The Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) – the corporate lobbyist in Washington, D.C. for the disintegrating atomic power industry – doesn’t have to worry about repercussions from the negative impacts of nuclear power. For nuclear power is a government/taxpayer-guaranteed boondoggle whose staggering costs, incurred and deferred, are absorbed by American taxpayers via a supine government regulatory and subsidy apparatus.
So if you go to work at the NEI and you read about the absence of any permanent radioactive waste storage site, no problem, the government/taxpayers are responsible for transporting and safeguarding that lethal garbage for centuries.
If your reactors experience ever larger cost over-runs and delays, as is now happening with two new reactors in South Carolina, no problem, the supine state regulatory commissions will just pass the bill on to consumers, despite the fact that consumers receive no electricity from these unfinished plants.
If these plants, and two others in Georgia under construction, experience financial squeezes from Wall Street, no problem, a supine Congress has already passed ample taxpayer loan guarantees that make Uncle Sam (you the taxpayer) bear the cost of the risk.
If there were to be an accident such as the one that happened in Fukushima, Japan, no problem, under the Price-Anderson Act, the government/taxpayers bear the cost of the vast amount of damage from any nuclear power plant meltdown. To put this cost into perspective, a report by the Atomic Energy Commission about fifty years ago estimated that a class nine meltdown could make an area “the size of Pennsylvania” uninhabitable.
Why do we stand for such a doomsday technology all over America that is uneconomic, uninsurable, unsafe, unnecessary (it can’t compete with energy conservation and renewable energies [or carbon fuels]), unevacuable (try evacuating the greater New York City area from a disaster at the two Indian Point plants 30 miles from Manhattan) and unprotectable (either from sabotage or earthquake)?
David Freeman, the famous energy engineer and lawyer, who has run four giant utilities (the Tennessee Valley Authority, the SMUD complex – where he closed the Rancho Seco Nuclear Plant – the New York Power Authority and the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power) sums up the history of nuclear power this way: “Nuclear power, promoted as too cheap to meter, turned out to be too expensive to use, the road to nuclear proliferation, and the creator of radioactive trash that has no place to go.” Right wing conservative/libertarians call it extreme “crony capitalism.”
Nuclear power plants are shutting down. In 2013, four reactors shut down: Crystal River 3, Kewaunee, San Onofre 2 and San Onofre 3. Now, Michael Peck, a senior federal nuclear expert, is urging that the last nuke plant left in California, Diablo Canyon, be shut down until the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s regulators can demonstrate that the two reactors at this site can withstand shaking from three nearby earthquake faults.
Meanwhile, the human, environmental and economic disasters at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi power plants keep metastasizing. Scientists are producing studies that show serious biological effects (genetic damage and mutation rates) of radiation on plant, insect and bird life in and around the large, cordoned off, uninhabitable area surrounding these closed down reactors. The giant politically-influential electric utility company underestimated the likelihood of a powerful earthquake and tsunami.
In the early nineteen-seventies, the industry and its governmental patrons were expecting 1,000 nuclear plants – 100 of them along the California coast – to be operating by the year 2000. Instead, a little more than a hundred were built nationwide. In reality, as of 2014, there are only 100 operable reactors, many of which are aging.
The pitfalls are real and numerous. In addition to growing public opposition, and lower-priced natural gas attracting electric utilities, there are the ever-present, sky-rocketing costs and delays of construction, repair and the question of where to store nuclear waste. These costs are what make Wall Street financiers turn their backs on nuclear power unless the industry can ram more tens of billions of dollars in government/taxpayer loan guarantees through Congress.
And what is all this nuclear technology, from the uranium mines to the nuclear plants to the still absent waste storage dumps for? To boil water!
These are the tragic follies when the corporate masters and their political minions, who are ready and willing to guarantee taxpayer funding, have no “skin in the game.” This kind of staggering power without responsibility is indeed radioactive.
The highest court in Guatemala has suspended the controversial ‘Monsanto Law,’ a provision of a US-Central American trade agreement, that would insulate transnational seed corporations considered to have “discovered” new plant varieties.
The Constitutional Court suspended on Friday the law – passed in June and due to go into effect on Sept. 26 – after a writ of amparo was filed by the Guatemalan Union, Indigenous and Peasant Movement, which argued the law would harm the nation, LaVoz reported.
The Court’s decision came after several Guatemalan parliamentarians from both the governing Patriotic Party and the opposition party Renewed Democratic Freedom said they would consider repealing the law after outcry from a diverse cross-section of Guatemalans.
The decision also offers interested parties 15 days to present their arguments pertaining to the law in front of the Constitutional Court. Members of both political parties said they would present motions to resist the law.
The ‘Law for the Protection of New Plant Varieties,’ dubbed the ‘Monsanto Law’ by critics for its formidable seed-privatization provisions, is an obligation for all nations that signed the 2005 CAFTA-DR free trade agreement between Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic, and the United States. The agreement requires signatories to adhere to the International Convention for the Protection of New Plant Varieties.
The law offers producers of transgenic seeds, often corporate behemoths like Monsanto, strict property rights in the event of possession or exchange of original or harvested seeds of protected varieties without the breeder’s authorization. A breeder’s right extends to “varieties essentially derived from the protected variety,” thus, a hybrid of a protected and unprotected seed belongs to the protected seed’s producer.
The Rural Studies Collective (Cer-Ixim) warned that the law would monopolize agriculture processes, severely threaten food sovereignty – especially those of indigenous peoples – and would sacrifice national biodiversity “under the control of domestic and foreign companies.”
The National Alliance for Biodiversity Protection said in July that the law is unconstitutional “because it violates the rights of peoples. It will benefit transnational seed companies such as Monsanto, Duwest, Dupont, Syngenta, etc.”
“According to this law, the rights of plant breeders are superior to the rights of peoples to freely use seeds,” the Alliance said in a statement.
“It’s a direct attack on the traditional knowledge, biodiversity, life, culture, rural economy and worldview of Peoples, and food sovereignty,” the Alliance added.
Anyone who violates the law, wittingly or not, could face a prison term of one to four years, and fines of US$130 to $1,300.
It is unclear what options the Guatemalan government has given the obligations under CAFTA-DR. The US would likely put pressure on the nation to pass the law, part of a global effort using trade agreements to push further corporate control over trade sectors like agriculture in the name of modernization. Upon further refusal, the US could drop Guatemala from the trade agreement.
In an official letter Wednesday to Russian Prime Minister Dimitry Medvedev, a group of top Russian experts including scientists, farmers and eco groups urged him to add all foods containing GMOs to the existing food sanctions that have been placed by Russia on the EU, U.S. and Australia amongst others.
The suggested ban includes all 18 varieties of genetically modified crops, registered and approved in Russia for use in the production of food for consumers and feed for farm animals.
The experts stated that the main manufacturers and suppliers of GM seed are located in countries that support sanctions against Russia. The biotech giants who fully control the market of GM seeds include: Monsanto (USA), Dow (USA), DuPont Pioneer (USA), Bayer (Germany), BASF (Germany). Therefore, products containing GM ingredients should be one of the sanctions applied by Russia in relation to these countries.
The experts suggested that Russia should also only buy conventional non-GMO food and feed products from countries that do not support the sanctions and yet currently supply products containing GMOs (e.g. Brazil, China, India and South Africa – BRICS countries).
“Now is a good time to stop the spread of food and feed products in Russia that contain GMOs, so we are then able to obtain objective scientific data on the impact of GMOs on the health of mammals. Independent research from domestic and foreign scientists suggests that GMOs may have an adverse effect on the health of mammals and lead to the development of diseases such as cancer, allergies, obesity, infertility, and others. To clarify the mechanisms of the impact of GMOs on living organisms, we need to continue to develop independent research in this area,” stated Elena Sharoykina, who is the Director of the Russian National Association for Genetic Safety.
Earlier this year in March, Russian President Vladimir Putin stated that Russia must protect its citizens from the use of foods derived from genetically modified organisms (GMOs), and that this could be done in compliance with the country’s obligations under the World Trade Organization (WTO).
In June, Russia also delayed the registration of GM varieties for the planting of GM crops, which had been planned to start in July. The current situation is that no GM crops have been grown in Russia and this will now be the case for at least the next 3 years.
A confidential report by a senior nuclear expert calls on regulators to close California’s last nuclear plant until it can be established the facility can survive a powerful earthquake, according to an exclusive AP report.
The Diablo Canyon Power Plant, which was built near three geographical fault lines, provides electricity needs for more than 2.2 million people in America’s largest state. However, a confidential report by the plant’s former inspector, Michael Peck, is calling on federal regulators to pull the plug on the facility.
Following the closure of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station in 2013, 30-year-old Diablo Canyon is the sole remaining nuclear energy supplier in California.
Peck warned in his 2013 report, which was obtained and verified by the Associated Press, that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is failing to maintain safety standards previously put in place for the facility’s operation.
The primary issue, as described by AP, is that “no one knows whether the facility’s equipment can withstand strong shaking from those faults – the potential for which was realized decades after the facility was built.”
Continuing to operate Diablo Canyon plant “challenges the presumption of nuclear safety,” the nuclear expert, who is employed as an instructor by the NRC, warned.
