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“Nuclear is unnecessary and all of its risks can be avoided by using renewables, conservation and efficiency.
– Dr. Arjun Makhijani, Carbon-Free and Nuclear-Free (2008) (http://www.ieer.org/carbonfree/)
“America’s electricity is already being provided through the nuclear industry efficiently, safely, and with no discharge of greenhouse gasses or emissions.” From VP Cheney speech, May 22, 2001. “No part of ‘efficiently, safely, and with no discharge of greenhouse gases or emissions’ is true.” – Helen Caldicott, Nuclear Power is Not the Answer (2006)
Regular readers of my column may have smirked at the attack on me by George Erickson published here. Referring to me variously as Lafarge, Laforge and LaForge, George Erickson called me a “real terrorist,” writing “He and others like him become the real terrorists when they spread lies and distortions about nuclear power.”
Regular readers could conclude from this that Mr. Erickson is so loony that I don’t have to reply. But the rest of the huge Nukewatch staff – Arianne Peterson and Kelly Lundeen -- argued that a response could be educational and that name-callers shouldn’t get the last word.
After 35 years of criticizing nuclear power and weapons I’ve been called a communist, dupe, pinko, enviro-extremist, Luddite, scoff law, crazy, etc., but “terrorist” is a rather jittery slur. When I was in the Duluth Federal Prison Camp for protesting terrorism in 2006, every morning that I walked into the inmate library the disbarred lawyers and Wall St. crooks greeted me jauntily: “Hey, it’s the commie bastard! Good morning commie bastard!” After a few days of this I finally replied, “Hey, it’s the greedy bastards! Good morning greedy bastards!” They laughed, and the name-calling faded away. (Who says prison camp can’t be funnier than hell?)
Being labeled “terrorist” is these days more ominous than other put-downs because the government says it’s engaged in a “war on terror.” The epithet is ironic too because I’ve spent so much time and energy, in custody and otherwise, opposing terrorism. Last week, my column was about the USA’s refusal to rule out first-strikes with nuclear weapons. Our formal, public, and ongoing threat to launch nuclear attacks is routinely called nuclear terrorism when it’s made by others, but it’s just “deterrence” when practiced by the ol’ US of A.
Israel and the United States have concluded that Iran’s pursuit of nuclear power is a cover for a nuclear weapons plan. Mr. Erickson’s “terrorist” insult seems especially funny in view of the paroxysms of fear and loathing directed toward Iran. The so-called state sponsor of terrorism – is threatened with aerial bombardment for its positive advocacy of nuclear power reactors, and I’m a peace terrorist for promoting a phase-out of the reactor biz.
Since there’s not enough space to reply to every mistake Mr. Erickson made, I’ll address just a few.
Erickson (E.) “the NRC strictly supervises every plant.”
LaForge (L.) This myth was shattered by a lengthy, four-part series by Jeffery Donn of the Associated Press, that shameless anti-nuclear advocacy group, in June 2011. Readers are encouraged to find and study the series that ran under these headlines: Part 1, June 20, “Safety rules loosened for aging nuclear reactors”; Part 2, June 21, “Radioactive tritium leaks found at 48 U.S. nuke sites”; Part 3, June 27, “U.S. nuclear evacuation plans haven’t kept up with population: 17 million would have to move in 48 hours if 50-mile zone went up around NY plant”; and Part 4, June 28, “How long can nuclear reactors last? US, industry extend spans: ‘What they’re saying is really a fabrication,’ retired reactor designer says”.
Mr. Erickson’s website notes that he is a member of the Union of Concerned Scientists. As such, he shares company with David Lochbaum, director of the union’s “Nuclear Safety Project” and author of “Fukushima: The Story of a Nuclear Disaster.” Lochbaum reported in the most contrary way May 10, 2016 about how, as Mr. Erickson claims, “the NRC strictly supervises every plant.” Lochbaum wrote, “In the North Anna, Brunswick, Hatch, and FitzPatrick [reactor] events described above, the testing and inspection efforts should have detected degradation in the containments’ metal walls before holes were created. The testing and inspection efforts were clearly unsuccessful in detecting degradation in a timely manner. The failures should have triggered changes in what is being done…”
The Union of Concerned Scientists website warns: “UCS has been advocating for better NRC enforcement of safety regulations for decades – but more must be done to make nuclear power safer.” And, “We have pressed the agency to enforce its regulations…” The USC begs readers to, “Urge Congress to demand the Nuclear Regulatory Commission enforce its fire safety regulations and establish a clear, realistic timeline for compliance by all nuclear power reactors.”
Last year, UCS published a long report -- “Near Misses at U.S. Nuclear Power Plants in 2015” – that begins “The U.S. nuclear regulatory commission (NRC) reported nuclear safety near misses at 10 commercial nuclear power reactors in the united states in 2015.” The report illustrates a part of the difference in outlook between Mr. Erickson and me. Erickson concludes from the USC analysis that nuclear power is safe. I conclude the opposite.
One’s willingness to risk large radiation releases is another chasm of disagreement, since Mr. Erickson finds radiation nearly harmless or even beneficial, while I agree with the National Academy of Sciences in its most recent (7th) Biological Effects of Ionizing Radiation report. The NAS concluded that there is no exposure to radiation that can be called harmless. The BEIR-VII said there is no basis for the Hormesis theory that a little radiation acts like an inoculation, and it found that radiation exposure is far more likely to cause harm to infants, women and children than to the “reference man” used to set exposure standards.
E. “he expects 90% efficient nuclear power to be as cheap as 30% efficient wind power”
L. Speaking of disinformation. Nuclear power is no 90% efficient but one third of that. Dr. Arjun Makhijani, President of the Institute for Energy & Environmental Research wrote me this May 16: “Nuclear power plants are generally in the 32 to 35 % efficiency range in converting the heat of fission to electricity. When you take electricity use in the plant and transmission and distribution losses, the efficiency is about 31 percent -- energy delivered to energy input (from the fission heat).” Dr. Makhijani is the author of The Nuclear Power Deception: US Nuclear Mythology from Electricity ‘Too Cheap to Meter’ to ‘Inherently Safe’ Reactors; and Carbon-Free & Nuclear Free: A Roadmap for US Energy Policy, among many others.
E. “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. … Where does he get this stuff?”
L. I referenced a string of articles from such extreme anti-nuclear mouthpieces as Business Week, the Washington Post, CNN, the Irish Times, and the Japan Times, all published Oct. 20, 2015. The headlines were these: “First case of cancer linked to Fukushima cleanup work diagnosed,” CNN.com; “Worker’s Cancer Linked to Fukushima Blast for First Time,” Bloomberg News.com/Business Week.com; “Fukushima No. 1 worker’s leukemia officially deemed a work accident,” Japan Times.com; “For the first time, Fukushima recovery worker diagnosed with cancer,” Washington Post.com; and “First cancer case confirmed at Japan’s Fukushima plant,” Irish Times.com.
The Washington Post report on this admission said that Japan’s federal Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare “confirmed the man’s cancer was related to his work at Fukushima after he filed a worker’s compensation claim.” And CNN reported: “‘This is a massive blow to the IAEA, which stated in September of this year that no discernible health effects due to the exposure to radiation released by the accident are to be expected,’ Greenpeace said in a statement.” The IAEA is the International Atomic Energy Agency.
E. “In so doing, he ignores the fact that nuclear power is statistically the SAFEST of all ways to generate electricity…” and “… nuclear power, which is already the safest means of producing power.”
L. Nuclear power was long ago proven to be unsafe because it’s the only industry required to establish a disaster evacuation plan prior to start-up.
Nuclear power is unsafe by definition because it’s the only industry in the world that insurance companies will not insure for any amount of money. Federal governments have to bail out nuclear reactor operators by giving them disaster insurance free of charge, paid for by public taxes. In the US this insurance subsidy is the Price Anderson Act.
Only the willfully ignorant or irrational could believe that routinely releasing radioactive materials from reactor vent stacks and drain pipes (they are all allowable or “permissible” radioactive emissions) is safer than producing electricity with wind, photo-voltaic panels, or tidal power turbines. Indeed the safest way is known as “negawatts”– the proactive efficient, conservative or altogether avoided use of electricity.
We’ve known at least since 1989 and the Harvard Business School’s book Energy Future, that negawatts could completely eliminate that portion of electric demand (19%) now met by US nuclear reactors -- because more than that amount is wasted, incidental, accidental, and unnecessary electric usage. If nuclear power advocates were sincerely concerned about climate change, they would advocate a mandatory World War II-like conservation program that would curtail needless electricity usage in order to support our troops in their long fight to protect the industry’s access to energy resources. (Please don’t call it a “good war” against “bad guys” while the President uses screaming fighter jets and faceless drones to bomb villages, and simultaneously force-feeds hunger strikers kidnapped from the same villages and holds them indefinitely at Guantanamo – an off-shore penal colony – without charges or the right to see a judge.)
E. “Chernobyl, a facility that was ‘illegal’ everywhere else in the world”
L. Chernobyl’s reactor design was hardly “illegal everywhere.” In the United States, the Army Corps of Engineers and later the Department of Energy operated the Chernobyl-like N-Reactor, one of nine plutonium production reactors at the Hanford Reservation in Washington State. Like Chernobyl N-Reactor was graphite-moderated and had virtually no containment capability. Two years after Chernobyl blew apart, the N-Reactor was shutdown. It’s true that if the N-Reactor had been subject to the same requirements as commercial reactors, it would not have been allowed to operate. But the Atomic Energy Act exempted it and other military reactors like it from licensing and regulation by outside agencies.
E. After Chernobyl, “fatalities have numbered less than 70”
L. The most often-repeated Chernobyl fatality estimate is from the UN’s 2006 Chernobyl Forum, which reported “9,000 excess deaths for the most affected areas.” This study has been criticized for investigating only those fatalities expected in Russia, Belarus and Ukraine -- although the majority of radioactive fallout was deposited outside those three former Soviet states.
In his book Chernobyl: Consequences of the Catastrophe for People and the Environment, published by the New York Academy of Sciences, author Alexey Yablokov says, “There is no reasonable explanation for the fact that the [Chernobyl Forum] completely neglected the consequences of radioactive contamination in other countries, which received more than 50% of the Chernobyl radionuclides….” Taking into account dozens of Russian-language reports as well as the contamination of other European states, Yablokov’s book estimates 985,000 eventual Chernobyl deaths.
Only industry zealots can settle on “70” after Ukraine’s Minister of Health Andrei Serkyuk declared (in 1995) that 125,000 Ukrainians had died from the effects of Chernobyl. Minister Serkyuk said a large share of casualties were among children, pregnant women and rescue workers or “liquidators” – the soldiers, farmers, miners and factory workers who removed and buried radioactive topsoil, debris and equipment from near the smashed reactor. The Los Angeles Times reported in 1998 that “Russian officials estimated 10,000 Russian liquidators died,” and the paper quoted health officials who said “close to 3,600 Ukrainians who took part in the cleanup effort have died of radiation exposure.” However, Ukrainian authorities said in 2009 that over 25,000 liquidators died getting the accident under control and constructing a concrete shield over the wreckage.
E. “warnings about radioactive wild boars at Chernobyl and Fukushima are refuted by UNSCEAR”
L. UNSCEAR, the UN Scientific Committee on the Effects of Radiation, is incapable of “refuting” independent governmental bans on the hunting and consumption of wild boar. In Japan today, thanks to Fukushima’s meltdowns and explosions, just as in Ukraine, Russia, Belarus, Germany, Austria, and Italy because of Chernobyl, wild boars are contaminated with radioactive cesium-137 at rates that individual nation states have declared unfit for human consumption.
E. “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?”
L. Readers might suspect that an organization and a column named “Nukewatch” might focus on nukes, that is, nuclear power and weapons and their radioactive hazards. And Nukewatch has reported more than once on the radioactive materials unearthed and dispersed by fracking (radon and radium), and on the heavy equipment that is made radioactive in the process. The cover story of our summer 2014 Quarterly newsletter was about the filter “socks” contaminated with radon and radium that have been illegally dumped at Indian Reservations in North Dakota. Our summer 2013 Quarterly covered “The Long-Lived Legacy of Fracking.”
E: “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.”
L.1) There are not “thousands” of bags, but over nine million. Thousands more are added every say, as rain water washes radioactive forest debris from the mountain sides down into populated areas; and
2) Japan’s evacuation and decontamination response – the removal of millions of tons of contaminated material and evacuation out 12 miles – was not considered “hugely overcautious” by the US State Department. It ordered US citizens to say 50 miles away from Fukushima. Regarding soil contaminated with radioactive fallout from the three reactor explosions and meltdowns, Japan has imposed an evacuation standard far less cautious than the one used at Chernobyl.
The New York Times, reported March 30, 2011: “A long-lasting radioactive element has been measured at levels that pose a long-term danger at one spot 25 miles from the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, raising questions about whether Japan’s evacuation zone should be expanded and whether the land might need to be abandoned. ¶ The isotope, cesium 137, was measured in one village by the International Atomic Energy Agency at a level exceeding the standard that the Soviet Union used as a gauge to recommend abandoning land surrounding the Chernobyl reactor, and at another location not precisely identified by the agency at more than double the Soviet standard. ¶The international team, using a measure of radioactivity called the becquerel, found as much as 3.7 million becquerels per square meter; the standard used at Chernobyl was 1.48 million.”
With Japanese population density far higher around Fukushima than Ukraine’s population around Chernobyl, readers can decide for themselves whether the Japanese have been “overcautious.”
E: “Mr. Laforge [sic] 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.”
L. The publications I listed were those flaming environmental rags: the Minneapolis Star Tribune, the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times, Reuters, the French Press Agency AFP (Agence France Presse), and Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) in Brussels who commissioned Dr. Ian Fairlie & Dr. David Sumner to write their 91-page “TORCH: The Other Report on Chernobyl” – a critique of a 2006 report by the United Nations.
E: “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.”
L. It was not “people in the nuclear industry,” but active-duty government regulators that raised the alarm. Seven currently employed engineers at the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission took the extraordinarily rare step of formally calling for the shutdown of 98 of 99 US reactors until the electrical problem is fixed. Under the headline “Engineers: Fix design flaw or shut down nuclear plants,” the Cape Cod Times, that wildly anti-nuclear megaphone, reported March 7, “Seven engineers who work for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission have called on their employer to force nuclear power plant owners to fix a design flaw that could affect emergency core cooling systems. If the flaw is not fixed, they say, the plants should be shut down.”
After serving four and ½ years in various jails and prisons for misdemeanor protest actions against the war system, nuclear reactor operations, and the terror of torture, it is amusing to be called a terrorist.
In 2006, I was sentenced to 6 months for climbing through a fence into the US Army School of the Americas where torture has been taught to Latin American troops. The torture manuals used there were divulged by the Washington Post which reported that thousands of them, sent all over the world, were never recovered when the use of them was officially ended. Many of the methods described in the manuals showed up in Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib and other CIA prisons. So at trial in Georgia in 2006 I asked the judge: Why is it that President George Bush could assure his hired torturers that if they were prosecuted for their crimes they would be able to argue the “Defense of Necessity,” or “competing harms,” that a lesser offense is excusable in order to avoid a greater harm, but that I was not permitted to argue the Defense of Necessity in trying to prevent torture, a federal crime punishable by death by using misdemeanor trespass? The question was answered with the maximum sentence allowed.
Evidently Mr. Erickson would disagree with my volunteer attorney who said, “But you look so innocent.”