Environmental Praxis 3023
Anthropogenic Radioactivity: A Daedulusian Invention
Anthropogenic is a scholar’s word that means: we did it! Something is here on earth that was never here before. This report will explain what is −and what is not − the ‘naturally-occurring background radiation’ we hear about on the news − how it got there − how it has grown − where it is now − and how it affects us. It will conclude with the history and strategies of the battle between the stakeholders: the public, anti-nuclear groups, the nuclear industry, and the governments who have endorsed it.
The chronicle of Time magazine’s pre and post Three Mile Island coverage is used to construct a picture of how environmental problems have been treated.
Suggestions for new strategies to combat rising levels of artificial radiation in our biosphere will be offered.
The ‘language politics’ of the nuclear debate was a mime of the language of the scientist. Science can be expressed with certainty, but it is frequently couched in verbs that convey doubt- such as -may, and could be- or verbs of some lesser doubt, i.e. can and therefore- possibly- cannot.
Definitive verbs- when used by scientists - are frequently introduced or followed with alarming adverbs and adjectives such as significantly, important, not negligible, or quite substantial. The ubiquitous tranquilizer− the word low- and its helpers, very and very, very are usually present. Radiation science is vague. Radiation scientists contradict themselves. Italics in its text is use to highlight how a hidden marketing agenda is constructed.
The prototype of the first scientist was the mythical Greek god Daedulus, whose name meant cunning or craft. Wings of wax were his invention. His arrogance and vanity made him not consider the unseen and unexpected. His invention killed his own progeny. Icarus, his son fell to earth when the sun melted his wings.
Part I: The Environmental Problem Defined.
A. Sources of Unnatural and Natural Radioactivity
The 1993 book Radioecology and Environmental Protection, by the Hungarian scientist Andras S. Szabo, begins its preface talking about the Danube River and Hungary’s industrial towns. And he says of it: “It is a regrettable fact that as a consequence of the various sources of contamination in many areas, our environment has become polluted to such an extent that there is no chance of its natural self-cleaning” (Szabo, 9).
One of the contaminants in the Danube River is unnaturally occurring, man- made radionuclides. When nuclides are “present in the different segments of the air-water-soil-plant-animal-man biological chain,” Szabo says, we must determine “. . . what are the factors which influence their concentration or accumulation?” Unfortunately, he says, the science of nuclear energy introduced new, artificial radionuclides. There are now hundreds of them (Szabo 9, 28-38).
Science writers Lorus and Margery Milne, both Harvard educated PhDs with a biology discipline, wrote a series of books for adults and young people in a well done effort to make the complexities of nuclear science simple. Their 1989 effort, Understanding Radioactivity was geared to an adult, layman population.
The Milnes explain the function of the molten core of our earth. It sustains life on Earth. The energy we receive from the sun is not sufficient for life.
The molten core at the center of the earth was once thought to be left-over remaining heat from Earth’s creation. Earth was thought to be still cooling. It is now known that Earth long ago lost its birth heat.
The heat from natural radiation-emitting energy, produced as it decays, sustains our molten core. The radiant heat produced by radiation migrates up through rocks, warming them. It escapes to the air and eventually out to space.
“Our survival on Earth depends on heat from its natural radioactivity” (Understanding, 16-17).
The basic ingredient for all this heat is the radioactive decay of Uranium 238, a primordial substance that has been around since the universe’s creation. The Milnes say we are past our heat source’s half life. Earth has reached middle age in its journey to being a cold, cold planet. (Milne, 9-10).
Don’t worry! Half-lives are a “many splendid thing”; so far we have had about 30 of them. Radioactive cesium137’s half life of 30 years is not over in 60 years; it takes 984 years to pass away to stability; radioactive Iodine’s 131 half life of a little over 8 days really sticks around for about 90 days Whether intended or not, the current reporting system is deceptive (hps.org, April 10, 2010).
The Milne team explains natural terrestrial radiation decay. By the time uranium’s alpha radiation decay reaches radioactive lead, it adds penetrating beta and gamma rays to its emissions. It becomes stable lead. Before the time of man’s industrial activities, radiation’s escape from the deep earth to the world we live in was minimal.
“The energy cannot escape because it is in the midst of solid rock, but it makes the rock warmer” (Milne, 15).
The minimalist escapee was radon gas, which migrated up through cracks and faults in the rocks. Radon gas is a known cause of lung cancer. Gamma ray radiation from our sun completes the balance of the natural radiation that existed on Earth without anthropogenic help (Milne, 18). The Milne’s book establishes simply what constitutes the radiation we live with normally. It was limited and tolerable the Milne’s deduce.
“What people today must be wary of is this increased radiation, to which the body is vulnerable” (Milne, 8).
B. Measuring Cups and Spoons.
Measurements for radiation started out with 1 Becquerel. Next came measurements in curies. A Becquerel is one disintegration (decay) per sec; there are 37 billion of them in one curie. Then it gets complicated, because becquerels and curies describe the radiation itself; rads and greys describe absorbed doses; and rems and sieverts describe dose equivalents, which translates to a calculation of many factors including type of radiation, alpha, beta, gamma, the distance from the radiation − whether it was ingested − what organ it effects, and many other things. Exposure rates have yet another name − roentgen. It’s very complicated and there has been little explanation to the public or the press about the subject in a simplified manner.
One thing is certain; representations kept getting smaller in numerical appearance: 100 rems became 1 sievert; a 100 millirem figure became 1 millisievert. One rem equaled 1000 millirem..
How much has background radiation increased since the beginning of artificial radionuclide release in the forties? If this fact is known, it has not been published.
Information from another book lets it be known how much it has increased from 1989, when the Milnes published Understanding Radioactivity. In the 1989 Milne book, units were discussed in rems. One hundred millirems, now called 1 millisievert, is shown as what was being reported as the average annual radiation dose the public was receiving- annually in 1989. (Milne, 11)
One millisievert sounds linguistically puny, but it is a very large dose of radiation, if delivered all at once. And the Milne figure was only natural in part because it included increased radiation from nuclear tests. It did not yet include radiation from Chernobyl (Milne, 11).
