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Health studies explode the myth of the ‘safe’ nuclear power plant

Special To The Japan Times

Dear Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry Toshimitsu Motegi,

Despite the continuing disaster at Fukushima No. 1, there remains one final myth regarding nuclear power plants in Japan: Namely, that in the absence of a major accident, a normally operating nuclear power plant is safe. However, the now-verifiable reality is that it is not, at least not for residents living in the vicinity of the plant.

As early as 2007, Germany’s Federal Office for Radiation Protection published a thoroughly researched study titled “Childhood Cancer Rates Near Nuclear Power Plants.” The study covered 24 years (1980-2003) and included 1,592 children with cancer and 4,735 controls living around 16 nuclear power sites throughout Germany.

At all 16 sites, the study found that children under 5 years of age had a higher risk of developing cancer the closer they lived to a plant. Risk was most increased within 5 km of the plants, i.e. by 60 percent. Seventy-seven children living within 5 km of a nuclear plant were found to have cancer, considerably higher than the 48 that would be expected statistically.

For leukemia, the risk increase was 120 percent: 37 cases instead of the expected 17. In other words, within the 5-km range, 29 children suffered from cancer (of whom 20 had leukemia) simply because they lived in these areas. Altogether, there were up to 275 more cases of cancer than would be expected statistically at these sites.

Even normally operating nuclear power plants constantly release radioactive elements into the air and cooling water. The excess cancers among children living near nuclear facilities are likely established during the embryonic stage when the embryo is extremely radiosensitive. This is the time when cells are proliferating rapidly and are much more vulnerable than in later, more stable growth phases. Damaged cells proliferate easily, paving the way for cancer and other diseases.

Additional studies have been conducted in both Britain and the U.S. with similar, if not even more disturbing, results. In 2006, in conjunction with Welsh broadcaster S4C, an environmental consultancy produced a report based on interviews with villagers in the vicinity of the Trawsfynydd nuclear power station in north Wales.

Researchers focused on almost 1,000 people of all ages who had been living in three communities close to the power plant throughout the 1996-2005 period. The incidence of cancer (of any type) among women younger than 50 was reported to be more than 15 times the national average. Furthermore, breast cancers in women aged 50-61 were five times the average level for women of that age. Overall, the survey revealed double the risk for cancer (of any type) relative to the average rates for England and Wales.

As for the U.S., on March 20 of this year, the Cape Cod Times reported the court testimony of Richard Clapp, who was the director of the Massachusetts Cancer Registry from 1980. He told the court: “In the first two years (of his tenure), we found an excess of leukemia in Plymouth and towns near the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station. There was a fourfold excess of leukemia in people who lived and worked near the plant.”

On March 4, the Cal Coast News reported on a recent study conducted by the nonprofit World Business Academy business think tank concerning the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant in San Luis Obispo County, California. The study found that those living within a 25-km radius of the plant had a significantly increased incidence of various cancers, including thyroid, breast and melanoma.

Further, since the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant opened in the mid-1980s, San Luis Obispo County changed from a relatively low-incidence county in terms of cancer to a high-incidence county, translating to an additional 738 people diagnosed with cancer between 2001 and 2010.

Cancer incidence in San Luis Obispo County rose from 0.4 percent below the California average to 6.9 percent above that figure, giving it the highest cancer rate of all 20 counties in Southern California. After Diablo Canyon began operating, the incidence of thyroid and female breast cancer also showed a significant increase.

Perhaps most disturbingly, after Diablo Canyon began operating, both infant mortality and child/adolescent cancer mortality rose significantly. The incidence of melanoma soared from 3.6 percent above to 130.2 percent above the state incidence rate. It now has the highest rate of all the counties in California.

The preceding reports demonstrate yet again the scientifically established fact that there is no safe dose of radiation, no matter how small, bearing in mind that dangerous radioactive elements constantly accumulate in the body. Thus, with each nuclear reactor the Japanese government allows to restart, residents living as far away as 25 km will once again be placed at a higher risk of falling victim to life-threatening illnesses.

Finally, The Associated Press has just released an investigation showing that radioactive tritium has leaked from three-quarters of U.S. commercial nuclear power sites, often into groundwater, from buried piping that has corroded. What’s more, as America’s nuclear power reactors continue to age, the number and severity of the leaks has been escalating, even as U.S. regulators extend the licenses of more and more reactors. Considering Japan’s own fleet of aging reactors, can you guarantee such leaks won’t occur in Japan?

In light of this evidence, let alone the possibility of future major accidents, Minister Motegi, are you and the rest of the Abe administration still determined to restart the reactors?

BRIAN VICTORIA

Kyoto

Send your comments or submissions (of between 500-700 words, addressed to local, regional or national politicians, officials, ministries or other authorities) here: community@japantimes.co.jp

  • Starviking

    The German study’s authors say that the nuclear plants cannot be behind the effects noted in their work.

    The Welsh Cancer Intelligence and Surveilance Unit and the Welsh Statistics Agency have ripped the work by the author of the Welsh study mentioned above to shreds.

    The San Luis Obispo Public Health Department has done simliarly on the Diablo Canyon report.

    I have no doubt that the other reports mentioned in this piece will either be shown to be misinterpreted or flawed.

    • Steve Novosel

      What, you expect people to actually read primary sources before using them to make a political point? That’s far too much to ask, friend.

  • Steve Novosel

    Brian, why is it that it’s always the same names in these sorts of reports? Why is it we never see such consensus from the greater scientific community? More importantly, why do you not list links to publications that disagree with your hypothesis (and with Dr Fairlie)?

    If you are truly interested in fostering a scientific discussion it’s important to consider the professional viewpoints from many sources, including dissenting sources.

  • GRLCowan

    Brian Victoria writes, emphasis mine,

    … the nuclear industry *AND ITS ALLIES IN GOVERNMENT* fund research that unsurprisingly finds nuclear power-related radiation to be harmless or near harmless

    If people had long been sprinkling some scarce, highly taxed source of sodium ion onto their food, and the *Titanic*, on its ill-fated maiden voyage, had had a new thing — saltshakers — the tablesalt industry and government might indeed have funded studies that unsurprisingly found that the contamination of the Atlantic ocean by these saltshakers was harmless or nearly so.

    This would be unsurprising because, similar to how nuclear power is a genuine but insignificant contributor to radioactivity in the environment, the *Titanic* is a genuine but insignificant contributor to the Atlantic ocean’s saltiness.

    What might be a little surprising is government backing for these studies, because in our scenario the stuff tablesalt has been replacing is highly taxed, and these revenues motivate government to be very cautious in accepting news of tablesalt’s harmlessness.

    That scenario is entirely realistic in the case of nuclear power replacing fossil fuels. The billions of dollars governments net daily on these fuels are indeed threatened by nuclear fission. Trillions of dollars In government fossil fuel income have already been lost because of it.

  • Sam Gilman

    Could you explain why you think Iain Fairlie is an authority on this issue?

    He is a rarely cited author whose publications are almost entirely for anti-nuclear organisations. That is, his work is obliged to reach certain conclusions: he is not free to produce whatever results he honestly finds. He has failed to make any progress in genuinely independent science in the form of a good publications record. He actually espouses a conspiracy theory (as revealed inadvertently by an anti-nuclear JT journalist who published his private correspondence with Fairle) that research scientists collectively ignore his work not because it’s bad, but because it’s so good. I don’t know if he genuinely believes that, or whether he thought the JT journalist in question was gullible enough to believe it.

    Starviking has pointed out how your other sources are discredited. I can’t believe you’re prepard to cite the snake-oil salesman Chris Busby. Even Iain Fairlie finds him embarrassing for the anti-nuclear movement.

    Brian, you’re a professional researcher. You’re letting that profession down with your use of shoddy sourcing.

  • Enkidu

    Brian, I take it you have no scientific background, but here are just a few words of advice regarding that World Business Academy Diablo Canyon “study” by Joseph Mangano that you’ve referred to above. To start with, you should be very wary of studies like the following:

    1. Studies that don’t appear in peer-reviewed journals (like this one).

    2. Studies where the “experts available to comment” don’t include a single person with a “.edu” email address (like this one). Seriously, AOL doesn’t cut it.

    3. Studies that consistently change their before and after comparison periods (like this one). For child mortality, Mangano compares 1979-83 to 1984-2010. For cancer, he uses 1988-90, 1991-2000, 2001-10. For comparing cancer rates among counties, he uses 2003-2010. For childhood cancer, he uses 1988-1994 and 1995-2011. For ZIP code based child mortality, he uses 1989-91 and 2004-10. For ZIP code based low weight births, he uses 1989-91 and 2004-11. For changes in mortality, all ages, he uses 2000-1 and 2009-10. This screams cherry-picking. Don’t forget this is the same guy who came up with that bogus “study” showing that Fukushima already killed 14,000 kids in the US.

    I would strongly recommend that you consult with someone somewhat
    knowledgeable on these matters before relying on ridiculous studies like this one. This one is embarrassingly bad.

    • Sam Gilman

      Well-noted! It really only takes a little bit of critical reading to see what a charlatan Mangano is. The San Luis Obispo County Health department’s demolition of Mangano that Starviking referenced is here (PDF). As well as fishy date selection, Mangano exploits differences in population profiles to produce bogus cancer increases. (He fails to control for age, ethnicity etc – a sign of total incompetence or deliberate deceit. The report hints that it must be deceit.) He also mislabels zip codes, drops inconvenient data, and frequently flatly says the opposite of the truth in the health stats. He claims he’s the first to do such a study (the “they’re suppressing the Troof!” approach of the anti-nuclear conspiracy theory) and that’s also a clear falsehood. The whole thing is a compendium of barely artful junk. I hope Brian has the honesty to read it and take in what the health county report says.

      It’s worth noting that the World Business Academy was founded by an anti-nuclear activist with business interests in renewable energy. Brian is concerned at what he perceives as furtive large-scale industry-funded research – will that matter here too? I hope there’s no hypocrisy going on in the standards he wishes to apply.

      It’s also worth noting that one of the fellows of the Academy, and featured prominently on the website, is renowned woomeister and exploiter of gullible Americans Deepak Chopra. If there was ever a walking, talking (for a fee) huge red flag around an organisation doing “scientific” research, it’s him.

  • Steve Novosel

    Brian, it’s plenty possible to get unbiased, objective data on nuclear related issues. It’s a well-studied subject, and rejecting results solely because there is some nebulous affiliation with government or industry is not very useful. Or relevant. Most scientific research in most disciplines is funded or at least affiliated with either government or private industry – it’s the nature of the beast. It doesn’t necessarily make the subsequent results incorrect.

    I have to reject totally your “pro-nuclear” label – I don’t know what this means. Do you think that academic researchers around the world – people whose livelihood is tied to their professional reputations – are so biased that they will consistently distort results to be published in peer-reviewed, public journals? If so, that’s awfully cynical, and you best mistrust most scientific research.

  • Enkidu

    Brian,

    You seem like a decent enough guy and I’ve enjoyed some of your writings on Zen masters, but if you took one look at the response from Mangano and thought it the least bit credible, I’m not sure what I can do to help you. The response is technically incoherent.

    Let’s take, for example, his first point:

    The Health Department’s response “does not include comments [on Sections II and III]. . . which deal with the potential health hazards of nuclear reactor meltdowns and amounts of radioactive emissions” (p.10) and offers no reason for this omission. It is impossible to present a full, credible response to the March 3 report while ignoring the patterns of radioactive emissions into the environment from Diablo Canyon.

    Let me venture a guess here… perhaps the San Luis Obispo County Health Department didn’t deal with those two sections because those two sections had nothing to do with measured health outcomes in San Luis Obispo? Or is that too obvious. And then Mangano uses a logical fallacy to say that because they didn’t comment on these unrelated sections, that therefore their other comments are not credible. Mangano is that dumb.

    His point 4 though, definitely takes the cake:

    The Health Department, which is completely inexperienced in research on potential health hazards of radiation contamination, fails to note the expertise of the study’s author.

    Yes, because that would have changed any of their critique. In fact, he should count himself lucky that they didn’t take into account his “expertise” (or lack thereof).

    I don’t know if you’re associated with a university or other institution of higher learning, but perhaps there are some resources readily available to you that could help you understand this stuff. Venture over to the science or health department and sit down with someone with a technical background that can explain to you why the basic epidemiological concepts on page 2 of the Health Dept’s report are so important. I hadn’t seen that report until today when Sam linked to it above, and I have to admit, I nearly spit out my lunch when I saw that page. That the Health Dept thought it necessary to review principles as basic as those in its response is about as harsh a dressing-down as they could possibly deliver to someone who fashions themselves as an “expert” in the subject area. He’s an embarrassment.

    • Brian Victoria

      Dear Enkidu,

      It is now clear that there is nothing I can write or say that will change your opinion. I can only invite you and interested readers to continue monitoring what is very much an ongoing disaster at Fukushima Daiichi and other nuclear-related areas throughout the world. One of the best ways of doing so is by regularly checking the following website: enenews.com

      In addition, if you truly wish to understand how close Three Mile Island came to causing the deaths of upwards of 40,000 nearby residents, please see the following documentary that first aired on the History Channel. It is available here:

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Vua6uuJO_c#t=688

      Finally, as you look at the photo of the empty playground that accompanied my article, I hope you will find it in yourself, Enkidu, to ask if nuclear power and the accompanying DEADLY NUCLEAR WASTE is the legacy we wish to leave to our posterity.

