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Helicopters, tall stories and fantasy journalism at

Guest Post by Geoff RussellGeoff is a mathematician and computer programmer and is a member of Animal Liberation SA. His recently published book is CSIRO Perfidy. His previous post on BNC was: Chernobyl and Fukushima – measuring our monsters in the midday sun.

The biggest problem for people who support nuclear power as a vital part of avoiding dangerous climate events is the general public’s fear of things they don’t understand. This is particularly true when that fear is fanned by journalists who combine fear with ignorance and influence. Long time British anti-nuclear campaigner, journalist and environmentalist George Monbiot has finally worked out that official sources are more reliable than Helen Caldicott. His subsequent devastating hatchet jobs on her in the UK Guardian (also on his website hereherehere and here) should be read by all who have one or more books by Dr Caldicott that need recycling into something useful.

Even less trustworthy than Helen or a hyena is Crikey journalist Guy Rundle. Here he is going ape over Fukushima on 18th of March.

As I write, the Japanese are conducting direct overflies to try and control the continuing damage — most likely a suicide mission for the pilots and crew. The Soviets resorted to this earlier, during the Chernobyl crisis by the simple expedient of ordering airforce crews to do it. No one knows how many died, but they died outside of the glare of publicity. The Japanese crews will slough their skin and muscles, and bleed out internally under the full glare of the world’s media. It may well be the reason why this step in dealing with the crisis was delayed for so long — because it would demonstrate that dealing with nuclear accidents will frequently involve the painful certain death of emergency workers.

Has anybody seen Japanese helicopter crews sloughing skin and muscles? Two workers with burned feet graced every TV channel in the known universe but how did those air crews escape the paparazzi after their suicide mission? Where are the wikileaks tapes?

This is sheer drivel, fantasy, fiction, balderdash, ignorance and sloppy, unprofessional, incompetent journalism.

Rundle’s ignorant ranting is all the more effective because he’s generally reliable. This is a potent and dangerous mix.

First, we need some basic scientific background that will make the truth about the Chernobyl helicopter pilots unremarkable. When you water bomb a forest fire you fly through a haze of carcinogenic and generally toxic compounds but you will have no idea of how much you are breathing in. Likewise when you watch some firefighters at a local house fire or when you sit before a romantic log fire in a Swiss Chalet sipping your favourite poison. You may see some of the smoke but measuring its toxicity is tough.

Radiation is different. You can’t see it, but you do much, much, better … you can measure it! People can measure it and measure it with astonishing accuracy. A banana is radioactive and will generate about 15 particle emissions per second. When people can’t measure radiation because of broken or missing instruments, they can usually calculate it with pretty good accuracy. And when people have been subjected to unknown doses, you can look at cellular effects in their bodies to determine the dose with reasonable accuracy. A piece of Guatemala green marble on a benchtop in that Swiss chalet might pulse at over a thousand radioactive decay emissions per second per kilogram of marble.

As it happens, the international scientific community was heavily involved in the Chernobyl aftermath. US expert Dr Robert Gale coordinated medical relief at the request of the Soviets and was just one of many specialists from around the world who got involved. The stream of United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR) reports is extensive. UNSCEAR knows exactly how many pilots died dealing with Chernobyl … none (see the 2000 report for details). No pilots died, none sloughed their skin. Zip. Zero. The null set.

There were 1,125 helicopter pilots involved in 1,800 flights over the Chernobyl reactor over some months. The first flights hovered over the damaged reactor to drop material on the core, but this was soon discontinued because measured radiation levels were too high. Sound familiar? Subsequent material drops were done in passing rather than while hovering and were consequently less accurate but less risky. Had the evil Soviet empire wanted suicide missions it would have ordered pilots to hover. As it was, much of the material intended to blanket the core missed … precisely because no-one wanted to kill pilots and nobody did. Pilots involved in the early flights received on average 260 milli Sieverts of radiation which definitely elevates their cancer risk, not as much as in the people puffing near fire-escapes on city offices these days, but still a significant increase. Pilots flying later in the cleanup received a dose of about half this and none suffered acute radiation sickness.

