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I had intended to begin this article by responding to issues raised by John Laforge in the April 7 Reader, but because of publishing delays, the April 21 issue arrived with a new mix of facts and fantasies - one being his oft repeated concerns about cesium on the land and (previously) in the ocean, which Mike Conley, a professional in the Thorium Energy Alliance, had tried to educate John about several months ago - apparently to no avail.
Mike wrote, “Your concerns about coastal C-137 are scientifically unfounded, and are probably based on nothing more than personal bias. We have about 150 grams of dietary potassium in the billions of cells in up our body. About 0.018 grams of that is the radioactive isotope called Potassium-40. That tiny amount of K-40 emits 6,300 MeV per second for your entire life.
“In comparison, the amount of Fukushima Cesium-137 in CA coastal waters, emits 0.0054 MeV per second, which is about 1 millionth of what you get from Potassium-40. Furthermore, other naturally occurring radioactive minerals in seawater, like uranium, make the amount of radioactivity contributed by Cesium-137 even more insignificant.
“Ignorant articles like this from authors who don’t bother to research the facts, whether by intent or laziness, constitute fear mongering.”
In his April 21 effort, Mr. Laforge took advantage of the 30-year anniversary of Chernobyl to spread more misinformation which, and he knows this, has been contradicted by the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR) the primary U. N. Science committee that evaluates these issues. Here are the facts:
During an equipment test in 1986, operators ignored automated warnings, disabled the safety systems and inadvertently exposed the core of the reactor, which had design hazards not present in Western reactors.
As Spencer Weart wrote in The Rise of Nuclear Fear, “In short, for Soviet reactor designers, safety was less important than building “civilian” reactors that could produce military plutonium if desired, and building them cheaply.” This negligence led to a hydrogen explosion that released radioactive particles and gases into the atmosphere because the reactor had no containment structure.
In contrast, every water-cooled U.S. reactor has a huge, re-enforced concrete containment structure, and the NRC strictly supervises every plant. Chernobyl, which was built by the old USSR, was long judged to be dangerous by American scientists. Chernobyl was a failure of bad design, poor training and a system that forbade operators from sharing information about reactor problems.
Chernobyl is the only “civilian” reactor accident where radiation directly killed anyone. Up to 54 “firefighters” eventually died from intense radiation. In addition, the Soviet government didn’t distribute iodine tablets, which could have protected thousands from airborne iodine-131, which is readily absorbed by the thyroid, particularly in the young. (A body with an abundance of normal iodine-127 is less likely to absorb I-131.)
According to a study by 100 scientists from eight U N agencies, “Chernobyl produced an additional 50 deaths over the following 20 years.” That’s a tiny fraction of the deaths caused by burning coal, oil and natural gas. Furthermore, those photos of deformed and retarded “Chernobyl children” that sensation-seeking TV networks feature are no different in severity or incidence than similarly afflicted children elsewhere in Russia who received no fallout, but that information is never provided by anti-nuclear activists and media.
Mr. Laforge ended his April 21 contribution with a long list of links and sources as if to justify his opinion, but they consist largely of links to other authors, anti-nuclear publications and sites that share his methods and opinions.
In the April 7 issue of the Reader, John LaForge began his sinister sounding “Nuke Watch” column with the headline Regulatory Insiders Warn of Flaw in 98 of 99 US Reactors. That headline was accompanied by a photo of thousands of bags of slightly radioactive litter stored near Fukushima because of Japan’s hugely overcautious response to the risk presented by tiny amounts of radiation.
Japan’s predictable reaction was based on a radiation safety standard created in the 50s, primarily by an anti-nuclear zealot named Herman Muller - a Nobel prize winner who lied about the hazards of low levels of radiation and hid evidence that countered his claims, thereby setting irrational radiation standards that have caused immeasurable damage, and are now being formally challenged within the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. For a concise article on this issue, see the CLIMATE CROWD IGNORES A SCIENTIFIC FRAUD in the April 15, Wall Street Journal.
Perhaps with anti-nuclear zealots like LaForge in mind, the WSJ accurately argued that “The journalists involved in this travesty, we’re sorry to say, are of the dumber sort—confused about what science is.” and ends with “Pushing the greenies to confront their nuclear contradictions is probably the best possible way right now of making progress on the climate conundrum.”
By trumpeting that people in the nuclear industry have told the NRC that an “overvoltage” might damage the motors that power a reactor’s coolant pumps, LaForge makes it sound like it’s cause for alarm, although it’s really just evidence that these people are doing their job - a job that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission takes very seriously. As usual, there are several solutions, one being to replace the current motors with single phase motors.
Furthermore, his warnings about radioactive wild boars at Chernobyl and Fukushima are refuted by UNSCEAR and by the many citizens of Prypyat who refused to leave their homes near Chernobyl and, decades later, show no ill effects. Yes, they are “radioactive”, but so are we - each of us emitting radiation, largely from potassium-40 in the food we eat, and from the beer we drink, which is 13 times more radioactive than the water discharged from a nuclear power plant.
His March 10 contribution to the Reader, which bore the hyperbolic headline “Fukushima Five Years on: A Calamity of Terrors”, pretty much copied articles from other anti-nuclear sites. And although I agree with him on several, non-energy, environmental issues, he and others like him become the real terrorists when they spread lies and distortions about nuclear power without ever seeking the facts. And although I and others who know the difference between physics and psychics have contacted him to correct some of his claims, a correction never appears.
With quotes from a variety of “green” organizations that often conflate nuclear bombs with nuclear power (it’s not the same thing, folks), Mr. LaForge is spreading radiophobia at the time that the world needs CO2-free power more than ever before because of Climate Change. In so doing, he ignores the fact that nuclear power is statistically the SAFEST of all ways to generate electricity, and that includes Chernobyl, a facility that was “illegal” everywhere else in the world - a facility where, despite predictions of millions of deaths from the hysterical Helen Caldicott, fatalities have numbered less than 70, about thirty of whom were firefighters who were knowingly sent to their deaths. Source: UNSCEAR.
Because of people like Caldicott, who, after doing good work in helping put an end to atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons, became rabidly and profitably anti-nuclear-everything, and people like LaForge, the public has been persuaded to mindlessly oppose nuclear power. As an antidote, please see the RISE OF NUCLEAR FEAR by Spencer Weart and GREENJACKED! by Geoff Russell, which, despite its cartoonish cover, is a great expose’ of the dishonest methods that many “greens” have used to sabotage nuclear power.
The radiophobia spread by the anti-nuclear crowd has caused deadly consequences: At Fukushima, for example, many frightened, mentally or physically fragile evacuees, usually elderly, committed suicide, fearing that they would never be allowed to return to their homes or businesses. Dr. Jane Orient, who practices internal medicine, put it this way in Fukushima and Radiation as a Terror Weapon.
“The number of radiation casualties from the March 2011 meltdown of Fukushima nuclear reactors stands at zero. In Fukushima Prefecture, the casualties from radiation terror number 1,600….”
Some anti-nuclear zealots knowingly lie: One website prominently displayed a NOAA image representing the diminishing heights of the tsunami as it spread across the Pacific Ocean. However, instead of labelling it properly, that organization created the impression that the image displayed radiation advancing upon our Coast. That’s bad enough, but when informed of their “error”, they were slow to take it down.
In the same article, Mr. LaForge reported that criminal charges have been levelled against three top executives of Tepco, the company that owned the Fukushima Daiichi plant. They should be charged, but here is why:
1. In 1967, Tepco cut 25 meters off of the site’s 35-meter natural seawall to make it easier to ferry construction equipment ashore, a move that placed the reactors 5 meters below the crest of the 2011 tsunami.
2. Tepco replaced the 35 meter seawall with a 6 meter seawall.
3. The Japanese government told Tepco to raise it, but Tepco declined.
4. The government did nothing.
5. Old Sendai “stones” in the area warn “Do not build below the 150 foot elevation.”
6. Tepco placed the emergency generators in the basements, where they were easily flooded.
7. Fukushima’s six reactors ran without issue for 40 years – generating huge amounts of power that added NO CO2 to our atmosphere.
8. All of Japan’s 40 reactors survived the earthquake and shut down properly, including at Fukushima, but the quake cut off Fukushima’s power from the grid.
11. The tsunami then destroyed the emergency generators in the basements.
12. Emergency batteries supplied instrumentation power for about 8 hours. With no coolant to the reactors, units 1-3 experienced meltdown.
13. Reactors 1-4 are useless. Reactors 5 and 6 are capable of producing power, but are not due to the radiation levels in auxiliary buildings and anti-nuclear hysteria.
14. Japan’s Onagawa nuclear plant, which was closer to the epicenter of the quake, had a 45-foot seawall that easily blocked the tsunami. The tsunami took 20,000 lives, that day, but the Fukushima failure took the lives of just two workers who DROWNED.
Nuclear power has been tarred by the Fukushima disaster, but the failure was not the fault of nuclear power. It was the caused by penny-pinching, by the lack of government enforcement of seawall height, by building too close (vertically) to the ocean, and by installing backup generators in easily flooded basements.
Blaming nuclear power for Fukushima is like blaming a train that derails when its engineer takes a curve at 70 mph that is posted for 30. Should we shut down all trains?
No one has died from commercial nuclear power production, except at Chernobyl, a plant designed primarily to make plutonium for bombs – with the secondary purpose of creating electricity - but MILLIONS have died from the effects of burning of coal, oil and natural gas.
In the February, 24 issue, Mr. LaForge hyperbolically called Ontario’s proposed Deep Geologic Repository for storing nuclear waste a “Dump”, which left headline-only readers with the impression that it was an above ground facility. (When you are propagandizing, one’s choice of words can matter.) And, in the January 7 issue, Mr. Lafarge wrote that “Nuclear Power Can be Safe or Cheap, Not Safe and Cheap,” which surprised me because, perhaps inadvertently, he acknowledged that nuclear power can be safe!
However, requiring nuclear power, which is already the safest means of producing power, to be even cheaper than it is, puts it on a tilted playing field that expects 90% efficient nuclear power to be as cheap as 30% efficient wind power, which has received 18 times as much in subsidies as nuclear power and, worse yet, is killing 1 million birds and 1 million bats every year - at a time when insect-borne diseases like Zica, malaria and dengue fever are expanding. How “green” is that?
Why isn’t Mr. LaForge campaigning against fracking, which pollutes our aquifers and releases vast amounts of methane during the drilling and distribution process into our already burdened atmosphere? Doesn’t he know that methane is 70 X worse than CO2 for several decades after it is released and, besides the leakage, burning the rest makes even more CO2? Again, how “green” is that?
Dr. James Hansen, formerly of NASA, and others have calculated that our use of nuclear power, which provides just 18% of our electricity, has saved close to 2 million Americans from early deaths due to coal, oil and gas pollution, but the anti-nuclear people never mention this or place a value on the lives that nuclear power has saved.
Why don’t these “environmentalists” put a price on the 1,400 intermittent windmills needed to replace just one average 24/7 nuclear plant? Why don’t they tell us that, because of their 20-year lifespan - at best - they need to be built three times to match to the 60-year lifespan of a nuclear plant, which will be increased to 80 years by even safer, modern designs?
And why don’t they tell us that windmills, being only 30% efficient, must be “backed up” by full-time power plants, most of which burn coal, oil or natural gas, which creates even more of the CO2, which they say they want to eliminate? In reality, windmills rely on carbon burners to produce the 70% of their rated power that, despite the sales pitch, they cannot supply. Finally, how can these “environmentalists” excuse the slaughter of millions of birds and millions of bats every year instead of accepting the safety and efficiency statistics that support nuclear power?
We – including me and our legislators - were suckered into subsidizing the creation of thousands of these inefficient bird and bat blenders, but now we must face a reality pointed out by Mark Twain: “It’s easier to fool someone than it is to convince them they’ve been fooled”.
He’s right. Perhaps that why so many “greens” are unwilling to change their minds - especially those who profit from selling anti-nuclear articles or head foundations supported by contributors who might resent the deception and remove their financial support.
In closing, I turn to the November 5, 2015 issue of the Reader in which Mr. LaForge hyperbolically – as usual - wrote about “Thyroid Cancer Ballooning in Fukushima-poisoned Areas,” a statement, again, in direct conflict with unbiased reports from UNSCEAR and the meticulously factual Hiroshima Syndrome website that values facts more than fiction.
In that article, Mr. LaForge also claims that a Fukushima worker was “awarded compensation and official acknowledgment that his cancer [leukemia] was caused by working in the reactor disaster zone.” He’s wrong, and a competent journalist would know it. Here are the facts:
The worker received a workman’s comp benefit package only because he satisfied the statutory criteria stipulated in the 1976 Industrial Accident Compensation Insurance Act, which says that workers who are injured or become ill while working or while commuting to and from work, can receive government financial aid and medical coverage. The worker in question spent 14 months at F. Daiichi from October, 2012 until December, 2013. In late December, 2013, the worker felt too ill to work, so he went to a doctor, and was diagnosed with acute leukemia in January, 2014. No doctor’s diagnostic link was made between his occupational exposure and his cancer. In addition, because the latency period between radiation exposure and the onset of leukemia is 5-7 years, the worker did not get cancer from working at Fukushima. It was, in fact, a pre-existing condition that was exploited by opponents of nuclear power who routinely repeat convenient-but-wrong stories because being honest and accurate takes time, knowledge and integrity.
Although this information is easily available to those who care to check, Mr. LaForge again dredged up this issue in the March 3, 2016 Reader, wrongly claiming that “Tepco has recently admitted that one of its workers’ cancers was caused by onsite radiation exposures.” Where does he get this stuff? From another anti-nuclear website? Will these fictions ever end?
The editor of the Reader Weekly and the editors of other publications that print Mr. LaForge’s opinions need to realize that by continuing to publish his biased and often erroneous columns, they will be complicit in spreading the radiophobia that prevents the public from demanding increases in the safe, CO2-free nuclear power that we need now more than ever because of the rapid onset of Climate Change.
For more information, see http://tinyurl.com/EnergyReality.
George Erickson is a best-selling author of four books who writes and lectures on Climate Change and energy issues. He is a member of the Thorium Energy Alliance, the National Center for Science Education and the past vice president of the American Humanist Assoc. For presentations on nuclear power and energy issues, call 218-744-2003 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. His website is www.tundracub.com.