In the book Marine Radioactivity, one of the authors of its series of articles, G.J. Hunt, discusses the changes that the measuring system for radiation exposure has gone through. And Hunt reported that background radiation was at 2.4 millisieverts annually, in 2004. In rem language this is 240 millirems. (Marine, 206)
There has been an increase in our background radiation of almost two and a half times in 15 years, from 100 millirems to 240 millirems, but again, it is not all ‘natural background radiation,’ as it is consistently reported to be by governments and the media. Unnatural contributions to our daily radioactive load are clearly growing
This argument is reinforced by a quote from scientist. Merril Eisenbud who said that in 1956, the National Academy of Science’s Committee on the Biological Effects of Radiation recommended that because of genetic consideration(damage to future generations), the before age thirty exposure be limited to 1 rem per decade ( 1000 millirems. This equals the Milne figure of 100 millirem per year average. The figure was meant to apply to “unnatural radiation over and above what we receive normally from ‘natural background radiation.’
And Eisenbud said what natural radioactive load was in 1956: three rem in 30 years, one rem per decade, or 100 millirem per year. Therefore the Milne figure can be interpreted to be 90% unnatural and 10 % natural radiation, or 10 millirem natural and 90 millirem unnatural. Medical X rays were attributed to be contributing 5 rem every 30 years . That left a 2 rem per every 30 years for unnatural radiation( Eisenbud, 45)
. One must assume that when we exceeded that we were overexposed.
One must also assume that as the radiation dose recommendations of the NCRP ( National Council on Radiation Protections) of the American Government in 1971 were .17 rem for both somatic(self) and genetic(progeny) damage: We are being overdose based on current 2011 average radiation doses.
Andras Szabo lists the 15 radio active isotopes that make up the balance of “naturally occurring radioactivity” on Earth (Szabo, 18). He discusses -at length-two of them: Potassium, a common substance found in our soil, and carbon 14, the radioactive isotope of carbon. It is the isotope that plant life takes in as they breathe carbon dioxide from the air. (Szabo, 21). It is a natural part of life on the planet.
Szabo tells us that of the 100s of man-made radioactive isotopes in existence, 23 of them are of the greatest concern based on their dangerous tendencies to effect life on Earth negatively, with lasting radiation loads on what he says is really three types of radiological half-life, physical, biological and effective. (Szabo, 32)
The Argonne National Laboratory in the United States says there is one more that is of a concern to the U.S. Department of Energy, americium, a decay by-product of the unnatural plutonium isotope. Three of americium’s isotopes have very long half-lives of 432 to 7370 years. It is one of the most common but little talked about radioactive waste products of nuclear facilities. It is commercially marketed in smoke detectors . (Argonne, 2005)
Americium is now ubiquitous in soil, which it adheres to strongly, according to the Argonne Laboratory, health fact sheet. The main culprit in its distribution is nuclear bomb testing and other accidental plutonium releases (Argonne, 2005).
Argonne explains it was discovered first in the soil around the government’s Hanford nuclear weapons facility in Washington State (Argonne, 2005). It is now present in soil at a level of .01 picocurie. One curie is a very large amount of radiation .A picocurie is .0000000000001 of a curie (radiation-scott.org).
Why has the government and the industry never mentioned this source of long lasting, dangerous if eaten, alpha radiation?
Nuclear weapons tests, operation of nuclear power plants, nuclear fuel reprocesses and isotope laboratories are listed by Szabo as the sources of artificial radionuclides in the biosphere. (Szabo, 28).
AMAP, Artic Monitoring and Assessment program, says there is a fifth one. It’s called TENORM, and it stands for technologically enhanced, naturally occurring radioactive material. All mining activities and all fossil fuels are sources of TENORM. They are considered a POP, persistent organic pollutant.
The dumping of nuclear waste from all of the above mention sources gives them wide distribution. (AMAP, 2009)
C. Into the Deep Earth
The group of elements which naturally occur, not on earth - but in the deep earth, Szabo calls “primeval.” Natural radiation arrives unnaturally in our environment through the activities of all mining. “The lion’s share of natural atmospheric radioactivity is the gaseous derivatives of 238U and 235U” (Szabo, 43-45)
More radiation than naturally would occur also reaches the surface due to invasive techniques of what is called Enhanced Oil Recovery. Well logs of the gas and oil industry “include excessively high, natural radioactivity” (Fertle and Chillingarian, 1990).
According to an overview of uranium mining on the site Miningwatch.com: “The environmental effects of uranium mining include the contamination of ground water with dissolved metals and radioactive materials, dispersal of radioactive dust, and releases of radioactive gas into the air. When uranium ore is processed, 85% of the radioactivity is left behind in the tailings, and must be managed safely for hundreds of thousands of years.” (miningwatch.ca, April 10, 2011).
“There is an urgent need to identify and examine the environmental problems of uranium mining,” said an Australian scientist, writing in 1979 on the environmental problems created by uranium mining and its tailing ponds (P Beardman, 1979). Today the practices of uranium mining are basically unchanged and tailing ponds remain.
The burning of fossil fuels contributes to the continuous build- up of unnatural radioactivity in our natural background. Gasoline produces still radioactive lead. The smoke and fly-ash of coal produces a more lethal element of radioactivity, the Hungarian author Szabo says “as the humic acids of coal absorb uranium and thorium with a very high enrichment factor . . . uranium and its daughter elements enter the biological circulation through the atmosphere.”
He also points out that natural gas when burned has a very high radioactive output and “thus through the combustion of natural gas a large amount of radon is passed into the air.” (Szabo, 46).
D. Learning to Love the Bomb
Uranium’s first use was in the atomic bomb. It began what is today Szabo’s pedigree stable of man-made radioactive isotopes. We still suffer fall-out from nuclear weapons. Fall-out has remained constant since 1945; even 1-2% of artificial radioactive isotopes released in the bombs dropped on Japan in 1945 during World War II, had still not fallen back to earth from the stratosphere in 1993(Szabo, 37).