      • Sam Gilman

        Who owns and runs ENEnews?

      • Enkidu

        Brian,

        Thank you for the response. I think I now see where the problem may lie–you prefer to rely on an anonymous source of information on the internet (enenews) than take the time to talk to an expert or at least someone reasonably knowledgeable on this stuff to help you understand it.

        Enenews is a joke and one of the biggest sources of misinformation out there. They regularly prey on those readers who either have no technical background, such as yourself, or no Japanese language ability (or both). If you want examples of their idiocy, I’m happy to provide some.

        As for that picture of the empty playground, trust me, I’ve seen places like that back in my days cleaning up Superfund sites in the US as an environmental engineer. Don’t think for one second that I brush off this unprecedented environmental disaster as having no consequence. It has already damaged the lives of too many. However, if we go around making decisions based on idiots like Mangano or articles at enenews, we’re just as irresponsible as TEPCO.

        It should be your responsibility, before writing a public letter to METI, to do your best to understand the situation and what the risks are. Unfortunately, your letter above makes it clear that you haven’t done so.

        Again, talk with an environmental engineer, a health physicist, an epidemiologist, somebody. The whole world isn’t colluding against you. We deal with environmental hazards (that can kill people) all the time, and while every situation poses it’s own unique hazards (and Fukushima more than its fair share), we happen to understand the dynamics quite well and you may be surprised that we’re actually pretty good at protecting human health.

  • Sam Gilman

    You didn’t give a single reason for relying on this rather obscure figure, and I have given you reasons for not relying on him, which you have failed to address. They include issues of financial conflicts of interest, an area where you are applying blatant double standards.

    As for me, the WHO has its absolute independence from the nuclear industry in health research written into an agreement with the IAEA. The researchers they assemble are a good place to start, as well as the studies other people here mention.

  • Mike O’Brien

    Could you cite some of these “scientific studies” that denied the reality of human-induced global warming. I have seen plenty that question the magnitude or the feedback or even whether natural or human causes predominate, but I have yet to see one that flat out denies that humans have caused any global warming.

  • Starviking

    Well, he’s quite inventive, and determined to link the nuclear power plants directly to the reported leukemias, but still, after 6 years, no smoking gun has been found. Additionally, no investigations of similar areas without NPPs have been undertaken, to my knowledge. We also have the fact that the KiKK researchers acknowledged that they found it hard to get accurate socioeconomic data on the persons living within 5 kms of the NPPs – and the mysterious effect where when you combine the leukemia cases within the 5 km radius with those from 5 km to the outer boundary you get…almost exactly the national leukemia rate! This suggests some statistical problems.

    • Starviking

      Additionally, Dr. Fairlie seems to have published the extremely similar papers on this subject over a very short time period. Academically speaking this is a big no-no, as it increases publication rate without a proportional increase in research done

  • Sam Gilman

    Brian,

    Children are not suffering thyroid cancers at forty times the normal rate. This is a classic case of awful “science” put about by the likes of Mangano (and propagated by a man called Harvey Wasserman – not a scientist at all). It’s actually a good opportunity to show you how bad their science is, and an opportunity for you to show that you’re not overwhelmed by the basics of health research – which is a fear expressed by Enkidu and which I share.

    From the outset, I want to stress that the “error” is so simple that it is impossible not to conclude that these people – if they do claim any expertise – are either catastrophically incompetent, or knowingly deceitful (or, as I suspect, a mixture of both).

    To put it simply, the error is a straightforward a case of comparing two quite different numbers.

    The “normal” rate is the number of people who turn up each year with a thyroid cancer big enough to be noticeable through discomfort, and probably palpable (ie it can be detected by touch). This is typically very low for a population of 0-18 year olds. One or two a year in the population we’re looking at.

    The current screening programme over the past couple of years has found tens of tumours in the population of people who were living in Fukushima prefecture and aged 0-18 at the time of the accident. However – and this is the key thing – the programme does not look for thyroids by noting people feeling discomfort or by looking for thyroid cancers by touch. Instead, it uses highly sensitive scanning technology, combined with follow-up, and so detects even tiny growths and tumours.

    Are you with me so far?

    The screening programme can therefore can detect tumours before they are big enough to be noticed by the patient. Way before. As a result, when you scan a population like this, you don’t only get “this year’s” cancers – the ones that would have been big enough to prompt someone over the next twelve months to see a doctor. You also get next year’s, and the year after that’s, and the year after that’s and so on so forth. You get a large number of the cancers that would otherwise have been recorded over the next X number of years.

