Valerie Brown, of Alternet, takes apart the official reassurances that ‘no immediate risk’ of harm from radioactive exposure is the whole story.
On a spring day in 1975, the first words I heard as I rose through the fog of anesthetic were “it was malignant.” I was twenty-four years old. A couple of months earlier during a routine physical my doctor had found a mass on my thyroid gland. X-rays and ultrasound had failed to clarify whether the mass was a fluid-filled cyst or a solid tumor. The only choice was surgery. The tissue analysis during the operation confirmed a diagnosis of thyroid cancer. The surgeon removed one lobe and the isthmus of the barbell-shaped gland at the base of my neck. I was informed that I’d take thyroid hormone for the rest of my life because if my own remnant gland were to start functioning again, it might grow itself another cancer. And so I have taken the little pill every morning for thirty-six years. It took a long time for the screaming red scar around my neck – the kind that was later dubbed the “Chernobyl necklace” – to fade.
The rest of her post is worth reading, especially as this subject is not easily reduced to sound bites and slogans.
The phrase, ‘Chernobyl necklace’ is a reference to the approximately 4,000 children and adolescents diagnosed with thyroid cancer who lived in the path of nuclear fallout from the Chernobyl disaster in 1986. The International Atomic Energy Agency has a somewhat more upbeat take on this consequence than Ms. Brown.
This is not an attempt to speculate about numbers and relative risk. That requires epidemiological research. It’s just to say that today’s news photo of a Japanese woman wearing a mask as she feeds her infant from a bottle is an illustration of one of the deepest and most real concerns about this present crisis and nuclear power in general.
There is progress being made in finding a plot for the community garden, as it detailed below by Steve Stycos:
Community garden plans are progressing. We are focusing on the southeastern corner of the Edgewood Highland parking lot.
Annemarie Bruun discussed the project with Rich Pederson, who runs Southside Community Land Trust’s City Farm. He recommends removing asphalt whenever possible. Southside’s community garden coordinator is moving to Boston, so she is not available to meet with us. Her replacement says she is too busy to meet, so Annemarie may just go to her office to briefly get some details on how they run their gardens.
This morning, I met with Joel Zisserson, the school department’s head of grounds, the city DPW director Dave Ventetuolo and highway supervisor John Corso. Joel is supportive of the project and the city may be able to remove the asphalt, if we want them to.
Water, however, is in limbo. To make a connection to a water line now requires “a hot box,” or a heated box with a back flow valve to prevent contamination of the water supply. Just recessing a faucet in a box in the ground is no longer permitted. Dave estimated a hot box could cost $10,000 to $15,000. They suggested, and I agreed, that the best option, at least until we establish the garden, is to talk with nearby homeowners about running a hose from their homes and paying them for water. I will go door to door this weekend to talk with them. If that fails, I will go back to the school department.
We also discussed starting small and then expanding. Joel suggested phase one go from the last telephone pole to the far eastern end of the lot, but nothing is set in stone. Joel is also going to talk with the superintendent about a multi-year lease and liability. He also agreed to let us drill through the asphalt to do soil tests, if we want.
Joel, John and Dave also questioned whether leaving the asphalt in place and putting raised beds on top (as some community gardens have done) would work. They thought it would be hot and worry about how the site slopes, encouraging erosion. The slope is more pronounced when you look at it from the downhill side.
So we have a few more details to work out before we meet as a group to make plans.
Thank you, Dr. Gallagher, for guest blogging here. Readers ask us…
Q. Dear Dr. Gallagher,
My husband and I have been happily married for 55 years, and we weren’t no spring chickens when we tied the knot, if you get what I mean. We agreed early on to let bygones be bygones, and did not worry about what happened before that special night in Vegas that ended in the Chapel. We have enjoyed many decades together in loving harmony.
For the past year, Frank has not seemed himself. He gets up and puts on his pants, and then puts on another pair of pants over the pants. I don’t dare to say anything because he’s gotten very touchy. He makes sandwiches and puts them under the bed, and gets furious if I sweep them up.