The most lasting affects of the radiation we experience from the fall out come from man-made Strontium 90, Cesium 137, and Carbon 14. (Szabo, 32). Szabo’s choice of these three elements was made for their dangerousness, which is tied to their ability to bioaccumulate, i.e., their ratio of incorporation in plants, animal and human tissue and their physical, biological and effective half-life.
This artificial contribution to the Carbon 14 figure is important. At the time of the 1963 treaty banning further atmospheric testing, it had already almost doubled (90%). (Szabo, 33) This would present a clear argument that just based on carbon 14 increase alone, the radioactive increase of the biosphere has at least doubled, even before the Milne book was written in 1989.
Strontium 90 is chemically similar to calcium and accumulates in the bones of living organisms and stays there for a long time. Its half life is almost as long as cesium. Cesium 137 mimes potassium and joins it in a common transport system through the organism. Therefore, according to Szabo its dose equivalent is four times larger than Strontium. (Szabo, 34)
The scientist Gregory Choppin, writing in 1963, in his book Nuclei and Radioactivity, concluded his book on radiation with a page and a half appendix entitled “Biological Effects of Radiation.” Fifty percent of the short remarks were excusing possible harm from radiation by remarking “the dangers from radiation must be accepted as a necessary evil in order to achieve a greater good” (Choppin 137). It would take several generations before scientists could reach conclusive agreement over its dangers, he said.
E. Nuclear Power Plants
“In the radioactive contamination of the biosphere, nuclear power plants and nuclear facilities play a role that is not unimportant” Szabo says, going on to add, “Unfortunately, in addition to the low level of radioactive emissions during normal operation and in the case of serious disasters in nuclear rectors or nuclear power stations, the release of a very significant amount of radioactive material must be reckoned with” (Szabo, 35). The author cites the Chernobyl example for the potential of nuclear power to catch up for lost time when there are accidents.
Chernobyl increased the radiation levels over most European countries by “at least an order of magnitude higher than all previous atmospheric weapons tests” in total. (Szabo, 35).
The author of the book Radioecology and Environmental Protection sums up his short mention of nuclear power plant’s contributions to contamination of the biosphere by telling us that Paks, his country’s nuclear power plant, has “very low” levels of contamination, and its contribution of nuclides to the Danube, downstream from the plant, is significantly below drinking standards; however, he goes on to say atmospheric release is of much greater importance than liquid admissions. He refers the reader to the UNSCEAR reports. (Szabo, 35-36)
UNSCEAR (United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation), assessed Chernobyl after effects on health. Besides the over 6000 children that died from thyroid cancer in Russia they say “there is no evidence of a major public health impact attributable to radiation exposure two decades after the accident.”
Unlike Szabo’s assertion that Chernobyl raised the magnitude of contamination in Europe a full order of magnitude over all the nuclear testing for decades, UNSCEAR shows contamination maps that do not include Europe and says: “For the most part, they were exposed to radiation levels comparable to, or a few times higher than, annual levels of natural background. . .” (UNSCEAR.org Apr, 2011). The Ukraine is included on the UNSCEAR map; Hungary is adjacent and to the Ukraine.
A 2005 story in the New York Times describes a mortality rate for Hungarian men almost three times the average of the European Union nations and 30% higher than it was in 1970. The New York Times also says in its story that Hungary has the highest general death rate from cancer in all of Europe, a rate up 30 % since 1985, five months before the Chernobyl accident (Rosenthal, NYT, Dec. 26, 2005). The country has also mined Uranium for 50 years.
The year 1993 was a good year for addressing world radiation build-up. Szabo mentions in his introduction that the World Health Organization, (WHO) had recently passed a resolution to monitor radioactive isotopes (Szabo, 9).
The WHO website only provides early warning and after the fact assistance for nuclear accidents. It also does research. No one is an official “Geiger counter” for artificial radioactive build-up on Earth. (who.int. 08 Apr 2011).
The WHO has been considering raising the allowable limit for radiation in our drinking water even before the recent Japan nuclear accident; however, it is now on the table for discussion until April 30(who.int/water). The World Health Organization, who is proposing doubling the value, published the report, with the following disclaimer:
All reasonable precautions have been taken by the World Health Organization to verify the information contained in this publication. However, the published material is being distributed without warranty of any kind, either expressed or implied. The responsibility for the interpretation and use of the material lies with the reader. In no event shall the World Health Organization be liable for damages arising from its use. The named authors alone are responsible for the views expressed in this publication (WHO, Falwell, Hirose, 2011).
The authors of the report, a group of scientist headed by Dr. A. Hirose of Japan and J.K. Fawell of England, say: “Deriving a guideline value for uranium in drinking-water is complex, because the data do not provide a clear no-effect concentration.”
The group included scientists from the United States and Canada. It is a report loaded with a plethora of doubt verbs with no scary adjectives or adverbs. Their final sentences could be laughable fodder for Jon Stewart and Steven Colbert “... care should be taken in responding to an exceedence of the guideline value, which is probably conservative” (WHO, Fawell and Hirose, 2010).
What was the average drinking level in the world’s water at the time this report was produced? Had it already exceeded the current allowable limit? Who is taking responsibility for this report?
Dr. Mae- Wong Ho, writing for ISIS in 2008, outlined a myriad of accidents plaguing the French nuclear industry, one of them raising the uranium content of nearby rivers to 1000 times normal.( Nuclear Renaissance, Ho). ISIS is a British group that seeks to promote scientific study, free of government and special interest control (Ho, Nuclear Renaissance).
There is an emission problem with nuclear plants that is little spoken of: krypton gas. Szabo points to the continuously increasing atmospheric problems resulting from Krypton 85, an air polluting by-product of the nuclear industry. It’s a long lasting man made isotope whose main source comes from spent fuel reprocessing (Szabo, 79). He does not say why we should be concerned about it.