The surfacing of the confidential report comes after a magnitude-6 earthquake hit northern California on Sunday, injuring dozens of people and causing over $1 billion dollars in property losses. Fears that Sunday’s earthquake was just a precursor to the much-feared ‘Big One’ have once again sparked debate on the ability of California’s aging infrastructure to withstand an earthquake.
Meanwhile, nuclear experts continue to be haunted by the nuclear accident at Japan’s Fukushima nuclear plant, which suffered severe damage following a magnitude 9.0 earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan in March 2011. To this day, Japanese authorities, amid a very concerned public, are attempting to halt the leak of radiation from the damaged structure.
In a report put out in July entitled, “Lessons Learned from the Fukushima Nuclear Accident for Improving Safety of US Nuclear Plants,” it is advised that the nuclear industry should “access their preparedness for severe nuclear accidents associated with offsite-scale disasters.”
It adds that the current approach to nuclear safety is “clearly inadequate for preventing core-melt accidents and mitigating their consequences.”
After the Fukushima disaster, the NRC ordered US nuclear plants to reevaluate the risks posed by earthquakes, with studies due by March 2015.
Much of the current debate over the viability of California’s last nuclear facility originates from the 2008 discovery of the Shoreline fault, which, together with a number of other potentially active regions, including the large Hosgri fault, arguably places Diablo Canyon in a vulnerable geographical position.
Peck says Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), the company that owns the nuclear facility, failed to prove that the plant would withstand the vibrations of a powerful earthquake, thereby violating its operating license. PG&E has challenged those claims, saying the structure is sound.
Blair Jones, a spokesman for PG&E, the company that owns the nuclear facility, said the NRC has conducted extensive analysis to prove the plant is “seismically safe.”
Jones told AP that concerns regarding earthquake-generated movements of the nuclear plant, which could potentially lead to a disaster, were put to rest in the 1970s following “seismic retrofitting” of the facility.
In 2012, the NRC supported preliminary studies that said vibrations and aftershocks coming from the Shoreline fault would not jeopardize the structural integrity of the reactors.
Meanwhile, the release of the confidential report has sent shockwaves through California’s political circles.
Sen. Barbara Boxer, a California Democrat who chairs the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, expressed alarm that Peck’s report has only surfaced now.
“The NRC’s failure to act constitutes an abdication of its responsibility to protect public health and safety,” she said.
The committee announced it would hold hearings into how the NRC has responded to Peck’s suggestions.
Peck, currently an instructor at the NRC’s Technical Training Center, declined to comment on the AP report.
GAZA CITY — The death toll on the 27th day of Israel’s offensive on Gaza hit at least 120 on Sunday as health officials reported that over 70 bodies had been recovered in Rafah, a day after the city came under fierce, prolonged bombardment by Israeli forces.
Health ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Qidra told Ma’an that the bodies of 70 Palestinians had been recovered from the city in southern Gaza, while 55 other Palestinians were killed by Israeli attacks across the Strip Sunday.
The continuing attacks brought the total death toll in the assault to 1,830 with nearly 10,000 injured.
Israel began targeting Rafah with airstrikes and shelling Friday, killing dozens in the city hours before a 72-hour ceasefire was to come into place. When the ceasefire collapsed, Israel continued its bombardment on Rafah throughout Friday and into Saturday, killing more than hundred Palestinians.
Meanwhile, Israeli shelling and airstrikes did not let up on Sunday even as ground forces withdrew from major cities in Gaza.
An afternoon strike on the al-Majdalawi family home in Beir al-Naaja in northern Gaza left four dead, two of whom were identified as Mahmoud and Rawan al-Majdalawi.
Additionally, Mohammad Shaldan was killed and two others injured in an airstrike on the al-Zaytoun neighborhood of Gaza City. In another attack, a Palestinian was killed in a strike on a car in the Janeina neighborhood of Rafah, which has been hit heavily in the Israeli assault.
The attacks come after Israeli forces shelled a UNRWA school where thousands were taking refuge earlier in the day, killing at least ten. UN chief Ban Ki-Moon condemned the attack as “a moral outrage and a criminal attack.”
Al-Qidra identified the victims as Muhammad Abu Rajal, Sami Abdullah Qashta, Sami Ismail Abu Shalouf, Ahmad Khaled Abu Harba, Muhammad Musaid Qashta, Hazem Abd al-Basit Halal, Omar Tariq Abu al-Roos, Ahmad Kamal al-Nahal, Yousef Akram Sakafi, and Tariq Said Abu al-Roos.
A Palestinian carries an injured child following an Israeli military strike
on a UN school in the southern Gaza city of Rafah, on Aug. 3, 2014
Ongoing arrest campaign
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Prisoner’s Affairs said on Sunday that the number of Palestinians held in Israeli jails had risen dramatically throughout the assault on Gaza and the month leading up to it.
Abd al-Nasser Farwana, director of the ministry’s statistics bureau, said in a statement Sunday that more than 1,500 Palestinians had been arrested by Israeli forces since June across the Palestinian territories.
Many more than 200 have been arrested in Gaza, although not all of them were still being held. Not all of the arrests have yet been accounted for, Farwana added.
An Israeli army spokeswomen did not have information about the number of Palestinians arrested in Gaza throughout the offensive. She said Palestinians had been “taken to facilities for questioning,” but refused to say whether they had been imprisoned or released.
The arrests bring the number of Palestinians in Israeli jails up to around 6,500, among whom are 250 children, 37 members of parliament, and 75 prisoners who were freed in the 2011 Shalit deal but rearrested, many of them in June.
Israeli forces arrested hundreds of Palestinians in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, throughout its search for three youths who were kidnapped and killed in June.
The stated goal of the campaign was to “crush Hamas,” and militant factions in Gaza heavily increased rocket fire on Israel as Hamas members were arrested and airstrikes on the Strip became a regular occurrence. Then, on July 7, Israel began its military offensive on Gaza.
British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond on Sunday demanded an unconditional ceasefire to resolve the “intolerable” situation in Gaza, adding that the British public was “deeply disturbed” by what it was seeing.
Hammond, who took over from William Hague last month, told the Sunday Telegraph that the killing had to stop, having already said he was “gravely concerned” by the number of civilian casualties from Israel’s military operation in Gaza.
“The British public has a strong sense that the situation of the civilian population in Gaza is intolerable and must be addressed — and we agree with them,” he told the newspaper.
“It’s a broad swathe of British public opinion that feels deeply disturbed by what it is seeing on its television screens,” he added.
The former defense minister acknowledged the concerns of both Hamas and Israel, but insisted that they could not be allowed to stand in the way of a humanitarian ceasefire.
“We have to get the killing to stop,” he told the paper.
AFP contributed to this report
Over 3 years since the Fukushima nuclear disaster, there is virtually no health research being conducted or released on harm to the Japanese. An April report by a UN committee tried to sweep the issue under the rug, predicting any harmful effects of the catastrophe is “unlikely.”
The UN panel made a very broad assumption about the worst nuclear catastrophe in history (or worst since Chernobyl) – and did this BEFORE research is done. However, a local health study raises alarm bells. Fukushima Medical University found 46% of local children have a pre-cancerous nodule or cyst, and 130 have thyroid cancer, vs. 3 expected. Incredibly, the University corrupts science by asserting the meltdown played no role in these high figures.
But Japanese studies must go far beyond childhood thyroid diseases. Japan isn’t the only site to study, as the fallout from the meltdown spread across the northern hemisphere.
In 2011, we estimated 13,983 excess U.S. deaths occurred in the 14 weeks after Fukushima, when fallout levels were highest – roughly the same after Chernobyl in 1986. We used only a sample of deaths available at that time, and cautioned not to conclude that fallout caused all of these deaths.
Final figures became available this week. The 2010-2011 change in deaths in the four months after Fukushima was +2.63%, vs. +1.54% for the rest of the year. This difference translates to 9,158 excess deaths – not an exact match for the 13,983 estimate, but a substantial spike nonetheless.
Again, without concluding that only Fukushima caused these deaths, some interesting patterns emerged. The five Pacific and West Coast states, with the greatest levels of Fukushima fallout in the U.S., had an especially large excess. So did the five neighboring states (Arizona, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, and Utah), which received the next highest levels.
Most of the spring 2011 mortality increase were people over 80. Many of these elderly were in frail health; one possibility is that the added exposure to radioactive poison sped the dying process.
Fukushima radiation is the same as fallout from atom bomb explosions, releasing over 100 chemicals not found in nature. The radioactive chemicals enter the body as a result of precipitation that gets into the food chain. Once in the body, these particles harm or kill cells, leading to disease or death.
Once-skeptical health officials now admit even low doses of radiation are harmful. Studies showed X-rays to pregnant women’s abdomens raised the risk of the child dying of cancer, ending the practice. Bomb fallout from Nevada caused up to 212,000 Americans to develop thyroid cancer. Nuclear weapons workers are at high risk for a large number of cancers.
Rather than the UN Committee making assumptions based on no research, medical research on changes in Japanese disease and death rates are needed – now, in all parts of Japan. Similar studies should be done in nations like Korea, China, eastern Russia, and the U.S. Not knowing Fukushima’s health toll only raises the chance that such a disaster will be repeated in the future.
Joseph Mangano is Executive Director of the Radiation and Public Health Project.
Janette D. Sherman MD is an internist and toxicologist, and editor of Chernobyl: Consequences of the Catastrophe for People and the Environment.
There is broad disagreement over the amounts and effects of radiation exposure due to the triple reactor meltdowns after the 2011 Great East-Japan Earthquake and tsunami. The International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW) joined the controversy June 4, with a 27-page “Critical Analysis of the UNSCEAR Report ‘Levels and effects of radiation exposures due to the nuclear accident after the 2011 Great East-Japan Earthquake and tsunami.’”
IPPNW is the Nobel Peace Prize winning global federation of doctors working for “a healthier, safer and more peaceful world.” The group has adopted a highly critical view of nuclear power because as it says, “A world without nuclear weapons will only be possible if we also phase out nuclear energy.”
UNSCEAR, the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation, published its deeply flawed report April 2. Its accompanying press release summed up its findings this way: “No discernible changes in future cancer rates and hereditary diseases are expected due to exposure to radiation as a result of the Fukushima nuclear accident.” The word “discernable” is a crucial disclaimer here.
Cancer, and the inexorable increase in cancer cases in Japan and around the world, is mostly caused by toxic pollution, including radiation exposure according to the National Cancer Institute. But distinguishing a particular cancer case as having been caused by Fukushima rather than by other toxins, or combination of them, may be impossible leading to UNSCEAR’s deceptive summation. As the IPPNW report says, “A cancer does not carry a label of origin…”
UNSCEAR’s use of the phrase “are expected” is also heavily nuanced. The increase in childhood leukemia cases near Germany’s operating nuclear reactors, compared to elsewhere, was not “expected,” but was proved in 1997. The findings, along with Chernobyl’s lingering consequences, led to the country’s federally mandated reactor phase-out. The plummeting of official childhood mortality rates around five US nuclear reactors after they were shut down was also “unexpected,” but shown by Joe Mangano and the Project on Radiation and Human Health.
The International Physicians’ analysis is severely critical of UNSCEAR’s current report which echoes its 2013 Fukushima review and press release that said, “It is unlikely to be able to attribute any health effects in the future among the general public and the vast majority of workers.”
“No justification for optimistic presumptions”
The IPPNW’s report says flatly, “Publications and current research give no justification for such apparently optimistic presumptions.” UNSCEAR, the physicians complain, “draws mainly on data from the nuclear industry’s publications rather than from independent sources and omits or misinterprets crucial aspects of radiation exposure”, and “does not reveal the true extent of the consequences” of the disaster. As a result, the doctors say the UN report is “over-optimistic and misleading.” The UN’s “systematic underestimations and questionable interpretations,” the physicians warn, “will be used by the nuclear industry to downplay the expected health effects of the catastrophe” and will likely but mistakenly be considered by public authorities as reliable and scientifically sound. Dozens of independent experts report that radiation attributable health effects are highly likely.
Points of agreement: Fukushima is worse than reported and worsening still
Before detailing the multiple inaccuracies in the UNSCEAR report, the doctors list four major points of agreement. First, UNSCEAR improved on the World Health Organization’s health assessment of the disaster’s on-going radioactive contamination. UNSCEAR also professionally “rejects the use of a threshold for radiation effects of 100 mSv [millisieverts], used by the International Atomic Energy Agency in the past.” Like most health physicists, both groups agree that there is no radiation dose so small that it can’t cause negative health effects. There are exposures allowed by governments, but none of them are safe.
Second, the UN and the physicians agree that areas of Japan that were not evacuated were seriously contaminated with iodine-132, iodine-131 and tellurium-132, the worst reported instance being Iwaki City which had 52 times the annual absorbed dose to infants’ thyroid than from natural background radiation. UNSCEAR also admitted that “people all over Japan” were affected by radioactive fallout (not just in Fukushima Prefecture) through contact with airborne or ingested radioactive materials. And while the UNSCEAR acknowledged that “contaminated rice, beef, seafood, milk, milk powder, green tea, vegetables, fruits and tap water were found all over mainland Japan”, it neglected “estimating doses for Tokyo … which also received a significant fallout both on March 15 and 21, 2011.”
Third, UNSCEAR agrees that the nuclear industry’s and the government’s estimates of the total radioactive contamination of the Pacific Ocean are “far too low.” Still, the IPPNW reports shows, UNSCEAR’s use of totally unreliable assumptions results in a grossly understated final estimate. For example, the UN report ignores all radioactive discharges to the ocean after April 30, 2011, even though roughly 300 tons of highly contaminated water has been pouring into the Pacific every day for 3-and-1/2 years, about 346,500 tons in the first 38 months.
Fourth, the Fukushima catastrophe is understood by both groups as an ongoing disaster, not the singular event portrayed by industry and commercial media. UNSCEAR even warns that ongoing radioactive pollution of the Pacific “may warrant further follow-up of exposures in the coming years,” and “further releases could not be excluded in the future,” from forests and fields during rainy and typhoon seasons when winds spread long-lived radioactive particles and from waste management plans that now include incineration.
As the global doctors say, in their unhappy agreement with UNSCAR, “In the long run, this may lead to an increase in internal exposure in the general population through radioactive isotopes from ground water supplies and the food chain.”
Physicians find ten grave failures in UN report
The majority of the IPPNW’s report details 10 major errors, flaws or discrepancies in the UNSCEAR paper and explains study’s omissions, underestimates, inept comparisons, misinterpretations and unwarranted conclusions.
1. The total amount of radioactivity released by the disaster was underestimated by UNSCEAR and its estimate was based on disreputable sources of information. UNSCEAR ignored 3.5 years of nonstop emissions of radioactive materials “that continue unabated,” and only dealt with releases during the first weeks of the disaster. UNSCEAR relied on a study by the Japanese Atomic Energy Agency (JAEA) which, the IPPNW points out, “was severely criticized by the Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission … for its collusion with the nuclear industry.” The independent Norwegian Institute for Air Research’s estimate of cesium-137 released (available to UNSCEAR) was four times higher than the JAEA/UNSCEAR figure (37 PBq instead of 9 PBq). Even Tokyo Electric Power Co. itself estimated that iodine-131 releases were over four times higher than what JAEA/UNSCEAR) reported (500 PBq vs. 120 BPq). The UNSCEAR inexplicably chose to ignore large releases of strontium isotopes and 24 other radionuclides when estimating radiation doses to the public. (A PBq or petabecquerel is a quadrillion or 1015 Becquerels. Put another way, a PBq equals 27,000 curies, and one curie makes 37 billion atomic disintegrations per second.)
2. Internal radiation taken up with food and drink “significantly influences the total radiation dose an individual is exposed to,” the doctors note, and their critique warns pointedly, “UNSCEAR uses as its one and only source, the still unpublished database of the International Atomic Energy Association and the Food and Agriculture Organization. The IAEA was founded … to ‘accelerate and enlarge the contribution of atomic energy to peace, health and prosperity throughout the world.’ It therefore has a profound conflict of interest.” Food sample data from the IAEA should not be relied on, “as it discredits the assessment of internal radiation doses and makes the findings vulnerable to claims of manipulation.” As with its radiation release estimates, IAEA/UNSCEAR ignored the presence of strontium in food and water. Internal radiation dose estimates made by the Japanese Ministry for Science and Technology were 20, 40 and even 60 times higher than the highest numbers used in the IAEA/UNSCEAR reports.
3. To gauge radiation doses endured by over 24,000 workers on site at Fukushima, UNSCEAR relied solely on figures from Tokyo Electric Power Co., the severely compromised owners of the destroyed reactors. The IPPNW report dismisses all the conclusions drawn from Tepco, saying, “There is no meaningful control or oversight of the nuclear industry in Japan and data from Tepco has in the past frequently been found to be tampered with and falsified.”
4. The UNSCEAR report disregards current scientific fieldwork on actual radiation effects on plant and animal populations. Peer reviewed ecological and genetic studies from Chernobyl and Fukushima find evidence that low dose radiation exposures cause, the doctors point out, “genetic damage such as increased mutation rates, as well as developmental abnormalities, cataracts, tumors, smaller brain sizes in birds and mammals and further injuries to populations, biological communities and ecosystems.” Ignoring these studies, IPPNW says “gives [UNSCEAR] the appearance of bias or lack of rigor.”
5. The special vulnerability of the embryo and fetus to radiation was completely discounted by the UNSCEAR, the physicians note. UNSCEAR shockingly said that doses to the fetus or breast-fed infants “would have been similar to those of other age groups,” a claim that, the IPPNW says, “goes against basic principles of neonatal physiology and radiobiology.” By dismissing the differences between an unborn and an infant, the UNSCEAR “underestimates the health risks of this particularly vulnerable population.” The doctors quote a 2010 report from American Family Physician that, “in utero exposure can be teratogenic, carcinogenic or mutagenic.”
6. Non-cancerous diseases associated with radiation doses — such as cardiovascular diseases, endocrinological and gastrointestinal disorders, infertility, genetic mutations in offspring and miscarriages — have been documented in medical journals, but are totally dismissed by the UNSCEAR. The physicians remind us that large epidemiological studies have shown undeniable associations of low dose ionizing radiation to non-cancer health effects and “have not been scientifically challenged.”
