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After Fukushima: Enough Is Enough

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  • Sukla Sen
    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/02/opinion/magazine-global-agenda-enough-is-enough.html?_r=1 December 2, 2011 After Fukushima: Enough Is Enough By HELEN
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 3, 2011

      December 2, 2011
      After Fukushima: Enough Is Enough

      The nuclear power industry has been resurrected over the past decade
      by a lobbying campaign that has left many people believing it to be a
      clean, green, emission-free alternative to fossil fuels. These beliefs
      pose an extraordinary threat to global public health and encourage a
      major financial drain on national economies and taxpayers. The
      commitment to nuclear power as an environmentally safe energy source
      has also stifled the mass development of alternative technologies that
      are far cheaper, safer and almost emission free — the future for
      global energy.

      When the Fukushima Daiichi reactors suffered meltdowns in March,
      literally in the backyard of an unsuspecting public, the stark reality
      that the risks of nuclear power far outweigh any benefits should have
      become clear to the world. As the old quip states, “Nuclear power is
      one hell of a way to boil water.”

      Instead, the nuclear industry has used the disaster to increase its
      already extensive lobbying efforts. A few nations vowed to phase out
      nuclear energy after the disaster. But many others have remained
      steadfast in their commitment. That has left millions of innocent
      people unaware that they — all of us — may face a medical catastrophe
      beyond all proportions in the wake of Fukushima and through the
      continued widespread use of nuclear energy.

      The world was warned of the dangers of nuclear accidents 25 years ago,
      when Chernobyl exploded and lofted radioactive poisons into the
      atmosphere. Those poisons “rained out,” creating hot spots over the
      Northern Hemisphere. Research by scientists in Eastern Europe,
      collected and published by the New York Academy of Sciences, estimates
      that 40 percent of the European land mass is now contaminated with
      cesium 137 and other radioactive poisons that will concentrate in food
      for hundreds to thousands of years. Wide areas of Asia — from Turkey
      to China — the United Arab Emirates, North Africa and North America
      are also contaminated. Nearly 200 million people remain exposed.

      That research estimated that by now close to 1 million people have
      died of causes linked to the Chernobyl disaster. They perished from
      cancers, congenital deformities, immune deficiencies, infections,
      cardiovascular diseases, endocrine abnormalities and radiation-induced
      factors that increased infant mortality. Studies in Belarus found that
      in 2000, 14 years after the Chernobyl disaster, fewer than 20 percent
      of children were considered “practically healthy,” compared to 90
      percent before Chernobyl. Now, Fukushima has been called the
      second-worst nuclear disaster after Chernobyl. Much is still uncertain
      about the long-term consequences. Fukushima may well be on par with or
      even far exceed Chernobyl in terms of the effects on public health, as
      new information becomes available. The crisis is ongoing; the plant
      remains unstable and radiation emissions continue into the air and

      Recent monitoring by citizens groups, international organizations and
      the U.S. government have found dangerous hot spots in Tokyo and other
      areas. The Japanese government, meanwhile, in late September lifted
      evacuation advisories for some areas near the damaged plant — even
      though high levels of radiation remained. The government estimated
      that it will spend at least $13 billion to clean up contamination.

      Many thousands of people continue to inhabit areas that are highly
      contaminated, particularly northwest of Fukushima. Radioactive
      elements have been deposited throughout northern Japan, found in tap
      water in Tokyo and concentrated in tea, beef, rice and other food. In
      one of the few studies on human contamination in the months following
      the accident, over half of the more than 1,000 children whose thyroids
      were monitored in Fukushima City were found to be contaminated with
      iodine 131 — condemning many to thyroid cancer years from now.

      Children are innately sensitive to the carcinogenic effects of
      radiation, fetuses even more so. Like Chernobyl, the accident at
      Fukushima is of global proportions. Unusual levels of radiation have
      been discovered in British Columbia, along the West Coast and East
      Coast of the United States and in Europe, and heavy contamination has
      been found in oceanic waters.

      Fukushima is classified as a grade 7 accident on the International
      Atomic Energy Agency scale — denoting “widespread health and
      environmental effects.” That is the same severity as Chernobyl, the
      only other grade 7 accident in history, but there is no higher number
      on the agency’s scale.

      After the accident, lobbying groups touted improved safety at nuclear
      installations globally. In Japan, the Tokyo Electric Power Co. — which
      operates the Fukushima Daiichi reactors — and the government have
      sought to control the reporting of negative stories via telecom
      companies and Internet service providers.

      In Britain, The Guardian reported that days after the tsunami,
      companies with interests in nuclear power — Areva, EDF Energy and
      Westinghouse — worked with the government to downplay the accident,
      fearing setbacks on plans for new nuclear power plants.

      Nuclear power has always been the nefarious Trojan horse for the
      weapons industry, and effective publicity campaigns are a hallmark of
      both industries. The concept of nuclear electricity was conceived in
      the early 1950s as a way to make the public more comfortable with the
      U.S. development of nuclear weapons. “The atomic bomb will be accepted
      far more readily if at the same time atomic energy is being used for
      constructive ends,” a consultant to the Defense Department
      Psychological Strategy Board, Stefan Possony, suggested. The phrase
      “Atoms for Peace” was popularized by President Dwight Eisenhower in
      the early 1950s.

      Nuclear power and nuclear weapons are one and the same technology. A
      1,000 megawatt nuclear reactor generates 600 pounds or so of plutonium
      per year: An atomic bomb requires a fraction of that amount for fuel,
      and plutonium remains radioactive for 250,000 years. Therefore every
      country with a nuclear power plant also has a bomb factory with
      unlimited potential.The nuclear power industry sets an unforgivable
      precedent by exporting nuclear technology — bomb factories — to dozens
      of non-nuclear nations.

      Why is nuclear power still viable, after we’ve witnessed catastrophic
      accidents, enormous financial outlays, weapons proliferation and
      nuclear-waste induced epidemics of cancers and genetic disease for
      generations to come? Simply put, many government and other officials
      believe the nuclear industry mantra: safe, clean and green. And the
      public is not educated on the issue.

      There are some signs of change. Germany will phase out nuclear power
      by 2022. Italy and Switzerland have decided against it, and
      anti-nuclear advocates in Japan have gained traction. China remains
      cautious on nuclear power. Yet the nuclear enthusiasm of the U.S.,
      Britain, Russia and Canada continues unabated. The industry,
      meanwhile, has promoted new modular and “advanced” reactors as better
      alternatives to traditional reactors. They are, however, subject to
      the very same risks — accidents, terrorist attacks, human error — as
      the traditional reactors. Many also create fissile material for bombs
      as well as the legacy of radioactive waste.

      True green, clean, nearly emission-free solutions exist for providing
      energy. They lie in a combination of conservation and renewable energy
      sources, mainly wind, solar and geothermal, hydropower plants, and
      biomass from algae. A smart-grid could integrate consuming and
      producing devices, allowing flexible operation of household
      appliances. The problem of intermittent power can be solved by storing
      energy using available technologies.

      Millions of jobs can be created by replacing nuclear power with
      nationally integrated, renewable energy systems. In the U.S. alone,
      the project could be paid for by the $180 billion currently allocated
      for nuclear weapons programs over the next decade. There would be no
      need for new weapons if the Russian and U.S. nuclear arsenals — 95
      percent of the estimated 20,500 nuclear weapons globally — were

      Nuclear advocates often paint those who oppose them as Luddites who
      are afraid of, or don’t understand, technology, or as hysterics who
      exaggerate the dangers of nuclear power.

      One might recall the sustained attack over many decades by the tobacco
      industry upon the medical profession, a profession that revealed the
      grave health dangers induced by smoking.

      Smoking, broadly speaking, only kills the smoker. Nuclear power
      bequeaths morbidity and mortality — epidemics of disease — to all
      future generations.

      The millions of lives lost to smoking in the era before the health
      risks of cigarettes were widely exposed will be minuscule compared to
      the medical catastrophe we face through the continued use of nuclear

      Let’s use this extraordinary moment to convince governments and others
      to move toward a nuclear-free world. Let’s prove that informed
      democracies will behave in a responsible fashion.

      Helen Caldicott, a pediatrician, is founding president of Physicians
      for Social Responsibility. A native of Australia, she left her Harvard
      Medical School post in 1980 to work full-time on anti-nuclear

      Peace Is Doable
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