FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Clinging to the Nuclear Option

by RUDI H. NUSSBAUM

The national organization Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR), committed to protecting public health, demands the de-commissioning of all currently operating nuclear plants in the US and urges members of Congress to refuse to subsidize the construction of new ones with guaranteed loans and liability insurance premiums. Why? Here is the scientific/common sense justification for such an uncompromising position:

1. After the accident at the Three Mile Island (TMI) plant, the official Columbia U. study found no increased health effects among the surrounding population, consistent with the officially accepted exposure levels as estimated by the TMI plant operators and applying the internationally accepted radiation risk factors, derived from the long-term follow-up of the externally exposed A-bomb survivors. Contradicting these findings, a subsequent study by Wing et al

found statistically significant excess cancers. These cancers have affected the lives of real persons. Yet, Wing’s results were angrily dismissed by the radiation establishment and government health agencies because risk assessments, based on “current radiological science,” precluded that the officially accepted, very low levels of population exposures (doses) released from the TMI reactor could induce the observed excess cancers. The possibility that combining flawed dose estimates with flawed risk models could predict flawed numbers of cancers that might be off by several orders of magnitude (factors of ten), was never considered by the Columbia U. investigators.

Following a tradition illustrated nearly 400 years ago by Gallileo’s fate, accepted beliefs and supporting theoretical models, combined with vested interests, trumped observation. Questioning assumptions in adopted radiobiological models and radiation risk assessments would be equivalent to heresy.

2. All over the former Soviet Union increased incidence of cancers and a multiplicity of other serious health detriment, associated with varying levels of environmental radioactivity from the Chernobyl disaster, have been documented by clinical reports and public health statistics. Until recently, the majority of those studies, however, could only be published in Russian scientific/medical journals and these were arrogantly ignored by the Western radiation health establishment. Instead, the nuclear technology promoting United Nation’s (UN) agency: International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)  (the World Health Organization (WHO) is not permitted to conduct independent studies on radiation health) published report after report with estimated numbers of Chernobyl radiation victims that are orders of magnitude smaller than those observed and documented in the recently published compendium of the Russian data in English (Yablokov et al., Annals of the NY Academy of Sciences, 2009, usefully summarized by the German equivalent of PSR). The UN Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation  (UNSCEAR) (and the WHO) had accepted IAEA assertions of very low numbers of radiation victims, purportedly based on the world’s most reliable current radiobiological and radiation risk models. Thus, mainstream radiation health scientists proclaim that the variously documented large numbers of radiation-associated health effects after the Chernobyl catastrophe in the former Soviet Union “cannot be caused” by radiation, rather they must be the result of psychosomatic traumas.

Similarly, in far away Western European countries for which UNSCEAR had estimated very low fallout doses after the Chernobyl explosion, a multitude of excess health effects have been reported in refereed medical/scientific journals, such as neo-natal mortality, Down’s syndrome or lowering of child IQ. However, mainstream radiation regulating and protection agencies, quoting the IAEA/WHO reports, deny any causal relationship between Chernobyl fallout and most of those observations. Vested political and financial interests, cherished theoretical models, mixed with intolerable arrogance, again trump reality.

3. Several years ago, the German government commissioned a team of prestigious government-employed health scientists to design a state-of-the-art study of children <5 years who lived in the proximity of any of the 16 German normally operating nuclear power reactors. Presumably, the study was meant to assuage with maximum credibility the continuing citizens’ concerns about observed childhood leukemia clusters around some of these reactors. Therefore, to my knowledge, it is the only government-sponsored radiation study ever that was designed with full input from and oversight by an independent scientific commission, including several members who had publicly supported the citizens’ concerns.  Contrary to their expectations, the government scientists found irrefutable evidence that for <5 year old children there exists an association between residence within 10 km of any of these reactors and a more than doubling of risk for contracting leukemia or other cancers. This amazing finding caused quite a stir in the German media (and remains underreported and unacknowledged in the US), but it has never been credibly refuted. Some defensive (“ecologic”) studies with negative outcomes around power reactors in France and England claim to have cast doubt on the German results, but critical analysis of their data shows them to lack the necessary statistical power (i.e. sensitivity to detect an effect) to invalidate the German findings. Desperate for an “out,” the government researchers, the health agencies involved and the German government then declared these excess cases of early childhood leukemia and cancers in the proximity of nuclear plants to be “inexplicable” at this time. They claim that according to “currently accepted radiobiological models” the initiation of these excess malignancies would require levels of radioactive emissions to be three orders of magnitude larger (1,000 times) than what the reactor operators claimed to have been released.  However, (1) officially accepted radiation risk factors do not take into account the extreme radio-sensitivity of the developing fetus and of very young children  (R.H. Nussbaum and I. Fairlie).

Also, (2) the officially assumed levels of radioactive emissions ignored, e.g., large releases of radioactive Noble Gases (e.g. Krypton) and of Tritium (radioactive hydrogen). Both of these radioisotopes can easily enter the human body via the food chain. Equally important is the fact (3) that the traditional measure of radiation exposure, the concept of dose (absorbed energy averaged over a unit mass of exposed human tissue), which is a fundamental macroscopic concept in current radiation risk estimates, is clearly inadequate to describe a variety of known injurious microscopic cellular/molecular mechanisms that can be triggered, in particular, by internally lodged radioactivity.