I was taught to cater to my man, and at my age I’m too tired to care anyway, but there’s another problem. He thinks I’m cheating on him. I have not been near another man since President Eisenhower was running the country, but he’s insanely jealous. Why could he not have been this hot, like, around the 1970′s? What am I doing wrong?
A. Dear Edna,
It’s the Gay’s fault. Your husband has been corrupted by the Gay Agenda via the Mainstream Media, and he thinks that he can lure men into his bedroom by putting sandwiches under his bed. We see this many times in our clinical practice. His suspicion that you are cheating is projection. He is secretly attracted to a man.
Are there any gays in your neighborhood? Town? State? Well, there you are.
Send a check today to GLUM. We care about your marriage, and we know best.
Dear Dr. Gallagher,
My wife and I believe in traditional family values. She would stay home with the children, and I would support us working for General Motors. We were so happy until the Hummer IV (Bigger than a Breadbox) project went to Sichuan Tengzhong Heavy Industrial Machinery Company, somewhere out of state. They got the goldmine, and our town got the shaft.
Tiffany and I were willing to do whatever we had to do to support our family. We finally ended up applying to WalMart. She got hired as a greeter, they said I was overqualified.
Tiffany is a spunky girl, and she would do anything for me and our kids. The problem is, I am taking care of the kids. This is way harder than I ever imagined. Tiffany has changed. She seems to like being out of the house and says she is fine with the way things are for a while. I want out.
Signed: Trapped and Unfulfilled
It’s the Gay’s fault. In the past, Tiffany would have strapped on her best bonnet and gone to petition the factory owner, trembling but resolute. He would have smiled sardonically, cupped her chin in his hand and casually granted you employment, as a coal hauler, or whatever. (B.Cartland, 1967)
Your family would get no benefits. Whether the factory owner would get lucky is a whole novel.(Harlequin)
So would you rather have a couple of the kids die of consumption (do you have enough spares?) and live a life of high drama, or wipe up Cheerios while taking courses online for a cubicle job with benefits?
There was a Golden Age. Really. Before there were Gays. If it were not for them, your life would be Gothic.
Send a check today to GLUM. We care about your marriage, and we know best.
Dear Dr. Gallagher,
I heard GLUM experts testify that the real meaning and purpose of marriage is procreation. I have a confession to make. I found myself single again through widowhood, and fell in love with Ted. We married, though we are of mature years.
What is the meaning of marriage, when procreation ain’t gonna happen?
Signed, Still Ticking
Dear Still Ticking,
Like I don’t recognize that as a throwaway phrase from a David Bowie song that I listened to for research purposes? You are a troll, asking me trick questions. I could tell by your lapsing into slang, because you just can’t help it.
Well, forget about it, Jane Doe, if that is your real name. Studies show that your odds of finding a man when you are in the geezer demographic is way on the edge of unlikely. That makes you a deviant.
That means you are the type that would notice two gay guys moving in next door and shrug, instead of getting out torches and pitchforks.
As far as your question, there are so few of you deviants that you don’t comprise a base worth playing up to. But I could be wrong. Maybe I should tolerate you and hold out the promise that if you’re really good and humble, we might acknowledge your existence.
Send a check today to GLUM. We care about your marriage, and we know best.
Heard on the radio today that 2 of the 6 Fukushima reactors are under control. A lot of good people are putting their lives on the line for this, and a lot depends on it.
I hope they are successful, and that we will look closely at all the aspects of the worldwide energy crisis that brings us to this.
This morning from the Houston Chronicle…
FUKUSHIMA, Japan — An unexpected spike in pressure inside a troubled reactor set back efforts to bring Japan’s overheating, leaking nuclear complex under control Sunday as concerns grew that so far minor contamination of food and water is spreading.
The pressure increase raised the possibility that plant operators may need to deliberately release radioactive gas, erasing some progress in a nuclear crisis as the government continued its halting response to a catastrophic earthquake and tsunami that savaged northeast Japan on March 11.
