Tag Archives: chernobyl

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’.

Fighting Back

It’s hard to definitely connect a disease to an exposure to a toxin. There are various estimates of how many children got thyroid cancer after Chernobyl, the International Atomic Energy Agency, in a strangely upbeat post , says four thousand. The World Health Organization says five thousand, with a little more consideration of the implications. Other cancers also were increased after the disaster.

Yan Leyfman suffered painful, relentless and unexplained illnesses all during his early childhood. Now a student in the US, he is researching cancer as his mother survives cancer treatment. They believe they are victims of radiation exposure.

STONY BROOK, N.Y. — Yan Leyfman was born in Belarus in 1989, three years after the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. His family lived only about 75 miles from the nuclear plant, and as a toddler, Mr. Leyfman had a constellation of mysterious symptoms: cysts that covered his entire body, fingernails that fell out, limbs that were swollen and skin that itched torturously.
Though he recovered his health after moving to Brooklyn at age 5, Chernobyl still followed him.

Leyfman is a young cancer researcher, driven to find a cure for his mother and answers for himself.

At this time, the ruins of Chernobyl are still dangerous, Ukraine and the international community are trying to raise the 2 billion it will cost to entomb the reactor before the temporary structure fails.

Chernobyl Not Over Yet

This article from Bloomberg.com deals with the financial fallout from the Chernobyl disaster…

Chernobyl Leak Forces Ukraine to Seek $1 Billion After 25 Years
By James M. Gomez and Daryna Krasnolutska – Apr 17, 2011 5:01 PM ET
Ukraine is seeking $1 billion to seal Chernobyl, the site of the world’s worst nuclear disaster, and concern is mounting the accident at Fukushima in Japan and a growing debt crisis may make it harder to raise the money.

Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych will host a conference starting tomorrow in Kiev to get funding for a new containment shelter 25 years after Chernobyl’s No. 4 reactor exploded. French Prime Minister Francois Fillon and European Commission President Jose Barroso, who arrives today, also will urge states to contribute as a venture involving France’s Vinci SA (DG) and Bouygues SA (EN) begins work on the foundations.

Japan’s battle to contain four damaged reactors at the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear plant has reignited the debate about Chernobyl, whose makeshift shelter has five years left in its lifespan and still leaks radiation. The Ukrainian government warned aid may fall short as governments cut spending and balk at a fund-raising effort that has been going on since 1997.

Here in America, we have looming expenses of decommissioning worn out nuclear plants and finding a safe place to store the waste. Twenty five years is not a very long time when dealing with radioactive elements that remain deadly for thousands of years. Still, it’s hard to bear the truth that we will pay for today’s electricity long after the power plants are closed.

Talking Point Fail

The nuclear industry lost another talking point, ‘not as bad as Chernobyl’ has been run over and flattened by events.

Looking at the whole picture made it clear early on that the disaster is worse than Chernobyl. Every passing day of radioactive discharge is a problem for the future. Japan doesn’t have vast areas of land like the Ukraine. They don’t have room to build new cities. And their resources are already strained by the awful damage from the earthquake and Tsunami.

Dumping of radioactive water into the ocean was scheduled to end yesterday. There was a terrible episode of mercury poisoning of seafood in Japan during the 1970′s. The Japanese people have recent experience with deadly pollution and the consequences. Can they trust the industry that failed to protect against a natural disaster that historically affects Japan, that understated the effects, that has had nothing but setbacks for a month?

When the Chernobyl disaster occured, there was a general opinion that things were different in Russia, that we have more accountability and safeguards here. It’s hard to say that about Japan.

In fact, there’s a kind of entropy built into all human enterprises. Over time we get careless, in every aspect of life. There is no form of energy that is likely to be used soon on a large scale that is without a down side. However, creating a pollutant that is deadly for thousands of years is a kind of hubris and irresponsibility we have no right to pass on to our children.

Bury It Deep

So, we’re about three hours away from April’s Fools Day, EST, and maybe I’m getting punked, but I got this from two sources..

AUGUSTA, Ga. — Authorities say the world’s largest concrete pump will be flown from Atlanta to Japan on the world’s largest cargo plane as part of a series of emergency steps to help stabilize damaged nuclear reactors.

The Augusta Chronicle reports that the 190,000-pound pump features a 70-meter boom which can be remotely controlled. Officials say that makes it suitable for use in the highly radioactive environment surrounding the nuclear plants.

The pump was manufactured by Germany-based Putzmeister, whose equipment was used at Chernobyl in the 1980s to entomb the melted core of the reactor in concrete.

‘Putzmeister’? I’m a proud English-only speaker who has no German at all, but this sounds funny. Of course, most German sounds funny so that’s neither here nor there.

If the corporate board of TEPCO (Tokyo Electric Power Company) is accepting foreign aid and this will bring the crisis under control, then I hope it’s for real.

I hope that the courageous and dedicated workers at Fukushima who are bailing water to try to avert a nationwide crisis will see the cavalry come over the hill, and will see their sacrifice vindicated.

The challenge today is to prevent more disasters. Keeping this poison entombed for 50,000 years is the challenge for future generations.

UPDATE: The Atlanta Business Journal says the pump is one of only three in the world, it will be taken on a Russian transport plane, and it will not be returned to the US because radioactive contamination will make it too ‘hot’ to use.

Epidemiology Map

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.

Rhode Island’s Nuclear Fatality–Part I

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.

For the aftermath of the accident, see Part II.

Chernobyl Today

This is a link to a short post on Common Dreams.

It’s been 24 years since the catastrophic explosion and fire occurred at Chernobyl in the Ukraine. The accident required nearly a million emergency responders and cleanup workers. According to a recent report published by the New York Academy of Medicine nearly one million people around the world have died from Chernobyl fallout.

Now we are finding that threats to human health and the environment from the radioactive fallout of this accident that blanketed Europe (and the rest of the world to a lesser extent) will persist for a very long time. There is an exclusionary zone near the reactor, roughly the size of Rhode Island (1000 sq kilometers), which because of high levels of contamination,people are not supposed to live there for centuries to come. There are also”hot spots” through out Russia, Poland Greece, Germany, Italy, UK, France, and Scandinavia where contaminated live stock and other foodstuff continue to be removed from human consumption.

My friends tell me that a growing number of Ukrainians are immigrating to Youngstown, OH ( where I grew up),Cleveland, Chicago, and other Ukrainian-American enclaves because of Chernobyl contamination threats.

The photo of the abandoned city of Pripiat says more than a thousand words. The statement that mammals in the surrounding wilderness are declining, instead of multiplying in the absence of humans points to a future that must be prevented.

Check out Common Dreams for the rest of the story.

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