Dene supplied caribou meat for the miners and then worked as loggers, stevedores or radium coolies.
In 1942, the U.S. Manhattan Project -- the secret effort to turn split atoms into explosive bombs -- quickly revived the mine’s fortunes. Having no uranium sources of its own, the American government rapidly bought Port Radium stockpiles at the Port Hope Refinery and placed an order for 60 tonnes of uranium oxide. To advance the war effort, Ottawa secretly purchased the mine. Alberta’s wide-open spaces were even offered as possible test sites for the bomb.
It’s unknown how many tonnes of Port Radium ore fuelled the first test bomb, called “Trinity,” or even the war-stoppers -- “Fat Man” and “Little Boy.” A shipload of Congo ore sitting in New York harbor eventually made up the bulk of the supplies because Eldorado had trouble filling both American and British orders for the war effort. But the Manhattan Project mixed ores from Great Bear and Africa and all the uranium was refined at Port Hope.
“Nobody knew what was going on,” recalls Isadore Yukon, who hauled ores for three summers in a row during the 1940s. “Keeping the mine going full blast was the important thing.” To that end, the mine employed 250 white miners who battled frigid waters, poor ventilation (the mine counted on natural drafts to circulate air) and Port Radium’s remoteness. Miner turnover was high. While the whites mined the ore and sewed crushed ores into sacks, the Dene carried and piloted what they called the “money rock” out of Great Bear to Fort McMurray.
“When I was young,” recalled 66-year-old Alfred Taniton, who worked on the ore-ferrying boats for five years, “I saw some of the workers hauling ores. The whites would have showers but us native people didn’t. I guess they really wanted to destroy us... That’s why they never told us these things.”
His wife Jane, now 59, lived two years at the mine and ate herring from the dredging pond. Two years ago she had a cancerous kidney removed. “If they had told us the truth the people wouldn’t have worked for them,” adds Alfred.
In 1994, an advisory committee to President Bill Clinton published a study on “human radiation experiments” in the United States. It looked at the treatment of miners, many of whom were Navajos. Based on declassified documents, it concluded that “an insufficient effort was made by the federal government to mitigate the hazard to uranium miners through early ventilation of the mines and that as a result miners died… Because the federal government did not take the necessary action, the product it purchased was at the price of hundreds of deaths.” That summary should bring no comfort to Deline’s widows, nor to the widows of hundreds of uranium miners across Canada. But it explains a legacy of deception.
“Of all the world’s nuclear powers, Canada is the last hold-out on talking about its nuclear legacy and how so many things went terribly wrong,” says Gordon Edwards, a Montreal mathematician and president of the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility. “I could never understand why authorities were so resistant,” reflects Archer, whose epidemiology studies on American miners finally broke the official silence in 1961. “As I got older I saw the same thing with cigarette smoking and asbestos. I now believe that it’s a cultural thing. People are reluctant to change their minds and accept new ideas.”
“The first time I heard about this bomb was from an army veteran in the 1950s,” says Deline elder Paul Baton. “The soldier said he’d had respiratory problems, probably due to the war. He told us about the bomb and the aftermath and what it was made from. “He explained how they dropped the bomb and its effect on the Japanese. He said later, down the years, it will affect my land and my life… “We had no idea. We are a strong people. We stand by our words. The elders are worried about the water, the air and the land. We must keep it clean because other animals use the land… I have never talked about this before but now I am talking.”
In Deline, the elders -- the ones that survived their introduction to the nuclear age -- now go to the restored house of the prophet, the Grandfather, to speak to the dead. There are not many other grandfathers left.

Port Radium (Eldorado) Timeline

1932: Port Radium begins production. Mines Canada issues health warnings on radon gas and radioactive dust.
1939: Canadian ore used in first atomic chain reaction experiment.
1940: Port Radium closes.
1941: Port Radium reopens for war effort, as world’s first uranium mine.
1942: United States government orders 60 tonnes of uranium. Canadian government secretly begins to buy out mine. Dene work as coolies.
1945: Bombs dropped on Japan.
1949: U.S. officials raise health concerns about Port Radium miners.
1953: First Port Radium miner dies of cancer. United States government secretly begins health studies on U.S. miners.
1956: Value of uranium production hits $1 billion in Canada.
1957: Elliot Lake mine opens.
1960: Port Radium mine closes. No uranium left. First Dene dies of cancer.
1967: First radon standards set.
1974: First uranium miners with lung cancer compensated by Ontario.
1976: Ham Royal Commission slams government for hiding health information from miners. First Ontario studies published.
1979: First cancer death study on Port Radium miners.
1988: Canadian government merges Eldorado with the Sasktachewan Mining Development Corporation to form Cameco.







2014/02/20

L'état, c'est MOX

Nuclear waste disposal is the Achilles' heel of the nuclear industry. It can continue only if the public is convinced that a long-term burial solution is possible. However, the interview with Jean-Pierre Petit (translation below) illustrates that the public is being deceived on this point. Powerful nations that cling to their nuclear arsenals and fleets of nuclear power stations are now slaves to the dictatorship of the plutonium economy. Thus the title that refers to the Mixed OXide fuel of uranium and plutonium that the industry is hellbent on using in its reactors. 