[Update: One pilot is known to have died of leukemia 4 years after the accident. The lifetime risk to men of leukemia in Australia is about 1 in 93. So some cases of leukemia would be expected among any group of a thousand men in the decades after helicopter missions. The radiation exposure can be expected to have added a few cases. ]

Over the past 25 years since Chernobyl, about 12 million Russians have been diagnosed with cancer and that doesn’t even include Ukraine and Belarus. As of the 2000 UNSCEAR report, the Chernobyl helicopter pilots were still doing whatever they were doing … there wasn’t any report of “certain painful death” as described by Cold War Warrior Rundle. Gale has published the details (free pdf) on treatment and outcomes of the more seriously affected of the 500 people who were hospitalised, including the 35 with huge radiation doses, 13 of whom had bone marrow transplants and 6 of whom had fetal liver cell transplants. Why would he cover-up what happened to the helicopter pilots? … He didn’t because it didn’t happen.

The contrasts between Rundle and Caldicott and real nuclear radiation experts were shown to good effect when Gale visited to Fukushima. Gale is a real expert with a hand in 800 scientific papers and 20 books. When he visited Fukushima in March, he wandered around the plant with no protective clothing and no radiation dosimeter. This is precisely because he is an expert, a real one who bases actions on a clear understanding of what radiation measurements mean and not on fantasy journalism. Gale’s also a marathon runner with a healthy interest in staying fit. He’s been face to face with the worst that Chernobyl dished up and knows exactly when care is and isn’t needed.

Dr Caldicott has, as far as I can ascertain, not a single scientific research paper to her name. She qualified as a doctor in 1961, practiced medicine and taught pediatrics briefly at Harvard in the late 1970s and then gave it up to write books which have scared the living daylights out of many who have read them.

Chernobyl demonstrated what engineers already knew. That building nuclear reactors without containment buildings was unbelievably stupid. Three Mile Island demonstrated that containment buildings work, even in the face of serious equipment malfunction. Fukushima Daiichi showed that they work pretty well, but not perfectly, even when you hit them with a huge earthquake and massive tsunami. Had Fukushima Daiichi had a modern cooling system, backup power wouldn’t have been necessary and its loss wouldn’t have caused a problem, and there would have been a zero radiation leak to go with the zero death toll.

The latest polls on public approval of nuclear power reflect what the public has been told. I don’t expect everybody to read the UNSCEAR reports, but is it asking too much of a professional journalist that they do their bloody homework? The polls are a reflection of the ignorance and sloppiness that has graced the Australian media on the issue over the past few decades. Rundle has had plenty of company over the years.

Anti-nuclear campaigners are clearly delighted at the latest polls. Public support for nuclear power has indeed taken a hit following the events at Fukushima and I’d put it down to large chunks of fantasy journalism like Rundle’s. In my first article on Fukushima, at the end of March, I pointed out that the death toll due to the problems at the reactor was zero. During the following weeks, this toll hasn’t budged. Similarly, the number of cancers that might result from worker exposure during the next 3 decades is also most likely zero. Fortunately for the surrounding human communities, a significant chunk of the radiation leak has gone into the ocean where it will cause infinitely less pain and suffering than the millions of Japanese who eat octopus, squid, …, eel, salmon or tuna, let alone the tiny minority of Japanese with a penchant for hacking marine mammals to death or sticking them with exploding harpoons. And if your only concern for the oceans is via risks to people who slowly suffocate and eat its wildlife, what is their risk? The radiation dose for people eating fish from these contaminated waters every day for a year is calculated at? … 0.6 milli Sieverts. What the hell is that? About 1/5 of the 3 milli Sieverts received in a screening mammogram.

During the next 3 decades, cancer deaths from the striken reactors at Fukushima Daiichi will be zero or few, nevertheless 18 million Japanese will still get cancer, mostly from things that don’t frighten Guy Rundle or his readers.

