By Gayle Greene
Asia Pacific Journal
It is one of the marvels of our time that the nuclear industry managed to resurrect itself from its ruins at the end of the last century, when it crumbled under its costs, inefficiencies, and mega-accidents. Chernobyl released hundreds of times the radioactivity of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs combined, contaminating more than 40% of Europe and the entire Northern Hemisphere.1 But along came the nuclear lobby to breathe new life into the industry, passing off as “clean” this energy source that polluted half the globe. The “fresh look at nuclear”—in the words of a New York Times makeover piece (May 13, 2006)2—paved the way to a “nuclear Renaissance” in the United States that Fukushima has by no means brought to a halt.
That mainstream media have been powerful advocates for nuclear power comes as no surprise. “The media are saturated with a skilled, intensive, and effective advocacy campaign by the nuclear industry, resulting in disinformation” and “wholly counterfactual accounts…widely believed by otherwise sensible people,” states the 2010-2011 World Nuclear Industry Status Report by Worldwatch Institute.3 What is less well understood is the nature of the “evidence” that gives the nuclear industry its mandate, Cold War science which, with its reassurances about low-dose radiation risk, is being used to quiet alarms about Fukushima and to stonewall new evidence that would call a halt to the industry.
Consider these damage control pieces from major media:
• The “miniscule quantities” of radiation in the radioactive plume spreading across the U.S. pose “no health hazard,” assures the Department of Energy (William Broad, “Radiation over U.S. is Harmless, Officials Say,” NYT, March 22, 2011).
• “The risk of cancer is quite low, lower than what the public might expect,” explains Evan Douple, head of the Radiation Effects Research Foundation (RERF), which has studied the A-bomb survivors and found that “at very low doses, the risk was also very low” (Denise Grady, “Radiation is everywhere, but how to rate harm?” NYT, April 5, 2011).
• An NPR story a few days after the Daiichi reactors destabilized quotes this same Evan Douple saying that radiation levels around the plant “should be reassuring. At these levels so far I don’t think a study would be able to measure that there would be any health effects, even in the future.” (“Early radiation data from near plant ease health fears,” Richard Knox and Andrew Prince,” March 18, 2011) The NPR story, like Grady’s piece (above), stresses that the Radiation Effects Research Foundation has had six decades experience studying the health effects of radiation, so it ought to know.
• British journalist George Monbiot, environmentalist turned nuclear advocate, in a much publicized debate with Helen Caldicott on television and in the Guardian, refers to the RERF data as “scientific consensus,” citing, again, their reassurances that low dose radiation incurs low cancer risk.4
Everyone knows that radiation at high dose is harmful, but the Hiroshima studies reassure that risk diminishes as dose diminishes until it becomes negligible. This is a necessary belief if the nuclear industry is to exist, because reactors release radioactive emissions not only in accidents, but in their routine, day-to-day operations and in the waste they produce. If low-dose radiation is not negligible, workers in the industry are at risk, as are people who live in the vicinity of reactors or accidents—as is all life on this planet . The waste produced by reactors does not “dilute and disperse” and disappear, as industry advocates would have us believe, but is blown by the winds, carried by the tides, seeps into earth and groundwater, and makes its way into the food chain and into us, adding to the sum total of cancers and birth defects throughout the world. Its legacy is for longer than civilization has existed; plutonium, with its half life of 24,000 years, is, in human terms, forever.
What is this Radiation Effects Research Foundation, and on what “science” does it base its reassuring claims?
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