CounterPunch is a lifeboat of sanity in today’s turbulent political seas. Please make a tax-deductible donation and help us continue to fight Trump and his enablers on both sides of the aisle. Every dollar counts!
The global nuclear industry and its allies in government are making a desperate effort to cover up the consequences of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster. “The big lie flies high,” comments Kevin Kamps of the organization Beyond Nuclear.
Not only is this nuclear establishment seeking to make it look like the Fukushima catastrophe has not happened?going so far as to claim that there will be “no health effects” as a result of it?but it is moving forward on a “nuclear renaissance,” its scheme to build more nuclear plants.
Indeed, next week in Washington, a two-day “Special Summit on New Nuclear Energy” will be held involving major manufacturers of nuclear power plants?including General Electric, the manufacturer of the Fukushima plants?and U.S. government officials.
Although since Fukushima, Germany, Switzerland and Italy and other nations have turned away from nuclear power for a commitment instead to safe, clean, renewable energy such as solar and wind, the Obama administration is continuing its insistence on nuclear power.
Will the nuclear establishment be able to get away with telling what, indeed, would be one of the most outrageous Big Lies of all time?that no one will die as a result of Fukushima?
Will it be able to continue its new nuclear push despite the catastrophe?
Nearly 100 days after the Fukushima disaster began, with radiation still streaming from the plants, with its owners, TEPCO, now admitting that meltdowns did occur at its plants, that releases have been twice as much as it announced earlier, with deadly radioactivity from Fukushima spreading worldwide, and with some countries now changing course and saying no to nuclear power, while others stick with it, a nuclear crossroads has arrived.
“No health effects are expected among the Japanese people as a result of the events at Fukushima,” the Nuclear Energy Institute, the nuclear industry trade group, flatly declared in a statement issued at a press conference in Washington last week.
“They’re lying,” says Dr. Janette Sherman, a toxicologist and contributing editor of the book Chernobyl: The Consequences of the Catastrophe for People and the Environment published by the New York Academy of Sciences in 2009. Using medical data from between 1986 and 2004, its authors, a team of European scientists, determines that 985,000 people died worldwide from the radioactivity discharged from the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.
The Fukushima disaster will have a comparable toll, expects Dr. Sherman, who has conducted research into the consequences of radiation for decades. “People living closest to the plants who receive the biggest doses will get sick sooner. Those who are farther away and receive lesser doses will get sick at a slower rate,” she says.
“We’ve known about radioactive isotopes for decades,” says Dr. Sherman. “I worked for the Atomic Energy Commission in the 1950s and we knew about the effects then. To ignore the biology is to our peril. This is not new science. Cesium-137 goes to soft tissue. Strontium-90 goes to the bones and teeth. Iodine-131 goes to the thyroid gland.” All have been released in large amounts in the Fukushima disaster since it began on March 11.
There will inevitably be cancer and other illnesses?as well as genetic effects?as a result of the substantial discharges of radioactivity released from Fukushima, says Dr. Sherman. “People in Japan will be the most impacted but the radiation has been spreading worldwide and will impact life worldwide.”
The American Nuclear Society, made up of what its website says are “professionals” in the nuclear field, is also deep in the Fukushima denial camp. “Radiation risks to people living in Japan are very low, and no public ill effects are expected from the Fukushima incident,” it declares on its website. As to the U.S., the Illinois-based organization adds: “There is no health risk of radiation from the Fukushima incident to people in the United States.”
Acknowledging that “radiation from Fukushima has been detected within the United States,” the American Nuclear Society asserts that’s because we are able to detect very small amounts of radiation. Through the use of extremely sensitive equipment, U.S. laboratories have been able to detect very minute quantities of radioactive isotopes in air, precipitation, milk, and drinking water due to the Fukushima incident?The radiation from Fukushima, though detectable, is nowhere near the level of public health concern.”
Says Joseph Mangano, executive director of the Radiation and Public Health Project, “The absurd belief that no one will be harmed by Fukushima is perhaps the strongest evidence of the pattern of deception and denial by nuclear officials in industry and government.”
The World Health Organization has added its voice to the denial group. “For anyone outside Japan there is currently no health risk from radiation leaking from the nuclear power plant,” Gregory Hartl, a WHO spokesman, has insisted. “We know that there have been measurements in maybe up to about 30 countries [and] these measurements are miniscule, often below levels of background radiation?and they do not constitute a public health risk.”