By Barry Brook

Barry Brook is an ARC Laureate Fellow and Chair of Environmental Sustainability at the University of Tasmania. He researches global change, ecology and energy.

120 replies on “Helicopters, tall stories and fantasy journalism at”

Barry, one can make unrealistic assumptions to make some case seem more plausible (but if you ignore cost of capital then wind and solar-thermal would be suddenly fantastic), but if it could happen in the real world then why isn’t it? There are lots of American capitalists who want to build new nuclear but they are finding it almost impossible to put a convincing financial package together. And of course the risk premiums just got even less manageable.

Geoff R. Gale gave the obvious answer: he doesn’t know. That was still the days of the USSR. They didn’t even reveal the Chernobyl meltdown until the Swedes detected the radiation floating over their country. Now it may be possible if a serious investigative journalist was funded to investigate, say like the K-19 submarine nuclear accident which was kept secret for decades until revealed that “all seven men in the repair crew died of radiation exposure within a week, and twenty more within the next few years”.
But until then you simply must avoid the error you made (and which no scientific referee would have allowed): absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.
(I know no more but I would guess that above the burning reactor right in the huge plume of seriously toxic stuff–absolutely nothing like Fukushima–if pilots breathed anything in (as reports of them removing their masks for whatever reason suggests) then that was quite likely to be lethal. The transitory exposure was no longer relevant–you would die from the stuff trapped in your lungs.)

quokka, on 21 April 2011 at 5:21 PM.
You are cherrypicking data. Why not discuss those countries who have made a serious effort on renewables, like Germany, Denmark and Spain. I think you’ll find it is closer to 15-20%. As I recall Germany approached 20% above which the storage problem needs to be solved for the grid to cope. And naturally it is nonsense to talk about historic data for a new, changing technology. (Unless you want to commit the same error Thomas Watson ceo of IBM said of computers: maybe 4 in the whole world.)
Nuclear renaissance you say! The only accurate description of that statement is delusional. In Europe and USA it is on life support, and post-Fukushima Japan is ditto. A UBS study predicted that around 30 nuclear plants may be closed world-wide as a result.
The developing world may be building some with China leading (20 under construction) but many of the world’s existing reactors are approach their end of life: over 100 in the next 5-10 years; so the industry is not even keeping pace. And exactly what did you not understand by “even if China builds all its first-phase nuclear it would still only be 4-5% of their energy requirements by 2030”?

And nuclear is very very difficult to scale up quickly like you dream of. Some of the renewables will indeed be rapidly scaleable once certain conditions are met (to pre-empt, I have consistently argued–mostly in Crikey–against domestic solar-PV because it is still much too expensive and it makes no sense with the technology going thru a kind of Moore’s Law process; but once it reaches a certain threshold of cost and efficiency it could be rolled out faster than computers or iPods or mobile phones.).


Barry, one can make unrealistic assumptions to make some case seem more plausible (but if you ignore cost of capital then wind and solar-thermal would be suddenly fantastic), but if it could happen in the real world then why isn’t it? There are lots of American capitalists who want to build new nuclear but they are finding it almost impossible to put a convincing financial package together. And of course the risk premiums just got even less manageable.

Michael, this statement has no useful content. Please read my Energy paper and then tell me what “unrealistic assumptions” are being made in it. Then we will have something to discuss. I further said nothing whatsoever about ignoring the cost of capital, so your second sentence is a straw man. Your third sentence is answered by the fact that it is cheaper, quicker and less ‘controversial’ right now to build gas-fired power stations in American than nuclear, plain and simple.

It’s also sensible to build wind if you are given significant subsidies and guaranteed that all of the power you produce will be bought. Why the heck wouldn’t you do it? The final point about risk premiums is not about ‘safety’ as you imply, it’s about the financial risk of committing to a multi-billion dollar project where costs will not be recovered for 5+ years. That was my point about SMRs — if you instead spend a few hundred million, and start getting return on money within 1-2 years, then that is lower risk and might be the way to move forward in America.