L'état, c'est MOX
   
   In February, 2014, the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico, the American site for burial of military nuclear waste, suffered a radiological emergency that required the evacuation of the facility. The site is too radioactive to enter, and managers, if they know what happened down in the tunnels, are saying little to the public. Shortly before the incident, a truck caught fire in one of the tunnels at the site, but the two events appear to be not related.
These accidents have highlighted exactly what critics have always warned about. The viability of the nuclear industry depends on having such final disposal sites, but they are unproven and vulnerable to accidents such as the ones that happened within a single month at one facility, only fifteen years after it opened.
Critics have warned that disposal containers are likely to corrode, moisture can leak into the site, the ground can shift, or heat can build up and cause fires, explosions or create weaknesses in the containers and support structures. Underground disposal is supposed to be the “walk-away-safe” solution that will give nuclear energy the freedom to expand over the next century as the sensible response to global warming, but the accident at WIPP is more evidence that this solution isn’t a solution at all. The term “passive safety” refers more appropriately to a passive public that has been instilled with illusions of safety.
A critic of the WIPP facility, Don Hancock, was in Toronto in 2013 advising local activists who are opposed to Ontario Power Generation’s plan to build a nuclear waste disposal site on the shores of Lake Huron. He pointed out that OPG looked to WIPP as an example of “industry best practices.” He explained then the known shortcomings of the site, and low and behold, a few months later, the scenario that critics conceived of came to pass. There was an "excursion of material" in the hole, and now the site is too radioactive to work in. The problem might get resolved, but over a year later things are not going well and the future viability of the site is in doubt. The incident underscored the possibility of catastrophes occurring at nuclear waste sites. They won’t keep the wastes safely isolated from the ecosystem for thousands of years, and they may not stay safe long enough for them to even to be loaded to their designated capacity.
The nuclear waste problem is the biggest obstacle faced by the nuclear industry, perhaps bigger than costs and the public’s fear of accidents. Promoters of nuclear would rather the public not think about it. The Japanese government has lately spoken about finally taking action on the problem, but they prefer to be utterly deceptive about the problems involved. They believe it is urgent to have this “cheap” form of energy so that they can compete with countries like South Korea, which supposedly has “cheap” nuclear energy costs. But South Korea too is equally deluded about nuclear waste solutions available to such a small nation. It’s as if both nations want to compete in a race in which there will be no winners.
Coincidentally, just before the accident at WIPP, Sputnik's French language channel interviewed a prestigious French scientist on what he sees as the dangerous and absurd plans France is following in order to perpetuate its nuclear industry. The astrophysicist Jean-Pierre Petit is the former director of Le Centre national de la recherche scientifique, and he is obviously not an antinuclear activist the nucleocracy could scornfully dismiss (as they have been known to do) as "just a language teacher" or a "just a housewife" driven by irrational fear and ignorance. He knows of what he speaks.
The passage below contains a condensed translation of the two-part interview on Sputnik. The questions have been omitted and a few sections in square brackets [ ] have been added to supply the context that was given by the questions in the original.
The original French transcripts are here: Part1 and Part2. I recommend looking at the original source, even if you can’t read French, in order to see the illustrations and graphs that go with the interview.




