Sunday, January 15, 2012

Science with a Skew: The Nuclear Power Industry After Chernobyl and Fukushima

An excellent and unemotional look at the nuclear industry and it's associated lies, spin and propaganda surrounding the events of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to Chernobyl to Fukushima.

It's a lengthy essay, but none the worse for being so, and is a worthy read. And I say that, not just because this blog gets a mention in dispatches. (ref 44 to this article) But nonetheless it's nice when a post turns up in a serious article.

Some interesting and familiar names crop up in article and for me some hitherto unknown facts, such as: “Westinghouse owned CBS for many years, and General Electric, NBC” Examples of the Walt Disney material, alluded to in the article, can be viewed at the first link, other topics mentioned in the article, but mainly propaganda, in the descending links.

Why Fallout Reminisce With Retro Radiation

Fukushima No Ill Health Effects - IAEA

Fukushima - IAEA You Couldn't Make It Up: But They Just Did

Fukushima: ''No Immediate Health Threat''

Fukushima Desolation Worst Since Nagasaki as Residents Flee
Where I give special mention to Jim Al-Khalili

These are just a few of the articles, including lots of Arnie Gunderson, that can be found under the Japan tag.

Science with a Skew: The Nuclear Power Industry After Chernobyl and Fukushima

Gayle Greene

It is one of the marvels of our time that the nuclear industry managed to resurrect itself from its ruins at the end of the last century, when it crumbled under its costs, inefficiencies, and mega-accidents. Chernobyl released hundreds of times the radioactivity of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs combined, contaminating more than 40% of Europe and the entire Northern Hemisphere.1 But along came the nuclear lobby to breathe new life into the industry, passing off as “clean” this energy source that polluted half the globe. The “fresh look at nuclear”—in the words of a New York Times makeover piece (May 13, 2006)2—paved the way to a “nuclear Renaissance” in the United States that Fukushima has by no means brought to a halt.

That mainstream media have been powerful advocates for nuclear power comes as no surprise. “The media are saturated with a skilled, intensive, and effective advocacy campaign by the nuclear industry, resulting in disinformation” and “wholly counterfactual accounts…widely believed by otherwise sensible people,” states the 2010-2011 World Nuclear Industry Status Report by Worldwatch Institute.3 What is less well understood is the nature of the “evidence” that gives the nuclear industry its mandate, Cold War science which, with its reassurances about low-dose radiation risk, is being used to quiet alarms about Fukushima and to stonewall new evidence that would call a halt to the industry.

Consider these damage control pieces from major media:

• The “miniscule quantities” of radiation in the radioactive plume spreading across the U.S. pose “no health hazard,” assures the Department of Energy (William Broad, “Radiation over U.S. is Harmless, Officials Say,” NYT, March 22, 2011).

• “The risk of cancer is quite low, lower than what the public might expect,” explains Evan Douple, head of the Radiation Effects Research Foundation (RERF), which has studied the A-bomb survivors and found that “at very low doses, the risk was also very low” (Denise Grady, “Radiation is everywhere, but how to rate harm?” NYT, April 5, 2011).

• An NPR story a few days after the Daiichi reactors destabilized quotes this same Evan Douple saying that radiation levels around the plant “should be reassuring. At these levels so far I don’t think a study would be able to measure that there would be any health effects, even in the future.” (“Early radiation data from near plant ease health fears,” Richard Knox and Andrew Prince,” March 18, 2011) The NPR story, like Grady’s piece (above), stresses that the Radiation Effects Research Foundation has had six decades experience studying the health effects of radiation, so it ought to know.

• British journalist George Monbiot, environmentalist turned nuclear advocate, in a much publicized debate with Helen Caldicott on television and in the Guardian, refers to the RERF data as “scientific consensus,” citing, again, their reassurances that low dose radiation incurs low cancer risk.4

Everyone knows that radiation at high dose is harmful, but the Hiroshima studies reassure that risk diminishes as dose diminishes until it becomes negligible. This is a necessary belief if the nuclear industry is to exist, because reactors release radioactive emissions not only in accidents, but in their routine, day-to-day operations and in the waste they produce. If low-dose radiation is not negligible, workers in the industry are at risk, as are people who live in the vicinity of reactors or accidents—as is all life on this planet . The waste produced by reactors does not “dilute and disperse” and disappear, as industry advocates would have us believe, but is blown by the winds, carried by the tides, seeps into earth and groundwater, and makes its way into the food chain and into us, adding to the sum total of cancers and birth defects throughout the world. Its legacy is for longer than civilization has existed; plutonium, with its half life of 24,000 years, is, in human terms, forever.

What is this Radiation Effects Research Foundation, and on what “science” does it base its reassuring claims?


The Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission (ABCC), as it was originally called, began its studies of the survivors five years after the bombings. (It was renamed the Radiation Effects Research Foundation in the mid seventies, to get the “atomic bomb” out, at around the same time the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) was renamed the Department of Energy (DOE). Japan, which has the distinction of being twice nuked, first as our wartime enemy then in 2011 as our ally and the recipient of our GE reactors, has also been the population most closely studied for radiation-related effects, for the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings created a large, ready-made population of radiation-exposed humans. “Ah, but the Americans—they are wonderful,” exclaimed Japan’s radiation expert Tsuzuki Masao, who lamented that he’d had only rabbits to work on: “It has remained for them to conduct the human experiment!”5

The ABCC studied but did not treat radiation effects, and many survivors were reluctant to identify themselves as survivors, having no wish to bare their health problems to US investigators and become mired in bureaucracy and social stigma. But sufficient numbers did voluntarily come forth to make this the largest—and longest—study of radiation-related health effects ever. No medical study has had such resources lavished on it, teams of scientists, state of the art equipment: this was Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) funding. Since it is assumed in epidemiology that the larger the sample, the greater the statistical accuracy, there has been a tendency to accept these data as the gold standard of radiation risk. The Japanese physicians and scientists who’d been on the scene told horrific stories of people who’d seemed unharmed, but then began bleeding from ears, nose, and throat, hair falling out by the handful, bluish spots appearing on the skin, muscles contracting, leaving limbs and hands deformed. When they tried to publish their observations, they were ordered to hand over their reports to US authorities. Throughout the occupation years (1945-52) Japanese medical journals were heavily censored on nuclear matters. In late 1945, US Army surgeons issued a statement that all people expected to die from the radiation effects of the bomb had already died and no further physiological effects due to radiation were expected.6 When Tokyo radio announced that even people who entered the cities after the bombings were dying of mysterious causes and decried the weapons as “illegal” and “inhumane,” American officials dismissed these allegations as Japanese propaganda.7

The issue of radiation poisoning was particularly sensitive, since it carried a taint of banned weaponry, like poison gas. The A-bomb was not “an inhumane weapon,” declared General Leslie Groves, who had headed the Manhattan project.8 The first western scientists allowed in to the devastated cities were under military escort, ordered in by Groves. The first western journalists allowed in were similarly under military escort. Australian journalist Wilfred Burchett, who managed to get in to Hiroshima on his own, got a story out to a British paper, describing people who were dying “mysteriously and horribly” from “an unknown something which I can only describe as the atomic plague… dying at the rate of 100 a day,” General MacArthur ordered him out of Japan; his camera, with film shot in Hiroshima, mysteriously disappeared.9

“No Radioactivity in Hiroshima Ruin,” proclaimed a New York Times headline, Sept 13, 1945. “Survey Rules out Nagasaki Dangers,” stated another headline: “Radioactivity after atomic bomb is only 1000th of that from luminous dial watch,” Oct 7, 1945.10 There were powerful political incentives to downplay radiation risk. As State Department Attorney William H. Taft asserted, the “mistaken impression” that low-level radiation is hazardous has the “potential to be seriously damaging to every aspect of the Department of Defense’s nuclear weapons and nuclear propulsion programs…it could impact the civilian nuclear industry… and it could raise questions regarding the use of radioactive substances in medical diagnosis and treatment.”11 A pamphlet issued by the Atomic Energy Commission in 1953 “insisted that low-level exposure to radiation ‘can be continued indefinitely without any detectable bodily change.’”12 The AEC was paying the salaries of the ABCC scientists and monitoring them “closely—some felt too closely,” writes Susan Lindee in Suffering Made Real, which documents the political pressures that shaped radiation science.13 (Other good sources on the making of this science are Sue Rabbit Roff’s Hotspots, Monica Braw’s The Atomic Bomb Suppressed, and Robert Lifton and Greg Mitchell’s, Hiroshima in America). The New York Times “joined the government in suppressing information on the radiation sickness of survivors” and consistently downplayed or omitted radioactivity from its reportage, as Beverly Ann Deepe Keever demonstrates in The New York Times and the Bomb.14 Keever, a veteran journalist herself, writes that “from the dawn of the atomic-bomb age,…the Times almost single-handedly shaped the news of this epoch and helped birth the acceptance of the most destructive force ever created,” aiding the “Cold War cover-up” in minimizing and denying the health and environmental consequences of the a-bomb and its testing.

The Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission scientists calculated that by 1950, when the commission began its investigations, the death rate from all causes except cancer had returned to “normal” and the cancer deaths were too few to cause alarm.15

More Asia Pacific Journal

No comments: