Is it possible for an epidemic to be invisible?
Since 1991 the annual number of newly documented cases of thyroid cancer in the United States has skyrocketed from 12,400 to 62,450. It’s now the seventh most common type of cancer.
Relatively little attention is paid to the butterfly-shaped thyroid gland that wraps around the throat. Many don’t even know what the gland does. But this small organ (and the hormone it produces) is crucial to physical and mental development, especially early in life.
Cancer of the thyroid also gets little attention, perhaps because it is treatable, with long-term survival rates more than 90 percent. Still, the obvious question is what is causing this epidemic, and what can be done to address it?
Recently, there has been a debate in medical journals, with several authors claiming that the increase in thyroid cancer is the result of doctors doing a better job of detecting the disease at an earlier stage. A team of Italian researchers who published a paper last January split the difference, citing increased rates and better diagnosis. But as rates of all stages of thyroid cancer are soaring, better detection is probably a small factor.
So, what are the causes?
The Mayo Clinic describes a higher frequency of occurrence of thyroid cancer in women (not a telling clue, unless more is known about what predisposes women to the condition). It mentions inherited genetic syndromes that increase risk, although the true cause of these syndromes aren’t known. And Mayo links thyroid cancer to exposure to radiation. The latter is perhaps the only “cause” for which there is a public policy solution.
In the atomic age, radioactive iodine (chiefly Iodine-131) has proliferated, from atom bomb explosions and now from nuclear power reactors.
The thyroid gland requires iodine, a naturally occurring chemical. But it doesn’t distinguish between radioactive Iodine 131 and naturally occurring iodine. Iodine 131 enters the human body via the food we eat, the water we drink and the air we breathe, damaging and killing cells, a process that can lead to cancer and other diseases.
The current debate in medical journals, or lack of one, ignores the obvious. Although the specific process that causes thyroid cancer isn’t known, many scholarly studies have already linked exposure to radioactive iodine to increased risk. Studies of Japanese survivors of the atomic bombs the United States dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki found the cancer with the greatest increase was thyroid cancer.
* A U.S. government survey of cancer rates among residents of the Marshall Islands, who were exposed to U.S. bomb testing in the 1950s, found thyroid cancer outpaced all others.
* A 1999 federal study estimated that exposure to I-131 from bomb testing in Nevada caused as many as 212,000 Americans to develop thyroid cancer.
* A 2009 book on the Chernobyl nuclear plant disaster found soaring levels of local thyroid cancer rates after the meltdown, especially among children, and workers called “liquidators,” who cleaned up the burning plant.
* More recently, studies have documented thyroid cancer rates in children near Fukushima, Japan, site of the 2011 meltdown, to be 20 to 50 times above the expected rate.
Today, one of the main sources of human exposure to radioactive iodine is nuclear power reactors. Not only from accidents like the ones at Chernobyl and Fukushima, but from the routine operation of reactors. To create electricity, these plants use the same process to split uranium atoms that is used in atomic bombs. In that process, waste products, including I-131, are produced in large amounts and must be contained to prevent exposure to workers and local residents. Some of this waste inevitably leaks from reactors and finds its way into plants and the bodies of humans and other animals.
The highest rates of thyroid cancer in the United States, according to federal statistics, are found in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and New York, states with the densest concentration of reactors in the nation. In a study conducted in 2009, one of this article’s authors (Janette Sherman) found the highest rates of thyroid cancer occurring within 90-mile radiuses of the 16 nuclear power plants (13 still operating) in those states.
Declaring “we don’t know why” and continuing to diagnose and treat the growing number of Americans suffering from thyroid disease is not sufficient. Causes must be identified, preventive strategies must be implemented, and ultimately policy makers will have to take a serious look at closing the 99 nuclear reactors currently operating in the United States.
Joseph Mangano, MPH MBA, is the author of Mad Science (pub. 2012) as well and many articles on the effects of nuclear power. He is an epidemiologist, and Executive Director of the Radiation and Public Health Project and can be reached at: (www.radiation.org). Janette D. Sherman, M. D. is the author of Life’s Delicate Balance: Causes and Prevention of Breast Cancer and Chemical Exposure and Disease, and is a specialist in internal medicine and toxicology. She edited the book Chernobyl: Consequences of the Catastrophe for People and Nature, written by A. V. Yablokov, V. B., Nesterenko and A. V. Nesterenko, published by the New York Academy of Sciences in 2009. Her primary interest is the prevention of illness through public education. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org www.janettesherman.com
The class action lawsuit—begun 20 years old—that charges Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL) with contaminating neighborhoods adjacent to it will be moving ahead again in New York State Supreme Court this month.
Court action is scheduled for the last week in February. Since it was first brought in 1996, the lawsuit has gone back and forth between the State Supreme Court and the Appellate Division several times, as BNL has fought it.
In July the Appellate Division—the judicial panel over the Supreme Court in New York State —ruled the case can move towards trial. It declared that “the causes of action of the proposed intervenors are all based upon common theories of liability.” In other words, it stated that the plaintiffs could sue for damages.
But, outrageously, the radioactive contamination caused by BNL—documented in the 2008 book “Welcome to Shirley: A Memoir from an Atomic Town” and focused upon by the award-winning 2012 documentary “The Atomic States of America”—can no longer be part of the case.
The argument of lawyers for BNL lawyers was accepted by the Appellate Division which, as it put it in its July decision, ruled that “the nuclear radiation emitted by BNL did not exceed guidelines promulgated by the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission.”
Further, the BNL radioactive pollution will not be allowed to be considered despite the federal government in recent years paying out millions of dollars to BNL employees in compensation for their getting cancer after exposure to radioactivity at BNL. In addition, families of those BNL workers who died from cancer after exposure to radioactivity have been paid.
The pay-outs to former workers and their families for cancer from BNL radioactive exposure—what neighbors of the lab are now being barred from litigating about—come under the federal government’s “Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program.”
Instead, the non-employee victims are now being limited in the class action lawsuit to suing for other BNL pollution, largely chemical.
The “Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program” covers not only BNL but the string of U.S. national nuclear laboratories including Los Alamos, Livermore, Oak Ridge labs, as well as federal nuclear facilities including its Savannah River Plant and Hanford.
According to a Power Point presentation given at BNL in 2012 by the U.S. Department of Labor, some $8.2 billion has been set aside under the program for pay-outs, with $111.7 million of that for exposure to radioactivity and consequent cancer at BNL
Joseph B. Frowiss, Sr., based in Rancho Santa Fe, California has been handling many of the cases involving former workers at BNL—and other government nuclear facilities—and their families. As he says on his website—“in the past seven years 1,800 of my clients have received over $300 million and hundreds more are in the pipeline…A diagnosis of one of 23 ‘specified’ cancers and typically 250 work days in a specified timeframe are the basic requirements.”
An “independent claims advocate,” Mr. Frowiss has run full-page advertisements in Long Island newspapers: “Brookhaven National Lab Employees With Cancer,” they are headed. They note that “BNL employees… are likely now eligible for lump sum tax free base awards of $150,000, possibly to $400,000, plus medical benefits.”
The case against BNL by non-employees who are now not being allowed the compensation of BNL employees and their families for exposure from BNL radioactivity originally specified damages caused by BNL radioactivity.
The suit is titled Ozarczuk v. Associated Universities, Inc.
Associated Universities is the entity that managed BNL, at first for the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) which set BNL up in 1947 at Camp Upton, a former Army base on Long Island, to do atomic research and develop civilian uses of nuclear technology.
The AEC was eliminated in 1974 by Congress for having a conflict of interest with its mission of both regulating and at the same time promoting nuclear technology in the United States. Its regulatory function was given to a Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and promotional activities to a Department of Energy which took over operating BNL and the other federal nuclear labs and the other nuclear facilities.
The defendants in the action—Associated Universities—managed BNL from its start until 1998 when it was fired by the DOE because of widespread contamination at BNL and DOE’s determination that it was a bad overseer of BNL operations. The two nuclear reactors at BNL were found to have, for many years, been leaking radioactive tritium into the underground water table on which Long Island depends for its potable water supply.
Associated Universities—which continues with other activities for the federal government—includes Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Columbia, Cornell and Johns Hopkins Universities, University of Pennsylvania and University of Rochester and Massachusetts Institute of Technology. DOE replaced Associated Universities in running BNL with a partnership of Stony Brook University on Long Island and Battelle Memorial Institute of Ohio.
The lawsuit is named for Barbara Osarczuk who lived just outside the BNL boundary in North Shirley and developed breast and thyroid cancer that she attributes to BNL pollution.
The lawsuit charges that “actions of the defendant were grossly, recklessly and wantonly negligent and done with an utter disregard for the health, safety, well-being and rights of the plaintiffs.” It further accuses BNL of “failure to observe accepted industry standards in the use, storage and disposal of hazardous and toxic substances” and BNL itself of being “improperly located on top of an underground aquifer which supplies drinking water to [a] large number of persons.”
Initially brought by 21 families, the lawsuit now has 180 families as plaintiffs.
The attorneys representing them are led by two prominent lawyers, A. Craig Purcell of Stony Brook, Long Island, a former president of the Suffolk County Bar Association, and Richard J. Lippes of Buffalo who represented Lois Gibbs and the Love Canal Homeowners Association in landmark litigation. That lawsuit took on the massive contamination in the Love Canal neighborhood of Niagara Falls caused by the Hooker Chemical Company which resulted in widespread health impacts to residents of the area. It led in 1980 to the creation of the federal Superfund program to try clean up high-pollution sites in the United States.
Mr. Purcell said that after the many years of back-and-forth court rulings, the plaintiffs have the judicial go-ahead to sue for “loss of enjoyment of life, diminution of property values and the cost of hooking up to public water.”
Mr. Lippes said that “the lab was supposed to monitor anything escaping from it—and didn’t do it.” The attitude of BNL, he said, was that “every dollar spent for safety or on environmental issues was taking away from research.” The lawsuit “should have been resolved years ago, but there has been intransigence of lab administrators not wanting to be held responsible.”
BNL was designated a high-pollution Superfund site in 1989. The large amounts of radioactive tritium—H30 or radioactive water—were found to have been leaking from BNL’s High Flux Beam Reactor in 1997. That nuclear reactor was closed by the DOE and then a smaller reactor was found to be leaking tritium too and was shut down.
There are now no operating nuclear reactors at BNL.
Still, BNL remains closely connected to nuclear technology. In 2010, BNL set up a new Department of Nuclear Science and Technology with a multi-million dollar yearly budget.
BNL’s announcement at the time quoted Gerald Stokes, its associate director for Global and Regional Solutions, as saying: “BNL’s long involvement and considerable experience in nuclear energy make it a natural place to create such an organization.” On BNL’s website currently is a page headed, “Exploring Nuclear Technologies for Our Energy Future” which discusses the department.
Long Island environmental educator and activist Peter Maniscalco says: “The Brookhaven scientific culture still doesn’t understand the interrelationship between humans and the natural world and the lethal consequences their work in nuclear technology imposes on the population and environment of the world. They still don’t understand that nuclear power is a polluting, deadly technology.”
The book “Welcome to Shirley: A Memoir from an Atomic Town” by Kelly McMasters links widespread cancer in neighboring Shirley to radioactive releases from BNL. She taught in the Columbia University writing program and Graduate School of Journalism and is an assistant professor and director of publishing studies at Hofstra University on Long Island.
Her book tells of how the government sought a nuclear facility “built far from any heavily populated areas.” She writes that the AEC “and the scientists themselves could have taken a look around and realized the…homes and neighborhoods sprouting up around their compound were too close to chance the radioactive nature of the work they were conducting…But none of this happened.”
The book was short-listed by Oprah Winfrey. Her magazine, O, said of it: “A loving, affecting memoir of an American Eden turned toxic.”
“The Atomic States of America,” based on the book, received among its honors a special showing at the Sundance Film Festival. It got good reviews.
The review in Variety noted that Shirley “was in unhappy proximity” to BNL “around which skyrocketing cancer rates were written off as coincidence or an aberrant gene pool.” It noted the appearance in “The Atomic States of America” of Alec Baldwin, “a lifelong Long Islander,” who in the documentary calls BNL scientists “liars and worse.” The review said that “in following McMasters’ work, the film builds a convincing case about cancer and nukes,”
In the first book I wrote about nuclear technology, “Cover Up: What You Are Not Supposed to Know About Nuclear Power,” published in 1980, I reprinted pages from BNL’s safety manual as an example of dangers of radioactivity not being taken seriously at BNL.
The manual advised that people “can live with radiation.”
“Is Radiation Dangerous To You?” it starts. It tells BNL employees: “It can be; but need not be.” It states: “If you wear protective clothing, wash with soap and check your hands and feet with instruments, you are perfectly safe.”
Attorney Purcell said that a “conference date” for Ozarczuk v. Associated Universities, Inc. is scheduled for February 22 in New York State Supreme Court in Riverhead, Long Island and a “court date” for February 25.
Karl Grossman, professor of journalism at the State University of New York/College of New York, is the author of the book, The Wrong Stuff: The Space’s Program’s Nuclear Threat to Our Planet. Grossman is an associate of the media watch group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR). He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion.
In his book Atomic Accidents (Pegasus, 2014), James Mahaffey reports that the US has lost, destroyed or damaged nuclear weapons 65 times between 1945 and 1989. Jan. 24 was the anniversary of a B-52 crash in N. Carolina where two 6,500-lb hydrogen bombs fell from the plane and nearly detonated when the bomber broke up in the air. Two recent accidents highlight the dangers today’s weapons still pose to the people who pay for them.
Trident submarine runs aground, Capt. sacked
On Nov. 25, 2015 the nuclear-powered Trident submarine USS Georgia ran aground in Kings Bay, Georgia. The Navy is still investigating the crash, the sub’s Capt. David Adams was fired Jan. 4, and the service estimated the cost of repairs would be at least $1 million.
Imagine being among the terrified 160-member crew, thrown about your cramped quarters — along with anything else not tied down — not knowing the cause of blaring alarms. If fire suppressors spring on when the 560-foot, 18,000-ton sub bashed the shoreline, it was a rainy night in Georgia.
Capt. Adams told the press he would “miss sailing …again to stand against our nation’s enemies.” But who needs enemies with friends like Adams literally running $2 billion weapon systems into the ground?
Minuteman III missile damaged, launch crew fired
Meanwhile, in the nuclear heartland, three Minuteman III missile launch officers were fired after a recently disclosed accident that left one missile with at least $1.8 million in damages. [The missile is named “Damned if you do” in Nukewatch’s new Revised Edition of “Nuclear Heartland: A guide to the 450 land-based missiles of the United States,” which features maps of all three of the US’s active missile fields.]
The damaged, single-warhead rocket was in its underground silo near Peetz, Colorado, where Warren Air Force Base operates 150 of the missiles. The rocket, which has a 300-to-335-kiloton thermonuclear warhead, was shipped to Hill Air Force Base in Utah for repairs.
The Air Force’s Accident Investigation Board of the mishap report is being kept secret in spite of standing USAF policy. The Associated Press noted that under the Air Force’s own regulations such reports “are supposed to be made public.” Robert Burns reports that the AP’s request for a copy, under the Freedom of Information Act, was denied. A brief summary of the AIB report issued Jan. 22 says the accident “posed no risk to public safety,” a claim made unverifiable because no details of the damage were disclosed.
Hans Kristensen, director of the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists, interviewed by Burns Jan. 23, said, “By keeping the details of the accident secret and providing only vague responses, the Air Force behaves as if it has something to hide and undermines public confidence in the safety of the ICBM mission.”
The pubic summary says the weapon “became non-operational” during a test on May 16, 2014 and that the next day, the chief of a “mishap crew” violated “technical guidance” during the team’s checkup “subsequently damaging the missile.”
Blunder kept secret from higher-ups
Although the accident happened 20 months ago, it was first revealed this month. In fact, commanders at Warren AFB kept it secret from their military and civilian superiors in the Pentagon. At the time, the Minuteman missile system, its launch control staff in particular, was under investigation for narcotics trafficking, mass cheating on exams, performance failures, and misconduct by command authorities. On orders from Sec. of Defense Chuck Hagel, nuclear-weapons experts conducted a three-month investigation of the missile “wings” at Air Bases in Great Falls, Mont., Cheyenne, Wyo., and Minot, North Dakota.
Asked if the May 17 accident was reported to the high-level investigators, Lt. Col. John Sheets, spokesman for the Air Force Global Strike Command in Omaha, which controls the ballistic missile force, said, “No” and referred further questions to the Pentagon.
It bears repeating that nuclear weapons accidents have the potential for catastrophic radiation releases with long-term health and environmental consequences. These two accidents amplify the seriousness of recent high-level calls for the elimination of the missiles.
Former Pentagon Chief William Perry said last Dec. 3, “Nuclear weapons no longer provide for our security, they endanger it.” He pointed specifically to the land-based missiles, saying ICBMs “aren’t necessary,” are “destabilizing,” and “are simply too easy to launch on bad information and would be the most likely source of an accidental nuclear war.”
In an essay titled “A Threat Mostly to Ourselves,” Paul Nitz, a personal advisor to Ronald Reagan, wrote, “I see no compelling reason why we should not unilaterally get rid of our nuclear weapons. To maintain them is costly and adds nothing to our security.” Gen. James Cartwright, a retired four-star general of the Marine Corps, issued a report in 2012 signed by Sen. Chuck Hagel (later Sec. of Defense) that recommended getting rid of the land-based missiles.
Perhaps Gen. James Kowalski, a retired three-star general and Deputy Commander of StratCom which oversees the ICBMs, said it best. Recalling a string of scandals, accidents and staff firings in Dec. 2014, Gen. Kowalski said, “The greatest threat to my force is an accident. The greatest risk to my force is doing something stupid.”
Scores of accidents documented by Mahaffey and by Eric Schlosser’s Command and Control, beg the question: What is the government waiting for? Is a self-inflicted nuclear weapon disaster the only way to force the military to turn the nuclear pistols away from our heads and put the safety on?
The City of Seattle is suing Monsanto over allegations that the agrochemical giant polluted the Lower Duwamish River and city drainage pipes, becoming the sixth city to file a lawsuit against the company.
The complaint was filed in federal court on Monday by two firms, Baron & Budd and Gomez Trial Attorneys, on behalf of Seattle. The lawsuit claims that the industrialized Lower Duwamish River was contaminated by polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), and that Monsanto continued to produce the chemicals despite knowing about the health and environmental risks that they pose.
“Long after the dangers of PCBs were widely known, Monsanto continued its practice of protecting its business interests at our expense,” City Attorney Pete Holmes said in a statement. “The City intends to hold Monsanto accountable for the damage its product wreaked on our environment.”
Monsanto produced PCBs – chemical compounds used in applications such as paints, caulks, electrical equipment and building materials – in the United States from the early 1930s until the late 1970s, when Congress banned their production over worries about health.
Seattle’s suit contends that Monsanto concealed information that the chemicals were “a global contaminant,” and in fact increased PCB production after the company found out about the extent of their polluting qualities.
PCBs have been detected in 82 percent of drainage pipes in the Lower Duwamish drainage basin. The chemicals are associated with cancer, nervous system illness and reproductive illnesses in humans, and can lead to the destruction of fish habitats.
Seattle is the sixth city to file a suit against Monsanto for PCB contamination, joining the California cities of San Jose, Oakland, Berkeley and San Diego in California, as well as fellow the Washington city of Spokane
The Lower Duwamish is considered an Environmental Protection Agency Superfund site, meaning that it is so polluted that the federal government has stepped in to help with cleanup. The EPA estimates that the final cost of all cleanup efforts in the river will cost $342 million, according to The Stranger.
“The City will incur significant costs to remove PCBs from stormwater and wastewater effluent flowing into the Lower Duwamish, costs that should not be borne by the City or by its taxpayers but by the company that knew its product would cause this contamination,” John Fiske of Gomez Trial Attorneys said in a release.
Opposition to the proposed nuclear waste facility by Lake Huron continues to grow. By the end of 2015, at least 182 communities (representing more than 22 million people) on both sides of the U.S.-Canada border have adopted resolutions opposing the plan by Ontario Power Generation to build a deep geological repository (DGR) for storage of low- and intermediate-level radioactive nuclear waste.
A Canadian federal panel approved the nuclear waste dump in May 2015, accepting testimony that Lake Huron would be large enough to dilute any radioactive pollution that might leak from the DGR.
The immediate outcry on both sides of the border prompted the Conservative government of Stephen Harper to postpone any decision until Dec. 1, 2015, after the Oct. 19 federal election – in which they were booted out of office. The new government of Liberal Justin Trudeau then pushed that decision to March 1, 2016, after a dozen members of Michigan’s congressional delegation urged the new prime minister to deny the construction permits necessary for the storage facility to be built.
Meanwhile, American efforts to engage the International Joint Commision (IJC), which oversees boundary waters’ issues, have come to naught. As the IJC’s Public Information Officer Frank Bevacqua told me by email, both the Canadian and U.S. federal governments would have to ask the IJC to intervene on the issue. “The IJC does not review proposals for site-specific projects [like the DGR] unless asked to do so by both governments,” he said.
That means a final decision on the DGR may reside with a small First Nations community.
First Nation Decision
The proposed DGR would be located on the territory of the Saugeen First Nation, which is in the process of evaluating the proposal. The Saugeen First Nation has a promise from Ontario Power Generation to not proceed without their support. As Saugeen Chief Vernon Roote told Indian Country Today Media Network (ICTMN) in December, “Ontario Power Generation had given us their commitment that they will not proceed unless they have community support. That’s a letter that we have on file.” 
Saugeen First Nation negotiator (and former Chief) Randall Kahgee told ICTMN that “we are starting to build some momentum on the community engagement process.” The Saugeen leaders are determining how to gauge the community voice, whether by polling or by vote at public gatherings, and have already held some engagement sessions on the issue. 
Randall Kahgee told ICTMN, “For the communities, this is not just about the deep geological repository but also about the nuclear waste problem within our territory. We have always insisted that while this problem is not of our own design, we must be part of shaping the solution. Gone are the days when our people, communities and Nation are left on the outside looking in within our own territory. These are complex issues that will force us to really ask ourselves what does it mean to be stewards of the land. The opportunity to be able to shape the discourse on these matters is both exciting and frightening at the same time.” 
The Saugeen First Nation is especially concerned about simply moving the proposed facility into somebody else’s backyard. “We might not be the best of friends when we push nuclear waste on our brothers’ and sisters’ territory,” he told ICTMN.
The proposal by provincial Crown corporation Ontario Power Generation (OPG) is for at least 7 million cubic feet of nuclear wastes from Ontario nuclear power plants to be buried in chambers drilled into limestone 2,231 feet below the surface and under the Bruce nuclear site at Kincardine, Ontario. The waste to be entombed in the DGR would come from the Bruce, Pickering and Darlington nuclear sites in Ontario – currently home to 18 Candu reactors.
The eight nuclear reactors at the Bruce site (the world’s largest nuclear station) are leased from OPG by a private company called Bruce Power, whose major shareholders/partners include TransCanada Corp. – better known for its tarsands pipeline projects. (TransCanada earns more than one-third of its profits from power-generation.) Bruce Power pays OPG for storage of nuclear wastes, which are currently stored and monitored above-ground on site. 
In December, Bruce Power announced that it will invest $13 billion to refurbish the Bruce site, overhauling six of the eight reactors on Lake Huron beginning in 2020.  Just weeks later, OPG announced a $12.8 billion refurbishment of four nuclear reactors at Darlington, while extending the life of its ageing Pickering nuclear power plant on Lake Ontario.  The Pickering move requires public hearings and approval from the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, but Ontario’s Energy Minister Bob Chiarelli has voiced his approval and touted the nuclear industry as “emissions-free,” while ignoring the issue of nuclear wastes.
OPG, Bruce Power, and the Ontario government are obviously onside with the Canadian Nuclear Association lobby, whose president and CEO John Barrett is using the COP21 Paris Climate Agreement to push for nuclear expansion. In an op-ed for The Globe and Mail, Barrett declared that “it is time to recognize the contribution – current and potential – of nuclear power in curbing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions worldwide,” and he stated that Canada, with its uranium mining and nuclear reactor technology, is “ready to play an international leadership role on climate change.” 
Barrett, in turn, is onside with the billionaires now pushing nuclear energy expansion worldwide: Richard Branson (Virgin Group), Peter Thiel (PayPal co-founder), Bill Gates and Paul Allen (Microsoft co-founders), and Jeff Bezos (Amazon) have all endorsed nuclear energy as the solution to climate change.  As well, scientists James Hansen, Kerry Emmanuel, Ken Caldeira and Tom Wigley have recently called for building 115 new reactors per year as “the only viable path forward”.  They dismiss nuclear waste as “trivial” and claim that there “are technical means to dispose of this small amount of waste safely.”
In that case, the resulting nuclear waste should be stored in their basements and under the billionaires’ mansions, rather than near bodies of water like the Great Lakes, which provide 40 million people with their drinking water.
 Konnie Lemay, “Saugeen Nation May Be Final Word in Nuclear Waste Storage Next to Lake Huron,” Indian Country Today Media Network, December 11, 2015.
 Joyce Nelson, “Nuclear Dump Controversy,” Watershed Sentinel, Sept.-Oct., 2015.
 Robert Benzie, “Bruce Power to invest $13 billion to refurbish nuclear station on Lake Huron,” Toronto Star, December 3, 2015.
 Rob Ferguson, “Ontario Power Generation to spend $12.8 billion refurbishing four Darlington nuclear reactors,” Toronto Star, January 11, 2016.
 John Barrett, “Nuclear power is key to decarbonization, and Canada can lead the way,” The Globe and Mail, December 16, 2015.
 Emily Schwartz Greco, “A Big Fat Radioactive Lie,” Other words.org, December 4, 2015.
Joyce Nelson is an award-winning Canadian freelance writer/researcher working on her sixth book.
When Americans think about nuclear weapons, they comfort themselves with the thought that these weapons’ vast destruction of human life has not taken place since 1945—at least not yet. But, in reality, it has taken place, with shocking levels of U.S. casualties.
This point is borne out by a recently-published study by a team of investigative journalists at McClatchy News. Drawing upon millions of government records and large numbers of interviews, they concluded that employment in the nation’s nuclear weapons plants since 1945 led to 107,394 American workers contracting cancer and other serious diseases. Of these people, some 53,000 judged by government officials to have experienced excessive radiation on the job received $12 billion in compensation under the federal government’s Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program. And 33,480 of these workers have died.
How could this happen? Let’s examine the case of Byron Vaigneur. In October 1975, he saw a brownish sludge containing plutonium break through the wall of his office and start pooling near his desk at the Savannah River, South Carolina nuclear weapons plant. Subsequently, he contracted breast cancer, as well as chronic beryllium disease, a debilitating respiratory condition. Vaigneur, who had a mastectomy to cut out the cancer, is today on oxygen, often unable to walk more than a hundred feet. Declaring he’s ready to die, he has promised to donate his body to science in the hope that it will help save the lives of other people exposed to deadly radiation.
Actually, workers in nuclear weapons plants constitute only a fraction of Americans whose lives have been ravaged by preparations for nuclear war. A 2002 report by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services maintained that, between 1951 and 1963 alone, the atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons—more than half of it done by the United States—killed 11,000 Americans through cancer. As this estimate does not include internal radiation exposure caused by inhaling or swallowing radioactive particles, the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research has maintained that the actual number of fatal cancers caused by nuclear testing could be 17,000. Of course, a larger number of people contracted cancer from nuclear testing than actually died of it. The government study estimated that those who contracted cancer numbered at least 80,000 Americans.
Who were these Americans? Many of them were “downwinders”—people whose towns and cities were located near U.S. nuclear testing sites and, thus, were contaminated by deadly clouds of nuclear fallout carried along by the wind. During the 1950s, the U.S. government conducted close to a hundred atmospheric nuclear explosions at its Nevada test site. Nearly 30 percent of the radioactive debris drifted over the towns to the east, which housed a population of roughly 100,000 people. The residents of St. George, Utah recalled that a “pink cloud” would hang over them while they worked amid the fallout, walked in it, breathed it, washed their clothes in it, and ate it. “Even the little children ate the snow,” recalled one resident. “They didn’t know it was going to kill them later on.”
During subsequent decades, leukemia and other cancer rates soared in the counties adjoining the Nevada test site, as they did among the 250,000 U.S. soldiers exposed to U.S. nuclear weapons tests. From the standpoint of U.S. military commanders, it was vital to place American soldiers close to U.S. nuclear explosions to get them ready to fight in a nuclear war. Subsequently, as many of these soldiers developed cancer, had children with birth defects, or died, they and their family members organized atomic veterans’ groups to demand that the federal government provide medical care and financial compensation for their suffering. Today, atomic veterans receive both from the federal government.
Uranium miners comprise yet another group of Americans who have suffered and died from the U.S. nuclear weapons program. To obtain the uranium ore necessary to build nuclear weapons, the U.S. government operated thousands of uranium mines, often on the lands of Native Americans, many of whom worked as miners and died premature deaths. The U.S. Public Health Service and the National Institute for Public Safety and Health conducted studies of uranium miners that discovered alarmingly high rates of deaths from lung cancer, other lung diseases, tuberculosis, emphysema, blood disease, and injuries. In addition, when the uranium mines were played out or abandoned for other reasons, they were often left as open pits, thereby polluting the air, land, and water of the surrounding communities with radiation and heavy metals.
This American nuclear catastrophe is not only a matter of the past, but seems likely to continue well into the future. The U.S. government is now beginning a $1 trillion program to “modernize” its nuclear weapons complex. This involves building new nuclear weapons factories and labs, as well as churning out new nuclear weapons and warheads for firing from the air, land, and sea. Of course, if these weapons and their overseas counterparts are used, they will destroy the world. But, as we have seen, even when they are not used in war, they exact a dreadful toll—in the United States and, it should be noted, in other nations around the world.
How long are people going to tolerate this nuclear tragedy?
Lawrence S. Wittner is Professor of History emeritus at SUNY/Albany.
SALFIT – The Ariel settlement university has continued to pour its harmful chemical waste through its sewer system onto Palestinian agricultural land in al-Matwi Valley in Salfit province, local sources complained on Sunday.
Residents from the area told the Palestinian Information Center that the Israeli university persists in disposing of hazardous chemical waste into the valley with no regard for the environment in the surrounding areas.
Palestinian researcher Khaled Ma’ali said that the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem had affirmed in previous reports that Israeli settlements and Ariel university in the West Bank violate international and local environmental protection laws.
Ma’ali invited international and local environmental institutions to visit Salfit province and witness its suffering from the pollution resulting from the flow of wastewater from several settlements, especially Ariel.
Dangerous radioactive materials from a nuclear waste dump near St. Louis, Missouri have spread to neighboring areas, a new study shows. Storm water runoff from the site has also raised concerns and is being tested for radioactive pollution.
According to a peer-reviewed study just published in the Journal of Environmental Radioactivity, there is “strong evidence” that radon gas and water emanating from the West Lake Landfill are responsible for the anomalous levels of a lead isotope (210Pb), created by radioactive decay, in the surrounding area.
Just northwest of the St. Louis International Airport, the West Lake Landfill is a repository of nuclear waste from the Manhattan Project, the WW2 effort to create the atomic bomb. The area was declared an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Superfund site in 1990, but the federal government is still deciding how to clean up the waste.
After analyzing nearly 300 soil samples from a 200-square-kilometer zone surrounding West Lake, the report’s authors concluded that “offsite migration of radiological contaminants from Manhattan Project-era uranium processing wastes has occurred in this populated area.”
“The stuff we’re talking about at West Lake is hotter than what you would find in a typical uranium mill tailings operation,” said Bob Alvarez, one of the authors, in an interview on Tuesday.
The study compared the levels of Lead-210 from 287 sample sites in the area to the baseline established by the US Department of Energy at the Fernald, Ohio uranium plant, which handled and stored the same concentrated nuclear waste from the Manhattan Project.
In 48 percent of the samples, concentrations of the isotope were “above the risk-based soil cleanup limits for residential farming,” according to the study.
Moreover, the levels of Lead-210 were not in equilibrium with other isotopes in the radioactive decay series, suggesting that its origin was in the “short-lived, fugitive radon gas that escaped the landfill,” the study says.
A 2013 report found that West Lake had the largest estimated amount of Thorium-230, “a long-lived, highly radiotoxic element,” more than any other nuclear weapons storage or disposal site in the US.
Pollution from the landfill has already been blamed for a sharp increase in the number of cancer cases in the surrounding areas. There are concerns that storm runoff from the toxic waste dump may be carrying radioactive materials into the Missouri river, upstream from the municipal intake for the area’s drinking water supply.
Another cause for alarm is the underground fire burning for several years at the nearby Bridgeton Landfill, just 1000 feet apart. Depending on the extent of the runoff from West Lake, radioactive materials may have already been released by the fire, though EPA and the landfill management have denied the possibility.
In October, local authorities made public an emergency plan drafted in 2014 in case the “sub-surface smoldering event” at Bridgeton reached the West Lake landfill. County Executive Steve Stenger assured the public that the plan was “not an indication of any imminent danger” and that the procedures in the document were merely a precaution.
JunkScience.com got NOAA scientist e-mails via FOIA? Why can’t Congress?
Last October, the New York Times published this dire op-ed on ocean acidification, supposedly authored by NOAA chief Richard Spinrad and his UK counterpart Ian Boyd.
Curious, I submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to NOAA for the e-mail related to the development and publication of the op-ed. I received 443 pages of e-mail in return.
First, the op-ed was actually written by NOAA staff Madelyn Applebaum, not Spinrad or Boyd. The purpose was to tout NOAA not inform the public about ocean acidification.
Second, the New York Times initially rejected the op-ed for its U.S. print edition and web site, the e-mails show. NOAA staff then submitted the op-ed to the International NYTimes staff in London (because Madelyn knew the INYT staff) where it was placed in the International NYTimes print edition and NYTimes.com.
Next, NOAA staff was appalled at the New York Times-selected title, which was a lot different than the NOAA-picked titled:
But the most notable e-mails stand in stark contrast to the information presented in the NYTimes op-ed.
Specifically, NOAA’s Dr. Shallin Busch insists the op-ed exaggerates the ocean acidification problem:
Below are clips of Busch doing so:
JunkScience has maintained for years now that there is no evidence that ocean “acidification” is causing harm. Glad to see that a top NOAA scientist sees it the same way.
BTW, we were about to FOIA scientist e-mail from NOAA. Not sure why Congress can’t get it and Judicial Watch has to sue for it.
Besides the terrible effects of the burst of light that causes eye damage, the heat that sets everything flammable on fire, the electromagnetic pulse that knocks out all electronic devices, and the blast that produces winds with ten times the force of a hurricane, demolishing everything, the detonation of nuclear weapons also leads to the emission of large amounts of ionizing radiation, which has serious deleterious effects on humans and many other species. Ionizing radiation is, in fact, a lurking danger as we cannot see it, we cannot smell it, we cannot hear it, and we cannot feel it immediately. But we certainly get harmed from it.
To reduce exposure to ionizing radiation and the risk of deleterious effects, we doctors usually warn our patients against having frequent examinations or procedures that involve x-rays. That is because x-rays are ionizing radiation that can harm your body in the same ways as radiation emitted by nuclear detonations. The main difference is that, for medical purposes, the radiation is applied in a controlled way.
The international standard unit for the dose of ionizing radiation is the Sievert. National guidelines in many countries warn against people having a cumulative dose of ionizing radiation exceeding 0.001 Sievert/year. The dose from a full body CT scan is 0.01 – 0.03 Sievert.
The ionizing radiation to which everybody in the vicinity of a nuclear detonation is exposed is so high and immediate that measuring in Sievert does not have much meaning. Such exposures are measured in Gray, where five Gray is reckoned to be lethal to 50% of those exposed (LD50). Even though these types of exposures are not directly comparable, for the common types of ionizing radiation, 1 Gray equals approximately 1.3 Sievert.
The intensity of the radiation at the epicenter of the atomic bombing of Nagasaki was estimated to be 320 Gray; one kilometer away it was 7.83 Gray; two kilometers away it was 0.13 Gray. The first two exposures are lethal; the third is about 130 times above the recommended yearly dose for humans. In an attempt to transform the radiation from a nuclear explosion into a standardized dose estimate, the highest reading of ionizing radiation from the fallout from the Trinity bomb, 32 km away from the detonation, and 3 hours later, was 0.190 Sievert/hour which equals 1.700 Sievert/year. There is evidence that a single dose of about five Sievert may be lethal. Cancer risk in general is reckoned to increase by approximately 5.5% for every Sievert/year.
Ionizing radiation and, in particular, gamma radiation, can penetrate tissue and cause harm throughout the body. Cells that have rapid life cycles are the most susceptible to acute damage. If the dose is high enough, the irradiated cells are simply killed by the radiation. That knowledge is used in all kinds of radiotherapy. The most susceptible cells are those of the central nervous system, blood cells, gamete cells, and barrier cells in the gastrointestinal tract. Therefore, symptoms of acute radiation illness are drowsiness and convulsions, anemia and bleeding, and loss of body fluid by bleeding and through the gut. Patients are seen more or less unconscious with skin hemorrhages and bleeding out of every opening of the body. No treatment is available apart for attempts for symptomatic relieve.
Long term effects of too much ionizing radiation include congenital malformations from genetic damage to gamete cells, and an increased risk of different types of cancer as seen in the cohorts of survivors from the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki during the past 70 years.
Detonation of a nuclear bomb generates both direct ionizing radiation from the explosion and also huge amounts of radioactive contamination that can spread with the wind into the atmosphere and precipitate as “fallout” onto land or water. The same can happen as a consequence of nuclear reactor disasters, such as Chernobyl and Fukushima. Such radioactive fallout is immediately deleterious to both humans and animals and can make large areas of land uninhabitable, unpastoral, and uncultivable for decades.
Ionizing radiation is normally present in nature from many sources in the Earth’s crust. Humans and animals have evolved to endure small amounts of ionizing radiation, with an assumed (but nevertheless controversial) “safe” dose of less than 0.001 Sievert/year. That is a fine and tender balance that should not be disturbed by the emission of unnecessary and dangerous ionizing radiation anywhere into the environment, whether by nuclear weapons or other human activities.