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.
ABCC examination of Hiroshima victim
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
“It’s nonsense, it’s rubbish!” protested epidemiologist Dr. Alice Stewart, an early critic—and victim—of the Hiroshima studies.16 Stewart discovered, in 1956, that x-raying pregnant women doubled the chance of a childhood cancer: this put her on a collision course with ABCC/RERF data, which found no excess of cancer in children exposed in utero to the blasts. Nobody in the 1950s wanted to hear that a fraction of the radiation dose “known” to be safe could kill a child. During the Cold War, officials were assuring us we could survive all-out nuclear war by ducking and covering under desks and the U.S. and U.K. governments were pouring lavish subsidies into “the friendly atom.” Stewart was defunded and defamed.
She persisted in her criticisms of the Hiroshima data which were repeatedly invoked to discredit her findings, pointing out that there was no way the survivors could have returned to “normal” a mere five years after the atomic blasts. This was not a normal or representative population: it was a population of healthy survivors, since the weakest had died off. Her studies of childhood cancer had found that children incubating cancer became 300 times more infection sensitive than normal children. Children so immune-compromised would not have survived the harsh winters that followed the bombings, when food and water were contaminated, medical services ground to a halt, and antibiotics were scarce—but their deaths would not have been recorded as radiation-related cancer deaths. Nor would the numerous stillbirths, spontaneous abortions, and miscarriages (known effects of radiation exposure) have been so recorded. Stewart maintained that were many more deaths from radiation exposure than official figures indicated.
Besides, the survivors had been exposed to a single, external blast of radiation, often at very high dose (depending on their distance from the bombs), rather than the long, slow, low-dose exposure that is experienced by people living near reactors or workers in the nuclear industry. Stewart’s studies of the Hanford nuclear workers were turning up cancer at doses “known to be too low” to produce cancer, too low as defined by the Hiroshima data: “This is the population you ought to be studying to find out the effects of low-dose radiation,” she maintained, not only because the workers have been subjected to the kind of exposure more likely to be experienced by downwinders to reactors and accidents, but also because records were kept of their exposures (the nuclear industry requires such records).
Worker with radioactive waste at Hanford
In the Hiroshima and Nagasaki studies, by contrast radiation exposure was estimated on the flimsiest of guesswork. The radiation emitted by the bombs was calculated according to tests done in the Nevada desert and was recalculated several times in subsequent decades. Researchers asked such questions as, where were you standing in relation to the blast, what was between you and it, what had you had for breakfast that morning, assuming that the survivors would give reliable accounts five years after the event.
“Bible arithmetic!” Stewart called the Hiroshima data: “it has skewed subsequent calculations about the cancer effect of radiation, and not only the cancer effect, but many other effects –immune system damage, lowered resistance to disease, infection, heart disease, genetic damage. These are serious misrepresentations because they suggest it’s safe to increase levels of background radiation.” In fact, as the Hiroshima studies went on, they turned up numerous radiation effects besides cancer17—cardiovascular and gastrointestinal damage, eye diseases, and other health problems—which bore out her prediction. Stewart was also proved right on the issue of fetal X-rays, though it took her two decades to convince official bodies to recommend against the practice, during which time doctors went right on X-raying pregnant women. It took her another two decades to build a case strong enough to persuade the US government, in 1999, to grant compensation to nuclear workers for cancer incurred on the job.18 (It helps, in this area, to be long-lived, as she commented wryly).
Twice, she has demonstrated that radiation exposures assumed “too low” to be dangerous carry high risk—two major blows at the Hiroshima data. Yet this 60-year old RERF data set continues to be invoked to dismiss new evidence—evidence of cancer clusters in the vicinity of nuclear reactors and findings from Chernobyl.
More than 40 studies have turned up clusters of childhood leukemia in the vicinity of nuclear facilities, reckons Ian Fairlie, an independent consultant on radioactivity in the environment and a former member of the Committee Examining Radiation Risks of Internal Emitters (an investigatory commission established by the U.K. government but disbanded in 2004). Fairlie describes this as a “mass of evidence difficult to contradict”19—yet it continues to be contradicted, on the basis of the Hiroshima studies. Generally when a cancer cluster is detected in the neighborhood of a reactor, the matter gets referred to a government committee that dismisses the findings on the grounds that radioactive emissions from facilities are “too low” to produce a cancer effect—“too low, according to RERF risk estimates.20
But in 2007, something extraordinary happened, when a government-appointed committee formed in response to the pressure of concerned citizens turned up increased rates of childhood leukemia in the vicinity of all 16 nuclear power plants in Germany. The Kinderkrebs in der Umgebung von Kernkraftwerken study, known by its acronym KiKK, was a large, well-designed study with a case-control format (1592 cancer cases and 4735 controls). The investigators—who were not opposed to nuclear power—anticipated they’d find “no effect... on the basis of the usual models for the effects of low levels of radiation.”21 But they found, to their surprise, that children who lived less than 5 km from a plant were more than twice as likely to develop leukemia as children who lived more than 5 km away. This was inexplicable within current models of estimating radiation risk:22 emissions would have had to have been orders of magnitude higher than those released by the power stations to account for the rise in leukemia. So the investigators concluded that the rise in leukemia couldn’t have been caused by radiation.
The findings are not inexplicable, explains Fairlie, when you understand that the data on which risk is calculated, the Hiroshima studies, are “unsatisfactory.”23 Fairlie’s criticism of these data echoes Stewart’s: “risk estimates from an instantaneous external blast of high energy neutrons and gamma rays are not really applicable to the chronic, slow, internal exposures from the low-range alpha and beta radiation from most environmental releases.”24 (my emphasis) Fairlie points out a further problem with the Hiroshima data: its failure to take into account the dangers of internal radiation. As Sawada Shoji, emeritus professor of physics at Nagoya University and a Hiroshima survivor, confirms, the Hiroshima studies never looked at fallout: they looked at “gamma rays and neutrons emitted within a minute of the explosion,” but did not consider the effects of residual radiation over time, effects from inhalation or ingestion that “are more severe.”25 The distinction between external and internal radiation is important to keep clear. A bomb blast gives off radiation in the form of high-energy subatomic particles and materials that remain as fallout in the form of radioactive elements such as strontium 90 and cesium. Most of this is likely to remain on the ground, where it will radiate the body from without, but some may be ingested or inhaled and lodge in a lung or other organ, where it will continue to emit radioactivity at close range. Nuclear proponents cite background radiation to argue that low-dose radiation is relatively harmless, asserting (as Monbiot argued against Caldicott) that we’re daily exposed to background radiation and survive. But this argument misses the fact that background radiation is from an external source and so is a more finite exposure than radioactive substances ingested or inhaled, which go on irradiating tissues, “giving very high doses to small volumes of cells,” as Helen Caldicott says. (Caldicott explains, when physicists talk about “permissible doses,” “[t]hey consistently ignore internal emitters — radioactive elements from nuclear power plants or weapons tests that are ingested or inhaled into the body,… They focus instead on generally less harmful external radiation from sources outside the body.”26).......keep reading.....http://www.japanfocus.org/-gayle-greene/3672,