A teenage boy’s cries for help led police to rescue an 80-year-old woman from a wrecked house in a rare rescue after so many days.
Beyond the disaster area, an already shaken public grew uneasy with official reports that traces of radiation first detected in spinach and milk from farms near the nuclear plant are turning up farther away in tap water, rain and even dust. In all cases, the government said the radiation levels were too small to pose an immediate risk to health. Still, Taiwan seized a batch of fava beans from Japan found with faint — and legal amounts — of iodine and cesium.
“I’m worried, really worried,” said Mayumi Mizutani, a 58-year-old Tokyo resident shopping for bottled water at a neighborhood supermarket to give her visiting 2-year-old grandchild. “We’re afraid because it’s possible our grandchild could get cancer.” Forecasts for rain, she said, were an added worry.
Reports yesterday on the radio said that power was restored to the cooling system of one of the plants via a mile-long cable. For now, it’s going to be a fog of crisis until the radioactive fuel rods are cooled and secured.
The real truth will come out if we have thoughtful and detailed investigative reporting after the fact.
Assurances that there is ‘no immediate health risk’ don’t address the obvious concern about long-term health risks.
I hope for better news today. The people of Japan have suffered so much at the hands of nature, they don’t deserve to suffer more from human folly.
Because the same re-assurances from experts, the same doubts that were disregarded as alarmism, the same ‘pragmatism’ that allowed reckless policy in the name of science and profit are behind the push to expand nuclear power today.
Robert Peabody died almost fifty years ago in a nuclear plant that was sold as state of the art and safe. Workers in Russia were martyred in the Chernobyl cleanup. The news today is about a rotation of volunteers in Japan who brave exposure to radiation in a desperate effort to prevent the worst as nuclear safety fails in the wake of disaster.
It matters because not enough has changed, and not enough will unless we stop digging ourselves into dependence on nuclear power, leaving the mess to future generations.
This is in memory of Robert Peabody, a husband and father working a second job to support his family, assigned to a dangerous task in an unsafe workplace, poisoned by a nuclear reaction. There are lessons to learn, may we not forget them.
It’s been almost thirty years since the Three Mile Island disaster put a halt to the expansion of nuclear power in the US. Public opinion was already turning against the industry. Once promising cheap, clean electricity, the power plants in fact required massive taxpayer subsidies to build and a special exemption from liability in case the worst happened.
The worst almost happened at Three Mile Island …
Although the TMI-2 plant suffered a severe core meltdown, the most dangerous kind of nuclear power accident, it did not produce the worst-case consequences that reactor experts had long feared. In a worst-case accident, the melting of nuclear fuel would lead to a breach of the walls of the containment building and release massive quantities of radiation to the environment. But this did not occur as a result of the Three Mile Island accident.
The worst-case accident occurred in 1986 at Chernobyl.
Today, a generation after the gas lines and bitter winters of the 1970′s, we’re again caught unprepared. We still depend on foreign oil and large, centralized power plants. Investment in alternative energy has been cut to a trickle since Ronald Reagan. The nuclear industry is portraying itself as a clean, green savior. Safety concerns are dismissed as a superstitious fear of radioactivity…
In more than 500 reactor years of service in the United States, there has never been a death or a serious injury to plant employees or to the public caused by a commercial reactor accident or radiation exposure. Says Philip Handler, president of the National Academy of Sciences: “Nuclear power is the safest major technology ever introduced into the United States.” link
In fact, a Rhode Island man was killed on the job by radiation exposure. In 1964 in Charlestown, Rhode Island, Robert Peabody was working the second shift at the United Nuclear waste processing plant. The training was minimal, supervision lax and written policies inadequate. Peabody, a Navy vet and mechanic, had picked up a second job to support his large family. When he came on the evening shift, no one warned him that a container full of radioactive water was more concentrated than what he usually handled. When he emptied it into a larger tank the highly concentrated sludge set off a fission reaction…
A blue glow filled the small room as the radiation charged the air with electricity. Peabody was blown flat on his back. The force of the blast also sprayed radioactive solution onto the tower ceiling, 12 feet above. Some of the volatile fluid gushed over the tank lip and onto the floor. The entire plant was instantly filled with the sound of screaming sirens.(Providence Journal, Sunday Journal Magazine ‘Chain Reaction’ 3/11/90)
[ 'Chain Reaction' is not available online free of charge. Yankee Magazine has an online article that covers the same incident, with more technical detail. This is some buried history that the Journal should re-publish.]