    So the numbers from active screening are going to be higher than those from passive detection no matter what. Are you still with me?

    This is not an improvised excuse. This is an aspect of something called the “screening effect”. Go ahead and google it – you’ll find it in basic textbooks of medical research. It’s a long-established phenomenon. What the effect basically means is that you cannot directly compare the results of an active screening programme with passive measured levels of a disease before the screening programme began. There are other aspects too: you don’t get doctors missing cancers, because the screeners are deliberately looking for that specific condition, rather than trying to work out from any number of possibilities what a patient’s symptoms mean. On top of that, you pick up cancers that would have gone into spontaneous remission before they would have been detected in the normal way. All of these things push the numbers from screening up compared to the “normal” figures.

    For Mangano and Wasserman to ignore the screening effect – even when major scientific organisations are reminding everyone of this basic phenomenon in medical research – indicates that they, as experts, are either catastrophically incompetent, or knowingly deceitful, or a mix of the two. You may not have heard of the screening effect until today, but to repeat, you are free to google and see how long it’s been known in medical science.

    But forty times sounds high, doesn’t it? Can the screening effect account for this?

    There are two things that help us to appreciate how the numbers can get that high. First is the incubation period for thyroid cancer. The incubation period is basically the period from when the cancer intially forms until when it is typically detected (a patient starts to have symptoms that prompt him or her to seek medical diagnosis). The incubation period is more or less the X number of years I mentioned above. So how long is it for thyroid cancer?

    Ordinarily, the incubation period is between four and thirty years.

    Are you still with me? The long incubation period of thyroid cancer means that we should expect a result from the screening programme that is possibly tens higher than the normal yearly catch of cancer.

    The second thing to remember is a little trickier, but not really that much more so. In the “normal” figures, we find that the older people are, the more likely they are to go to a doctor with thyroid cancer. A woman aged 15-19 has a 0.7 in 100,000 chance of being diagnosed with thyroid cancer, but a woman of 25-29 has a 4.6 in 100,000 chance. That’s seven times higher.

    Therefore, when you scan an 18 year old woman for thyroid cancer with ultra sensitive equipment that will pick up “future” cancers early, and when this cancer could be in the body up to several decades before it would cause symptoms, you are not simply scanning for the next X years’ worth of cancers that an 18 year old would have. You’re looking at the chance she would have gone to the doctor with thyroid cancer this year, and the higher chance a nineteen year old would have gone to the doctor next year, the still higher chance a twenty year old would have the year after that, the even higher chance of a twenty-one year old in three years’ time etc. etc., possibly going on for a couple of decades.

    If you’ve followed me, you’ll see how this will push the numbers up significantly higher. We’re not just looking at the likelihood that children will get thyroid cancer, but, because of sensitive screening, also the higher chance of their future adult selves reporting a cancer too.

    So hopefully now you can see that when an “expert” directly compares the “normal” rate (passively detected large thyroid tumours) with the highly sensitive screening rate (actively sought tumours that take a long time to grow big enough for passive detection to record them), they’re not only in error, they’re making a really basic error. It’s not an error anyone with any claim to expertise should be making.

    Do you see where the problem with that “40 times” claim is?

    How much higher the rate *should* be is not known, because, as in other countries, such in-depth thyroid screening programmes have not been done before in Japan. However, parallel smaller programmes carried out far from Fukushima in order to provide some kind of comparison have shown that the number of potentially pre-cancerous nodules is no higher in Fukushima than in other parts of Japan. This is actually not surprising, given that the highest estimated radioactive iodine exposures in Fukushima children are ten times lower than the average exposure of children at Chernobyl

    This is good news, and I hope you can feel some relief in hearing it.

    If you’re not feeling very trusting towards me, or if I was too technical, you can read about the screening effect here:

    http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/mar/09/fukushima-children-debate-thyroid-cancer-japan-disaster-nuclear-radiation

  • Sam Gilman

    I’m afrad that that “scientific study” was a well-known publicity stunt by climate change deniers. It is also known as the “Oregon petition”. It has zero scientific standing.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Oregon_Petition

    If you could fall for that fairly clumsy ploy, how confident are you in judging scientific consensus in other areas?

  • Mike O’Brien

    I trust everyone will agree that the “waste” from using fossil fuels that continues to pile up throughout the world will be dangerous to human health for ever.

    And as a supporter of nuclear energy I will explain that first since “morality” is subjective any discussion of it is doomed to failure. And second that the “irrefutable” scientific proof is that the waste can be safely contained.

