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For 60 years the nuclear industry has promised the world cheap, safe and clean energy. As the Japanese government continues to extend its nuclear evacuation zone and with the eerie glow of the Fukishima plant as background, the pushers of nuclear power – including the President – still demand subsidies for new plants of Congress. As another Chernobyl-size disaster looms, the energy-fixated “problem solvers” continue to suffer from both temporary blindness and long-term amnesia – ignoring or down-playing the history of nuclear “mishaps.”
Behind the push for this “clean” (no fossil fuel emissions) energy source, lies a deeper motive. Would you believe money? In 2009, the government subsidized the nuclear industry with $18.5 billion, which did not cover unanticipated costs of “the next generation of plants.” The Nuclear Energy Institute – euphemism for industry trade group – now wants $20 billion more in loan-guarantees “to kick-start the long-awaited industry revival.” (Jim Snyder, The Hill June 21, 2009)
Before re-funding the nuclear gang, Members of congress might look deeper into and also beyond the current catastrophe. The Congressional Research Service could provide them with reports of some of the numerous U.S. nuclear accidents.
From the 1950s on, for example, “thousands of workers were unwittingly exposed to plutonium and other highly radioactive metals at the Department of Energy’s Paducah Kentucky Gaseous Diffusion Plant. Workers … inhaled radioactive dust while processing the materials as part of a government experiment to recycle used nuclear reactor fuel.” (Washington Post, August 22, 1999)
In July 2000, wildfires near the Hanford facility hit highly radioactive waste disposal trenches, raising airborne plutonium radiation levels in nearby cities to 1,000 times above normal.
Compare those “little accidents” (multiply by a thousand) with the Chernobyl and now Fukishima catastrophes or with those who got cancer from the Three Mile Island (Pennsylvania) “mishap.”
The government nuclear agencies have shied away from doing the long-term studies of the impacts of low-level radiation. Indeed, in the 1970s they de-funded a study under the guidance of University of Pittsburg scientist Dr. David Mancuso when it became apparent he would find that the “precautions” taken were insufficient, and that low-level radiation (at government levels) had deleterious affects on human health.
The government did no health follow-up after the numerous “little” leaks, fires and “mishaps” that occurred routinely at the Rocky Flats plutonium trigger and Hanford nuclear weapons installations. Oh, they did at least check the radiation badges of the employees.
In 1981, we made a Public Television documentary: “Paul Jacobs and the Nuclear Gang.” In it, we documented how government officials obfuscated their failure to provide, as they promised, “cheap, safe and clean” energy and safe work environments in and around nuclear weapons facilities.
Jacobs had earlier reported on how the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) and its successor three-letter agencies lied about, distorted, and then classified (thereby withholding) reports on the health impact of low level radiation.
One example provided in the film was Sergeant James Gates, who described how the army positioned men near the blast and had them cover their eyes. Bates said: “the blast threw me 15 feet into the air. It made all of us sick.” In 1978, he had terminal cancer.
Jacobs interviewed “downwinders” – those living in cities directly in the path of nuclear fallout after the Nevada tests. They described how hot hailstones pelted them after the blasts. Jacobs interviewed a man on horseback who told of large tumors growing from his neck right after his exposure.
In the 1950s and again in the early 1970s, Paul Jacobs inspected the government’s claims and then wrote award-winning articles featuring interviews with St. George, Utah residents. In this city directly east of the test site, Jacobs found inordinate numbers of cancer cases and a nuclear-nervous public. (“Clouds from Nevada,” The Reporter, May 16, 1957; (“Precautions Are Being Taken By Those Who Know,” The Atlantic, Feb. 1971)
In the film, Jacobs described how he surreptitiously acquired a classified document from a Public Health office in Las Vegas that revealed the Atomic Energy Commission knew “low-level radiation” constituted serious health hazards. Later, he found de-classified internal memos indicating why the government classified the health report: to keep the public from having to choose between nuclear tests and getting cancer.
In 1977, Jacobs’ doctors and his friend Linus Pauling (a chemistry Nobel prize-winner) concluded that Paul (a non-smoker) developed lung cancer during his exposure to “low level radiation” around the Atomic Test Site.
After 74 years, the evidence would lead one to conclude that “cheap safe and clean” sounds more like a condom ad than a believable promise from the nuclear gang. The public should think of two words that have been uttered in nuclear plants when “mishaps” occur. “Oops” and “duh.” And remember, there’s at least one Homer Simpson.
Saul Landau and Jack Willis also worked together on WILL THE REAL TERRORIST PLEASE STAND UP available through Cinema Libre Studio.
CounterPunch published Landau’s BUSH AND BOTOX WORLD