GR Nuclear Policy

Time for a reckoning, time for an apology

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 article on BNC was: Dietary Guidelines Committee ignores climate change.

What’s the difference between the fear of bungee jumping and the fear that comes from finding out after 10 years that your house was built on a toxic waste dump?

People pay for the former because the fear delivers a rush of adrenalin, and the safe survival brings elation. But people sue for the latter because it can permanently throw an angle grinder into your sleep patterns, steamroll your joie-de-vivre, wreck your marriage and make you sick. Stressed people get sicker quicker.

Radiation impacts below those of urban air

Post Fukushima, Nature is reporting that the first indications are that post traumatic stress disorders may be even worse than after Chernobyl. As for the physical disease impacts, David Brenner, a leading radiation expert, was quoted in the same article that it was unlikely that any cancer impacts from the radiation release would be measurable in any epidemiological study.

Think about this. Please. Can you use epidemiology to measure the impacts of air pollution in Japan? Indeed you can. Here’s just such a study which shows increases in lung cancer risk of 25 to 50 percent at common levels of urban air pollutants. If you want to know why 10-20 percent of lung cancer is in non-smokers, then air-pollution is a major factor and its impact is readily detected and measured.

But Brenner’s expert opinion is that the impact of the Fukushima radiation releases will be too small to measure. I.e., less cancers than are due to common levels of air pollution. He isn’t saying the impacts will be zero, he can calculate them with a theoretical model. His calculations are that there may be about 20 cancers over a 40 year period per 100,000 people affected. Given that 100,000 is close to the number of people actually evacuated, then 20 cancers looks to be the maximum impact. This is based on Brenner’s expert understanding of the careful dose estimates just published by the World Health Organisation.

About 40,000 of the 100,000 people will have got cancer during the remainder of their lives without the radiation exposure. Detecting an increase of perhaps 20 amongst the normal variation using statistical measures will be impossible. Brenner has estimated this based on the “linear no threshold” approach to radiation, so it’s pretty much a maximum estimate among people who actually know anything about such matters.

Bomb threat hoaxers … inadvertent or deliberate?

It’s time that anti-nuclear activists were called to account over their role in the panic, stress, mental anguish and related illness caused by their fear mongering. I’m not sure if they should be grouped with people who make false bomb threats or those who falsely shout “fire!” in a crowded theatre. Either way, there needs to be an accounting for the suffering they are inflicting.

Consider the following image showing a child being scanned for radioactivity after Fukushima.

First focus on the child. Is the child terrified? Maybe. He may not be old enough to understand what is happening, but will probably pick up on the fear around him. His mother, in particular is highly likely to be traumatised.

Now look at the guy doing the radiation scan.

How much further away from the child could he get?

He’d fall flat on his face if he tried to move any further back. He is clearly terrified … of the child. What kind of story has he been told? All through the Fukushima media-storm-farce I kept seeing images of children and their mothers and fathers being terrified by procedures that couldn’t have been more brilliantly designed to terrify if they had been thought out by some sick sadist.

What did the guy doing the scan think was happening? This isn’t SARS, or bird flu or ebola or marburg or hendra or even swine flu. This is radiation! You can measure the damn stuff and he’s got a machine. Unlike the first health care experts at an unknown disease outbreak, Geiger Counter Man can always know exactly what level of risk he is running. What the hell did they tell this guy before they pushed him onto the front line?

Maybe they told him the truth but he didn’t believe them and put his faith in Helen Caldicott or Michio Kaku?

What was he thinking?!

So what did Geiger Counter Man think would happen? If the child had been busily munching on plutonium mud pies all morning, was that any risk to him? Of course not. For that to be even remotely dangerous the child would need to vomit and he’d have to do the old doggy trick and lick-it-up. This doesn’t seem likely.

There’s not even that much risk to the child in this case either. He’d have to ingest a large amount and the time it remained in his body would be shortish. Breathing in some particular isotopes would raise the child’s risk of cancer, but as Brenner implies, there wasn’t much of any serious danger around. But still, that’s no risk to the guy with the suit. And if the child has radioactive dust on him? Give the kid a shower. Dust is dust, even radioactive dust washes off in soap and water. It doesn’t get magick sticking power.

But the scanner guy is clearly terrified. Why? Anti-nuclear activists have generated a knee jerk fear in people that is beyond reason. It’s a snake-panic-run response.

After Chernobyl, with the important exception of some 6,000 thyroid cancers, the UN Scientific Committee found that the most serious consequences were psychological. Fear and stress. The thyroid cancers were treated with better than 99 percent success rate.

During the past 15 months, another couple of hundred thousand Indian children between 1 and 5 years old have died because they have no electricity and cook with wood or cattle dung. Greenpeace is trying to stop the construction of a huge 9.9 giga watt nuclear plant at Jaitapur that could save many thousands of young lives because they think that the risk from radiation during any nuclear accident is worse than certain death from cooking smoke.

And back in Japan? As summer approaches, anti-nuclear activists want to keep Japan’s reactor fleet idle which will put far more lives at risk than any cancer risk from the Fukushima radiation. Japan had the hottest summer on record in 2010 with some 52,000 hospitalisations and 168 premature deaths. That was when they had full power. What will this summer be like? How many people will fry and die because of the radiation phobia whipped up by anti-nuclear activists? How high will Japan’s greenhouse gas emissions rise as a result of anti-nuclear irrationality?

Of hypocratic oathes and apologies

I wonder how may well meaning medical doctors are associated with the anti-nuclear movement? How many are busy spreading fear and the consequent disease? Perhaps its time to start deregistering any such doctors for breach of the hypocratic oath … “first, do no harm”.

It’s time the global political Green movement showed some compassion and took steps to try to reduce the distress and panic. I’d like to see Christine Milne contact the Japanese Government and tell them she supports turning on the reactors. I’d like to see her apologise to the Japanese people and call on other global Green leaders to do the same. The last thing the Japanese people needed after the 2011 quake and tsunami was a trumped up radiation death cloud fear campaign, but that’s exactly what the anti-nuclear movement gave them.


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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.

5 replies on “Time for a reckoning, time for an apology”

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