  • Mike O’Brien

    Dear Brian

    Thanks for ignoring my question and for the nice tap dancing.

    A petition is NOT a “scientific study”. And a random check of many of the references from the petitions “Summary of Peer Reviewed Research”, found not a single one that denied humans have caused changes in the climate.

    And thanks for the warning about “prostitutes”, Brian. But I apparently you don’t realize that sword cuts both ways.

  • BlueSky

    Excellent article which exposes hidden health concerns behind a normally operating nuclear power plant.

    To me, I am more concerned about the next generation being safe and secured than I am about me enjoying extra energy.

    Fukushima Daiichi’s ongoing disaster has been proving us that there’s nothing we can do to control a crippled atomic plant once it gets out of control.

    The government should not allow restart nuclear reactors.
    No More Mistake Please.

    • Sam Gilman

      Bluesky, could you read the other comments to this article before making such bold statements? There are several people writing here demonstrating very serious problems with Brian Victoria’s sources.

  • GRLCowan

    I would never think that. The johns who, rich with fossil fuel money, hire some deniers of fossil fuel waste-induced climate change may well have additional coin for persons such as the Mangano you mention.

    This money wants nuclear power dangers exaggerated, not denied.

    Confusion as to which side the bulk of the money is on must be helpful to persons who hope to get some.

  • Sam Gilman

    Brian,

    If you genuinely understood what you linked to, then I think you’ve almost understood what we’re all getting at here. The Oregon petition is indeed a great example of people claiming to have done studies of scientific merit, but actually having done nothing of the sort. We know this because when we consult mainstream scientists, they call BS.

    The same goes for Mangano, Busby, Caldicott and all the other fake experts whom you have chosen to believe: they are people pretending to be experts saying stuff of no scientific value; mainstream scientists ridicule them.

    You don’t seem to be aware that there is a literature about science denialism. Your own depiction of the phenomenon – industry paying the vast majority of apparently genuine scientists to distort their results – is definitively NOT what they find.

    A very short article, called Denialism: what is it and how should scientists respond? published in the European Journal of Health is a good simple start. I can also recommend this lecture here, which is the forerunner of the speaker’s well-received subsequent book:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2T4UF_Rmlio

    I’ll summarise the position here. When an industry, such as the tobacco industry, or the fossil fuel industry, wants to suppress scientific findings, it does not try to buy out all the mainstream scientists and therefore change the “consensus”. This would be hideously expensive (think of how many thousands and thousands of researchers there are around the world looking at climate or cancer) and would fail anyway. Some scientists, like some people, are corruptible, but not most scientists. These are people who chose lower wage careers than they could have had; the glory of being right is rather a strong motivation.

    Instead, industry sponsors attacks on the public understanding of science. They don’t bother trying to persuade other scientists, they try to persuade the public that the real mainstream scientists are wrong.

    To do this, they create a media façade of alternative scientific expertise – and that’s where the money comes in. They get people with the appearance of appropriate scientific expertise to challenge mainstream science. They may set up and fund “institutes” to produce “reports” (such as Heartland or the George C Marshall institute), pay corruptible postcareer scientists from the wrong field to appear in the newspapers or on TV (for example, grand-sounding physicists to talk about how tobacco does not cause cancer), or academics whose careers are going nowhere. Crucially, these academics are not regularly publishing such ideas within academic arenas. It’s just for the media.

    In addition to the money, there are also the ideologically charged. Both climate change denialism and tobacco denialism found homes in free market institutes. This means that ideologically friendly media are also happy to carry their ideas – such as the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal, or the Daily Telegraph in the UK.

    Because they haven’t got a hope of changing actual scientific consensus, their mission is to spread doubt and the impression of large-scale dissent within science. Two of the most significant books on the phenomenon of denialism are “Merchants of Doubt” and “Doubt is their product”, both based on leaked industry memos.

    For example, there has for decades been a scientific consensus on human-made climate change. Every single national science academy in the developed world has signed statements that there is clear consensus, and that urgent action is needed. However, if you turn on your TV, you’d think that there was some kind of raging debate within science about the simple fact of whether it was happening at all. You may have heard takes that in the 1970s there was a consensus on global cooling. There wasn’t; this is a myth promised by paid agents of fossil fuels.

    Similarly, there was never a paid-for scientific consensus that tobacco did not cause tobacco. Quite the opposite: once the evidence was presented of a link, it was fairly rapidly accepted by other scientists (see the Eur Jour Pub Health article I linked to above), and there’s been a consensus among scientists for literally decades that there was a link. There was, however, a paid-for media campaign to convince the public that there was no consensus.

    Interestingly, some of the “scientists” and “institutes” involved in tobacco denialism were subsequently involved in climate change denialism. That’s the political angle. Tobacco denialism and climate change denialism are right-wing hobby horses.

    This is the bit that will stick in your throat: the same thing goes on on the left and in the anti-nuclear power movement. As a left-winger, it certainly stuck in my throat when I had to start reading up on radiation and health and realised I was seeing the same thing on the left that I had seen on the right when the climate denial battle was at its height.

    Mangano has no respect from his peers; he has a masters in public health and that’s it. No university research career, and no training in cancer research. Busby proclaims he is a serious expert in the effect of radiation on human beings. Neither his education nor his track record show that (he went so far as to set up his own peer review journal to improve his article count) and we know what happened with his snake-oil business. Helen Caldicott is (rather: was for a short time) a paediatrician – not an expert in cancer, or radiology, or anything relevant. The Greenpeace International radiation expert is in reality, an art restorer. (I am not making this up) No qualifications or publications in radiation whatsoever. There are vanishingly few “experts” touted by the anti-nuclear movement with the appropriate science training in radiation or health. Of the “experts” that get thrown around by people holding as extreme a position as your own, I would struggle to use up all of the fingers on one hand to count the ones with genuine credentials. This looks very similar to the actual number of genuine climate scientists who would deny climate change. It’s tiny.

    None of these people takes part in persuading other scientists by engaging in debate in the scientific arena (they may have tried, but they haven’t been successful). Instead, they furiously burnish their credentials and target the media – exploiting political allegiance and scientific naivety. Just like climate change denial.

    That’s why you’re having largely to refer to the History Channel and to documentaries on Welsh TV and – inevitably – to ENEnews, while we can refer to scientific paper after scientific paper after scientific paper about the health effects of ionising radiation, and also scientific article after article after article about the very serious health effects of fear.
    Given your concern about the distortion of science for public consumption, and your concern for people’s health, are you sure you’re on the right side? Being wrong for you is not a matter of “better safe than sorry”. Being wrong means causing harm by spreading dangerous misinformation.

  • Sam Gilman

    Brian, as you used to be a Christian minister, let me quote from 1 Corinthians 13:

    When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.

    Brian, it is childish to present the case as “nuclear power or nothing”. What are the alternatives?

    Nuclear power isn’t simply an alternative to fossil fuels. Because, for economic reasons, it supplies baseload electricity (the 24-7 always-on supply), it primarily displaces coal. This is why Germany has been building coal-fired plants: so that it can exit nuclear. Japan is burning more coal now than it has done for decades. Putting aside one moment the issue of climate change. The lowest estimate for how many people are killed year on year by coal production in the US is 12,000. Every year. Never mind Fukushima, that’s more each year than the best quality high estimates are for Chernobyl over the next fifty years.

    What’s the morality of that, Brian? Do you embrace these deaths happily? Or do you now recognise your rhetoric as being the childishness that Paul spoke of?

    If we include climate change, we are probably currently at 100,000 deaths a year at least and rising. We have to get out of fossil fuels. Someone else has linked to a study done by James Hansen, the scientist who has done most to spread the word about climate change to American politicians, about the number of deaths so far saved by the displacement of fossil fuels by nuclear. He estimates 1.84 million. Brian, you didn’t even deign to reply to the first time this study was put to you. Where was your morality then? Hiding?

    You are welcome to suggest that we can replace everything with renewable energies. And I will disagree with you that renewables can replace fossil fuels on their own, and bombard you with evidence to that effect. There is a particular problem replacing baseload with renewables; they’re not good at kicking coal out. I would be delighted to be given the chance to go over the mathematics of it (and delighted to hold you to evidence not derived from the renewables industry or those associated with it!), because these issues matter. My support for nuclear is contingent on there not being a viable alternative that is less lethal. That may sound nuanced, but now I am a man, I have put away childish things like “nuclear or nothing”.

    We can talk about waste too, as it’s theoretically a serious issue, although you’re throwing silly numbers about. We can talk about the evacuations, although that would mean a continuation of the same dance whereby I provide mainstream science, and you provide an article from a provincial free newspaper.

    The thing is, Brian, I was probably (vaguely) anti-nuclear before Fukushima. Once I had to read up about it, and read up about alternatives, and remembered all the lesson I learnt about how ideologues manipulate the public presentation of science in the battles over climate change and kept in mind the horrible dangers of climate change, I remembered that I was pro-people and pro-arithmetic. That’s quite moral, isn’t it?

  • Mike Carey

    I suspect that all readers of this article and comments wish to be
    treated the same: honestly. But, obviously, that is not now happening.

    Specifically, the New Mexico WIPP has been thoroughly and capably reacting to the minor incidents in their disposal facility. No radiation “is leaking into the environment.” No ones health or safety has been affected, and recovery operations are being transparently documented on their web site for all to see. Go to wipp dot energy dot gov to see their regular updates.

    This is a perfect demonstration of how carefully a properly managed disposal site can receive and process even a barrel of mishandled waste that has been shipped to them. Citing the WIPP as an ongoing problem without telling the readers here what is actually happening is not immoral – its just dishonest.

    Nuclear “waste” disposal solutions have been thoroughly researched and tested for decades. Gwyneth Cravens describes them, and much more about nuclear power, in her thoroughly readable book, “Power to Save the World.”
    Cheers.

  • Mike O’Brien

    Well Brian, you may want to read about a place called Oklo. For a few hundred thousand years it was the site of a naturally occurring nuclear reactor. And without a reactor vessel or a containment and with a steady flow of water, the waste products stayed pretty much right where they formed.

    ‘As for “morality,” there is one universally accepted standard, “treat others as you wish to be treated.” Do you disagree?’

    Yes I do disagree and the fact you asked such a asinine question just goes to prove my point. Or do you want to be treated like a retarded 6 year old?

  • Steve Novosel

    Brian, you surely mean well, but you would be much better served not reading sensationalist articles and biased, unscientific junk like enenews and actually reading mainstream scientific sources on these issues. So many of the things that you are concerned with have been researched and reported on extensively in reputable publications, by well-qualified scientific teams. I suggest you take a step back and learn a bit more about the issues at hand before posting these sensationalist links.

    I’ll leave you with this one question – why is it that anti-nuclear activists focus on nebulous and controversial health effects from nuclear power generation and not at all for the very real, totally non-controversial extreme impacts on health and environment from power generation via conventional sources? Why is this a complete non-starter in the anti-nuclear crowd? It’s not even close, nuclear is far cleaner, far healthier than coal, oil, or gas. Does this not matter at all?

  • http://www.sheldonthinks.com/ Andrew Sheldon

    Interesting, but I’d be careful about generalising specific studies to ‘all plants’. Cherrypicking of outcomes. There is no ‘safe’ industrial activity. What we need is clear processes, clear science and internalising of costs. Uranium mining is relatively safer than coal mining…and good practices can get deaths from over 10,000 a year in China to less than 6 in Australia. Ultimately, as with all things, risk is managed, not avoided. We need to make people accountable; not throw out the baby with the bathwater. These are large investments. We don’t want to be closing plants because people had a bad feeling with evidence confirmed by selective evidence and a lack of analytical insight.

  • Enkidu

    Brian,

    Sorry to be away. I think we may have some common ground in our contempt for TEPCO, but I believe your general point about corporations is more nuanced. In my experience, corporations try to do the right thing with respect to the environment for the most part (whether that’s just selfish behavior to increase shareholder value by preventing lawsuits or burnishing the public image is probably better left to a different discussion). However, as you rightly point out, there are more than a few bad apples out there, who do end up inflicting great damage at great cost to the taxpayer and it’s these guys who make the news; TEPCO being a case in point.

    As for whether someone should be held criminally liable for what has happened, I agree with your sentiment, but this is a very messy and difficult thing to do with cases like this. I mean even if the prosecutor could prove that certain laws were broken, trying to determine who actually was responsible for breaking those laws would be a staggering task. Unfortunately, I wouldn’t be surprised if no one is ever put in jail for this.

    Finally, on the thyroid abnormality/cancer issue, again I
    think you should probably lay off the enenews. As Sam explained at length below, what we have seen to date is not worrisome, subject to the caveat that we should continue to monitor these kids closely well into the future to see if incidence rates do start to increase and, if so, by how much.

  • Starviking

    Brian, if you look for the source of the 462 TBq of Sr90 estimate in that article, you find it is an Asahi Shimbun report. What the reporter did in that report was multiply an amount of Sr90 found in a basement at the Dai-ichi plant by the amount of water flowing out to sea. Hardly scientific.

    As for the reports in your “Hotline to Nagacho”, a review paper has just been published in the Journal of Radiological Protection, by a team including those behind the German study, with the title “Childhood Leukemia Risks: from unexplained findings near nuclear installations to recommendations for future study”. It concludes that childhood leukemia should not just be studied around nuclear installations, and that no more studies around nuclear plants should be made unless they have new features in their studies, such as finding out how leukemia is caused in children.