William Boeck of Niagara University did. In 1976, he wrote that Krypton 85, at the rate it was accumulating from nuclear power plant emissions, was going to interfere with atmospheric ionization within 50 years. He suggests how the interference would manifest itself: It could set up electrical feed back loops between thunderstorms in widely different locations, and it could electrify vapour in clouds. It would be a world wide effect and it would go on for decades. (Boeck, 1976)
F. World Class Dumpsters: High and Low Level Waste.
The remaining two sources of radiation contamination of the biosphere are: isotope laboratories and reprocessing plants. They, along with power plants, present the waste conundrum of the industry. There are two revealing reports which document the waste contribution of two main users of the technology, Russia and the United States.
The first ever conference on environmental radioactivity build-up at the poles took place in 1993. The central theme of the AMAP conference (Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme), was billed as “the transport and flux of radio active elements, natural and anthropogenic, through atmospheric terrestrial and marine environments in Polar Regions.” (AMAP, 1).
Why was this a necessary undertaking? While assuring the conferees and future readers of their report that concentrations of radioactivity levels were still generally low, there was now new information available on radioactive contamination sources and possible, potential future releases.
Norway hosted the conference. Their then Minister of the Environment Borre Petersen stated that they were gathering to discuss effects of nuclear activities that had been concealed for decades (AMAP, 3)
The first polar contaminations began in 1949 and ended in 1951. Russian nuclear facilities discharged their liquid wastes and cooling waters into the Techa River. When Russian scientists found the power plant effluence discharged to the river affected fish eggs, the Russians began to restrain their waste in reservoirs. (AMAP, 17).
The reports from the conference proceeding named two waste processing plants, one in France and one in Britain. They are twin culprits in contamination of the Arctic. The report concentrates on Great Britain’s Sellafield facility. The contribution of the French facility is not made clear (AMAP, 17).
The Sellafield contribution reached a maximum output to the ocean in the year 1975 (AMAP 75-76). Eight-seven nuclear tests took place on the Russian island of Novaya Zemla. The island, its waters and the Kara Sea were also both used as a dumping ground for radioactive waste. No less than one Russian atomic powered icebreaker and 16 atomic sub marines lay at the bottom of the polar waters either from accidents or decommissioning. Russia worried about the mobility of radionuclide in bottom sediments because of their ability to remobilize and reenter the sea.
On Apr. 7, 1989 the submarine Komsomolets sunk while carrying two nuclear war heads. The conference reports noted that as of 1993 the situation was stable; however, “the marked release of Pu into sea water as a result of electrochemical corrosion processes may occur as soon as after a lapse of several years. (AMAP, 49). The Americans reported that their nuclear submarine accidents, resting on the ocean bottom, the Thresher and the Scorpio, were no threat. (AMAP, 13)
From these separate statements the report drew what was described as a preliminary conclusion the situation was safe but needed more investigations and the report concluded that the possible impact on man was low, stating: “ The results of this investigation show that at present the influence of the dumped radioactive wastes on the general level of radioactive contamination in the Kara Sea is insignificant,” and they went on to add that when a nuclear ship sinks: “With any of these events it is possible that single time or continuous release of radioactive substances to the sea will take place.” (AMAP, 67).
The main isotopes of concern to the conferees were Strontium 90 and Cesium 137. Strontium 90 has reached a level four times higher in Northern Hemisphere waters than in the Southern Hemisphere (AMAP, 37). The most revealing fact of the 2009 AMAP report was that the effective life of nuclides can increase inside a biological entity. (AMAP 2009). They may also decrease.
Christian Junge, writing in 1963 in his book Air Chemistry and Radioactivity talks about the problem with Strontium 90’s similarity to calcium: “Strontium-90 is considered to be one of the most dangerous isotopes. It has a long radioactive half-life and accumulates in the bones with practically unlimited biological residence time due to its chemical similarity to Calcium (Junge, 240).
The report quotes the fact 40% of cesium 137 found in the water mass was from industrial origin. It is hard to determine how they arrived at this fact, when 100% of Cesium 137 is a man-made radioactive isotope that did not exist before man-made nuclear fission arrived on the scene.
In 1993, the Russian Northern Fleet officially declared a halt to the dumping of liquid radioactive waste into the seas. However, it remains an open question as to how to dispose of the liquid waste that continues to be generated, given that all of the storage facilities for liquid waste are filled up. The web site bellona.org explains what the Russians do now with their waste.
Liquid radioactive waste is transferred to special tankers and nuclear support ships, as well as PE-50/PEK-50 type floating tanks. There are also onshore storage facilities at the bases and in the shipyards. Since 1994, the Northern Fleet has been delivering liquid waste to be processed at the treatment facility located in Atomflot nuclear powered icebreakers base (bellona.org, Apr.10, 2011).
AMAP recommended that not only further investigations take place but that a monitoring body be set up because of the “deleterious consequences of exposure.” (AMAP, 69). The consequences were explained as contamination of the bio chain, directly and indirectly ─ its food, fertilizer and water.
In 2009, a new comprehensive assessment of the Arctic was published by the same group. The report also was expanded to include all pollution of the area, not just radiation. The report had a cautionary message on the effects of global warming for the Arctic’s radiation contamination and its potential to affect other areas, under the climate change conditions we now face:
The current assessment identifies the potential of climate
change to mobilize radionuclides in the Arctic terrestrial
environment and in glaciers. Changes in permafrost, erosion,
precipitation and extreme weather events may also affect
infrastructure related to nuclear activities. (AMAP, 2009)
The report is basically a recap of the original report with updating. The report is considerably more comprehensive and valuable for environmentalist to study, because it addresses every possible pollution source and its possible consequences.
What is contained in the report of relevance to today’s current events in Japan is a mention of the fact that parts of the polar area studied are severely contaminated with “dose rates exceeding 1 mSv/h”; confirming that 1 millisievert per hour is a large dose of radiation. Their studies have shown land based radio nuclides on local soil can enter groundwater and migrate great distances. The combination of salt water and spent fuel rods can participate a dangerous nuclear chain reaction (AMAP, 2009).
Spontaneous chain reaction scenario:
A spontaneous chain reaction has been proposed as a possible
accident scenario at the Andreeva Bay site. The storage
sites for spent nuclear fuel contain large amounts of fissionable
material in poor condition and with the presence of salt
water. These circumstances make it possible for a spontaneous
chain reaction to occur, although the chances of this happening
are very low” (Sneve et al., 2007a) ;( AMAP, 2009)
Earlier, in the fall of 1980, the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), of the America government released a report to a congressional committee on where American nuclear waste had been stored during the period dumping was allowed. John Kennedy issued a stop to dumping licenses in 1962. Richard Nixon ended existing licenses in 1970.
The sum total of the report was that the exact locations and quantities had not been logged. The reason the potentially hazardous waste had not been kept track of was that this waste was classified by the government as simply garbage, farmed out to private contractors, buried in shallow land sites, or dumped encased in cement in metal drums in the ocean. (EPA, 1980)
Records of this past activity consist only of licenses issued by the Atomic Energy Commission. Unfortunately, the EPA says: licenses did not contain relevant isotope content, amounts, or precise coordinates of the dump sites. The EPA concludes their introduction to the report with the fact that military dumping records may exist but are not currently available. (EPA, 80)
Despite the vague logs of imprecise site location, the EPA studies did locate dump sites in the Pacific and Atlantic Ocean. They checked the condition and studied the marine life in the area. (EPA 1980).
The waste was leaking; there were radioactive elements found in the sediment. There were very high levels of americium 241 found in rattail fish; the scientist said it was coming from the waste. The Rattail fish is not a commercially fished sea food. It is eaten by many fish which would bioaccumulate its radiation (EPA, 1980).
The EPA said they could not yet agree that the americium 241 was from the waste. It is difficult to understand why they would think otherwise. Americium 241 is a 100% man made isotope found in nuclear waste. It has a 432 year half life. All in all the United States government dumped approximately 95 thousand curies of high and low level waste from 1946 to 1970, and they do not know exactly were it is (EPA, 1980).
There are many countries with nuclear technology, which, from the inception of the first thimbleful of waste, have been dumping it and, or storing it somewhere. The spent fuel waste is more dangerous than the new fuel rods. What does all this mean? What has happened to the American waste since 1980? What has happened to the Russian waste since 1993? What will happen when the metal containers disintegrate like what is happening to the Titanic in the North Atlantic?
Scott Saleska wrote about the big outcry that accompanied the deregulation of low level radioactive waste in America. “Gamma Ray in the Garbage” appeared in 1990 in The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists. Through interviews with several experts that were against it, he discovered that low- level included some very dangerous waste, such as reactor components, which pick up dangerous amount of induced radiation, capable of a lethal dose in minutes to anyone nearby, and intensely radioactive cooling water filters. Saleska also found out that a category of dangerous waste called transuranic had only been that way since 1970. Prior to that they were buried with other “low level waste” (Saleska, 21-24).
This waste, left over from weapon production, had been buried in shallow land fills until that time. His research found that the country’s four shallow burial sites for waste, which met the government definition of low level waste, were almost full. Dangerous plutonian was found in one of them which was subsequently closed. He was able to determine that the U.S. Department of Energy kept track of low-level waste. One million four hundred thousand cubic feet of low-level waste had been disposed of by 1990. The New York Times also wrote a short article about the new laws deregulating waste, but nothing has appeared since on the subject. (Saleska 1-22)
In Canada, waste has only two categories. Fuel from the reactors and uranium mining waste are high level waste. Until 1950, mining waste was not taken care of by the government and was buried or left at the mining site. It is called Historic Waste. “In the early days of waste creation, little thought was given to disposing of low-level radioactive waste. As has been discussed, since there was no real understanding of the potential threat such waste poses to human health, it was often placed in landfill sites or simply left in a remote area.” (Government of Canada- Low level)
“The latest figures indicate that there are about 1,300,000 cubic meters of low-level radioactive waste currently in storage in Canada, waiting for a place to go.” (Government of Canada- Low Level).
This figure is almost the same as the America figure. America is a country with more than 10 times the population and many more nuclear power plants and other nuclear facilities. How can this be?
F. How Small Amounts of Radiation Become Big: Bioamplification
According to the Milne husband and wife science team, the first indication that plants and animals could spread radiation came from the example of the national isotope laboratories. They discovered turtles miles away from a plant had become mildly radioactive (Milne, 43). Single celled plant life was found to be the culprit. The creatures eating them became more radioactive than the tiny plants. A large fish was found to hold 1000 times the cesium 137 that the small one celled plant did, and 2000 times the Strontium 90. It's all about poop. Birds and animals eat the fish. Birds fly. Animals roam. Bird droppings and dung spread the radiation far and wide through the food chain.
The Milnes tell the story of tumbleweed’s contribution to the spread of unnatural radiation. Tumble weeds became a huge concern to the U.S. Department of Energy, with roots that went down up to 20 ft; they were taking up strontium 90 into the stems and branches. They would do what tumble weeds do in that famous song, break off and roll far and wide. During brush fires, burning released the radioactivity even further. At the first plutonium factory in Washington State, rabbits spread 200 curies of radioactivity over 2500 acres in 1959. The area was still hot in 1989 the Milne’s reported. Radioactive zinc had increased 8720 times beyond normal levels. (Milne 42-46).
The accident at Chernobyl produced global contamination, according to Szabo. This is a particular problem as soil absorbs artificial fission products from the air, rain, and water and works them through the food chain. The amount of radio iodine isotopes, emitted from normal operations of nuclear facilities, into the air and water is also not negligible (Szabo, 80).
Emitted radioactive iodine may be taken up by living organisms. A major problem with Iodine 131 assessments is the Geiger counter used to assess its levels. It has only a 43% counting efficiency when it comes to measurements of this isotope (Radioactive Sample Counting, 9).
The Chernobyl disaster was the first time that increased levels were comprehensively measured, and according to Szabo, the disaster is the first accident to have serious consequences (Szabo, 207).
The Milne team says that scientists have not found a minimum amount of radiation that results in no damage to a living plant, animal or human. (Understanding, 14). Andras Szabo agrees: “And since there is believed to be no threshold minimum dose for a genetic effective, the smallest dose of radiation can give rise to a mutation of genes for our present and future it is a decisively important task to reduce the radiation level affecting mankind to the lowest possible level” (Szabo, 9).
Marie Curie, an early discoverer of radiation’s properties died of leukemia; so did her oldest daughter who worked with her. Her husband was suffering from radiation poisoning when he died in an accident. Radiation is a known carcinogen
What can be done to dissuade government and industry from continuing to pursue technology which brings artificial radiation to our environs − at increasing rates − with known detrimental effects − and still unknown possible consequences?
PART II: The Role of the Media and Suggestions for New Strategies.
A. TIME Marches In . . . And On: Environmental Strategies and Media Coverage
“The efforts of opponents of nuclear energy are incredibly organized, effective and well-funded.” This statement was made by the daughter of a nuclear engineer, Suzy Hobbs. She was born in Japan and then returned with her family to Georgia. She is for nuclear power. (popatomic.org)
As a graduate student in Public Affairs she says she has studied the tactics of anti-nuclear forces and recommends that pro-nuclear forces could learn a thing or two from them: “Holding up the licensing process in litigation until the budget is drained can lead to projects being abandoned, even if they are eventually licensed. Losing a court case isn’t considered a loss, especially if it halts construction and runs up costs. Public stunts and protests that gain media attention are targeted outreach methods, which can also interfere with progress on nuclear projects . . . there is something to be said for showing up and speaking out at public meetings and protests” (popatomic.org)
Hobbs is chiding her group for relying too much on social media to organize and develop a pro-nuclear group; she is trying to mime the strategic prowess of the anti-nuclear lobby.
The entry on the pronuclear site was written on February 17, 2011, 19 days before the Japanese earthquake that set in motion the current nuclear power plant fiasco.
The industry evolved as a private industry effort in some counties and government owned in others. In Canada, nuclear power was developed, and is still run by, a government Crown Corporation. This has made it more difficult for nuclear activists to prevail, but their tactics have been similar to their American counterparts. Canada has never had a high profile nuclear accident-yet.
The Sierra Club and Greenpeace are the two national organization best know for environmental activism against nuclear power in both countries, but there were local groups against nuclear power established every where. And they have used the courts well. They can afford to. As Hobbs says they are as well funded as they are organized.
In Canada, the Sierra Club Canada and the Environmental Law Association recently applied to federal court to review the decision of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission to allow the shipment on nuclear waste through the Great Lakes (Sierraclub .ca April 13, 2011).
In addition to the strategies outlined above by Hobbs, Greenpeace has been more strident and uncongenial in their approach. They include dramatic interventions and stalking, especially of the French nuclear industry.
The media throughout the long historic battle proved to be a reactionary benefit, but it only developed into one when the high profile events like Chernobyl and Three Mile Island took place. Only then did the media develop into a true asset and strategy to pursue for groups opposed to nuclear power. But it was only in the vein of raising public awareness. Time kept the names of precise groups off their pages. The Harvard based Union of Concerned Scientists, a Nobel Prize winning Harvard scientist, the showy Greenpeace, and the Sierra Club made it, but the rest were all grouped under the banner of “antinuclear groups.”
Time magazine tells the story of the worldwide battle for and against nuclear powers better than most. It was a conservative print publication at the zenith of its journalistic prestige during the nuclear debate, and it reported world wide in a depth not possible on television; therefore, this reports looks at Time coverage leading up to Three Mile Island’s accident going forward to 1984, when coverage on the topic ceased, until 1986 when the Chernobyl accident hit the headlines. The style of coverage was repeated, but there was more of it, because Chernobyl was a much more serious accident. None of the salient scientific information found in this report appeared in any Time story studied.
The first major story that helped the antinuclear groups appeared in February of 1976. Three California based General Electric nuclear engineers quit their “well-paid” jobs, Time told its readers. The spokesman for the group, Gregory Minor, announced their plans to work full time on California’s proposed legislation to stop construction of nuclear power plants until a solution for its waste was found. “Nuclear reactors and nuclear weapons now present a serious danger to the future of all life on this plant,” Time quoted Minor as saying. Time ended its story with a clarion call to the nuclear industry to come up with counter arguments for “one of the best hopes for meeting U.S. energy needs in the last two decades of the century.” (Time.com, San Jose)
The California referendum succeeded in stopping nuclear power’s proliferation in California. Experts on your side are the best thing environmentalists could strategically aim for. Three Mile Island was three years away
By 1978, Time reported that President Jimmy Carter, a nuclear engineer himself, was against the proliferation of plutonium fuel and breeder reactors, “both of which Carter wants to stamp out,” Time said in story about a French protest of 30, 0000 strong. Plutonium traces had been found hundreds of miles away from the French fuel reprocessing plants, off the coast of Normandy. (Time.com, Nuclear Race).
In 1978, for the first time, the magazine also mentioned environmentalists concerns and claims about power plant water effluence to the ocean. They pointing out "environmentalists claim it is harmful to sea life.” No specific groups or people were given a face or a name in the article (Time.com, Seabrook Saga), but Time also wrote a story about the success of the Soviet nuclear program: “They look to nukes for more and more power,” the story began (Time.com, Soviets)
Time magazine published a long article on the accident at Three Mile Island called “Nuclear Nightmare," in 1979. They were factually comprehensive, but they were unkind to the antinuclear crowd, describing them thusly: “The antinuclear movement, already thriving as an amalgam of the intellectually concerned and the idealistically young, who can scarcely find any other cause available that is both so tangible and satisfyingly antigovernment and antiestablishment, doubtless will now gain new recruits.” The author ended the story with a statement that the accident had raised “public consciousness about the risks.” (Time.com, Nightmare).
Time also feature an article in this same issue under their Nation section on “Atomic Power’s Future.” It suggested the alternatives to nuclear power were “unappealing” and again talked about coal being “dirty” The final verdict would come with the assessment of the accident by the NRC, the agency that regulates it they said. (Time.com, Future).
In this same issue, this national magazine, published a story, “How Much isToo Much,” about “background radiation.” While acknowledging without going into detail that the radiation on Earth at this point was both natural and unnatural, the balance of the paragraph was at best murky and perhaps knowledgably illogical, deceptive and inaccurate.