You ask me to look to the real world, and you are quite right in this request. I do. I look to those nations that are currently building large amounts of new nuclear power (China, India, South Korea, Russia) and I see nations with very large and growing power demands. I also look to countries like the UAE which have a high value product to sell and see nuclear as their cheapest baseload electricity option — not solar. I see real lessons in this. I wonder why you do not.


@michael r. james

You are cherrypicking data. Why not discuss those countries who have made a serious effort on renewables, like Germany, Denmark and Spain. I think you’ll find it is closer to 15-20%.

I am doing no such thing. In the grand scheme of things it doesn’t matter which countries emissions are coming from. In the end it is only the world wide figures that matter. But since you want to talk about specific countries. From the IEA Monthly Electricity Statistics report:

For the year 2010:

Germany: 6.8% of electricity from non hydro renewables. Percentage of electricity from burning stuff above OECD average.

Spain: 18.7%

Denmark: 21.8%

United States: 2.6%

OECD Average: 3.2%

France: 79% of electricity generated by nuclear

OECD Average: 21.4%

Click to access mes.PDF


@quokka, on 21 April 2011 at 7:49 PM

This is why I do not post on BNC. Your own list shows you cherry picked. What argument are you attempting to show? I would have thought it was about what percentage of a nations electricity can come from non-hydro renewables. If you think average over a large number of countries that have almost zero renewables proves anything other than your inability to think clearly….
I do not know why Germany would be lower than Denmark (so am immediately suspicious), but to me or anyone examining the question of what can be achieved, I think Spain and Denmark show it nicely. Those are already more than current nuclear in most countries, certainly the US and I suspect Japan post-Fukushima. And China almost certainly has more wind alone than nuclear, and by 2020 or later?

I would also look at the amount of newly installed wind capacity in the last two years in the USA and see what happens if that were to continue (a) at the same rate for the next 20 years (b) at some reasonable accelerating rate ditto.

Last year wind+solar+geotherm generated 11TWh compared to nuclear at 80TWh, so one eighth; but wind etc was an increase of 11.2% and nuclear was 0.6% (merely representing variable delivery of old plant); and there is nothing (zip, zilch, no king can stop this tide coming in) that can stop nuclear’s contribution plunging in the next few years (lots are trying to get their license extended–forget it, post-Fukushima). But apply that renewables growth figure into (a) and (b) and see what happens. But that is actually unrealistic because:

There are many GW wind and solar-thermal ready to move ahead in the US (mostly California, Nevada and Texas) that have been held up by GFC-induced finance issues and unexpected environmental issues (California deserts, being resolved). In 5 years, maybe 3, it will look quite different. Whereas where, seriously, do you think nuclear will be in 5 years in the USA (equal first largest energy consumer on the planet)? Seriously.

Then there is a little surprise with France: over 1TWh of wind etc, over 40% increase cf 8.8% for nuclear (again just variation in delivery of old plants) and about 2.5% of nuclear. Now why do you suppose France is doing that?


Geoff Russell wrote:

So short of being there myself, I’m pretty confident that no pilots had ARS and that the UNSCEAR report on which I based my article didn’t miss any dead pilots, it didn’t mention pilots with ARS because there weren’t any to mention.

Geoff … if this is the case, I’m still very curious how you explain first hand accounts from those involved with the air drops who provide information to the contrary? I can’t find the report “A Man in the Sky of Chernobyl” (1994) anywhere on the web or in scientific journals. This is the single source used by UNSCEAR for information on the pilots. It is described as an Aviation Medicine Institute five-year study of pilots and crew up to 200 in number (not full 1,250 compliment), and includes 62 pilots exposed to 180 to 260 mGy of radiation. You suggest “UNSCEAR knows exactly how many pilots died dealing with Chernobyl,” but I don’t find any statements to this effect in their reports. In fact, as you later mention, “A full breakdown wasn’t given.” Is it possible that a single study, limited to five years, and involving only 16% of the pilots is insufficient to make broad conclusions about exposure levels, cancer incidence, and mortality among these many pilots? The only other information I can find about these pilots are first hand accounts that contradict claims about low exposure levels (particularly with early military sorties), and sending pilots away to military hospitals in Kiev, Minsk and Moscow to be treated for “radiation illness.”