Those who deny or deceptively play down the catastrophic threats to public health from all phases of the nuclear power cycle, from mining to the lack of any proven solution to permanent and safe disposal of very long-term deadly spent nuclear fuel, recklessly ignore the medical/scientific lessons we should have learned from current and previous nuclear accidents. The international radiation health science establishments, such as IAEA or ICRP, many of whose members are solidly enmeshed with nuclear arms and nuclear energy production, have for decades deliberately ignored observed detriment from radioactive emissions. Their estimates of the public health impact from environmental radioactivity are based on partially outdated and flawed theoretical models that had been developed decades ago to quantify the effects of exposures to external radiation, such as those suffered by the Japanese A-bomb survivors. In agencies that are mandated to protect public health a mindset that denies reality is intolerable.

In addition to unacceptable long lasting effects on public health, even if operating normally (see section 3), nuclear energy technology can only be financed by taxpayers worldwide because private capital considers it too risky and refuses to underwrite it. The nuclear power industry holds citizens hostage to protect its profits. The industry’s safety claims and its new marketing gimmick of modular design reactors are largely deceptive, since it has nothing to offer in terms of safe disposal of spent nuclear fuel rods.

It is particularly tragic that the current Japanese population is again a study cohort for the devastating effects of a very different mix of environmental radioactive contamination.

Rudi H. Nussbaum is a Professor emeritus of Physics and Environmental Sciences at Portland State University.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
February 24, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Exxon’s End Game Theory
Pierre M. Sprey - Franklin “Chuck” Spinney
Sleepwalking Into a Nuclear Arms Race with Russia
Paul Street
Liberal Hypocrisy, “Late-Shaming,” and Russia-Blaming in the Age of Trump
Ajamu Baraka
Malcolm X and Human Rights in the Time of Trumpism: Transcending the Master’s Tools
John Laforge
Did Obama Pave the Way for More Torture?
Mike Whitney
McMaster Takes Charge: Trump Relinquishes Control of Foreign Policy 
Patrick Cockburn
The Coming Decline of US and UK Power
Louisa Willcox
The Endangered Species Act: a Critical Safety Net Now Threatened by Congress and Trump
Vijay Prashad
A Foreign Policy of Cruel Populism
John Chuckman
Israel’s Terrible Problem: Two States or One?
Matthew Stevenson
The Parallax View of Donald Trump
Norman Pollack
Drumbeat of Fascism: Find, Arrest, Deport
Stan Cox
Can the Climate Survive Electoral Democracy? Maybe. Can It Survive Capitalism? No.
Ramzy Baroud
The Trump-Netanyahu Circus: Now, No One Can Save Israel from Itself
Edward Hunt
The United States of Permanent War
David Morgan
Trump and the Left: a Case of Mass Hysteria?
Pete Dolack
The Bait and Switch of Public-Private Partnerships
Mike Miller
What Kind of Movement Moment Are We In? 
Elliot Sperber
Why Resistance is Insufficient
Brian Cloughley
What are You Going to Do About Afghanistan, President Trump?
Binoy Kampmark
Warring in the Oncology Ward
Yves Engler
Remembering the Coup in Ghana
Jeremy Brecher
“Climate Kids” v. Trump: Trial of the Century Pits Trump Climate Denialism Against Right to a Climate System Capable of Sustaining Human Life”
Jonathan Taylor
Hate Trump? You Should Have Voted for Ron Paul
Franklin Lamb
Another Small Step for Syrian Refugee Children in Beirut’s “Aleppo Park”
Ron Jacobs
The Realist: Irreverence Was Their Only Sacred Cow
Andre Vltchek
Lock up England in Jail or an Insane Asylum!
Rev. William Alberts
Grandiose Marketing of Spirituality
Paul DeRienzo
Three Years Since the Kitty Litter Disaster at Waste Isolation Pilot Plant
Eric Sommer
Organize Workers Immigrant Defense Committees!
Steve Cooper
A Progressive Agenda
David Swanson
100 Years of Using War to Try to End All War
Andrew Stewart
The 4CHAN Presidency: A Media Critique of the Alt-Right
Edward Leer
Tripping USA: The Chair
Randy Shields
Tom Regan: The Life of the Animal Rights Party
Nyla Ali Khan
One Certain Effect of Instability in Kashmir is the Erosion of Freedom of Expression and Regional Integration
Rob Hager
The Only Fake News That Probably Threw the Election to Trump was not Russian 
Mike Garrity
Why Should We Pay Billionaires to Destroy Our Public Lands? 
Mark Dickman
The Prophet: Deutscher’s Trotsky
Christopher Brauchli
The Politics of the Toilet Police
Ezra Kronfeld
Joe Manchin: a Senate Republicrat to Dispute and Challenge
Clancy Sigal
The Nazis Called It a “Rafle”
Louis Proyect
Socialism Betrayed? Inside the Ukrainian Holodomor
Charles R. Larson
Review: Timothy B. Tyson’s “The Blood of Emmett Till”
David Yearsley
Founding Father of American Song
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail