Thursday, March 31, 2011

EPA: Radioactive Iodine Exceeding Maximum Contaminant Levels for Drinking Water Found in Pennsylvania and Massachusetts ... But It's Safe

As I noted Tuesday, the government is responding to the Japanese nuclear accident by trying to raise acceptable radiation levels and pretending that radiation is good for us.

Forbes' blogger Jeff McMahon points out:

The Environmental Protection Agency yesterday reported finding elevated levels of iodine-131, a product of nuclear fission, in rainwater in Pennsylvania and Massachusetts. The levels exceed the maximum contaminant level (MCL) permitted in drinking water, but EPA continues to assure the public there is no need for alarm:

“It is important to note that the corresponding MCL for iodine-131 was calculated based on long-term chronic exposures over the course of a lifetime – 70 years. The levels seen in rainwater are expected to be relatively short in duration,” the agency states in a FAQ that accompanied yesterday’s brief news release.

“In both cases these are levels above the normal background levels historically reported in these areas.”

EPA said it is receiving “verbal reports” of higher levels of radiation in rainwater samples from other states as well, and that Americans should continue to expect short-term contamination of rainwater as radioactive isotopes spread through the atmosphere from Japan.

“We continue to expect similar reports from state agencies and others across the nation given the nature and duration of the Japanese nuclear incident.”

The EPA also found radioactive iodine in milk in Washington State.

Fortunately. the half life of radioactive iodine is only 8.02 days. That means that the iodine loses half of its radioactivity within 8 days.

If you trust the EPA to tell you if radiation levels are unsafe, then carry on.

But if you do not trust the government to tell you the truth, and if you are afraid of radioactive exposure, you might consider stocking up on a little extra milk and water, and then letting each container of fluids sit for a couple of weeks on a shelf or in your refrigerator before drinking. That will greatly reduce the radioactivity caused by the iodine 131.

Specifically, every 8 days, the amount of radioactivity in the iodine 131 is reduced by half according to the general rule of radioactive half lives:

You'll have to find out current radioactive iodine levels to determine how long your beverages have to sit before the radioactive iodine falls to a level you consider safe.

Obviously, beverages packed before the Japanese earthquake are safe.

(Because radioactive cesium has a much longer half-life, a couple of weeks of storing fluids before drinking them obviously wouldn't do much for that material).

In addition, if you're still worried about exposure to radiation, you might want to note that some vitamins and herbs have been shown to be radioprotective.

Disclaimer: I am not a doctor or a health professional, and this should not be taken as medical advice. Nothing contained herein is intended to diagnose or treat any condition. You should consult your doctor before making any decisions about whether or not to take any of the foods, herbs, supplements or substances mentioned herein.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Is Nobel Peace Prize Winner Obama More Brutal than Bush?

Bush is correctly regarded as a lying, war-mongering, torturing tyrant.

Is Nobel peace prize winner Obama even worse?

Many governments, U.S. congressmen and other individuals have demanded that Obama return his Nobel peace prize for bombing Libya without congressional approval.

Bush got us into 2 wars to protect our strategic national interests in ... er ... broccoli. Obama just got us into a third war for the same reason. Bush's decision to invade Iraq was met with large protests. Similarly, most Americans didn't want Obama to get involved in Libya.

The Bush administration funded terrorist groups (and see confirming articles here and here). Obama is allegedly funding terrorist groups in Iran, and is now aiding the Libyan "rebels", even though there are allegations that 1,000 of them are Al Qaeda radicals (and there are some indications that their leader is a CIA asset).

Obama has increased the number of drone attacks in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and elsewhere. Indeed, most people who have looked at the numbers believe that Obama has killed many more civilians with drone attacks than Bush did using the same method.

The Brookings Institution noted in 2009:

Critics correctly find many problems with this program, most of all the number of civilian casualties the strikes have incurred. Sourcing on civilian deaths is weak and the numbers are often exaggerated, but more than 600 civilians are likely to have died from the attacks. That number suggests that for every militant killed, 10 or so civilians also died.

And drone strikes are often based on scant evidence in the first place. And killing innocent civilians with drones is one of the main things which increases terrorism (and see this).

Former constitutional law teacher Glenn Greenwald says that - in his defense of state secrecy, illegal spying, preventative detention, harassment of whistleblowers and other issues of civil liberties - Obama is even worse than Bush.

Indeed, Obama has authorized "targeted assassinations" against U.S. citizens. Even Bush didn't openly do something so abhorrent to the rule of law.