There is one thing that has ruled in the world since the dawn of time, and that is the formidable mix of greed and stupidity. My personal view is that, for a long time, there has been only 5% of the population who are capable of thinking for themselves, capable of reflecting, and thinking critically, with autonomous moral evaluation based on reason. To them we can add 20% who lack conscience or awareness, who are devoured by their egoism, their ambition and their fear. Thus, someone who belongs to this group feels that pursuing power is a question of survival, for himself and his relations, for his ethnic group, his country, for his position that, in his eyes, confers all rights.
[The remaining 75% of people] can be manipulated toward any end. They can be put to sleep, made afraid, subjugated, turned against other groups or against each other, on a small or large scale. They can be impoverished to extreme levels before they will revolt. In France, a comical drawing has appeared of a new creature created from genetic recombination, what is called a pigeton [half pigeon, half mouton, or sheep]. This animal swallows anything and allows itself to be sheared without protest. They behave collectively, in the millions, and can follow any leader, no matter how irrational he may be.
At this moment, the nuclear technocrats are pushing strongly a project called CIGEO (Centre Industriel de Stockage Géologique) which involves burying high-level nuclear waste in Bure, in the east of France, in the place famous throughout the world for producing champagne. There is already a pilot project there five hundred meters deep in a layer of clay that is one hundred meters thick. There are tunnels there where the state plans to bury the million tons of high-level waste produced by the nuclear industry over the last half-century.
The time span over which the wastes need to be stored is immeasurably longer than the duration of the metal containers that will hold the wastes. They will corrode within a few decades. This goes for the concrete containers as well which won’t last longer than a century.
Assurance is given by experts, the same experts who planned the storage of nuclear wastes in a German salt mine in Asse. They said it was absolutely sure to be a permanent solution “on the scale of geological time.” In France, the nuclear waste project arises from a law passed by a representative from Nord Pas de Calais, Christian Bataille (in office from 1991-2006). He approved, without reservations, the positive conclusions of experts on the Bure disposal plan. This was exactly how he approved the German project in Asse, also in total agreement with experts then. Bataille has what you could call “the hamster complex.” He loves to dig.
In Asse, Germany, the experts assumed the salt deposit was homogenous and stable. They simply forgot that in a mine, half the volume that has to be considered is made up of what you have put in the tunnels and caverns. Salt is hygroscopic. It absorbs water. The experts thought that salt would be an ideal barrier, but it didn’t turn out that way.
It was only a matter of decades before the operation turned into a nightmare. In certain parts of the mine, the movement was ten centimeters per year, so imagine the result after thousands of years. What a great gift for the next 6,000 generations of humans. Water that comes into the site can just as easily flow out later with radioactive particles in it. It can go anywhere into the water table and enter the food chain. There would be no way to stop it.
In Asse, water has entered and covered thousands of waste containers, and they have become unrecoverable. They have to recover the 126,000 containers that are in there. The cost would be enormous, but something has to be done before the pollution spreads to underground water sources in the region.
Nuclear power buys local communities, and the money flows freely. Opponents with technical competence are pressured into silence. To be free, you have to be retired. If not, all forms of pressure are possible.
Billions of euros have been spent just getting to the stage where tests can be conducted. But the storage of wastes with long half-lives poses acute problems. In general, there are two sorts of wastes. There are those that can be called “passive,” like asbestos, and those that can be called “active” that evolve chemically, decompose, and eventually produce flammable gas, and heat. Nuclear wastes obviously belong in the second “active” category. They release heat by their  exo-energetic transmutation. So storage sites require powerful ventilation systems that need to be maintained for centuries. Some wastes that are plastic decompose relatively quickly, releasing hydrogen. When the air reaches 4% hydrogen, it becomes explosive.
In the year 2000, they began to store various types of waste, one of which was mercury, underground at a mine in Alsace. In 2002, a fire broke out. They wanted to get everything out, but they realized it could never be recovered… A fire in a mine is more complicated to manage than a fire above ground. It’s like an oven. The heat has no way out. A small fire can quickly result in elevated temperatures at which the containers begin to melt.
In Bure, a fire would be catastrophic. The wastes are vitrified (in a glass-like state), but glass is not really a solid. It’s a very viscuous fluid. At ordinary temperatures, it can do the job for thousands of years. It is not soluble. But the weak point of glass is its low resistance to heat. At 600°C, the glass will flow and liberate its contents. Underground, this temperature could be reached very quickly. In the mine there are also support structures made of metal and reinforced concrete.  Concrete melts above 1100°. The clay in Bure is also saturated with water. It couldn’t withstand being heated above 70°. The creators of the CIGEO project have great faith in a material called bentonite with which they hope to seal the caverns. It’s a particular type of clay that can absorb water and dilate, but it has the same problem as clay in terms of heat resistance.
Fire hazards come not only from the concern about hydrogen explosions. The plan at Bure is to deposit some elements treated with bitumen, but bitumen becomes fluid at 60° and flammable at 300°. Any way you look at it, this project is absurd.
The only thing to do now is to leave everything on the surface, even for centuries if necessary, as a way to make them less toxic by transmutation. There is no hurry. But the government and the barons of nuclear are exerting an enormous pressure to begin burial by 2015. They want to hide all signs of the nuisance that has accumulated for half a century and given nuclear energy such a bad image. If the CIGEO project is realized, this will be a precedent for nucelopaths the world over, and they will all follow suit, saying, “après moi, le déluge!
The need to abandon this waste burial project goes hand in hand with the need to stop making more of this infernal nuclear waste. Therefore, we have to conceive of a way to rapidly stop the production of electricity by nuclear energy. It’s difficult to imagine how this could happen. It’s rare to find scientists who criticize these projects. The majority of them are totally indifferent to this problem, and to many other problems as well.
In order to make the plan easier for opponents to swallow, the government is looking for ways to make radioactive waste burial part of a package labelled “energy transition.” Some imbeciles will go along with this in exchange for a few promises of wind turbines and solar panels. We can count on the Socialist Party and the EELV [Europe Ecologie – Les Verts] to go along with such accords.
[To solve this problem] we need a planetary change of consciousness. But in reality, many countries in the world are planning to build nuclear power plants now, including those of the EPR design that run on plutonium. This will lead to a dangerous impasse. There is no solution for the waste, and there is no solution for dismantling power plants. Installations get old, and as they age, radioactivity provokes transmutations, in metal, for example, which then becomes fragile. Many reactions produce helium, which stays in the irradiated material. Helium is inert. It doesn’t chemically combine with anything, so it becomes a hole in a metal crystal. Just by irradiation, a pressurized reactor vessel loses its mechanical resistance. Sooner or later, it becomes unusable. This leads to the problem of the cost of dismantling.
[Instead of facing these problems], we see completely insane plans, and the public ignores their existence. According to the “reasonable trajectory” elaborated by the Parliamentary Office on Scientific and Technical Options, the following plan is foreseen:

·                  Generation II represents 58 reactors presently installed in France.
·                  Generation III is the EPR which will run 100% on MOX fuel, which is plutonium.
·                  Generation IV will be fast-breeder reactors, each containing 20 tons of plutonium, the equivalent of 1000 atomic bombs, and 5000 tons of flammable and explosive sodium.
·                  The construction of the ASTRID prototype has already been approved by François Hollande. Deployment is to commence in 2060 and finish in 2100.