Interview with Anatoli Kushnin (Air Force Colonel involved in Chernobyl response, head of Air Force Chemical Service out in Kiev): “By May 4 the pilots had buried the reactor core in sand despite conditions that were difficult and dangerous. The dosimetric devices on these helicopters measured radiation levels of up to 500 roentgens an hour [4.6 sv/h or 466 rem/h]. In the first days after the accident these dosimeters went off scale. The crews were exposed to enormous radiation doses during their flights over the reactor. Pilots had to be substituted all the time; afterwards, crews were sent to a military hospital in Moscow. Not all of them survived. Recently, military test pilot, Anatoly Grishchenko died in the United States. He was the one who tried to lift a huge dome over the exploded reactor with the biggest helicopter in the world, the Mi-26. He didn’t succeed, but he was exposed to many times to huge doses of radiation … Everything to do with radiation levels was top secret.” Kushnin also adds he was taken to hospital and treated for “radiation illness.”

Associated Press on death of Anatoly Grishchenko (1990): “Despite lead shielding on the aircraft and other protective gear, Grishchenko suffered radiation sickness and was found to have radiation-related leukemia last year.”

Anatoly Zayat, Chief Engineer (account mentioned above, “Legacy of Chernobyl, by Zhores Medvedev): 400 unprotected flights with crews receiving “20-80 rad [20-80 rem, or 0.2 – 0.8 sv] of radiation during each flight,” dosimeter readings of 500 roentgens per hour, shortage of dosimeters, first 27 crews sent to Kiev for treatment, etc. After May 6, “Stricter radiological control was introduced: 25 rem was now the maximum limit of exposure.” According to Medvedev, “About 50,000 people were later reported to have been exposed to doses higher than 50 rad [50 rem or 0.5 sv].”


“Germany: 6.8% of electricity from non hydro renewables. Percentage of electricity from burning stuff above OECD average.”

your numbers are wrong.

wind alone is 6.2% and solar is another 2%


talking about the pilots, it is absolutely clear that if the soviets wanted to hide the death of pilots, we wouldn t know about it. how should we?


Hm, speaking of helicopters — this is sort of a why-no-helicopter question about Fukushima.

After being offline a week, I just read the IAEA info
Fukushima Nuclear Accident Update Log
Updates of 21 April 2011


and it says:

> White “smoke” continues to be
> emitted from Units 2, 3 and 4.

So I came looking to find out whether anyone had flown a helicopter close enough, or gotten an instrument close enough, to find out what the stuff actually is and whether it’s radioactive or not.

Can anyone point to an answer? It’ll otherwise likely take me a long time to find it, I tried searching a bit already.

(IAEA also is still referring to ‘liquid glass’— which I found long ago is a poor translation of the English ‘water glass’ aka ‘sodium silicate’ — which mixes up as a liquid, pours, then sets up as a gel — so I know their translation is rough)


> helicopters

This is an awfully not helpful report on the remotely piloted helicopters used:

“… the T-Hawks didn’t have any maintenance problems and weren’t affected by high radiation levels. Two of the vehicles flew, with two units as back-up.

… plans called for all four T-Hawks to remain indefinitely in Japan, largely because of the uncertainties stemming from their exposure to high levels of radiation.

Honeywell officials said they are contractually barred from talking about exactly which portions of the plant the vehicles surveyed, but Japanese news reports have indicated T-Hawks were used to check the condition of all four of the crippled reactors….”

Have any details or actual facts appeared anywhere?

Isn’t that lovely wording? “… weren’t affected by high radiation levels …” (could mean the levels weren’t high, or the devices were able to cope, or nobody is saying if there was a measurement at all)

and “… uncertainties stemming from their exposure to high levels of radiation….” could mean, well, anything you want it to.