7. The UNSCEAR report downplays the health impact of low-doses of radiation by misleadingly comparing radioactive fallout to “annual background exposure.” The IPPNW scolds the UNSCEAR saying it is, “not scientific to argue that natural background radiation is safe or that excess radiation from nuclear fallout that stays within the dose range of natural background radiation is harmless.” In particular, ingested or inhaled radioactive materials, “deliver their radioactive dose directly and continuously to the surrounding tissue” — in the thyroid, bone or muscles, etc. — “and therefore pose a much larger danger to internal organs than external background radiation.”
8. Although UNSCEAR’s April 2 Press Release and Executive Summary give the direct and mistaken impression that there will be no radiation health effects from Fukushima, the report itself states that the Committee “does not rule out the possibility of future excess cases or disregard the suffering associated…” Indeed, UNSCEAR admits to “incomplete knowledge about the release rates of radionuclides over time and the weather conditions during the releases.” UNSCEAR concedes that “there were insufficient measurements of gamma dose rate…” and that, “relatively few measurements of foodstuff were made in the first months.” IPPNW warns that these glaring uncertainties completely negate the level of certainty implied in UNSCEAR’s Exec. Summary.
9. UNSCEAR often praises the protective measures taken by Japanese authorities, but the IPPNW finds it “odd that a scientific body like UNSCEAR would turn a blind eye to the many grave mistakes of the Japanese disaster management…” The central government was slow to inform local governments and “failed to convey the severity of the accident,” according to the Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission. “Crisis management ‘did not function correctly,’ the Commission said, and its failure to distribute stable iodine, “caused thousands of children to become irradiated with iodine-131,” IPPNW reports.
10. The UNSCEAR report lists “collective” radiation doses “but does not explain the expected cancer cases that would result from these doses.” This long chapter of IPPNW’s report can’t be summarized easily. The doctors offer conservative estimates, “keeping in mind that these most probably represent underestimations for the reasons listed above.” The IPPNW estimates that 4,300 to 16,800 excess cases of cancer due to the Fukushima catastrophe in Japan in the coming decades. Cancer deaths will range between 2,400 and 9,100. UNSCEAR may call these numbers insignificant, the doctors archly point out, but individual cancers are debilitating and terrifying and they “represent preventable and man-made diseases” and fatalities.
IPPNW concludes that Fukushima’s radiation disaster is “far from over”: the destroyed reactors are still unstable; radioactive liquids and gases continuously leak from the complex wreckage; melted fuel and used fuel in quake-damaged cooling pools hold enormous quantities of radioactivity “and are highly vulnerable to further earthquakes, tsunamis, typhoons and human error.” Catastrophic releases of radioactivity “could occur at any time and eliminating this risk will take many decades.”
IPPNW finally recommends urgent actions that governments should take, because the UNSCEAR report, “does not adhere to scientific standards of neutrality,” “represents a systematic underestimation,” “conjures up an illusion of scientific certainty that obscures the true impact of the nuclear catastrophe on health and the environment,” and its conclusion is phrased “in such a way that would most likely be misunderstood by most people…”
John LaForge works for Nukewatch, a nuclear watchdog and anti-war group in Wisconsin, and edits its Quarterly.
 Nancy Wilson, National Cancer Institute, “The Majority of Cancers Are Linked to the Environment, NCI Benchmarks, Vol. 4, Issue 3, June 17, 2004
I’ve written a few times on the question of one of my favorite hangouts on the planet, underwater tropical coral reefs. Don’t know if you’ve ever been down to one, but they are a fairyland of delights, full of hosts of strange and mysterious creatures. I’ve seen them far from the usual haunts of humanoids, where they are generally full of vigor and bursting with life.
I’ve also seen them in various stages of ill-health, including the bleaching caused by occasional high temperatures (which a healthy reef recovers from in a few years). In all of my writings on this subject, I’ve said that the health of the reef depends in large part on parrotfish. I’ve proposed that atoll nations declare the parrotfish as their national bird, just to bring attention to the fish that are responsible for the very existence of the atolls themselves.
This is for two reasons. First, parrotfish are herbivores. They graze on the algae that is constantly trying to take over the reef. This keeps the reef clear of algae so that the coral polyps can get the sunlight that they need to survive.
Second, the parrotfish graze by biting off chunks of coral. They crunch these up between specialized bony plates in their throats, digest all of the greenery, and they subsequently excrete nothing but the finest, whitest, softest coral sand … the very sand that makes the romantic tropical beaches. It’s quite funny to see what happens if you disturb a whole school of them—they drop their entire load and disappear in a flash, leaving nothing but a white cloud of sand slowly dropping to the ocean floor, eventually to be swept by the waves up onto the beach.
Unfortunately, although parrotfish are wary during the day, they sleep at night out in the open. As a result, the advent of the waterproof flashlight has led to their local extinction on many reefs.
To bring this story up to the present, over at his excellent NoTricksZone website, Pierre Gosselin points out a press release from the International Union of Concerned Scientists (IUCN) entitled From despair to repair: Dramatic decline of Caribbean corals can be reversed. It discusses a recent report called “Status and Trends of Caribbean Coral Reefs, 1970-2012″, linked to below.
In the press release, they point out that although climate change has been blamed for the decline in Caribbean coral reefs, the major reason for the decline is … drum roll … the loss of the parrotfish and other reef grazers. The press release says:
Climate change has long been thought to be the main culprit in coral degradation. While it does pose a serious threat by making oceans more acidic and causing coral bleaching, the report shows that the loss of parrotfish and sea urchin – the area’s two main grazers – has, in fact, been the key driver of coral decline in the region.
Despite the obligatory nod to climate change, they have finally come to their senses.
Now, the IUCN has been heavily invested in the “climate change” meme, so I find this to be a most welcome sign that perhaps some sanity is returning to the field. Back a decade ago I wrote about role of parrotfish in reef loss, but at that time everyone from the Sierra Club to the IUCN were blaming climate change.
And this is one of the huge problems with blaming everything and its cousin on climate change—when you blame wrongly climate change, you ignore the real problem. For example, the claimed (but illusory) “sinking” of coral atolls was long blamed on sea level rise from climate change.
But all that did is obscure the real danger to coral atolls, which is the decline of the reefs on which they depend for their continued wellbeing. Regarding the Caribbean reefs, the report itself says:
Outbreaks of Acropora and Diadema diseases in the 1970s and early 1980s, overpopulation in the form of too many tourists, and overfishing are the three best predictors of the decline in Caribbean coral cover over the past 30 or more years based on the data available. Coastal pollution is undoubtedly increasingly significant but there are still too little data to tell. Increasingly warming seas pose an ominous threat but so far extreme heating events have had only localized effects and could not have been responsible for the greatest losses of Caribbean corals that had occurred throughout most of the wider Caribbean region by the early to mid 1990s.
So … will the reefs abide? Fortunately, we now know that waving our hands at CO2 is not the solution to the problems of the reefs—as with far too much of such CO2 hysteria, the underlying problems indeed have human causes, but they have nothing to do with CO2.
And that’s great news, because although we have no hope of changing atmospheric CO2, we can indeed do something about overfishing of parrotfish, and about coastal pollution. Fix those, and we’ll fix the reefs, and they will abide.
Best regards to everyone, and thanks for all the parrotfish, I’m off for Las Vegas.
My previous posts on the subject:
The Irony, It Burns
The Reef Abides
Something Happened in February, Something is STILL Going On
Environmental radiation releases spiked again in mid-June around the surface site of the only U.S. underground nuclear weapons waste storage facility near Carlsbad, New Mexico. The facility, the Waste Isolation Pilot Project (WIPP), has been shut down since February 14, when its isolation technology failed, releasing unsafe levels of Plutonium, Americium, and other radio-nuclides into the environment around the site.
Radiation levels in the underground storage area, 2,150 feet below the surface vary from near-normal to potentially lethal. At the time of the February accident, more than 20 WIPP workers suffered low level radioactive contamination, even though none of them were underground. WIPP assumes, but cannot confirm, that underground conditions have not changed since May 31, when the last entry team went into the mine, as reported by WIPP field manager Jose Franco on June 5:
As I noted in my previous letter, we have identified the damaged drum believed to be a contributing source of the radiological release. On May 31, an entry team was able to safely and successfully collect six samples from a variety of locations in Panel 7 of Room 7, including from the breached drum and a nearby standard waste box. These sample results are consistent with the contamination previously identified.
In mid-March, WIPP suffered a surface radiation release almost twice the levels released in February. WIPP was designed to isolate highly radioactive nuclear weapons waste from the environment for 10,000 years. It went 15 years before its first leak of radioactivity into the above ground environment.
The latest elevated radiation levels were detected by monitors placed by the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED). The monitors measure radiation only after it has passed through the WIPP filtration system that is designed to minimize radiation from escaping from the storage area half a mile underground. Radiation levels in the storage area where the original leak occurred are possibly as lethal as Fukushima, hampering efforts to determine the source, cause, and scale of the February leak.
What happened underground remains a mystery and a danger
More than five months after the February accident, officials still have no certain understanding of what went wrong. It is generally thought that one 55 gallon drum of waste (perhaps more than one) overheated and burst, spilling radioactive waste in a part of the storage area known as Panel 7, Room 7. This room, designated a “High Contamination Area,” measures 33 by 80 feet and presently has 24 rows of waste containers. The room holds 258 containers, tightly stacked and packed wall-to-wall, with no aisles to allow easy access. There is some clearance between the top of the stacks and the room’s ceiling.
The high contamination in Room 7 is a threat to human inspectors, limiting inspection of the room to date to mechanical means, primarily cameras on extension arms. As a result of these limitations, WIPP teams have inspected only ten of the 24 rows of waste containers in Room 7. Rows #1-14 have been out of reach of the available equipment.
WIPP has begun building a full scale replica of Room 7 above ground, to provide a realistic staging area in which to test methods of remote observation that might reach the 14 uninspected rows. According to WIPP:
Options include a device that uses carbon fiber rods to extend the camera, a gantry camera suspended on wires, or a boom system mounted on a trolley that would move across the waste face from wall to wall and out 90 feet to view all rows of waste.
WIPP has spent much of June improving the air filtration system to the mine, adding filters that reduce escaping radiation and improving underground air flow for the sake of entry teams. WIPP suspended underground entries on May 31, apparently to improve safety conditions. Reporting on June 18, field manager Jose Franco wrote:
Since the radiological event, we have safely entered the underground facility nearly a dozen times. Each time, we learn more and we use those discoveries to refine our tasks moving forward. Our entry teams have identified a breached container and we are using all of the resources at our disposal to find the cause.
No one is more eager than we are to determine what happened and return to normal operations.
Nuclear waste in Los Alamos puts National Lab at risk
“Normal operations” in the past included accepting thousands of waste-filled containers from the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), which is under a June 30 legal deadline to clean up its above ground and shallow underground waste that has accumulated since the 1940s when Los Alamos scientists were building the first atomic bombs.
The contractor packaging LANL waste into containers made a change a while back, substituting organic kitty litter for the standard inorganic product. More than 500 containers with organic kitty litter have been prepared, 368 of them already stored underground at WIPP. One frequently cited theory (promoted by a WIPP booster) is that one or more of these containers underwent a chemical, heat-generating process because of the organic kitty litter and that reaction caused the container to burst.
The rest of these containers with organic matter are temporarily buried at a West Texas site or remain on the LANL property. They are under constant watch and reportedly none have failed to date.
Los Alamos has been under pressure to clean up its radioactive waste for years, if not decades. But it took the approach of wildfires to the LANL waste site for the laboratory to enter into a binding agreement with the state Environment Department to remove all the waste it has accumulated. As the June 30 deadline approached, LANL again asked the state for an extension of the deadline, saying there wasn’t enough money in its federal budget to comply with the court order.
In the past, the state had granted an extension more than 100 times. This time New Mexico said no. That will subject LANL to further sanctions, including fines.
Lawsuit over state-approved high-level waste containers
Almost two years ago, after the state approved new containers for use at WIPP without holding a public hearing on the application, the Southwest Research and Information Center (SRIC) sued to block the containers from coming into use. In the Center’s view, these new, shielded containers were less robust than containers already in use for highly radioactive waste. That issue should have been considered at a public hearing, SRIC argued at the time:
The Appellants and approximately 200 individuals requested that the request to modify the state’s WIPP permit be subject to a public hearing because of the dangers posed by RH [Remote Handled] waste, the technical complexity of handling RH waste at WIPP, and the substantial public interest in the request. NMED ignored those comments and approved the Department of Energy (DOE) request despite the fact that the state agency had in December 2011 and January 2012 rejected virtually the same request.
Remote Handled (RH) waste is so designated because radiation levels are too high to allow close personal contact, so the waste must be handled by remote-controlled machinery. About 10 per cent of WIPP waste is Remote Handled.
In December 2012, NMED had publicly announced a public hearing on the new container issue. The department rescinded the hearing notice four days later, without explaining the change.
The New Mexico Appeals Court heard closing arguments in the case in July 2013, but had not rendered a decision at the time of the February 2014 accident at WIPP.
On June 26, the court held a further hearing to consider whether the radiation release at WIPP was relevant to the use of the new, high-level waste containers. As reported by the New Mexican, this case has a number of anomalies:
The Environment Department said in an email that the shielded containers can be transported in fewer shipments, and the process is quicker and significantly reduces the dosage rates of radiation from the drums.
Moreover, although the department doesn’t know who manufactures the shielded containers, their safety has been vetted by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the Environmental Protection Agency….
Regulators and the nuclear watchdog group hope the judges will make a decision sooner rather than later. Even though WIPP is closed for now, a whole lot of highly radioactive waste has to be packaged into containers for temporary storage until shipments resume.
Investigations rampant, answers scarce
On June 16, four months after the radiation release from WIPP, the Department of Energy (DOE), announced its “decision to conduct an investigation into the facts and circumstances associated with potential programmatic deficiencies in the nuclear safety, radiation protection, emergency management, quality assurance, and worker safety and health programs revealed by the February 2014 fire and radiation release at the Waste Isolation Pilot Project.”
Currently there are at least nine investigations into WIPP’s failure, including DOE, which operates the facility largely through private contractors. A few days later, a DOE attorney told the New Mexico Court of Appeals that “Nobody is contemplating a closure of WIPP,” but that WIPP is unlikely to reopen until 2016 at the earliest.
In March, Don Hancok of SRIC published a piece listing questions that were then unanswered:
* What caused the leak?
* How much leaked into the underground salt mine?
* How much leaked into the environment?
* Where are those radioactive and toxic wastes now?
* To what amount of radiation were the workers exposed?
* What are the health effects for those workers?
* What decontamination is necessary in the underground mine?
* What decontamination is necessary on the WIPP site and surrounding area?
* If WIPP reopens, what changes in the operation, monitoring, and safety culture will be implemented?
On June 25, Hancock published another piece in the same online magazine, La Jicarita, pointing out that the questions of March all remained unanswered in June.
The piece carried this headline:
Why do we still not know what’s wrong with WIPP?
A video being hyped around the internet – “Witness a polar bear’s heartbreaking swim for ice in the Arctic” said one headline – is simply shameless propaganda, facilitated by the US Geological Survey and its polar bear biologists. USGS scientists involved in this work should be ashamed of themselves.
The caption for the Youtube video (published Jun 21, 2014) says this:
Take a swim with a polar bear family as they traverse the Arctic Ocean in search of sea ice.
This is a load of nonsense and a total misrepresentation of the facts.
In addition, the text added to the video is pure propaganda: it is being used to promote the US government position that sea ice loss due to climate change is a massive threat to polar bears. Unfortunately, recent studies contradict the contention that polar bears have already been harmed by declines in summer sea ice.
Here are some background to the video you should be aware of:
1) The bears were swimming away from the USGS researchers and film crew who had shot them full of sedatives and attached a camera to one of their necks — they were not swimming toward sea ice 100 miles away.
2) The video was shot in the Bering Sea, in April 2014, when sea ice was about its maximum extent of the year — there was lots of ice around when this video was filmed.
3) The company doing the filming is using this video as a fundraiser.
Details below, including a sea ice map for April 2014.
Andy Revkin at the New York Times DotEarth blog promotes it as something spectacular (as he did a couple of weeks ago with an earlier offering from the same team, June 10), admitted in the comments section in response to someone who said it looked like these bears were being harassed by a boat:
“The cameras are on bears that were sedated (which counts as a kind of harassment, yes, but is part of a broader research project; see the earlier post linked from this one).”
Sea ice map for April (average extent for the month, label added), courtesy NSIDC Click it to enlarge.
The youtube video includes a link to the Arctic Exploration Fund of filmmaker Adam Ravetch’s Arctic Bear Productions company.
“To learn more about the Arctic Exploration Fund visit:
Here is the stated mandate of Ravetch’s NGO:
“Arctic Exploration Fund, AEF, is a non profit 501c 3 whose mission is to arm wild animals around the world, with groundbreaking new cameras, who go out and gather multiple hours of footage of their own lives, which we track using on-board satellite GPS, and together create a brand new natural history archive filmed entirely by the animals themselves.”
Nothing there about deliberately misrepresenting the facts shown in the film footage and using the video for propaganda purposes.
Finally, shame on the USGS: its work in the Bering and Beaufort Seas is being promoted as scientific polar bear research (like collecting blood samples), yet the real products being generated are propaganda videos.
Swimming bear video used for propaganda was not shot with bear-mounted cameras
I just went back to Andy Revkin’s blog post on the swimming polar bear video story that I wrote about on Wednesday to see what kind of feedback it was getting. I found that it pays to check up.
A reader from Oregon questioned the filming techniques used for this video.
Revkin followed up.
And it turned out, the reader from Oregon was correct — the film used in this video was shot with “an assortment of traditional methods,” not with the strapped on cameras that the USGS were using on the bears.
Revkin assumed from the background provided to him that this was leading-edge technology, bear-generated video. And even though he’d interviewed the filmmaker, the truth hadn’t come out.
Update June 29, 2014 – another damning comment made, added below.
Read the exchange below from Revkin’s blog:
David Cothran Ashland OR Yesterday
I have spent quite a bit of time observing polar bears during the course of 12 summer seasons working as a guide and photographer in Svalbard. In my view, the bears in this footage often appear quite stressed, swimming rapidly away from the camera, turning to look behind and even diving briefly. I think that it is quite unlikely that all, or even most of this video was shot from cameras mounted on bears. As another commenter said, it very much appears that the bears are fleeing from a boat. I would like to hear from Ravetch’s team and other wildlife film makers about this question. It certainly appears to me that the majority of the footage was shot with pole-mounted cameras.
Stressing bears by chasing them, particularly when they are swimming, is illegal in many parts of their range and certainly unethical anywhere. I have great respect for your blog and the careful attention you give to complex issues; I hope that you will look further into this. Film makers working with politically charged species like polar bears must be very careful that their methods are unassailable.
undefined 20 hours ago
I sent your note to Ravetch and he clarified that this footage was not shot with the new strapped-on cameras, as you suspected.
He included this note: “That footage was not taken with strapped on cameras and was documented with an assortment of traditional techniques. Aerial, pole cam, and more traditional filming techniques…. I operate with the greatest respect for animals when I am around them for brief periods of time.” [SJC bold]
Thanks for offering your valuable insight. (I also fixed the photo caption to avoid confusion.)
Kudos to Revkin for not dismissing the comment and for following through.
[See the video here]
This video was strictly propaganda from the get-go. The new-fangled camera technology Ravetch’s company and USGS polar bear biologists had been experimenting with was not used at all in the filming of this video.
Update June 29 – comment left today by Kelsey Eliasson
Kelsey Eliasson, Churchill 13 hours ago
I work as a polar bear guide in Churchill. These images looks like they came from Hudson Bay, likely near Southampton Island, when Ravetch was filming there in the summer of 2012, I believe. I have seen raw footage of this event and the bear is so stressed that at one point, it actually tries to climb into the boat after being followed for a considerable amount of time. Beautiful shot though.
So, this seems like it is not USGS, not in the Beaufort Sea and filmed in the summer. If I am wrong, I apologize, however, the similarities in the footage are striking.
The Arctic Exploration Fund actually seems like it is just raising money for documentary projects not actual research – wish I had thought of that.
It is very unfortunate that management decisions are being based on fictional portrayals of polar bear habitat and behaviour. The bears are the ones that will suffer in the long run.
* Dr. Susan J. Crockford is a zoologist with more than 35 years experience, including work on the Holocene history of Arctic animals. Like polar bear biologist Ian Stirling, Susan Crockford earned her undergraduate degree in zoology at the University of British Columbia. She is currently an adjunct professor at the University of Victoria, B.C. Polar bear evolution is one of Dr. Crockford’s professional interests, which she discusses in her book, Rhythms of Life: Thyroid Hormone and the Origin of Species.
We have studied the long-term toxicity of a Roundup-tolerant GM maize (NK603) and a whole Roundup pesticide formulation at environmentally relevant levels from 0.1 ppb. Our study was first published in Food and Chemical Toxicology (FCT) on 19 September, 2012. The first wave of criticisms arrived within a week, mostly from plant biologists without experience in toxicology. We answered all these criticisms. The debate then encompassed scientific arguments and a wave of ad hominem and potentially libellous comments appeared in different journals by authors having serious yet undisclosed conflicts of interests. At the same time, FCT acquired as its new assistant editor for biotechnology a former employee of Monsanto after he sent a letter to FCT to complain about our study. This is in particular why FCT asked for a post-hoc analysis of our raw data. On 19 November, 2013, the editor-in-chief requested the retraction of our study while recognizing that the data were not incorrect and that there was no misconduct and no fraud or intentional misinterpretation in our complete raw data – an unusual or even unprecedented action in scientific publishing. The editor argued that no conclusions could be drawn because we studied 10 rats per group over 2 years, because they were Sprague Dawley rats, and because the data were inconclusive on cancer. Yet this was known at the time of submission of our study. Our study was however never attended to be a carcinogenicity study. We never used the word ‘cancer’ in our paper. The present opinion is a summary of the debate resulting in this retraction, as it is a historic example of conflicts of interest in the scientific assessments of products commercialized worldwide. We also show that the decision to retract cannot be rationalized on any discernible scientific or ethical grounds. Censorship of research into health risks undermines the value and the credibility of science; thus, we republish our paper.
There is an ongoing debate on the potential health risks of the consumption of genetically modified (GM) plants containing high levels of pesticide residues . Currently, no regulatory authority requests mandatory chronic animal feeding studies to be performed for edible GMOs and formulated pesticides. This fact is at the origin of most of the controversies. Only studies consisting of 90-day rat feeding trials have been conducted by manufacturers for GMOs. Statistical differences in the biochemistry of treated rats versus controls may represent the initial signs of long-term pathologies , possibly explained at least in part by pesticide residues in the GM feed. This is why we studied the long-term toxicity of a Roundup-tolerant GM maize (NK603) and a whole Roundup pesticide formulation at environmentally relevant levels from 0.1 ppb.
We first published these results in Food and Chemical Toxicology (FCT) on 19 September, 2012  after a careful and thorough peer review. However, 1 year and 2 months later, in an unusual step, the editor-in-chief requested the retraction of our study, while conceding that the data were not incorrect and that there was no misconduct and no fraud or intentional misinterpretation. According to him, some data were inconclusive, but for reasons already known at the time of submission of the paper. The present paper is a summary of the debate resulting in this retraction, which in our view is a historic example of conflicts of interests in the scientific assessments of products commercialized worldwide.
The long-term toxicity study of the NK603 maize and Roundup
An initial study on NK603 maize was submitted by Monsanto Company in support of commercial authorization of the maize. NK603 maize was fed to 4 groups of 20 Sprague Dawley rats (2 doses of 11% and 33% in the diet of both sexes) for 90 days . The blood analyses were performed on 10 rats per group. The re-analysis of the raw data resulted in a debate on the biological relevance of admitted statistical differences versus controls as the first signs of hepatorenal toxicities . To solve the problem, a 2-year-long study was carried out using two hundred Sprague Dawley rats to which the following treatments were administered: NK603 maize treated or not with Roundup at three different levels in their feed (11%, 22%, and 33% of the total diet) and Roundup alone, administered via drinking water at three different concentrations, from the admitted residual level in regular tap water (0.1 ppb), to the maximum level authorized in GMOs (400 ppm), up to half of the agricultural dose (0.5%). They were divided into ten groups, each containing ten males and ten females. No other long-term study has examined the effects of regular consumption of Roundup-tolerant GM maize and of a pesticide formulation, in any dilution, on blood parameters, sexual hormones, and multiple organs.
We found that these products provoked statistically discriminant disturbances in biochemical markers of livers and kidneys in females at the 15th month, when most of the rats were still alive. At the same time, testosterone and estradiol levels were also disturbed. At the end of the experiments, these disrupted biochemical markers corresponded to pathologies evidenced in a blinded manner: notably hepatorenal deficiencies, more severe in males, and female mammary tumors, which led to premature deaths. For instance, after around 700 days, there were up to 3.25 more mammary tumors (the highest rate was observed in females consuming 0.1 ppb of Roundup in water). This could be associated with a 2.4-time increase in pituitary dysfunctions noticed by the end of the experiment (2 years).
These findings were immediately dismissed by persons involved in the products’ authorizations, or in collaboration with biotech industries. A number of them wrote to FCT to nourish a controversy, including Richard Goodman, a former Monsanto employee in charge of the immunotoxicity files of GMOs, and Paul Christou, a patent holder of the methods used to create transgenic plants. This was rapidly followed by a coordination of national regulatory agencies organized by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), released on 4 October, 2012 . The EFSA had previously assessed NK603, and glyphosate, the declared active principle of Roundup, as safe on the basis of regulatory data, which they never fully published. The EFSA has since published Monsanto’s safety data on NK603 maize , but not on glyphosate. The NK603 data are in a pdf format preventing an easy statistical re-analysis. However, there was no long-term toxicological assessment for NK603, or for Roundup. Moreover, we demonstrated in several studies [8-10] that Roundup is far more toxic than glyphosate because of non-inert adjuvants. On 10 October, 2012, the Monsanto Company also sent its criticisms to FCT  but did not release its safety data, claiming commercial confidentiality.
Overall, the first wave of criticisms arrived within a week, mostly from plant biologists. We answered all criticisms  in FCT on 9 November, 2012. The debate then encompassed scientific arguments. A second wave of ad hominem and potentially libelous comments appeared in different journals [13-16]. Regrettably, there were no invitations to respond to these exacerbated attacks, which we discovered only by our literature survey. Some of the authors of these articles had serious yet undisclosed conflicts of interest. The scientific remarks concentrated on the supposedly inadequate choice of the Sprague Dawley rat strain, which is, however, a classic model for toxicology . The Sprague Dawley strain was also used by Monsanto in its 90-day test on the same maize . In addition, Monsanto measured biochemically the same number of rats per group as in our experiment. Thus, with regard to blood and urine biochemistry, Monsanto gathered data from the same number of rats that we did.
Unsubstantiated allegations of fraud or errors
Paul Christou, the lead author of Arjo et al. , demanded that our paper be retracted and insulted us personally. He claimed first in a letter addressed to the editor-in-chief that the publication of our study ‘does not meet minimal acceptable standards of scientific rigor’ and ‘will damage an entire scientific discipline due to flawed conclusion’ (personal communication). Then, he attacked us in an article published in the journal Transgenic Research on 20 December 2012 . The quantity of insults and defamations in this paper, authorized and co-authored by the editor-in-chief in a supposedly serious journal, is excessive. They include: ‘abject failure to treat the experimental animals in a humane manner’, ‘inability to formulate a valid hypothesis’, ‘media fanfare’, ‘fraudulent or knowingly inaccurate statements’, ‘unethical behavior’, ‘transparent attempt to discredit regulatory agencies’, ‘ammunition for extremists’, ‘flawed science’, ‘disingenuous or inept’, and ‘unjustified waste of animals’ (while at the same time asking for more animals in the groups). Christou and co-authors suggest that by practising ‘flawed science’, we are working against ‘progress towards a better quality of life’ and in fact are ‘actively working to make life worse’. We were not invited to reply. This behaviour can be explained, though not justified, by the undisclosed conflicts of interests.
Christou is not only the editor-in-chief of Transgenic Research, the journal in which he published his article, but is also linked to Monsanto . He is named as the inventor on several patents on GM crop technology, for most of which Monsanto owns the property rights. These include patents on the plant transformation process  used to make glyphosate-tolerant transgenic corn plants . He worked as a researcher at Agracetus Inc. (later acquired by Monsanto) for 12 years. Then, from 1994 to 2001, Christou worked at the John Innes Centre in the UK , which is heavily invested in GM crop technology . He thus has no mammalian toxicology background. However, in his published article, Christou only gave as his affiliation his publicly funded position at a research institute. Christou’s failure to declare his current interests – his inventor status on patents concerning the company that developed the products we tested – could be considered grounds for retraction of a paper in a scientific journal, according to ethical guidelines for scientific publishing .
The Arjo et al. article was co-authored by Wayne Parrott, an active member of the Biotechnology Committee at the International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI) . ILSI is funded by multinational food, agribusiness, and biotechnology companies, including Monsanto and Syngenta . ILSI has proved highly controversial in North America and Europe due to its influence on risk assessment methodologies for chemicals, pesticides, and GM foods [25-27]. Wayne Parrott also has an inventor status in patents on materials and methods for selecting transgenic organisms  and transformation vector systems .
In addition, Christou and his co-authors made numerous mistakes, false and unsubstantiated assertions, and misrepresentations of our data. The title of Arjo et al.’s paper includes defamation and a misrepresentation of our research, implying that it is ‘pseudoscience’ and alleging that it claimed Roundup Ready maize and Roundup herbicide caused ‘cancer’ in rats – a claim we never made. We did not even use the word ‘cancer’ in our paper although this argument was reiterated in the final letter of the editor-in-chief of FCT when explaining his decision to retract our paper . Tumors do not always lead to cancer, even if they can be more deleterious in a shorter time because of their size or body position, by hurting internal functions.
Arjo et al.’s paper begins with a false assertion that is not evidenced in the paper or in the cited source: ‘It started with a press conference in which journalists agreed not to engage in fact-checking’. The authors made other false assertions about our study, for example, alleging that ‘the water consumption was not measured’. In fact, we measured both the water and food consumption, and the stability of the Roundup solution over time. This was indicated in the paper, in which we explained that all the data cannot be shown in one paper and that we concentrated on the most important data; these parameters were only part of a routine survey. They also falsified the reporting of the data, compiling the mortality data only at the end of the experiment and ignoring the originality and the major findings of the differential chronological effects between treated rats and controls, which we established by measuring tumor size twice a week over 2 years. Moreover, we respected legal requirements and ethical norms relating to animal experiments, and Arjo et al. present no evidence of the contrary, so their allegation of inhumane treatment of the rats is without substance.
Importantly, we had already answered many of the criticisms of our paper made by Arjo et al. in a paper that was published before that of Arjo et al. . Their publication was received on 20 December 2012, when our paper was published on 9 November 2012. Our published answers were simply ignored.
Christou was not alone in failing to declare conflicts of interest in his criticism of our paper. Since we underlined that 75% of the comments addressed to FCT within a week after our study was published came from plant biologists, it was discovered that several had developed patents on GMOs. Some authors were employees of Monsanto Company, which owns NK603 GM maize and sells Roundup herbicide [4,11]. Other more recent papers, published by plant biologists and/or affiliates of the industry-funded group ILSI [15,16], repeated the arguments. The author of a separate article criticizing our study expressed concern that our results could damage public opinion about GM crops  – a sentiment that gives precedence to economic interests over public health. An article in Forbes magazine even alleged, without presenting any evidence, that we had committed fraud . Surprisingly, even Monsanto authors  declared that they had ‘no conflicts of interest’ in their first draft published online on FCT website. Investigative reports [32,33] evidenced that many authors of these opinions had failed to disclose their conflicts of interest, including Henry Miller, Mark Tester, Chris Leaver, Bruce Chassy, Martina Newell-McGloughlin, Andrew Cockburn, L. Val Giddings, Sivramiah Shantharam, Lucia de Souza, Erio Barale-Thomas, and Marc Fellous. The undisclosed conflicts of interest included links with biotechnology companies that develop GMOs and with industry-backed lobbying organizations.
All of this has huge implications for public health. We observed an intense lobbying in parliaments, as well as proofs of conflicts of interests for persons involved in the regulatory decisions for the commercialization of these products . A series of high-profile conflict-of-interest revelations (not restricted to GMOs and pesticides) led to the resignations of leading administrators involved in decisions affecting the assessment of these products, including the European Commissioner John Dalli  and the former chair of the European Food Safety Authority’s (EFSA) management board Diana Banati . In February of 2013, a strange occurrence following the publication of our paper raised questions about the connections of industry to scientific publishing, described below.
Conflicts of interests in the editorial board
In February 2013, FCT acquired a new assistant editor for biotechnology, Richard E. Goodman. The editor-in-chief has admitted that Goodman was introduced into the editorial board after he sent a letter to FCT to complain about our study. In his letter, Goodman appears worried about economic consequences but not so much about potential public health consequences (personal communication). He wrote: ‘The implications and the impacts of this uncontrolled study is having HUGE impacts, in international trade, in consumer confidence in all aspects of food safety, and certainly in US state referendums on labelling’. Further in his letter, Goodman asked for ‘an evaluation by an independent set of toxicologists’. This is particularly why the Publishing Assistant for FCT asked for our raw data on 15 March 2013.
In fact, we can question the independence of this re-evaluation. After his appointment at FCT, Goodman was a member of the subcommittee that requested our raw data, until we complained to Elsevier publishing group. Goodman is far from being independent. He previously worked for Monsanto for 7 years . He also has a long-standing affiliation with ILSI . Goodman will now deal with all biotechnology papers submitted to FCT. Another scientific paper on GMO risks was withdrawn from FCT, without explanation shortly after it had been accepted and published by the journal . The paper was immediately published by another journal  according to the authors’ initiative.
We received a letter from the editor-in-chief of FCT, A. Wallace Hayes, asking us to retract our paper on 19 November 2013, more than 1 year after its publication . In his retraction notice, the editor-in-chief certifies that ‘no evidence of fraud or intentional misrepresentation of the data’ was found in the investigation, that the results are ‘not incorrect’, ‘there was no misconduct’, and that the sole reason for retraction is the ‘inconclusiveness’ of the paper. He argued that no conclusions could be drawn because we studied 10 rats per group over 2 years, because they were Sprague Dawley rats, and because we could not conclude on cancer. In fact, the Sprague Dawley is a standard choice for 2-year studies performed by industry and independent scientists alike [17,41]. We also measured 10 animals per sex per group according to OECD 452 guideline on chronic toxicity studies  because our study is a chronic toxicity study that was never intended to be a carcinogenicity study. We wish to point out that Dr Hayes’ decision is in violation of the retraction guidelines of the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE), of which FCT is a member. ‘Inconclusiveness’ is not a valid reason for a journal to retract a paper. Lack of conclusiveness (which can be discussed) and error are not synonymous. COPE criteria for retraction included scientific misconduct/honest error, prior publication, plagiarism, or unethical research. None of these criteria applied to our study. On the contrary, numerous published scientific papers contain inconclusive findings. It is for further studies to build on the reported findings and arrive at a more conclusive position. In contrast with our study measuring toxicity, the Monsanto study reporting safety with the same number and the same strain of rats, but limited to 90 days,  is not subject to the same controversy. The data in the Monsanto study show statistically significant differences in multiple-organ functions between the GM and non-GM feeding groups, which the authors dismissed as not ‘biologically meaningful’, using a set of questionable criteria . The significant effects observed do not have to be linear to the dose to be taken into consideration; otherwise, endocrine effects will be dismissed. In addition, biochemical disturbances do not have to correlate simultaneously with organ lesions, in contrast to the claims of Doull et al.  in defence of Monsanto. These outdated concepts coming from the toxicology of poisons, and are not valid for endocrine disruption [43,45]. If 10 rats/sex/group are too few to demonstrate a toxic effect, then this number of rats is certainly too small to demonstrate safety. Overall, in the current system of assessment, any toxic effect is first suspected to be a false positive, arising by chance, rather than questioning whether no evidence of effect is a false negative result. The Monsanto data as presented are thus inconclusive and should also be retracted.
Following the retraction of our paper, many letters were sent to the editor-in-chief of FCT. On 10 December 2013, he published a defence of the retraction, which raised many doubts as to his understanding of our data . He claimed that we concluded on cancer, although ours was a long-term toxicity study with a detailed statistical analysis of blood and urine parameters. He also defended the study done by Monsanto  claiming that they used 20 rats/sex/group while we only used 10 rats/sex/group. In fact, despite the fact that the Monsanto study used twice our sample size, the Monsanto authors only analyzed blood and urine from half of the animals (10), the same number of sampled animals as in our study.
