Good News and Bad News

Reading between the lines in this Burlington Free Press article…

MONTPELIER — Fish in the Connecticut River near the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant are no more radioactive than fish far across the state, according to recent study results from the state Health Department.

The testing found signs of cesium 137 and strontium 90 in four smallmouth bass in Lake Carmi in Franklin County, said Bill Irwin, radiological health chief with the state Health Department.

The findings raise questions about whether Vermont Yankee is the source of strontium 90 found in fish in the Connecticut River last year. Lake Carmi and Vermont Yankee are 200 miles apart with no waterway connection.

The latest results indicate the overall environment contains radioactive material, Irwin said, possibly long-term fallout from nuclear weapons testing and the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986.

Irwin said the levels of radioactive materials are similar to what has been documented in American diets and do not pose a health risk.

“There’s good news and there’s bad news,” said House Fish and Wildlife Committee Chairman David Deen, D-Westminster, whose committee heard from Irwin on Friday afternoon. “The good news is it seems to be background levels. The bad news is it seems to be background levels.”

The US, Russia, and other nations conducted above-ground detonations of nuclear weapons for decades between 1945 and 1980. The bad news is that the radiation released over 60 years ago continues to move and concentrate in the environment, showing up in unpredictable ways.

While Vermont measures radioactivity from decades past, Japan faces uncertainty about their land and their food supply, with inadequate support from their government while the perpetrators wash their hands.

Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), privatized their profit, now they have socialized the loss. The Japanese people will have to bear the financial cost, when neither government nor industry protect them. Heroic individuals are acting on their own.

A Zen monk named Koyu Abe has dedicated himself to protecting the citizens of Fukushima from unrecorded and uncontrolled radioactive fallout…

Now he is trading his ceremonial robes for a protective mask, working with volunteers to track down lingering pockets of radiation and cleaning them up.

One participant is Masataka Aoki, a 65-year-old engineer at nuclear plant maker Hitachi for more than 40 years. None of the Fukushima Daiichi reactors were made by Hitachi.

Aoki had long been a believer in nuclear power, but he had a change of faith after the meltdowns and now seeks to assuage a sense of guilt.

“The thing I’d come to believe was good and useful to society turned out to be useless and caused everybody trouble,” Aoki said. “I feel a deep sense of remorse.”

On a recent weekend volunteers including Aoki looked for radioactive hot spots along a small path which local parents said was mostly used by children on their way to school.

Tests with hand-held Geiger counters yielded results of more than 9 microsieverts per hour, higher than in some areas of the evacuation zone near the plant itself.

Figures from government testing stations within the exclusion zone the same day read between 3.6 microsieverts and 13 microsieverts an hour. A typical chest x-ray is about 20 microsieverts a scan.

No one would put a child under an x-ray for an hour. No one would feed a baby radioactive milk. Not knowingly.

From the detonation of the first nuclear bomb at Los Alamos, NM, in 1945, there has been a persistent pattern of public risk, private profit and lying to the public. From the Americans in the path of the radioactive fallout from weapons tests, the innocent civilians whose way of life was wiped out by contamination,the Russians at Chernobyl, and now the citizens of Fukushima– government and industry shirk the responsibility of making nuclear power safe. Can nuclear power be made safe at all, for thousands of years into the future?

“the levels of radioactive materials are similar to what has been documented in American diets and do not pose a health risk.”

Based on what science? Acute radiation poisoning, as in the accident that killed Rhode Islander, Robert Peabody, is measurable in the short term. Long term effects- the possibility that some of those who tried to rescue Mr.Peabody died prematurely of radiation-caused diseases–are much harder to measure.

You can eat a couple of cigarettes and instantly poison yourself, but smoking them is harmless, possibly beneficial– in the short term. It took large-scale studies over decades to gather the evidence that tobacco causes cancer. It took even longer to alert the public.

For the same reason, it’s not correct to say that artificially created radioactive pollution in small quantities over a lifetime poses no health risks. There are too many unknowns. The evidence is accumulating but has not yet reached critical mass.

When government and industry are complicit, who will fund the research. Who wants to open that can of worms?

The US Department of Energy has approved the first new nuclear reactors in over 30 years.

Little has changed. The plants are still financed by public risk for private profit, the public is still placated by promises of safety broken again and again– but this time it’s different.

It’s time to really make it different. Shine some sunlight on the profit motive and incomplete science. In 1945 the Nazi threat hounded us into creating this menace to future generations. Now we have a crisis of climate change– as global and real as WWII and with no easy answers. But as they say, when you find yourself in a hole–first stop digging.

WWII has been called the ‘stimulus project’ that got us out of the depression. We are further along in progress toward clean, diverse, decentralized renewable energy than the scientists were at Los Alamos in 1945. What is needed is for all the information to be presented to the American public.

When that trust is not supported financially or politically, who will take it on?

It may be that the people of Japan, in the wake of the tragic natural disaster of the tsunami and the man-made folly of TEPCO will lead the way.

UPDATE: The #2 reactor at Fukushima Daiichi is heating up and has required extra cooling water.
Engineers are watching the situation. This is a ‘cold shutdown’.

About these ads

2 thoughts on “Good News and Bad News

  1. As always thanks for the alert and analysis of nuclear power, in my judgement a bad gamble both on economics and public health risks. But there are no easy alternatives, and the problem is not just excessive corporate greed. The public likes to consume, and skyrocketing population growth adds to demand. Neither of those issues is being addressed. Coal is dirty in production and combustion. With the easy oil largely gone, oil is dirty in production, transport, combustion and our dependence on it undermines national security. Natural gas fracking, exempt from some environmental laws threatens water supply and its still a carbon fuel contributing to global climate problems. “Clean” hydro, wind, solar and their manufacture, maintenace and transmission are still a long way from mass impact and in several ways threaten natural areas, wildlife, scenery, and perhaps quality of life to abutters. So lets not be too hostile to those who see nuclear power as part of the way to deal with this, even if as I said, we think it is a bad gamble.

    • You are right about the challenges– there’s no easy solution out there. I do think that conservation has not even begun to be put into action. If we even went back to the way we did things when we didn’t have disposable everything we could save consumption and trash.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s