Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Ace Hoffman on Todd Tucker; Harvey Wasserman on Three Mile Island

To: "Editor, Washington Post" <letters@washpost.com>

March 24th, 2009

To The Editor,

Todd Tucker thinks he serves his old shipmates in the U. S. Navy, and SSBN 731 (USS Alabama) in particular, by committing treason against the citizens of the United States and the earth. To attempt to mislead the public is to attempt to destroy our democracy.

He chastises the nuclear industry for "proclaiming that it can construct a reactor that's "inherently safe' .... " However, he immediately shows his true colors by saying "All methods of power generation involve tradeoffs..." For Tucker, everything is dangerous, therefore nuclear power's dangers are insignificant.

Nuclear energy is not safe. Not for subs (I guess Tucker missed the rash of accidents involving nuclear subs lately, any one of which could have resulted in massive releases of radiation and losses of hundreds of seamen) and not for so-called "commercial" reactors which never really pay their way.

The historical evidence is clear: Nuclear power is not green. It is not economical. It kills people every day. Neither Tucker nor the three turncoats of the environmental movement he honors can explain how ionizing radiation is safe for babies, fetuses, zygotes, or anyone or anything else, since, of course, it is NOT safe.

Tucker denigrates concerns about the link between nuclear power and nuclear weapons by focusing on the idea that the only problem is OTHER nations. He says "you couldn't turn a nuclear reactor into a bomb any more easily than you could power your house with a hand grenade." A better analogy is you cannot build a house in which grenades can be safely exploded. The soft tissue of the humans inside will be damaged; the walls of the house will be damaged. Ionizing radiation is like microscopic grenades going off inside you. It ALWAYS damages you. Even natural radiation (such as from K-40) is harmful (just utterly unavoidable). And pssst: Someone should mention to Tucker (as if he doesn't know) that nuclear power plants can release 1000 times MORE radiation than a bomb can -- plus the spent fuel pools, plus the dry storage casks, plus other nearby reactors. Nuclear power plants are weapons for the enemy, as one classic tome put it, about the time Tucker was doing his "stint" in the Navy. Tucker should have surfaced occasionally and breathed in the fresh air of truth.

Tucker claims that Three Mile Island was "the defining event in the history of American nuclear power." Maybe so, but that's only because the American public never learned about how close we came to an even worse accident in 2002 at Davis-Besse, and nor are they informed about thousands -- yes, thousands -- of other near-misses which have occurred. The worst is yet to come. A far more potent "defining moment" for American nuclear power is as inevitable as sunshine and rain. Sooner or later, Three Mile Island will be considered only a precursor...

Why? Because it, and all the other warnings, such as Davis-Besse (not to mention 9-11 and the overflight of Indian Point by American Airlines Flight 11, minutes before it impacted the North Tower) are being ignored.

Tucker claims no one died because of Three Mile Island -- that the health consequences of the radiation which was released are "insignificant." The nuclear industry has repeated this claim so often that the Washington Post doesn't question the utter lack of logic inherent in such preposterous claims. If Tucker wants to chastise the industry for something, this would be a good start.

Where DID all that radiation go? Measurements were spotty, to be sure. But there is no question that during critical periods, the needles pegged -- and the radiation releases went off-scale. It is known that millions of curies of radiation were released, much of it as so-called "short-lived" isotopes. Tucker appears to be confused about the relative impacts of short-lived versus long-lived isotopes, although chances are he really just wants his readers to be confused, hoping they will somehow see BOTH short- and long-lived isotopes as harmless -- each for the opposite reason.

In reality, they are both harmful, and the most harmful are often the ones with neither short- nor long- lives, such as cesium-137 and strontium-90, both with half-lives of about three decades, and both of which (and many others) Tucker conveniently ignores. One of the main reasons certain radioactive isotopes are more harmful than others is that some bioaccumulate in the body. Tucker doesn't even mention this -- but neither does the nuclear industry, another point he could have chastised them for.

Of course, since Tucker doesn't know the EXACT numbers, he assumes ZERO damage globally from Three Mile Island. Statistically, this is about as close to impossible as you can get. But because not one person can claim with absolute certainty that THEIR cancer was caused by Three Mile Island, Tucker (and the entire nuclear industry) sees ZERO damage.

Tucker claims that the growth of nuclear power since Three Mile Island as a percentage of our total electricity mix has been a benefit to the nation, despite what he claims were the misguided attempts of "environmentalists." In reality, the fact that even Three Mile Island failed to shut down the nuclear industry was a horrific mistake which has already saddled America with 50,000 new tons of toxic waste, and will lead to a complete, horrific, costly meltdown sooner or later.

The waste we are being saddled with is so toxic that no container can safely hold it. Make it out of gold if you like -- it might help for a while, but absolutely nothing can safely contain nuclear waste for the eons necessary. That's a physical reality due to the magnitude of the forces involved -- it won't change. And many of the gaseous discharges from radioactive waste are, themselves, also radioactive, and THAT won't change. And some of them -- many of them -- cannot be properly filtered and end up in the environment. The promises of proper containment by the industry are NEVER kept.

Radioactive waste is so toxic that NO amount can be safely released into the environment. And yet spills occur with frightening regularity.

The waste is so toxic for so long (in part because one atomic breakdown usually leads to another (via a radioactive daughter product) and another and another) that no financial trust fund can possibly be set aside which can pay for the proper care of the waste. The total cost will fall on our children, and their children for hundreds of generations, even if there are ZERO transport accidents and ZERO accidents at the destination. Tucker tries to dismiss the problems of the longevity of nuclear waste by saying that "the problem isn't the material's half-life -- it's the level of radioactivity it possesses." Does someone really need to explain to Tucker that it's because of the radioactivity that the longevity matters, or is he just making stuff up if he thinks the public will buy it (having realized, perhaps by their past statements, that he could get these logical fallacies past the Washington Post editors)?

And what destination does Mr. Tucker, the historian, propose for the waste, now that Yucca Mountain is practically dead?

Nothing. He just points out that yeah, this is a bit of a problem for pro-nukers, but "the top environmental concern for most of us is global warming." Pssst: Renewable energy solves the global warming problem. Nukes aren't renewable and if one takes the entire life-cycle into account (as Tucker conveniently does for coal, but not for nuclear) they contribute massively to global warming. Don't bother telling this to Tucker.

The Washington Post is foolish to publish such desperate lies as the nuclear industry is attempting to propagate through people like Tucker. If left unquestioned, Tucker's lies will continue to kill Americans.


Ace Hoffman
Carlsbad, CA

Todd Tucker / Washington Post:

At 12:04 AM 3/22/2009 -0500, TODD TUCKER wrote:
>5 Myths on Nuclear Power
>Sunday, March 22, 2009; B03
>Thirty years ago this week, a chain of errors and equipment malfunctions triggered the defining event in the history of American nuclear power: the accident at Three Mile Island. Although no one died and the health consequences were insignificant, the mishap was vivid confirmation that things could go wrong with a nuclear reactor. It almost instantly galvanized popular opposition to this form of power, giving rise to lingering misconceptions about one of our nation's largest sources of electricity. 1. Three Mile Island killed the idea of nuclear power in the United States.
>The 1979 accident and the fear it spawned were undoubtedly setbacks to the nuclear power industry. Only recently did utilities even attempt to license new reactors again. But Three Mile Island didn't even kill nuclear power at Three Mile Island. While TMI 2 was destroyed, TMI 1 is still in operation today. In fact, in generating electricity, nuclear power is second only to coal, which produces about half the power we use. Nuclear today produces more electricity than it did at the time of the accident -- about 20 percent compared with 12.5 percent in 1979. 2. Long half-lives make radioactive materials dangerous.
>It's impossible to read anything about the problem of nuclear waste without having to consider enormously long periods of time: thousands of years, or tens of thousands, or even longer. The Web site Greenpeace.org, for instance, points out that plutonium 239, a byproduct of uranium fission, "has a half-life of approximately 24,000 years. . . . However, the hazardous life of radioactive waste is at least ten times the half-life, therefore these wastes will have to be isolated from the environment for 240,000 [years]." There seems to be something intrinsically evil about anything that persists for so long. But a long half-life doesn't necessarily make a substance dangerous.
>A half-life is a measure of how fast a radioactive material decays. Take Carbon 14. This is a slowly decaying radioactive isotope present in natural carbon, which occurs in all living things. Archeologists and scientists measure the amount of carbon 14 remaining in an object to calculate its age. A useful, radioactive and harmless part of every person, Carbon 14 has a half-life of 5,730 years. Conversely, some short-lived isotopes can be extremely dangerous. Nitrogen 16, which is produced in operating nuclear reactors, emits very high-energy radiation despite its half-life of just 7.1 seconds.
>None of this is to say that radioactive waste isn't dangerous or isn't a problem -- even industry boosters identify it as one of the biggest challenges they face. But the problem isn't the material's half-life -- it's the level of radioactivity it possesses. 3. Nuclear power is bad for the environment.
>Many nuclear reactor byproducts are dangerous and require careful long-term storage. This is at the root of the fairly widespread belief that nuclear power is incompatible with a concern for the environment, even though its effects compare favorably with coal's.
>The top environmental concern for most of us is global warming, and nuclear power is by far the biggest source of emission-free power we currently have, contributing none of the greenhouse gases that coal plants spew by the ton every day. Neither does nuclear power require the decapitation of Appalachian mountains or the construction of billion-gallon sludge ponds. So why won't environmentalists even consider the nuclear alternative? Some have, notably former Greenpeace member Patrick Moore, Whole Earth Catalog founder Stewart Brand and Gaia theorist James Lovelock. But most environmentalists remain constitutionally averse to nuclear power, for reasons that Brand has described as "quasi-religious." 4. Nuclear power is "unnatural."
> From Godzilla to Blinky the three-eyed fish on "The Simpsons," many of pop culture's oddest creatures owe their existence to the mutating powers of radiation. It's easy to forget that radiation and nuclear processes are pervasive in the natural world. President Harry S. Truman put it memorably when he presided over the keel-laying of the USS Nautilus, the world's first nuclear-powered ship, in 1952: "Her engines will not burn oil or coal. The heat in her boilers will be created by the same force that heats the sun -- the energy released by atomic fission, the breaking apart of the basic matter of the universe." Cosmic rays bombard us constantly, and radioactive isotopes of common elements are an unavoidable -- and benign -- part of our food supply. Uranium, the primary fuel in most nuclear reactors, is a natural substance found all over the globe, roughly as plentiful as tin. 5. A nuclear power plant is similar to a nuclear bomb.
>Not really. Nuclear power plants use fission -- the splitting of uranium atoms to release enormous energy -- to create power. Modern nuclear weapons use nuclear fusion: the fusing together of hydrogen atoms to release even greater amounts of energy. It's true that early nuclear weapons, such as the one dropped on Hiroshima, were fission weapons that used uranium as fuel, but scientists had to overcome incredible technical challenges to get the fuel to compress long enough to reach a "critical mass" that would release explosive levels of energy. A nuclear power plant is a radically different machine, designed with great care to convert nuclear fission into steady power over a period of years. You couldn't turn a nuclear reactor into a bomb any more easily than you could power your house with a hand grenade.
>There is one important link between nuclear power and nuclear weapons: Uranium-fueled reactors produce plutonium, a key ingredient in the construction of nuclear bombs. This is why the United States is justifiably concerned about any nations that are building or attempting to build nuclear power plants.
>Nuclear power certainly isn't without hazards, and the industry does itself a disservice by proclaiming that it can construct a reactor that is "inherently safe," implying a condition in which nothing bad can ever happen. That's not possible in any manmade creation. It's also easily disproven the instant something bad does happen -- as it did at Three Mile Island. All methods of power generation involve trade-offs, a balancing of risks against returns. We shouldn't evaluate nuclear power any differently.
>Todd Tucker is the author of "Atomic America: How a Deadly Explosion and a Feared Admiral Changed the Course of Nuclear History."

People Died at Three Mile Island by Harvey Wasserman:

People Died at Three Mile Island

By Harvey Wasserman


People died---and are still dying---at Three Mile Island.

As the thirtieth anniversary of America's most infamous industrial accident approaches, we mourn the deaths that accompanied the biggest string of lies ever told in US industrial history.

As news of the accident poured into the global media, the public was assured there were no radiation releases.

That quickly proved to be false.

The public was then told the releases were controlled and done purposely to alleviate pressure on the core.

Both those assertions were false.

The public was told the releases were "insignificant."

But stack monitors were saturated and unusable, and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission later told Congress it did not know---and STILL does not know---how much radiation was released at Three Mile Island, or where it went.

Using unsubstantiated estimates of how much radiation was released, the government issued average doses allegedly received by people in the region, which it assured the public were safe. But the estimates were utterly meaningless, among other things ignoring the likelihood that high doses of concentrated fallout could come down heavily on specific areas.

Official estimates said a uniform dose to all persons in the region was equivalent to a single chest x-ray. But pregnant women are no longer x-rayed because it has long been known a single dose can do catastrophic damage to an embryo or fetus in utero.

The public was told there was no melting of fuel inside the core.

But robotic cameras later showed a very substantial portion of the fuel did melt.

The public was told there was no danger of an explosion.

But there was, as there had been at Michigan's Fermi reactor in 1966. In 1986, Chernobyl Unit Four did explode.

The public was told there was no need to evacuate anyone from the area.

But Pennsylvania Governor Richard Thornburgh then evacuated pregnant women and small children. Unfortunately, many were sent to nearby Hershey, which was showered with fallout.

In fact, the entire region should have been immediately evacuated. It is standard wisdom in the health physics community that---due in part to the extreme vulnerability of human embryos, fetuses and small children, as well as the weaknesses of old age---there is no safe dose of radiation, and none will ever be found.

The public was assured the government would follow up with meticulous studies of the health impacts of the accident.

In fact, the state of Pennsylvania hid the health impacts, including deletion of cancers from the public record, abolition of the state's tumor registry, misrepresentation of the impacts it could not hide (including an apparent tripling of the infant death rate in nearby Harrisburg) and much more.

The federal government did nothing to track the health histories of the region's residents.

In fact, the most reliable studies were conducted by local residents like Jane Lee and Mary Osborne, who went door-to-door in neighborhoods where the fallout was thought to be worst. Their surveys showed very substantial plagues of cancer, leukemia, birth defects, respiratory problems, hair loss, rashes, lesions and much more.

A study by Columbia University claimed there were no significant health impacts, but its data by some interpretations points in the opposite direction. Investigations by epidemiologist Dr. Stephen Wing of the University of North Carolina, and others, led Wing to warn that the official studies on the health impacts of the accident suffered from "logical and methodological problems." Studies by Wing and by Arnie Gundersen, a former nuclear industry official, being announced this week at Harrisburg, significantly challenge official pronouncements on both radiation releases and health impacts.

Gundersen, a leading technical expert on nuclear engineering, says: "When I correctly interpreted the containment pressure spike and the doses measured in the environment after the TMI accident, I proved that TMI's releases were about one hundred times higher than the industry and the NRC claim, in part because the containment leaked. This new data supports the epidemiology of Dr. Steve Wing and proves that there really were injuries from the accident. New reactor designs are also effected, as the NRC is using its low assumed release rates to justify decreases in emergency planning and containment design."

Data unearthed by radiologist Dr. Ernest Sternglass of the University of Pittsburgh, and statisticians Jay Gould (now deceased) and Joe Mangano of New York have led to strong assertions of major public health impacts. According to Mangano, one major study "found that the number of cancers within 10 miles of TMI rose from 1731 to 2847 between 1975-79 and 1981-85. A 64% increase. But they 'didn't find any link' with the accident, and suggested the rise might be due to stress." On-going work by Sternglass and Mangano clearly indicates that "normal" reactor radiation releases of far less magnitude that those at TMI continue to have catastrophic impacts on local populations.

Anecdotal evidence among the local human population has been devastating. Large numbers of central Pennsylvanians suffered skin sores and lesions that erupted while they were out of doors as the fallout rained down on them. Many quickly developed large, visible tumors, breathing problems, and a metallic taste in their mouths that matched that experienced by some of the men who dropped the bomb on Hiroshima, and who were exposed to nuclear tests in the south Pacific and Nevada.

A series of interviews conducted by Robbie Leppzer and compiled in a "a two-hour public radio documentary VOICES FROM THREE MILE ISLAND ( www.turningtide.com ) give some indication of the horrors experienced by the people of central Pennsylvania.

They are further underscored by harrowing broadcasts from then-CBS News anchor Walter Cronkite
( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n-c1PrCLaRw ) warning that "the world has never known a day quite like today. It faced the considerable uncertainties and dangers of the worst nuclear power plant accident of the atomic age. And the horror tonight is that it could get much worse."

In March of 1980, I went into the region and compiled a range of interviews clearly indicating widespread health damage done by radiation from the accident. The survey led to the book KILLING OUR OWN, co-authored with Norman Solomon, Robert Alvarez and Eleanor Walters ( www.ratical.org/radiation/KillingOurOwn/KOO.pdf ) which correlated the damage done at TMI with that suffered during nuclear bomb tests, atomic weapons production, mis-use of medical x-rays, the painting of radium watch dials, uranium mining and milling, radioactive fuel production, failed attempts at waste disposal, and more.

My research at TMI also uncovered a plague of death and disease among the area's wild animals and farm livestock. Entire bee hives expired immediately after the accident, along with a disappearance of birds, many of whom were found scattered dead on the ground. A rash of malformed pets were born and stillborn, including kittens that could not walk and a dog with no eyes. Reproductive rates among the
region's cows and horses plummeted.

Much of this was documented by a three-person investigative team from the Baltimore News-American, which made it clear that the problems could only have been caused by radiation. Statistics from Pennsylvania's Department of Agriculture confirmed the plague, but the state denied its existence, and said that if it did exist, it could not have been caused by TMI.

In the mid-1980s the citizens of the three counties surrounding Three Mile Island voted by a margin of 3:1 to permanently retired TMI Unit One, which had been shut when Unit Two melted. The Reagan Administration trashed the vote and re-opened the reactor, which still operates. Its owners now seek a license renewal.

Some 2400 area residents have long-since filed a class action lawsuit demanding compensation for the plague of death and disease visited upon their families. In the past quarter-century they have been denied access to the federal court system, which claims there was not enough radiation released to do such harm. TMI's owners did quietly pay out millions in damages to area residents whose children were born with genetic damage, among other things. The payments came in exchange for silence among those receiving them.

But for all the global attention focused on the accident and its health effects, there has never been a binding public trial to test the assertion by thousands of conservative central Pennsylvanians that radiation from TMI destroyed their lives.

So while the nuclear power industry continues to assert that "no one died at Three Mile Island," it refuses to allow an open judicial hearing on the hundreds of cases still pending.

As the pushers of the "nuclear renaissance" demand massive tax- and rate-payer subsidies to build yet another generation of reactors, they cynically stonewall the obvious death toll that continues to mount at the site of an accident that happened thirty years ago. The "see no evil" mantra continues to define all official approaches to the victims of this horrific disaster.

Ironically, like Chernobyl, Three Mile Island Unit Two was a state-of-the-art reactor. Its official opening came on December 28, 1978, and it melted exactly three months later. Had it operated longer, the accumulated radiation spewing from its core almost certainly would have been far greater.

Every reactor now operating in the US is much older---nearly all fully three decades older---than TMI-2 when it melted. Their potential fallout could dwarf what came down in 1979.

But the Big Lie remains officially intact. Expect to hear all week that TMI was "a success story" because "no one was killed."

But in mere moments that brand new reactor morphed from a $900 million asset to a multi-billion-dollar liability. It could happen to any atomic power plant, now, tomorrow and into the future.

Meanwhile, the death toll from America's worst industrial catastrophe continues to rise. More than ever, it is shrouded in official lies and desecrated by a reactor-pushing "renaissance" hell-bent on repeating the nightmare on an even larger scale.


Harvey Wasserman has been writing about atomic energy and the green alternatives since 1973. His 1982 assertion to Bryant Gumbel on NBC's TODAY Show that people were killed at TMI sparked a national mailing from the reactor industry demanding a retraction. NBC was later bought by Westinghouse, still a major force pushing atomic power.