Sheesh — “smoke” indeed.


Great blog Barry, and kudos for managing it so well.

I didn’t expect to set off a storm with my comment about Caldicott, but the entire ‘ad hominem’ offshoot was worthwhile, and particularly Fran Barlow’s excellent contribution.

As Mark Lynas says on his blog: “I have discovered over the past few weeks that the anti-nuclear end of the environmental movement has no regard for proper scientific process when it comes to the issue which defines it. ”

Which is the very point I made initially, without even thinking that “she makes stuff up” was anything more than a statement of the obvious. (A conspiracy of the whole world’s epidemiologists would be required to ‘hide’ a million deaths. I don’t think any sane person could conclude anything else about Caldicott’s claims.)

Sites like this are a very good antidote to the ‘make stuff up’ background noise that pervades this entire issue of nuclear energy.


The info digged up by EL seem important, and I hope to find more about the subject.

However I wish to settle what shamus reported about the dead pilots. All four of them died in the same helicopter crash, during the work to build the sarcophage above unit 4.
Here is the info about them as can be found at various place :
HELICOPTER PILOTS, perished on October 02, 1986, over unit 4 of the Chornobyl NPP:

VOROBYOV Volodymyr Kostyantynovych (21.03.1956 – 02.10.1986)
YUNHKIND Oleksandr Yevhenovych (15.04.1958 – 02.10.1986)
KHRYSTYCH Leonid Ivanovych (28.02.1953 – 02.10.1986)
HANZHUK Mykola Oleksandrovych (26.06.1960 – 02.10.1986)

And there is a video of that helicopter crash on youtube :

See the commemorative plate shown at 40″ in the video, with the name of the 4 crew member in cyrillic characters, confirming the date of death, 2/10/1986.


I have something to add. I have not finished reading all of the posts.

The complaint of ad hominem arguments is valid, just as a matter of fact and I am quite prepared to believe Caldicott is a nut. I lost all faith in Lauren Moret as well after I looked into her background – and decided that she’s actually got some kind of psychological disorder that makes her crave attention. She can’t actually string an argument together, it’s painful to watch. But I digress.

I had a look at the link about the guy going into the exclusion zone with no protective gear. Well for one thing he wasn’t right inside the reactor, which is what I expected to see. And in general any fool can see (who has been following the reports) that the radiation levels in the exclusion zone in general are NOT going to kill someone within a few days or anything like that.

That and the remark in the post about plutonium in the sea seem to be glossing over the main worry – that of long-term damage to people or other animals exposed to this over a lifetime. What that means for the general wellbeing of the population, and generations of offspring. Plutonium lasts a hell of a long time. It’s the chance of eg ingesting some. And I don’t just mean humans. It’s not really very relevant to compare it to Japanese fishing practices. It would be better to say perhaps that if they stop fishing those waters as a result, that could be a good result overall – as fish populations worldwide are declining. What we don’t want is them to decline even MORE, or for vital micro-organisms to decline MORE. Malformed fish that can’t breed. Fewer baby fish. That sort of thing.

I’m amazed that so much reporting has concentrated on the fear that OMG THE RADIATION MIGHT BE HERE WERE ALL GONNA DIE. Even people I have spoken to here assumed that was the only reason to be worrying about it and couldn’t understand when I said I was worried about a huge area becoming uninhabitable for 24,000 years.

And another point – there are rational reasons to doubt those figures about chernobyl deaths and cancers. For one thing there are other things than cancers happening. No I don’t have any bloody figures and so on, but I’ve been digging about on the net for weeks now finding out all sorts of background. Sorry I haven’t kept a dossier as people here obviously would like real hard facts.

I have found several examples so far of cover-ups of nuclear disasters AND the effects of those disasters. One such is a reactor in russia that basically blew up or something. They covered it up for about 20-30 years. They declared the entire area a national park and forbade anyone to enter. It’s a HUGE area. Yes it is correct to realise that there is more information available on what happens with nuclear reactors misbehaving AND the effects on population afterwards than the general public realise. Sometimes because we just didn’t hear or don’t remember. But there have been actual cover ups and remember, it’s not just cancer that can happen.