Time stated n a 1979 story that background radiation for the average American ran between 100-200 millirems; 50 % came from the sun’s cosmic rays; and 45% came from diagnostic medical equipment, assuming that is you had an X ray that year. That left 5% to come from atomic fall out, microwave ovens, TV sets, and, oh yes, production of nuclear power.
If you did not get an x ray, even averaging would get you a different result with these figures. The description of harmful radiation that can produced radiation sickness is stated as 50, 000 millirems; Time switches its rem gear, then saying the government has set a permissible annual limit of radiation exposure of 500 millirem. This also disagrees with the Milne report of average annual dosage in 1989: 100 millirem.
The Time reporter then states that the government’s levels for the general public are 500 millirems. One rem equals 1000 millirems. This would then translate 500 millirems to only ½ a rem, which would demonstrate that the average dose reported was already more 249 rems over government recommendations, and doctors and scientists disagreed with even that low amount.
Clearly the reporter took notes from an “expert” and did not check the veracity of his facts. The Time story concluded with a quote from Nobel Prize winning, Harvard biologist, George Wald, an antinuclear activist: “Every dose is an overdose. There is no threshold where radiation is concerned.” (Time.com “How Much is Too Much)
A year later in a lengthy Time essay: "Looking Anew at the Nuclear Future,” published, not a month after the accident at Three Mile Island, the magazine ties loss of nuclear power to loss of jobs, and lower standards of living. Nuclear power had the advantage over coal because coal was “dirty to mine,” they said. Never once did the journalist, George J Church, mention the problem with uranium mines. He ended with a discussion of the problem of nuclear waste and suggested that Three Mile Island could provide “insights” for the proper dismantling of a reactor. The same issue had a short comment questioning the need for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to regulate more (Time.com, Looking Anew).
Time wrote about the atomic melt down movie the “China Syndrome,” which eerily arrived in theaters almost coincident with the Three Mile Island accident. It also was a well done story on links to leukemia and other cancers from low levels of radiation. Children in Utah near the Nevada test sites had a cancer rate 2.4 times normal. Workers in Kittery Maine in nuclear submarines had rates four to six times as high (Time.com, China).
By June of 1979, Time was reporting on the effect Three Mile Island had on Europe. The accident they said had given "much new force to the antinuclear movement.” Protesters in Germany had stopped a new reprocessing and fuel storage plant from going forward. Protests were taking place in Switzerland (Time.com, Nein). Again no specific group or leader of the antinuclear movement was named.
The fall of 1979 brought bold headlines in favor of the antinuclear movement positions, but nothing about the movement itself. Time said “lax operations and loose regulation” had been found at Three Mile Island. Stories with headlines such as "Scathing Look at Nuclear Safety,” and “ Nuclear Freeze” appeared on Time’s pages, but by February, Time was right back to pro nuclear stories with a story called "Where the Atom is Admired,” about the French nuclear industry.
In a reflection story on the anniversary of three Mile Island’s accident, Time stated in a part of the story about the aftermath that that the radiation levels were at 30, 000 rems per hour, but it had since dropped to a “merely dangerous” 200 rems.
“Merely dangerous” is an oxymoron.
An increase in the incidence of thyroid problems in babies born in the area of Three Mile Island was “quickly dismiss,” Time said “medical authorities found non nuclear explanations for most of the cases.” Time did not seek other expert opinion on the problems with the babies. Time also reported that just the previous month Three Mile Island had purged “small quantities” of krypton gas to the atmosphere. The waste from the accident was stored on site, according to the story.
Time ended their story quoting Three Mile Island workers, calling the public “cowards” who make “much ado about nothing.” After all “Nobody was killed. No body was hurt.”(Time.com, Legacy). Antinuclear groups’ positions and quotes from their experts were not featured at all during this period.
The Reagan administration set about to resurrect the damage of the accident, Time reported in the fall of 1981. The new president committed his Administration "to a program to speed the construction of nuclear power plants," they said. He also lifted the President Carter ban on plutonium manufacturing (Time.com, Radiation).
Stories on antinuclear groups, surface the fall of 1984. A story appeared on Greenpeace’s efforts to gain the truth on a uranium cargo, spilled into the sea after a collision between two boats, and their effort to stop transport of plutonium to Japan. Time let it be known that uranium in sea water could explode. (Time.com, Shipwreck) In 1983 and 1984, three stories were also done on nuclear waste disposal (Time.com, “Warning Signals")
B. Suggestions for New Strategies.
Time may have managed its news in favour of current government policy. Their coverage of the antinuclear lobby, given the high profile event of Three Mile Island was marginal and not proportional to the activities of the group and the number of people who supported them. This in turn favoured the nuclear industry. They marginalized environmental groups by making sure grassroots organizations did not have a face or a whereabouts. They further diminished antinuclear groups with their descriptions of the groups’ motivations as something that drew only the young and ‘eggheads.’
What can be done about this going forward?
The antinuclear group has been the most successful of all environmental groups. You can not fault any of their strategies, but they have failed with the press, only succeeding by the coincidence of high profile catastrophe; therefore adding recommendations to the groups’ tactics focusing on consequence would enhance their efforts.
It’s time to picket the news organizations. I would first give the media a chance to understand your positions. The journalism industry has a set of nine written principles. Antinuclear groups have to start critiquing the media’s stories based on whether they meet or do not meet those principles.
Go for their heart: the story!
It can be done the old fashioned way with letters, and through the new media by organizing groups by email, alerting them when a story on the environment appears, and directing them to write comments in the publication’s or broadcasters on line comment areas or forums. Critique their stories on the basis of their merit, under their ‘Nine Principles of Journalism’ criteria. One of the ‘Principles of Journalism” says that you must cover stories proportionally to their relevance to the community. You must show the relevance of your issue to the majority of the community.
Deserve coverage by letting them know at lot of the people in the community are involved with your position. Here is a link for the story of how the ‘Nine Principles of Journalism” came into being and what they are: http://www.concernedjournalists.org/about_ccj/history
A second recommendation is to stop reading press releases of “peer reviewed” science and read the books and articles themselves. They are written in English; you do not have to understand the scientist’s math because they give you the answer and put their answers in easily to understand graphs. The press releases take out most of the scientist’s doubt.
The recent autism vaccine scandal originated in a peer reviewed article, and the editor of the journal that published it, Richard Horton, said of it- in a fit of pique:
The mistake, of course, is to have thought that peer review was any more than a crude means of discovering the acceptability — not the validity — of a new finding. Editors and scientists alike insist on the pivotal importance of peer review. We portray peer review to the public as a quasi-sacred process that helps to make science our most objective truth teller. But we know that the system of peer review is biased, unjust, unaccountable, incomplete, easily fixed, often insulting, usually ignorant, occasionally foolish, and frequently wrong (Wikipedia, Peer Review, April 12, 2011).
Part III: The Politics of Radioecology.
Pasted below is a quote from an email, sent by the Hungarian scientist and author of the excellent book on radioecology used extensively in this report;when he was questioned in regard to statements made by him - and other scientists- on the subject of the danger of radiation in food, he said:
“I AM SURE ABSOLUTELY that the contamination level of the biological chain in Canada or USA (in consequence of Fukushima accident) will be very-very low. No real problem, no need for special technology modifications in food processing, no radiation damege of the living organisms etc. Do not worry!!
Andras S. Szabo” (personal communication, March, 2011).
The author quoted above, Andras S. Szabo, was a professor and head of the Department of Food Chemistry and Nutrition at the University of Horticulture and Food Industry, in Budapest, Hungary, when he published his 1993 book, Radioecology and Environmental Protection, seven years after the disaster of Chernobyl.
Szabo’s university has since been merged with Corvinus University, a state sponsored school, which, according to Wikipedia, is characterized -and focuses all it’s taught disciplines on- “its programmes in economics and management.” The site goes on to tell its readers: “Corvinus University is consistently listed in the top 50 in the Financial Times European Masters in Management rankings.” (Wikipedia.com/Corvinus, Apr., 2011).
Corvinus University is a business school. The official Corvinus University web site states that it feels it is “indispensable to maintain close relations with the enterprises within the Hungarian business sector. Such cooperation is mutually beneficial: sponsorship from these enterprises plays an ever greater role in achieving excellence in education.” The school goes on to explain that a “Entrepreneurial Professor Program (Chair),” was established,” with the aim of providing stable and long-term support based on market demands as well as individual interests.”
The description of the program ends with a list of contributors to the program. Among them are the state-owned electric company and its subsidiary Paks Power Plant Company, which runs the country’s sole nuclear power plant. The nuclear utility is the provider of 40% of the nation’s electricity. The company announced in March of 2010 that they would be extending the plant’s 30 year life another 20 years, with planned refurbishing and expansion of the facility. (Uni-corvinus.hu, Apr, 2011).
Another donor to the state owed business school is Alcoa, whose Hungarian company was responsible for last October’s 2010 massive spill of toxic sludge into the Danube River. A British publication, The Telegraph, quoted “Hungarian environmental experts” as saying the Danube River was unharmed by the spill. The environmental experts were not identified by the newspaper. (The Telegraph, Oct. 08, 2010). This paper was not the only western media using this exact quote. Most did.
On Jan 1, 2011, the country of Hungary passed a new media law. It was immediately threatened with legal action by the European Union. The law was seen to be violating free press commitments of the European Union. Hungry assumed the presidency of the EU on the same day the media law was passed. The fervor over the new bill precipitated changes by the Hungarian government, according to the same British publication (The Telegraph, Oct. 08, 2010).
The Canadian Press has just reprinted an American, Apr. 05, 2011 Associated Press story quoting a United Nation’s Human Rights expert as saying the resulting amendments to Hungary’s media law “fell far short” of the required standards of a free press.
According to the story, the UN expert saw that “requiring balanced press coverage inevitably leads to censorship and that Hungary's media council should also include opposition delegates instead of, as now, members elected only by the governing parties” (google.com/Canadian Press, Apr, 2011).
Should the opinions of the scientist, Andras Szabo, responding to an email expressing concern over children drinking milk containing radiation, be weighed against the policies of the intellectual and political environment he exists in?
Should the Western press have told us the background and associations of the “Hungarian experts” that told the non scientists of the world there was no harm done to the Danube River by the Alcoa spill last October?
Both the raw material for aluminum, bauxite, and the waste of aluminum production contain man-made radioactive isotopes. (EPA.gov; Pubmed .gov, April 10, 2011)
Part V: Conclusion of the Author
The moral argument here is the argument of choice and its recognition or denial of the consequences of choice. It is the argument of the not yet born.
Are we more important than our grandchildren? Do our grandchildren have the right to grandchildren? Do they further have the right to healthy grandchildren, free of defect? If the population of the here and now is more important, and they collectively see no sanctity in the art and thought of man, then our old leaders have done nothing wrong and our current leaders should “keep on, keeping on.”
This author concludes with an opinion that the advent of nuclear power was a combination of the fascination and arrogance of being able to create something that did not exist before, and the fact that it was a technology that did not obliterate the need for the lucrative refuel concept that has prevented the free sources of our sun, wind− and especially the running water currents of our oceans, rivers, and stream, from taking their place in power production and transportation, A decision that would have replaced the need for oil and gas. Atomic power’s incursion into the energy market did not.
The current decision by Mercedes to produce a hydrogen fueled car maintains the refuel concept, and hydrogen is made by cracking off the remaining carbon atom from methane gas yielding hydrogen. Hydrogen propelled cars means methane mining must continue. If we are to survive, something must be done to put the oil and gas industry- and its hand maiden, Atomic power −asunder. We can only hope that the recent events in Japan will assist the industry in ending it themselves.
Afterword: Information obtained from the book The Code Book by acryptographer aficionado by the name of Singhdemonstrates that all the measuring cups and spoons can not accurately assess radiation damage because radiation admissions are random. They do not emit in any predictable amounts, ranging from 0 to billions of emissions per second.
The radioactive substances has an ebb and flow to its emissions and is completely random
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