WHO, not too incidentally, has a formal arrangement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), in place since both were established at the UN in the 1950s, to say nothing about issues involving radiation without clearing it with the IAEA, which was set up to specifically promote atomic energy. On Chernobyl, together in an initiative called the “Chernobyl Forum,” they have claimed that “less than 50 deaths have been directly attributed” to that disaster and “a total of up to 4,000 people could eventually die of radiation exposure from the Chernobyl nuclear power plant accident.” That nuclear Big Lie precedes the new nuclear deception involving the impacts of Fukushima.
As to background radiation, Dr. Jeffrey Patterson, immediate past president of Physicians for Social Responsibility and professor emeritus at the University of Wisconsin’s School of Public Health, says: “We do live with background radiation?but it does cause cancer.” That’s why there is concern, he notes, about radon gas being emitted in homes from a breakdown of uranium in some soils. “That’s background [radiation] but it’s not safe. There are absolutely no safe levels of radiation” and adding more radiation “adds to the health impacts.”
“There has been a cover-up, a minimization of the effects of radioactivity since the development of nuclear weapons and nuclear technology,” says Dr. Patterson. Meanwhile, with the Fukushima disaster, “large populations of people are being randomly exposed to radiation that they didn’t ask for, they didn’t agree to.”
Dr. Steven Wing, an epidemiologist who has specialized in the effects of radioactivity at the School of Public Health of the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, said: “The generally accepted thinking about the safe dose is that, no, there is no safe dose in terms of the cancer or genetic effects of radiation. The assumption of most people is that there’s a linear, no-threshold dose response relationship and that just means that as the dose goes down the risk goes down, but it never disappears.”
Of the claims of “no threat to health” from the radioactivity emitted from Fukushima, that “just flies in the face of all the standard models and all the studies that have been done over a long period of time of radiation and cancer.”
“As the radiation clouds move away from Fukushima and move far away to other continents and around the world, the doses are spread out,” notes Dr. Wing. “But it’s important for people to know that spreading out a given amount of radiation dose among more people, although it reduces each person’s individual risk, it doesn’t reduce the number of cancers that result from that amount of radiation. So having millions and millions of people exposed to a very small dose could produce just as much cancer as a thousand or a few thousand people exposed to that same dose.”
He believes “we should be focusing on putting pressure on people in government and the energy industry to come up with an energy policy that minimizes harm,” is a “sane energy policy.” Those who have “led us into this situation” have caused “big problems.”
And they are still at it?even with radioactivity still coming out at Fukushima and expected to for months. On Tuesday and Wednesday in Washington, the “Special Summit on New Nuclear Energy” will be held, organized by the U.S. Nuclear Infrastructure Council.
Council members include General Electric, since 2006 in partnership in its nuclear plant manufacturing business with the Japanese corporation Hitachi.
Other members of the council, notes its information on the summit, include the Nuclear Energy Institute; Babcock & Wilcox, the manufacturer of the Three Mile Island nuclear plant which underwent a partial meltdown in 1979; Duke Energy, a U.S. utility long a booster of nuclear power; the Tennessee Valley Authority, a U.S. government-created public power company heavily committed to nuclear power; Uranium Producers of America; and AREVA, the French government-financed nuclear power company that has been moving to expand into the U.S. and worldwide.
Also participating in the summit as speakers will be John Kelly, an Obama administration Department of Energy deputy assistant for nuclear reactor technologies; William Magwood, a nuclear power advocate who is a member of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission; Matthew Milazzo representing an entity called the Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future set up by the Obama administration; and Congressmen Mike Simpson of Idaho, chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee Interior & Environment and Ed Whitfield of Kentucky, chairman of the House Energy & Power Subcommittee, both staunch nuclear power supporters.
Other participants, according to the program for the event, will be “senior executives and thought leaders from the who’s who of the U.S. new nuclear community.” Bruce Llewelyn, who hosts “White House Chronicle” on PBS television, is listed as the summit’s “moderator.”
There will be programs on the “State of the Renaissance,” “China, India & Emerging Global Nuclear Markets,” “Advancing Nuclear Technology” and “Lessons from Fukushima.”
As the nuclear Pinocchios lie, the nuclear promoters push ahead.
Karl Grossman, professor of journalism at the State University of New York/College at Old Westbury, has focused on investigative reporting on energy and environmental issues for more than 40 years. He is the host of the nationally-aired TV program Enviro Close-Up (www.envirovideo.com) and the author of numerous books.