Obama is trying to expand spying well beyond the Bush administration's programs. Indeed, the Obama administration is arguing that citizens should never be able to sue the government for illegal spying.

Obama's indefinite detention policy is an Orwellian nightmare, which will create more terrorists.

And as I noted in 2009, in a post entitled "Can Nobel Prize Winner Obama At LEAST Stop the Torture?":

You may assume that things have changed after President Obama was sworn in.

However, the Obama Department of Justice is trying to protect torture memo writer John Yoo. As constitutional law expert Jonathan Turley notes:

The president literally has gotten onto a plane this evening to go to Norway to accept the Nobel Prize, while his Justice Department is effectively gutting a major part of Nuremberg.

The Obama administration is arguing not only that they shouldn't be prosecuted, but it's now saying that you shouldn't even be able to sue them civilly .... It's an international disgrace.

Well, it may be a disgrace, but at least torture isn't continuing under the Obama administration, right?

In fact, many reporters have said that the Bagram prison facility in Afghanistan is worse than Guantanamo ever was. Moreover, abuse is apparently still occurring there.

As Spiegel wrote on September 21, 2009, in an article entitled "Prisoner Abuse Continues at Bagram Prison in Afghanistan":

US President Barack Obama has spoken out against CIA prisoner abuse and wants to close Guantanamo. But he tolerates the existence of Bagram military prison in Afghanistan, where more than 600 people are being held without charge. The facility makes Guantanamo look like a "nice hotel," in the words of one military prosecutor...

Bagram is "the forgotten second Guantanamo," says American military law expert Eugene Fidell, a professor at Yale Law School. "But apparently there is a continuing need for this sort of place even under the Obama administration.

"From the beginning, "Bagram was worse than Guantanamo," says New York-based attorney Tina Foster, who has argued several cases on behalf of detainee rights in US courts. "Bagram has always been a torture chamber."

And what does Obama say? Nothing. He never so much as mentions Bagram in any of his speeches. When discussing America's mistreatment of detainees, he only refers to Guantanamo.

Obama still never mentions Bagram.

Spiegel continues:

From the beginning, Bagram was notorious for the brutal forms of torture employed there. Former inmates report incidents of sleep deprivation, beatings and various forms of sexual humiliation [and rape with sticks]...

At least two men died during imprisonment. One of them, a 22-year-old taxi driver named Dilawar, was suspended by his hands from the ceiling for four days, during which US military personnel repeatedly beat his legs. Dilawar died on Dec. 10, 2002. In the autopsy report, a military doctor wrote that the tissue on his legs had basically been "pulpified." As it happens, his interrogators had already known -- and later testified -- that there was no evidence against Dilawar...

However attorney Tina Foster feels that the new initiative is just a cosmetic measure. "There is absolutely no difference between the Bush administration and the Obama administration's position with respect to Bagram detainees' rights," she says during an interview with SPIEGEL in her office in the New York borough of Queens.

And see this.

Moreover, Obama is still apparently allowing "rendition flights" - where prisoners are flown to countries which freely torture - to continue. This itself violates the Geneva Convention and the War Crimes Act of 1996.

Specifically, to the extent that the U.S. is sending prisoners to other countries for the express purpose of being tortured are true, violation of the war crimes act by the highest officials of our country would be probable. For who else but Obama, Gates and other top officials would have the ability to authorize such flights? How could such a program be undertaken without their knowledge? And how could such a program be anything but the intentional "ordering" of torture, or at least "knowing about it" and "failing to take steps to stop it"?

Finally, Jeremy Scahill - the reporter who broke most of the stories on Blackwater - says that some forms of torture at Guantanamo have continued under Obama, and may even have gotten worse. For example, Scahill points out that:

The Center for Constitutional Rights released a report titled "Conditions of Confinement at Guantánamo: Still In Violation of the Law," which found that abuses continued. In fact, one Guantanamo lawyer, Ahmed Ghappour, said that his clients were reporting "a ramping up in abuse" since Obama was elected.

As Marjorie Cohen - professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law, past president of the National Lawyers Guild - writes at the American Constitution Society for Law and Policy:

Army Pfc. Bradley Manning, who is facing court-martial for leaking military reports and diplomatic cables to WikiLeaks, is being held in solitary confinement in Quantico brig in Virginia. Each night, he is forced to strip naked and sleep in a gown made of coarse material. He has been made to stand naked in the morning as other inmates walked by and looked. As journalist Lance Tapley documents in his chapter on torture in the supermax prisons in The United States and Torture, solitary confinement can lead to hallucinations and suicide; it is considered to be torture. Manning's forced nudity amounts to humiliating and degrading treatment, in violation of U.S. and international law.

Nevertheless, President Barack Obama defended Manning's treatment, saying, "I've actually asked the Pentagon whether or not the procedures . . . are appropriate. They assured me they are." Obama's deference is reminiscent of President George W. Bush, who asked "the most senior legal officers in the U.S. government" to review the interrogation techniques. "They assured me they did not constitute torture," Bush said.


After State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley criticized Manning's conditions of confinement, the White House forced him to resign. Crowley had said the restrictions were "ridiculous, counterproductive and stupid." It appears that Washington is more intent on sending a message to would-be whistleblowers than on upholding the laws that prohibit torture and abuse.


Torture is commonplace in countries strongly allied with the United States. Vice President Omar Suleiman, Egypt's intelligence chief, was the lynchpin for Egyptian torture when the CIA sent prisoners to Egypt in its extraordinary rendition program. A former CIA agent observed, "If you want a serious interrogation, you send a prisoner to Jordan. If you want them to be tortured, you send them to Syria. If you want someone to disappear - never to see them again - you send them to Egypt." In her chapter in The United States and Torture, New Yorker journalist Jane Mayer cites Egypt as the most common destination for suspects rendered by the United States.

And see this, this, this and this.

Whether or not Obama is worse than Bush, he's just as bad.

While we had Bush's "heck of a job" response to Katrina, we had Obama's equally inept response and false assurances in connection with the Gulf oil spill, and Obama's false assurances in connection with the Japanese nuclear crisis.

And Bush and Obama's response to the financial crisis are virtually identical: bail out the giant banks, let Wall Street do whatever it wants, and forget the little guy.

The American voters asked for change. Instead, we got a different branch of the exact same Wall Street/military-industrial complex/Big Energy (BP, GE)/Big Pharma party.


Smoke Rises from DIFFERENT Nuclear Complex ... 7 Miles from the Leaking Reactors

The 6 problem reactors which have gotten all of the press are located within the Fukushima Daiichi complex.

However, the same nuclear power plant operator that runs the Daiichi complex - Tepco - runs a separate nuclear complex 7 miles away, called Fukushima Daini. There are 4 reactors located at the Daini complex.

On March 12th, Tepco reported:

Unit 1

- At 8:19am, there was an alarm indicating that one of the control rods
was not properly inserted, however, at 10:43am the alarm was automatically
called off. Other control rods has been confirmed that they are fully
inserted (reactor is in subcritical status)


- At 6:08PM, we announced the increase in reactor containment vessel
pressure, assumed to be due to leakage of reactor coolant. However, we
do not believe there is leakage of reactor coolant in the containment
vessel at this moment.

- At 5:22AM, the temperature of the suppression chamber exceeded 100
degrees. As the reactor pressure suppression function was lost, at 5:22AM,
it was determined that a specific incident stipulated in article 15,
clause 1 has occurred.

(Article 15, Clause 1 of Japan's Act on Special Measures Concerning Nuclear Emergency Preparedness simply provides that there are elevated radiation levels or that "an event specified by a Cabinet Order as an event that indicates the occurrence of a nuclear emergency situation has occurred.")

On March 14th, Reuters reported:

Tokyo Electric Power Co Inc said on Monday it had detected a rise in radiation levels at its Fukushima Daini nuclear power plant.

A company spokesman said that the cooling process at the plant has been working properly and that the rise was probably due to radiation leak at the nearby Fukushima Daiichi nuclear complex, where cooling functions were damaged by Friday's massive earthquake and tsunami.

Today, Tepco announced that smoke was seen rising from Daini reactor number 1:

Smoke was spotted at another nuclear plant in northeastern Japan on Wednesday, Tokyo Electric Power Co. said.

The company said smoke was detected in the turbine building of reactor No. 1 at the Fukushima Daini nuclear power plant around 6 p.m. (5 a.m. ET).

Smoke could no longer be seen by around 7 p.m. (6 a.m. ET), a company spokesman told reporters.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Japanese Nuclear Crisis Could Last for YEARS

As I've previously noted, many experts say that the Fukushima plants will keep on leaking for months. See this and this.

But Reuters reported yesterday:

"I think maybe the situation is much more serious than we were led to believe," said one expert, Najmedin Meshkati, of the University of Southern California, adding it may take weeks to stabilise the situation and the United Nations should step in.

"This is far beyond what one nation can handle - it needs to be bumped up to the U.N. Security Council. In my humble opinion, this is more important than the Libya no fly zone."

Plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. has conceded it faces a protracted and uncertain operation to contain overheating fuel rods and avert a meltdown.

"Regrettably, we don't have a concrete schedule at the moment to enable us to say in how many months or years (the crisis will be over)," TEPCO vice-president Sakae Muto said in the latest of round-the-clock briefings the company holds.
And the New York Times points out today:

In an admission of how long the cooling process may take, Hidehiko Nishiyama, deputy director general of the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, Japan’s nuclear regulator, said late Tuesday: “We will have to continue cooling for quite a long period. We should be thinking years.”

Kuni Yogo, a former atomic energy policy planner in the Japan Science and Technology Agency, said: “There is some trial and error, but this is the beginning of a three- to five-year effort.”

Of course, if all goes well, the reactor cores and spent fuel rods should cool down considerably over the next couple of months. But the fact that the Japanese might need to sustain the cooling effort for years on end is stunning.

Japanese Seismologist in 2004 on Risk of Nuclear Accident: "It's Like a Kamikaze Terrorist Wrapped in Bombs Just Waiting to Explode"

In 2004, Leuren Moret warned in the Japan Times of the exact type of nuclear catastrophe that Japan is now experiencing:

Of all the places in all the world where no one in their right mind would build scores of nuclear power plants, Japan would be pretty near the top of the list.


Japan sits on top of four tectonic plates, at the edge of the subduction zone, and is in one of the most tectonically active regions of the world.


Nonetheless, like many countries around the world -- where General Electric and Westinghouse designs are used in 85 percent of all commercial reactors -- Japan has turned to nuclear power as a major energy source


Many of those reactors have been negligently sited on active faults, particularly in the subduction zone along the Pacific coast, where major earthquakes of magnitude 7-8 or more on the Richter scale occur frequently. The periodicity of major earthquakes in Japan is less than 10 years. There is almost no geologic setting in the world more dangerous for nuclear power than Japan -- the third-ranked country in the world for nuclear reactors.

"I think the situation right now is very scary," says Katsuhiko Ishibashi, a seismologist and professor at Kobe University. "It's like a kamikaze terrorist wrapped in bombs just waiting to explode."


On July 7 last year, the same day of my visit to Hamaoka, Ishibashi warned of the danger of an earthquake-induced nuclear disaster, not only to Japan but globally, at an International Union of Geodesy and Geophysics conference held in Sapporo. He said: "The seismic designs of nuclear facilities are based on standards that are too old from the viewpoint of modern seismology and are insufficient. The authorities must admit the possibility that an earthquake-nuclear disaster could happen and weigh the risks objectively."


I realized that Japan has no real nuclear-disaster plan in the event that an earthquake damaged a reactor's water-cooling system and triggered a reactor meltdown.

Additionally, but not even mentioned by ERC officials, there is an extreme danger of an earthquake causing a loss of water coolant in the pools where spent fuel rods are kept. As reported last year in the journal Science and Global Security, based on a 2001 study by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, if the heat-removing function of those pools is seriously compromised -- by, for example, the water in them draining out -- and the fuel rods heat up enough to combust, the radiation inside them will then be released into the atmosphere. This may create a nuclear disaster even greater than Chernobyl.


It is not a question of whether or not a nuclear disaster will occur in Japan; it is a question of when it will occur.

As the US Geological Survey notes, Japan has had many earthquakes, including:


Japanese engineer Masashi Goto, who helped design the containment vessel for Fukushima's reactor core, says the design was not enough to withstand earthquakes or tsunamis.
Indeed, Reuters points out today:

Over the past two weeks, Japanese government officials and Tokyo Electric Power executives have repeatedly described the deadly combination of the most powerful quake in Japan's history and the massive tsunami that followed as "soteigai," or beyond expectations.


But a review of company and regulatory records shows that Japan and its largest utility repeatedly downplayed dangers and ignored warnings — including a 2007 tsunami study from Tokyo Electric Power Co's senior safety engineer.

"We still have the possibilities that the tsunami height exceeds the determined design height due to the uncertainties regarding the tsunami phenomenon," Tokyo Electric researchers said in a report reviewed by Reuters.


The research paper concluded that there was a roughly 10 percent chance that a tsunami could test or overrun the defenses of the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant within a 50-year span based on the most conservative assumptions.

But Tokyo Electric did nothing to change its safety planning based on that study, which was presented at a nuclear engineering conference in Miami in July 2007.


Tokyo Electric's Fukushima Dai-ichi plant, some 150 miles northeast of Tokyo, was a particular concern.