Sources:




2014/02/17

True Lies

There ought to be a word for the kind of truth that is really just an oft-repeated lie. This kind of truth starts off as a bald-faced lie, then goes through a tortuous digestive process in the national psyche, accompanied by lots of cramps and gaseous emanations until it finally emerges as what should be called a truthturd. It then sprouts some lovely turd blossoms that fool enough people into accepting its virtue.
Cases in point: the Tokyo gubernatorial election of February 10th, 2014, and the notion that Japan is doomed to economic failure without nuclear power.
http://www.claybennett.com/
The election was seen as a sort of referendum on nuclear energy in Japan, and the pro-nuclear candidate “won” with a voter turnout that was less than 50% and less than a majority of those votes. The two anti-nuclear candidates had an almost equal number of votes as the “winner.” In a truly democratic system, the result would be thrown out and the election redone until the turnout was high enough to be considered a real reflection of the will of citizens. You could say the citizens were lazy and got the government they deserve, but Tokyo had just been hit with its worst snowfall in decades the night before. In addition, an intelligently designed electoral system would require a runoff to decide a winner with a majority of votes.
After the election results were in, TEPCO coincidentally announced a few days later that its data on some of Fukushima Daiichi’s radioactive leaks had been underestimated by half. Then it turned out that data on 167 samples dated as long ago as 2011 were underestimated because the instruments used maxed out below the actual levels. As was the case with the 2012 national election and the IOC decision on the 2020 Olympics, TEPCO held the bad news so as to not influence political decisions that might have unwelcome consequences for the company.
Also coming right after the election result was known, the press was full of stories about how the national government is now going to press ahead with nuclear reactor restarts by next summer. Everyone, including the journalists regurgitating the government line, seems to have forgotten that Japan now has a new and improved nuclear regulator that is, supposedly, totally independent of politics. Thus, nothing can be restarted if the NRA objects to restarts, and no politician could possibly pass judgment on things like seismic safety, the reliability of old infrastructure, re-education of personnel, or evacuation plans. Right?
The Yomiuri Shimbun ran a story that might as well have been a government press release. It reported, “The government aims to resume operations of nuclear power plants under the plan, after [NOT IF] their safety is confirmed by the ongoing screenings of the Nuclear Regulation Authority.” It is reported like a fait accompli, with the NRA and local prefectural approval assumed as a sure thing.
It must be kept in mind that the Yomiuri was the propaganda arm of the Japanese and American government in the 1950s when President Eisenhower was pushing “atoms for peace” and exports of American nuclear power technology. Nothing has changed. The Yomiuri report was bad enough, but that is not to say that it was much different than others. The New York Times went along for the ride as well.
The media, domestic and foreign, has dutifully reported the lie that Japan’s economy is getting hammered by the extra fossil fuel that electric utilities have to import now that their reactors are off. They fail to report that in the past nuclear accounted for only 20-30% of electricity production, and that the majority of fossil fuel imported is used for other purposes besides generating electricity (transport, industrial uses, heating, cooking). The data shows that the jump in total fossil fuel imports after the nuclear shutdown was about 10-15%, and this is an amount that could be cut with conservation, efficiency gains, and investment in renewables. Furthermore, because of demographics, the loss of dominance in technology exports, and jobs moving to cheaper countries, the economy was moving in a bad direction a long time before the 2011 disaster. It is disingenuous to now blame everything on the loss of nuclear power.
The mainstream view also talks about uranium as if it were a free domestic resource. If we consider energy created by unit of cost, uranium does have an advantage over fossil fuel. However, it still has a significant cost and it has to be imported, which means it doesn’t provide energy security, and it hurts the balance of trade just like fossil fuel imports. Besides the cost of uranium, nuclear energy has huge costs arising from construction, de-construction, insurance, security, and safety assurance. Building and operating a gas power plant amounts a fraction of the cost. Even though the continual cost of importing fuel is a burden, it is at least a cost that is born in the present and not foisted on future generations.
Consumers and businesses are supposed to be begging for the reactors to be turned back on because electric utilities are going to charge 20% more now, and this, apparently, is all because of the nuclear shutdown. Curiously, the 20% matches the 20% devaluation of the yen since Shinzo Abe introduced his “Abenomics,” which of course made imported fuel that much more expensive. And really, is the public supposed to believe that electricity cost is going to come down again after the nuclear reactors are switched back on? Is the Abe government that stupid? Do they think the public is that stupid? Or is the public really that stupid?
The cost of fossil fuel is actually only one of the many daunting costs that electric utilities are faced with. All of the nuclear power plants are being forced to meet new safety requirements. The upgrades are costly, and for some power plants they will be too costly, so safe operation will be deemed impossible. The Hamaoka NPP has built a new seawall as defense against tsunamis at a cost of $1.8 billion, yet there is still the possibility that the regulator will refuse to allow its restart. When the NRA or local governments refuse to allow restarts, utilities will have to pay for decommissioning costs. Then of course, there is Fukushima Daiichi, where the cleanup and compensation costs are growing all the time. Nuclear waste disposal, and the cost of future accidents are not even put into the calculation.
The government and the utilities are being utterly deceptive in failing to disclose how these costs make nuclear-generated electricity much more expensive than what consumers pay now in their utility bills, even with the rate increase included. It seems to be assumed that the government has paid and will always pay for the devastating costs of nuclear energy through general revenue. And general revenue is 50% borrowed money these days, so there's not much difference from the attitude toward nuclear waste. It only looks cheap because the deciders who are alive now will be dead in twenty years and not have to pay the price. The true costs–financial, ecological and moral–have been completely obscured.
The blog Peace and Freedom has some insightful quotes from Japanese officials who are propagating the fear of a nuclear shutdown, but the author failed to critically analyze the assumptions behind them. According to the Institute of Energy Economics in Japan, “… fossil-fuel imports would cause an outflow of national wealth equivalent to 0.6 percent of Japan’s gross domestic product.” The question to ask is how this tiny figure is supposed to be catastrophic, when it is well understood that energy consumption is an indicator of domestic economic activity and resources being turned into value-added goods that are exported. Fossil fuel imports have been the very basis of Japan’s economic miracle. If Japan can no longer work its manufacturing and exporting magic, it’s a sign of a deeper problem with creativity, innovation and competitiveness. It has nothing to do with nuclear energy.
Elsewhere in the article, Hirohide Hirai, director of policy evaluation and public relations at the Economy, Trade, and Industry Ministry, is quoted as saying, “The reliance on the hydrocarbons makes Japan vulnerable from the energy-security perspective. You have to pay a lot, a lot, a lot for LNG imports. If something happens in the Strait of Hormuz today, that makes—oh, I don’t want to think about it.”
Yes, indeed, the world is a scary place. Why not repeat “a lot” just a few more times for us? Mr. Hirai’s horror story could give us all chills on a summer night and lessen the need of air conditioners. One can shudder and get scared about various man-made and natural disasters that would leave populations freezing in the dark, but invoking this “Strait of Hormuz” bogey man is an absurd way to debate energy policy. For one thing, Japan has other supply lines from Russia, North America and Indonesia. And, yes, Japan is very vulnerable to energy supply shocks, as many nations are. That’s just a part of the bargain a nation makes if it doesn’t want to have an 18th century lifestyle. Furthermore, even if every nuclear power plant in the country were operating, the loss of fossil fuel supplies would be more crippling to the economy than the loss of nuclear power. Fossil fuel is the only source of energy for airplanes, trucks and cars, most homes use it for heat and cooking, and it has always supplied (even at the peak of nuclear generation) about 60% of electricity.
The claim that nuclear energy is cheap, green and essential is an utter falsehood, perpetuated by some people who know it, and by others who are too dim to understand the nature of the monster they have created. Who in his right mind in this land of earthquakes and volcanoes, after all that has happened at Fukushima Daiichi, would switch on another nuclear reactor? It's time for everyone to stop and listen to the voices from Chernobyl, like the one who said, “They grabbed God by the beard, and now he’s laughing, but we’re the ones who pay for it.”

