Tuesday, May 3, 2011


Stop the Madness

By Reginald Johnson
May 2, 2011

As the world marked the 25th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear accident last week, you had to wonder whether our leaders have learned anything at all about the perils of nuclear power.

The Chernobyl disaster should have been enough to end the whole concept of developing energy through nuclear fission. The plant in the Ukraine exploded on April 26th, 1986, sending a cloud of radiation over much of the old Soviet Union and Europe. Dozens of firefighters died as a result of fighting the fire and getting acute radiation sickness.

Some 800,000 liquidators were brought in to clean up the wreckage and bury the radioactive waste at the plant and nearby towns. Thousands of them have died as a result of the radiation exposure. Children of liquidators have been born with deformities.

Some 150,000 to 200,000 people had to be permanently evacuated from the land around Chernobyl and huge areas are now uninhabitable because radioactivity remains in the soil.

Estimates range on how many people who lived in the area of the old Soviet Union and eastern Europe died as a result of radiation-induced cancers. Conservative estimates put the figure at 4500 while a Greenpeace study points to 200,000 deaths or expected deaths. But a more recent study by the New York Academy of Sciences said close to 1 million people have already died from the Chernobyl disaster.

Even in the early years after Chernobyl, it was clear the impact would be deadly and wide ranging. You would think government leaders in the U.S. and around the world might have paused and thought, ‘hey, maybe we better phase these nuclear plants out, or at least crack down on the facilities that have a history of safety problems.’ No, the nuclear industry was allowed to keep running their plants pretty much unfettered. This, despite the fact that some power stations had a pattern of safety violations while others sit precariously near earthquake fault lines.

It was just a matter of time before another disaster occurred, and so it did in Japan on March 11 of this year. A 9.0 earthquake hit the Asian nation and a resulting massive tsunami came crashing in on the Fukishima Daiichi power plant, which has six nuclear reactors. The cooling systems at the complex --- which are vital to prevent the radioactive fuel rods and spent fuel from overheating and exploding ---were knocked out with the loss of power. Hydrogen explosions then occurred, causing extensive damage.

A tremendous amount of water was dumped on the reactors to keep them cool. Eventually, power was restored, but due to the high level of radiation in the plant, workers have been unable to make the needed repairs to the cooling systems and the situation remains unstable.

Dr. Michio Kaku, a professor of theoretical physics at the City College of New York called the situation at Fukishima a “ticking time bomb” in an interview with Amy Goodman on the show Democracy Now!

As workers try feverishly to clear up the problems, the plant is emitting radiation into the air and soil, and dumping thousands of tons of radioactive waste water into the ocean.

Strontium 90 and plutonium, both lethal elements, have been found in the soil outside the plant. The tap water in Tokyo, 136 miles away, is now contaminated.

Winds have now carried radioactive particles around the world. Elements such as Iodine 131 ---- which is linked to thyroid cancer --- has shown up in the U.S. in municipal drinking water in Los Angeles, Phoenix and other cities. Cesium 137 has shown up in milk samples in Vermont.

Government officials in Japan and in the U.S. maintain the radioactive pollution is “within allowable limits” and not hazardous to humans. But this claim is debunked by nuclear critics.

Harvey Wasserman, a long-time anti-nuclear activist and writer, said there is no “safe” level of radiation exposure. “Anyone who tells you otherwise is either ill-informed or deliberately deceiving you. If it’s detectable, it’s dangerous. If iodine shows up in any quantity in milk, it should not be drunk,” Wasserman said during an interview with Scott Harris on the Between the Lines radio show.

Leaders Oblivious to Hazards

Despite the horror of Chernobyl and the ongoing crisis in Japan, world leaders support the continuation of nuclear energy.

With the exception of Germany, which will now phase out atomic plants (thank you to them), other countries stubbornly stick with the nuclear program.

President Barack Obama recently restated his support, saying developing nuclear was one major step in avoiding the use of carbon-based fuels, which create global warming. He never mentioned that a crash program to develop renewables, such as wind and solar, would get us away from fossil fuels and also avoid the huge risks inherent in nuclear power.

And despite Chernobyl still fresh in the memory of so many who lived in the Soviet Union, Russian President Dmtry Medvedev continues to back nuclear power. The Russians plan to help Turkey build new plants.

I must be missing something. The logic escapes me. Here you have two terrible disasters connected with nuclear power plants, fatal cancers left and right, a pretty bad accident at the Three Mile Island plant in Pennsylvania in 1979, and national leaders still back nuclear power. Huh?

There are so many risks that go with running nuclear power plants --- so many chances for things to go wrong, and so much potential for the worst kind of health catastrophe.

Chernobyl showed what can happen when there is operator error; Fukishima is showing what can happen when a natural disaster strikes and cooling systems are knocked out.

Every nuke plant, as far as I am concerned, is fraught with danger. But I want to mention one in particular because it is near the nerve center of this country and the biggest population center of this country.

The Indian Point nuclear power station sits 19 miles from New York City --- with 7 million people, and millions more in the immediate environs. The plant also lies close to an earthquake fault! What happens if an earthquake knocks out power at the plant? Indian Point, like other U.S. plants, has no back-up power capability. You could have a partial meltdown or full meltdown and deadly radiation would shower the New York area.

Talk about an awful scenario.

It’s time to get real about nuclear power. It is simply not worth the risks.

We have alternatives.

Let’s move to close all these plants now and end nuclear power.

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