According to an editorial in Environmental Health Perspectives , ‘the decision to retract a published scientific work by an editor, against the desires of the authors, because it is ‘inconclusive’ based on a post hoc analysis represents a dangerous erosion of the underpinnings of the peer-review process, and Elsevier should carefully reconsider this decision’.
Confidentiality and censorship erode the value of science
Recent reviews of the GM food safety literature have found that research concluding that GM products were safe tended to come from industry and that research conducted by those with either financial or professional conflicts of interest was associated with outcomes favorable to the GM sector . In fact, it appears in our case that consequences of conflicts of interests in science go beyond divergence in scientific interpretations and also rely on unscientific practices: confidentiality and censorship.
Transparency of, and access to, all the raw data obtained by companies and accepted by regulatory agencies (overall blood analyses of rats) as proof of safety for products, is an unavoidable first step to move forward in this debate. It is the only way in which the scientific community can enter the scientific discussion. This is why we republish our paper in an open access way, together with its raw data allowing debate about our results. This is not possible for the data used as a proof of safety for commercial authorizations. The Monsanto toxicological data on NK603 maize recently made public by EFSA is not in a statistically usable format and an agreement with Monsanto is requested before use. Moreover, the data examined for Roundup authorizations are clearly inadequate . For instance, ANSES (French Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health & Safety), confirmed to us in writing (January 2013) that there were no 2-year studies of Roundup in its whole formulation on animals, adding that there are a few studies of acute toxicity (a few days up to 3 weeks) without any blood tests. Instead, glyphosate, which is much less toxic than Roundup [10,49], is tested alone by Monsanto, in its reports to regulatory authorities . We strongly emphasize that data with implications for public health are not related to manufacturing patents and should not be kept confidential. Removal of confidentiality claims on biosafety data is necessary to adhere to standard scientific procedures of quality assurance, to increase transparency, to minimize impacts of conflicts of interests, and ultimately to improve public confidence in GMOs . Moreover, in the regulatory assessment of GMOs, chemicals, and medicines, confidential tests are conducted by the applicant companies themselves, often in their own laboratories or in those of subcontractors.
The second step must be the building of new experiments for new or the most important products, by laboratories independent of the companies. They will be recruited by public tender, with compulsory transparency of the results. This public research will be funded by companies, at a level corresponding to their previous budget for regulatory testing, but managed independently of the companies. The protocols and results will be submitted to open and contradictory assessments. Thus, there will be no additional financial cost or time delay to the current system. Such reforms will not only radically transform the understanding and knowledge of toxicology and science in general, but will radically reduce public health costs and promote trust in companies and science. This will move the world towards a sustainable development of products with low, if any, impacts on health and environment.
The reason given to retract our paper – ‘inconclusiveness’ – is unprecedented and violates the norms of scientific publishing. The decision to retract cannot be rationalized on any discernible scientific grounds. Censorship on research into the risks of a technology so critically entwined with global food safety undermines the value and the credibility of science.
The authors declare that they have no competing interests.
GES designed and coordinated the commentary. RM participated in the drafting of the manuscript and final version. ND and JsDV helped in the writing, compiling the literature, revising details, and proofreading the manuscript. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.
We acknowledge the Charles Leopold Mayer (FPH) and Denis Guichard Foundations, together with CRIIGEN, for fellowships and structural supports. We are equally thankful to Malongo, Lea Nature, and the JMG Foundation for their help.
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US papers don’t often report on the radiation disaster continuing at Fukushima-Daiichi in Northeast Japan.
But on June 17 the New York Times noted: “Inside the complex, there are three wrecked reactor cores, twisted masses of hundreds of tons of highly radioactive uranium, plutonium, cesium and strontium. After the meltdown[s], which followed a tsunami and earthquake in 2011, most of the material in the reactors re-solidified, in difficult shapes and in confined spaces, wrapped around and through the structural parts of the reactors and the buildings. Or at least, that is what the engineers think. Nobody really knows, because nobody has yet examined many of the most important parts of the wreckage. Though three and a half years have passed, it is still too dangerous to climb inside for a look, and sending in a camera would risk more leaks.”
The Great Eastern Japan Earthquake and tsunami caused a Station Black Out at Fukushima the total loss of power used to run cooling mechanisms and the consequent melting of fuel rods dispersed massive amounts of radiation to the air and to the Pacific.
The Tokyo Electric Power Co (Tepco), owners of the Fukushima wreckage, has said it would take 40 years to clean up the disaster. Tepco’s number was probably pulled out of the thin air, because owners of the undamaged Kewaunee reactor in Wisconsin, which shut down last April, said decommissioning of Kewaunee would take 40 years.
Radiation Tripled in Pacific Albacore Tuna since Triple Meltdowns
Radioactive cesium-137 levels in Pacific albacore tuna have tripled since the triple meltdowns at Fukushima-Daiichi in Japan, according to a study published in Environmental Science and Technology.
Delvan Neville, lead author of the study and a graduate research assistant in the Department of Nuclear Engineering and Radiation Health Physics at Oregon State University, told the Statesman Journal Apr. 28, “You can’t say there is absolutely zero risk because any radiation is assumed to carry at least some small risk.”
Jason Phillips, a co-author of the report, said 26 of the large Pacific fish were analyzed from 2008 to 2012. “If we were going to see it [cesium-137] in something, we would see it in albacore or other high-level predators.”
Dr. Steve Starr, Director of Clinical Laboratory Science Program, University of Missouri-Columbia, noted in a recent lecture, “Cesium 137 tends to bio-accumulate in plants and animals, which means it cannot be excreted faster than it is being ingested. Thus, as it accumulates, it increases in its concentration in the plants or animals that are routinely ingesting it. Cesium-137 also tends to bio-magnify as it moves up the food chain. This means it becomes progressively more concentrated in predator species.”
As US Agency Hushed-up Dangers to US Reactors, Reactors’ Owner Tepco Under-reported Radiation Exposures
NBC News reported Mar. 10 that internal emails by staff at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission prove the agency deliberately down-played known earthquake and tsunami vulnerabilities at aging US reactors in the early days of the Fukushima catastrophe. NBC said the emails, “show that the campaign to reassure the public about America’s nuclear industry came as the agency’s [NRC’s] own experts were questioning US safety standards and scrambling to determine whether new rules were needed to ensure that the meltdown[s] occurring at the Japanese [site] could not occur here.”
NBC said the emails reveal the NRC’s “efforts to protect the industry it is supposed to regulate.” The news network went as far as to say, “Dating back to the Three Mile Island nuclear crisis in 1979, many nuclear watchdogs and critics have said that the NRC acts first to protect the industry, and its own reputation.”
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission was helped in misleading the public by Tepco, which repeatedly underestimated internal radiation exposures of its workers involved in immediate emergency response, according to Japan’s Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, Asahi Shimbun reported.
Last July, the Ministry reviewed exposure data on around workers and revealed that reported exposure levels for 452 out of 1,300 workers surveyed were too low. After that announcement, the Ministry looked at records of the remaining 6,200 workers, and in late March it announced 142 additional cases of under-reporting.
TEPCO did not have whole-body radiation counters when the radiation disaster began, so true contamination measurements were not possible.
Contaminated Soil and Cemeteries May be Moved from Fukushima
Japan’s federal government announced in late May that it will move thousands of tons of radioactively contaminated soil scraped from school yards and elsewhere during decontamination efforts outside Fukushima Prefecture “within 30 years” after first keeping it in storage in the heavily-contaminated prefecture.
New federal law will be needed to allow Japan’s Environmental Safety Corporation to operate the “temporary” dumps.
In a macabre aspect of compensating for areas made radioactively uninhabitable by fallout from the meltdowns, Japan is considering paying for new cemeteries and reburying the remains of people now buried in radioactive exclusion zones.
Food Not Monitored for Radiation Causing Internal Contamination
The Japan Times reported June 17, that “eating unchecked homegrown vegetables and wild game from radiation-tainted areas on a regular basis can lead to high levels of internal radiation exposure.”
According to a study published in the US online science journal PLOS ONE, “Levels of radioactive cesium detected in the bodies of the study’s participants declined once they stopped eating highly contaminated food.” The study’s authors called for increasing public awareness of radiation-risky foods especially “at a time when public interest appears to be dwindling.”
Soil from the seafloor collected about 6 kilometers from the wrecked reactors contains as much 2,700 Becquerels of cesium-137 per kilogram, according to Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority June 14.
In Aug. 2012, Tepco reported an all-time record 25,800 Becquerel’s-per-kilogram in two fish known as greenling caught in 20 kilometers of the stricken reactors. “There may be radiation hot spots on the seabed,” a TEPCO official said then.
The wrecked reactors spewed enormous, unprecedented volumes of radioactive materials into the Pacific Ocean where cesium levels near Fukushima ballooned to an astonishing 50 million times pre-disaster levels (and continue to do so, 3.5 years after it began).
The agency said that it is difficult to assess the figure because there is no standard against which evaluations can be made, but that its research would continue.
Note to Japan’s NRA: for a baseline standard, check seabed levels of cesium off any area free of nuclear reactor effluent.
John LaForge is a co-director of Nukewatch in Wisconsin and edits its Quarterly.