Sources:




Svetlana Alexievich. Voices from Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster (1997, published in English by Picador in 2006).

John E. Carey (editor). “Why Japan Can’t Quit Nuclear Power.” Peace and Freedom: Policy and World Ideas. February 16, 2013. http://johnib.wordpress.com/2013/02/16/why-japan-cant-quit-nuclear-power/.

2014/02/04

Talkin’ John Birch Fukushima Paranoid Blues


If The John Birch Society is familiar to anyone in 2014, it is probably known only among people who lived through 1940s to 1960s who recall it as the voice of radical conservatism during the Cold War. Among liberal baby boomers it became an object of ridicule and derision for its support of the McCarthy witch hunts and paranoia about the communist threat. Bob Dylan satirized it famously in Talkin’ John Birch Paranoid Blues. In 1963, he was set to perform it on The Ed Sullivan Show, but an executive of CBS-TV forbade it at the last minute, so Dylan walked out and never appeared on the show. Columbia records also chose not to include it on studio albums, and so it was known only through live performances until it appeared in 1991 on The Bootleg Series Volumes 1-3.
The delay in releasing the song goes to show how The John Birch Society, and the interest in even mocking it, had faded. It also shows that US laws had changed to permit satire (Dylan should perhaps be glad that CBS saved him from being sued). Nonetheless, the society still exists, performing its traditional role in the era of Fox News and paranoid opposition to the perceived “progressive” agenda. However, The John Birch Society now seems to be aware of its brand image problem – its historical association with black-and-white newsreels of Cold War inquisitors persecuting and prosecuting American heroes like Pete Seeger at The House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). Nowadays, The John Birch Society publishes journals like The New American and buries the name of the society and its ownership of the journal deep within the About section of the website.
If you ever suspected that the promotion of nuclear energy is associated with this brand of radical conservatism, The New American is a source that answers this question. A recent editorial by Rebecca Terrell called Fukushima: Fear and Fallout illustrates how certain strains of conservative ideology are natural fellow travelers with the nuclear industry. The essay also stands as an example of a badly and willfully uninformed journalist writing on a topic that she hasn’t made much effort to learn about.
The arguments Terrell present display a lack of knowledge of the issues, as well as what must be deliberate omissions and distortions. Along the way, she makes breathtaking departures from logic and reality by suggesting that irrational fears of radiation have led to crimes against the unborn, thereby linking anti-nuclear people to being members of the right’s detested anti-pro-life camp. She goes further by accusing anti-nuclear groups and greens of being all-powerful masters of government bureaucracy, now leading a war on industrial society that threatens to “restrict access to clean, plentiful, safe, and affordable sources [of energy] such as nuclear.”
Some might say that there is no point in dignifying editorials like this with a response because they seem designed to bait and infuriate people who are knowledgeable on the issue. Countering this genre of denialism is a game of whack-a-mole, but it’s worth doing because it does influence public opinion, and it is not limited only to the extreme fringe. Highly esteemed scholars like Steven Pinker, who coyly stays out of political debates to avoid declaring his ideological leanings, supports nuclear power. He wrote in The Better Angels of our Nature that the shutdown of nuclear power construction after Three Mile Island was a tragic error and an irrational over-reaction, even though he showed no evidence that he had read up on the matter. As for people who are new to the issue, they may want to believe there is a magic cure to the energy crisis, so there are many who will not question these views unless they are challenged whenever they appear. So, for what it’s worth, I take a stab at it once again.
The only good thing to say about this editorial is that it is comprehensive. For anyone unfamiliar with this genre of pro-nuclear spin, this is the place to see it all. Below, I comment on all the points made and make a brief counter-argument to each one. I don’t go into any of them at length because fuller explanations have been made elsewhere, so there is no point in rehashing what can be easily found in numerous sources. This information can be easily accessed by anyone who is motivated to learn about the valid criticisms of nuclear energy written by experts who have worked long and hard on this issue.