As for the example of skin and muscle sloughing off etc – well to be fair I know exactly where they got that idea from. I don’t know exactly what happened to other radiation victims. (I do however own some books on the topic and have read them!). BUT recently I found out about the workers in Japan in 1999 who died after a prompt criticality in a uranium tank they were filling. I read the book describing how one worker died (A Slow Death: 83 Days of Radiation Sickness). That is essentially what happened to him, but to be honest the book is so spare and factual, and none of the doctors and nurses obviously want to describe things in too much detail either. Your imagination is left to wonder what is left of someone a month or two after all the skin has fallen off and their muscle fibres have disintegrated, they have no mucous membranes in their whole body including their gut and airway, and no chromosomes. Losing 17 litres of lymph a day through their body surfaces. And alpha radiation burns CAN be nasty and CAN kill you, especially at the level they originally thought the workers had who stepped in the puddle. I was very worried. There was at least one person at chernobyl with similar exposure who did die. Quite fast.

I agree that it’s a bit stupid to get really worried about plutonium coming thousands of miles to get you and kill you. But don’t dismiss all fears as groundless. I’m sure the japanese were horrified, and they have the experience to deal with this the best possible way. I do hope they manage it. But there are now hotspots where plutonium etc has been thrown out of one of the reactors, and workers being drafted in by subcontrators who will NOT be able or willing to keep track of their health later on.

I think that’s all really.


oh and before I forget this article is old now – more info has come out about what has been going on at fukushima. Also there’s a whole book of papers recently translated from russian about the effects of radiation at chernobyl, which APPARENTLY puts the lie to the claim that it wasn’t harmful.

Also do you realise (I think Monbiot doesn’t as I came back after reading his website) that the deformities that a lot of these babies show don’t actually necessarily result from damage to the sperm or eggs. That’s a bit of a red herring. A lot of them could be from exposure to teratogens in utero at different stages of development and in different amounts. Remember there may not only be radioactive pollution involved either. A lot of lead got spread around chernobyl and they now realise this was a mistake. Yes they learned a valuable lesson about milk and thyroid cancer (but the info was already available, sadly). And last, apparently no actual plutonium ever reached the ground in hiroshima. The bomb detonated above ground zero. Yes there was radioactive fallout but not plutonium. So I gather that arguments that they “must” already be exposed to environmental plutonium are spurious.

This whole thing reminds me of the stunt that a japanese politician once pulled of drinking a glass of water with plutonium in. I think it was plutonium. Anyway the idea was to convince people that the pollution in a bay wasn’t really harmful. Even though there really was terrible pollution. Mercury and stuff. Can’t remember. It was a long time ago I read about this. The idea is plutonium will in theory go straight through the gut. But that doesn’t mean it couldn’t be inhaled, or get in through a cut, or just be next to you every day gently radiating you. I used to have one of those clocks with the luminous hands, the ones that killed the women who worked painting them. It gave off beta and some gamma radiation. We tested it in our physics lab at school. I remember my teacher went a bit pale and said “I don’t think you should sleep with it right next to your head!”

Since your article has been published the japanese PM has actually apologised for covering up the real facts of how serious the fukushima disaster really has been so far, to avoid panic. Not everyone who was disbelieving and afraid was a nut with an agenda, just people who could put 2 + 2 and realise that there was a really big problem going on, and that we were not being told everything for our own good. THAT made it MORE scary, at least for me. THAT is why I have been digging about for info on everything from what is a terabequarel to the health effects of three mile island. I’ve been reading the power company’s updates and cross-referencing things as much as I can. Most of the readings on actual radiation are NOT that scary, for short to medium term exposure. It’s the big picture and the potential for things to go even more wrong that’s worrying. Hopefully now the worst is over.


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