Two other workers who responded to the accident were exposed to a second, smaller fission reaction.
Robert Peabody was doomed in an instant, but it took him 49 hours to die. Turned away from Westerly Hospital, he was driven at top speed to Rhode Island Hospital by ambulance driver John Shibilio and placed in an isolation room. His widow attributes her cancer to the minutes she held her dying husband’s hand. Everything he touched had to be decontaminated or burned. His remains were cremated. He left nine children.
His death, and the corporate denial afterward, is an example of the weak regulation and lack of accountability that leaves workers unprotected. The danger to the public is not imaginary.
The nuclear industry likes to compare its safety record to coal. But much of the danger of coal mining is a matter of priorities. Worker safety is balanced against profit. A mine accident is a disaster for the miners and their community. A nuclear accident such as Chernobyl sends radioactive particles across national borders. Millions are unaware that they are exposed. These particles contain elements that do not degrade for many thousands of years, that accumulate in our bodies and concentrate up the food chain, capable of causing cancer and birth defects many generations after the accident.
The Peabody family was left bereft and in poverty. Robert Peabody was blamed for the accident that killed him.
EVEN AS PEABODY was admitted to the hospital, United Nuclear was working to discredit him, blaming “human error” and “ineptitude” in newspaper accounts of the accident. In addition to assuring the public that any radiation released into the atmosphere was insignificant, company officials said that Peabody had violated plant safety procedures by pouring the contents of the 11-liter “safe” bottle into the “unsafe” chemical tank. (Providence Journal 3/11/90)
No danger to the public. No blame to the corporation. They say it’s different now. Trust them.
It’s been a crazy day, riding around on potholed roads listening to the radio. Reports from Japan of people without shelter in freezing temperatures, without water, food, electricity. Without any idea of what the next day will bring.
Japanese architecture, I’ve always heard, is based on centuries of experience with earthquakes. No doubt the crisis would be far worse if not for countless adaptations to a region where the earth is unstable.
All the technology we depend on wiped out by nature. Some of the technology coming up against the laws of nature and proving unwise.
I’m thinking of the people there, and hoping the worst is soon over.
Hear ye, hear ye! The Rhode Island Center for Law and Public Policy (of which I am a board member and treasurer) is having its Third Anniversary Fundraiser and Celebration on Thursday, March 24, 2011 from 6:00 pm to 8:30 pm. The party will take place at Waterplace Restaurant, One Finance Way, Providence. There will be raffle prizes including gift certificates to Local 121, Ruth’s Chris Steak House, PPAC, Boston Red Sox, and much more! Please go to riclapp.org to order your tickets today!
This quote from Diane Ravitch helps frame the issues we are facing in Rhode Island as we all await the announcements of school closures in Providence, and hopefully start repairing the damage done by the mass firing letters. This comes from a statement Ravitch made about the firings of the teachers in Central Falls last year:
It would be good if our nation’s education leaders recognized that teachers are not solely responsible for student test scores. Other influences matter, including the students’ effort, the family’s encouragement, the effects of popular culture, and the influence of poverty. A blogger called “Mrs. Mimi” wrote the other day that we fire teachers because “we can’t fire poverty.” Since we can’t fire poverty, we can’t fire students, and we can’t fire families, all that is left is to fire teachers.
This strategy of closing schools and firing the teachers is mean and punitive. And it is ultimately pointless. It solves no problem. It opens up a host of new problems. It satisfies the urge to purge. But it does nothing at all for the students.