1.     No one died at Fukushima.

Well, actually, they did. Several senior citizens got left behind in the evacuation and apparently starved to death in the abandoned hot zone. Other evacuees died from the stress or committed suicide. Aside from these, it is a certainty that lives of workers on the cleanup site will be shortened due to their radiation exposure.
The main point about the “no one died” argument is that no one died because everyone stayed away from the lethal levels of radiation that have been on the site since March 11, 2011. The ruins of the World Trade Center were cleaned up within a couple years, but Fukushima Daiichi is still a steaming, twisted wreck, and will be for decades, because of the lethal levels of radiation there.

2.  The Fukushima explosions were hydrogen explosions

Terrell describes the reactor building explosions as hydrogen explosions, but this statement demonstrates that she hasn’t been closely following the controversial questions that linger about what really happened. Everyone who is familiar with Fukushima Daiichi knows that the Unit 1 explosion produced white smoke and the Unit 3 explosion produced black smoke in a much more powerful burst. A large volume of black debris shot high into the sky in a mushroom cloud, while the Unit 1 explosion shot outward and was not so alarming. Unit 3 was known to contain MOX fuel (containing plutonium), and TEPCO is rather coy about discussing whether it involved a nuclear re-criticality, as many have speculated. The nuclear industry is loath to talk about this because it would diminish even further the public acceptance of nuclear energy. Terrell chose not to discuss the fact that large amounts of plutonium were dispersed into the atmosphere, nor did she mention the questions about what happened to Unit 3.

3. Pulling the plug on nuclear

Terrell writes, “Not only did Japan pull the nuclear plug, but Germany, Italy, Switzerland, and Belgium all nixed nuclear or canceled future plants in response to the Japanese accident.” Again this shows that she hasn’t bothered to look at the issue in depth or follow recent news. Much of her essay seems to be based on information and perceptions of the crisis that existed in 2011. The Japanese government that was in power in 2012 briefly floated a policy of withdrawing from nuclear over twenty years, but the bureaucratic and business establishment was outraged, and that government was soon gone. The new government led by Shinzo Abe is determined to restart nuclear reactors. As for the other countries in Europe, their decision to abandon nuclear was influenced by other factors besides Fukushima.

4. Citing UN health studies as the final word on Chernobyl

Extreme conservatives like to state that the UN is run by socialist radicals who want to undermine American freedom and take over with a world government, but when it’s convenient and a UN study says something they like, they cite it to support their argument. This is the case with nuclear energy. The horrific shortcomings of the UN studies on Chernobyl have been discussed at length for years. There is no point in rehashing them all here.
In discussing Three Mile Island, Terrell misses the contradiction in what she wrote toward the end of the essay. She contends that the “antinuclear movement has become part of the political establishment” and a “fearful public cowers to… bureaucratic bullying,” but before saying so writes that government studies showed no one was harmed by Three Miles Island. At her convenience, the government is either on her side or it is has been taken over by the enemies of freedom.

5. No strontium or plutonium from Fukushima, reactor vessels intact

Another sign that Terrell didn’t do her research is in the wild claim that strontium and plutonium were not released from the Fukushima meltdowns and that the reactor vessels are intact. Nothing to say here but that these statements are wrong.

6. Tritium

Terrell makes brief mention of the vast amounts of tritium that have been created by the Fukushima Daiichi accident, but then dismisses it as a radionuclide of little concern in terms of its environmental impact.
If one attempts to learn a little about this radionuclide, one can only conclude that it is harmless at the very low concentrations at which it was found in nature before the nuclear age. Little is known about the damage it has caused in real world situations that involve leaks from nuclear facilities because the people responsible for these leaks don’t want to know. From work in the lab, though, scientists know that fractions of a gram in the human body can be deadly, and, with a half-life of twelve years, it bio-accumulates as OBT, (organically bound tritium), a radioactive isotope of a hydrogen atom that can be a part of the many organic molecules containing hydrogen. Tritium is nothing to dismiss casually.

7. Downplaying the health effects of Hiroshima and Nagasaki

Terrell’s worst distortions appear in her discussion of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. She cites studies that found that survivors had lower cancer rates than people from other areas, and she concludes from this that this is evidence of the beneficial effect of a little zap of radiation – the hormesis effect. This almost seems to suggest that they should be grateful those bombs were dropped.
Terrell overlooks the fact that the IAEA, the UN, national regulators and the nuclear industry reject the hormesis theory and support the linear-no-threshold model of radiation safety, which states that risk increases linearly with dose and it should be minimized at all times. Many professionals within the industry may privately believe there is something to the hormesis theory, but it will never be adopted as policy for good reasons. One is that it is probably wrong, and the other is that it would encourage a cavalier attitude about radiation exposure.
Terrell’s interpretation of what happened after the atomic bombings in Japan is erroneous for several reasons. First, the radiation studies couldn’t include victims of radiation who died in the blasts. Second, the studies never considered the effects of internal contamination by beta and alpha particles, which affected not only the people who were present at the time of the blast but also those who entered the cities afterwards. The studies that form the basis of the Hiroshima model ignored such people. Finally, the apparent good health of people in the studies may indicate that they were the sturdy survivors. It is no surprise to anyone that many people escape harm after radiation exposure. The case against the nuclear industry is based on the belief that the minority who will suffer should be protected. In the case of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, many people had perished in the first two years before studies even began.
The Hiroshima model of radiation studies has been widely rejected by anti-nuclear groups for good reason because of these and other flaws. The bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were unique incidents of radiological contamination, and it is wrong to apply the model to other phenomena such as nuclear power station accidents or nuclear test sites where people live with nuclear fallout for many decades in different climactic conditions (such as at the Lop Nor site in Western China which receives rainfall to wash away fallout from Chinese weapons tests).
At one point Terrell compares hormesis to the use of pharmaceuticals, saying it all depends on the dose-response curve. We take aspirin for headaches, but avoid taking a lethal dose of it. The trouble with this analogy is that it doesn’t go very far. All drugs are designed to do their work then break down and leave the body. Radionuclides like plutonium and strontium 90 stay in the body and emit cancer-causing particles for many years. The ones which are administered for therapeutic effects must be ones with short nuclear and biological half-lives. When talking about things nuclear, it is best to avoid analogies because there is nothing else quite like radiation.

8. Radiation sickness strikes US Navy personnel

Another glaring omission in the essay is that there was no mention of the hundreds of personnel on the US Ronald Reagan who have suffered severe radiation-related ailments since being stationed offshore of Fukushima in March 2011. Their lawsuit against TEPCO has been featured on Fox News and various media outlets on the Internet. For anyone following Fukushima news, it has been pretty hard to avoid learning about it. The omission is more odd when one considers that it is conservative groups that are always quick to stand up for the troops who put their lives on the line defending freedom. In this case, however, it seems conservatives can ignore the suffering of the people in uniform, if it proves to be inconvenient for other aspects of their agenda.

9. Thyroid cancer in Fukushima

Another glaring omission was the non-mention of the spike in childhood thyroid cancer that appeared last year in Fukushima Prefecture. Although the officials overseeing the screening program said it was too early to see a spike in cases, it turned out that back in the 1990s these people were writing in their studies of Chernobyl that the first cases did appear after two years, not four as they now claim (see this blogpost for further discussion).

10. Nuclear waste

The final omission is the most obvious one: What to do with nuclear waste? Who wants it? Where can it be buried safely for thousands of years? What containers will hold it reliably for even a hundred years? How much is it going to cost? Even if the nuclear industry could operate without further catastrophic meltdowns, these unresolvable questions are enough to demand a halt to the generation of more waste.

11. Leaps of Logic

Toward the end of the essay, Terrell descends into some jaw-dropping hyperbole that connects the anti-nuclear movement to being pro-abortion, anti-freedom and anti-American. She chooses to dwell on the worst exaggerations about Fukushima, failing to notice that the anti-nuclear movement itself has distanced itself from the more extreme conspiracies and dark prophecies about the catastrophe. Then she writes that the anti-nuclear movement is:

... peopled with radical environmentalists using clean air and clean water only as a bait to mobilize the gullible in their campaign to stifle economic growth and control population… The attack on nuclear energy is part of a larger war on industrial society… the manipulated public is willing to sacrifice liberty for a false sense of security — a harbinger of tyranny. In order for liberty to prevail, so must reason.

Anyone who is familiar with the history of nuclear technology would decry instead the liberty that has been stolen for nuclear technology to be established. Freedom has been sacrificed for all aspects of the technology − uranium mining, fuel processing, weapons production and testing, and nuclear waste generating stations (also called power plants) in both their normal functioning and in their accidents. Nuclear technology has been a hazard imposed on local populations wherever it has been implemented. If the continuation of nuclear technology is the pursuit of freedom, it is only the freedom of the powerful to impose their will on the powerless.

12. Demonizing the Victims

The section of the essay I find the most egregiously insulting is in the discussion of “Chernobyl abortions.” Terrell accepted only the UN findings on the health impacts of the disaster, and completely ignored eye-witness accounts, historical documents, and medical studies that had vastly higher estimates of the health damage caused by Chernobyl. However, she was willing to concede one point because it props up the anti-abortion movement, the favorite lightning rod issue of the conservative agenda. So she writes:

Sadly, however, thousands did die in the wake of Chernobyl. According to the IAEA, overdramatized reports of radiation risks to unborn children led to an increase of between 100,000 and 200,000 European babies intentionally aborted by their mothers, who feared they might be carrying “nuclear monsters.” Jaworowski said Chernobyl “sheds light on how easily the global community may leave the realm of rationality when facing an imaginary emergency.”

That “imaginary emergency” involved, of course, the explosion of a nuclear reactor, high levels of nuclear fallout over Europe, and a massive evacuation of hundreds of thousands of people. Terrell herself, in preceding paragraphs, emphasized how dirty and dangerous the reactor was when she wanted to say how much better the American-built reactors at Fukushima were. You see, those nasty Russians were using it as a bomb factory, she suggests, as if to imply that no such factories ever existed in America.
In fact, after Chernobyl, thousands of people had miscarriages, newborns died, and others were born with serious mental and physical handicaps. Some estimates say that in spite of the abortions and miscarriages that occurred, 300,000 children (and I emphasize that they were children, not “nuclear monsters”) were later born with serious disabilities caused by the disaster. Regardless of what one thinks of abortion in normal circumstances, it is just appallingly cold and cruel to judge the actions of parents in this situation as irrational or immoral. The concerns about radiation exposure were real and rational. The fact that “sadly, thousands did die” is squarely the responsibility of the people who built Chernobyl, not of the people victimized by it and forced to make the horrible decision about whether to continue a pregnancy.
The 1991 movie Chernobyl: The Final Warning, tells the true story of Dr. Robert Gale, an American blood specialist, who rushed to Moscow to help with the treatment of firemen who had been the first responders at Chernobyl. He does his best to save Aleksandr Mashenko, and has a few heart-wrenching scenes with his soon-to-be widow, Yelena, who is also in the first trimester of pregnancy at the time. For some reason that the film never explores, she is allowed to spend much time with her dying, highly radioactive husband.
At the end of the film, she comes to Dr. Gale begging for advice. The communist health authorities in Kiev have advised her to have an abortion because the chance of her having a child with a severe birth defect has increased by 50%. Dr. Gale encourages her to go through with the pregnancy while respectfully acknowledging that the decision is hers alone to make and that scientists don’t know what the effects of Chernobyl will be. He gives her the scientist’s usual condescending explanation of basic statistics, reminding her that the increase in the rate of birth defects means a change from 1 to 1.5 per thousand.
The movie ends here, and it’s not clear whether the Mashenkos were a real couple. It seems like they were composite characters whom the filmmakers had to create, either out of respect for the victims or their unwillingness to be featured in the film. Alexandr’s name does not appear on the list of Chernobyl fatalities that is posted on various websites. Yelena’s story matches closely with the account told by another firefighter widow whose husband died in the same Moscow Hospital Six. Lyudmilla Ignatenko was pregnant at the time and admitted having hidden this information in order to be at her husband’s side. This is how she described the birth of her daughter months afterward:

They showed her to me − a girl. “Natashenka,” I called out. “Your father named you Natashenka.” She looked healthy. Arms, legs. But she had cirrhosis of the liver. Her liver had twenty-eight roentgens. Congenital heart disease. Four hours later they told me she was dead. And again: “We won’t give her to you.” “What do you mean you won’t give her to me? It’s me who won’t give her to you!”

So much for probabilities. Dr. Gale appeared in Fukushima in 2011 to give similar reassurances to the workers on the Daiichi site. In 2013 he published Radiation: What It Is, What You Need to Know, which the publisher’s blurb describes as a book that “corrects myths and establishes facts.” The authors “demystify the science and dangers of radiation, and examine its myriad benefits.”

Sources and Further Reading:


Alexey V. Yablokov, Vassily B. Nesterenko, and Alexey V. Nesterenko. “Chernobyl: Consequences of the Catastrophe for People and the Environment.” New York Academy of Sciences, Volume 1181, December 2009.

Alla Yaroshinskaya. Chernobyl: Crime without Punishment. Transaction Publishers, 2011. (Reviewed here.)





Robert Jacobs. “Radiation Makes People Invisible.” SimplyInfo. January 30, 2014. http://www.fukuleaks.org/web/?p=12245 .

Steven Pinker, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined (Viking Adult, 2011) p. 346.


Svetlana Alexievich. Voices from Chernobyl, trans. Keith Gessen (Picador, 2006). First published in Russian in 1997.

A previous blog post containing a list of studies that indicate radioactive contamination has clearly had a negative impact on health. This list is partial, and any motivated and inquiring mind could easily find other researchers whose work presents a refutation of the claims made in editorials such as Fukushima Fear and Fallout.