The 40-year-old nuclear complex was built near a quake zone in the Pacific that had produced earthquakes of magnitude 8 or higher four times in the past 400 years — in 1896, 1793, 1677 and then in 1611, Tokyo Electric researchers had come to understand.

Based on that history, Sakai, a senior safety manager at Tokyo Electric, and his research team applied new science to a simple question: What was the chance that an earthquake-generated wave would hit Fukushima? More pressing, what were the odds that it would be larger than the roughly 6-meter (20 feet) wall of water the plant had been designed to handle?

The tsunami that crashed through the Fukushima plant on March 11 was 14 meters high.

Sakai's team determined the Fukushima plant was dead certain to be hit by a tsunami of one or two meters in a 50-year period. They put the risk of a wave of 6 meters or more at around 10 percent over the same time span.

In other words, Tokyo Electric scientists realized as early as 2007 that it was quite possible a giant wave would overwhelm the sea walls and other defenses at Fukushima by surpassing engineering assumptions behind the plant's design that date back to the 1960s.


Despite the projection by its own safety engineers that the older assumptions might be mistaken, Tokyo Electric was not breaking any Japanese nuclear safety regulation by its failure to use its new research to fortify Fukushima Dai-ichi, which was built on the rural Pacific coast to give it quick access to sea water and keep it away from population centers.

"There are no legal requirements to re-evaluate site related (safety) features periodically," the Japanese government said in a response to questions from the United Nations nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, in 2008.

Not Just Japan

As MSNBC notes, there are 23 virtually-identical reactors in the U.S. to the leaking Fukushima reactors.

As McClatchy notes, American reactors hold much more spent fuel than the Japanese reactors (the amount of radioactive fuel at Fukushima - in turn - dwarfs Chernobyl):

U.S. nuclear plants use the same sort of pools to cool spent nuclear-fuel rods as the ones now in danger of spewing radiation at Japan's Fukushima Daiichi plant, only the U.S. pools hold much more nuclear material.


The Japanese plant's pools are far from capacity, but still contain an enormous amount of radioactivity, Lyman said. A typical U.S. nuclear plant would have about 10 times as much fuel in its pools, he said.
And yet the nuclear industry and American government are poo-poohing the danger. As McClatchy notes:
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission reaffirmed its position that the U.S. pools are operated safely.
The Nation notes:
Aileen Mioko Smith, director of Green Action Kyoto, met Fukushima plant and government officials in August 2010. “At the plant they seemed to dismiss our concerns about spent fuel pools,” said Mioko Smith. “At the prefecture, they were very worried but had no plan for how to deal with it.”

Remarkably, that is the norm—both in Japan and in the United States. Spent fuel pools at Fukushima are not equipped with backup water-circulation systems or backup generators for the water-circulation system they do have.

The exact same design flaw is in place at Vermont Yankee, a nuclear plant of the same GE design as the Fukushima reactors. At Fukushima each reactor has between 60 and 83 tons of spent fuel rods stored next to them. Vermont Yankee has a staggering 690 tons of spent fuel rods on site.

Nuclear safety activists in the United States have long known of these problems and have sought repeatedly to have them addressed. At least get backup generators for the pools, they implored. But at every turn the industry has pushed back, and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has consistently ruled in favor of plant owners over local communities.

After 9/11 the issue of spent fuel rods again had momentary traction. Numerous citizen groups petitioned and pressured the NRC for enhanced protections of the pools. But the NRC deemed “the possibility of a terrorist attack...speculative and simply too far removed from the natural or expected consequences of agency action.” So nothing was done—not even the provision of backup water-circulation systems or emergency power-generation systems.

Similarly, Pro Publica points out:

Opponents of nuclear power have warned for years that if these pools drain, either by accident or terrorist attack, it could lead to a fire and a catastrophic release of radiation.


The nuclear industry says fears about the storage pools at U.S. plants are overblown because the pools are protected and, even if fuel is exposed to the air, the chance of a fire is incredibly small.


“People should be very concerned because the NRC [Nuclear Regulatory Commission] has acknowledged that spent fuel pools that are not located inside the containment have the potential to cause catastrophic accidents,” said Diane Curran, a lawyer who has represented environmental groups and governments in challenges to fuel storage plans.

“These are not high-probability accidents,” Curran said, “but we have seen how low-probability accidents can happen.”

After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Congress asked the National Academies to study the vulnerability of spent fuel to a terrorist attack.

The resulting 2005 report, “Safety and Security of Commercial Spent Nuclear Fuel Storage ,” concluded that “an attack which partially or completely drains a plant's spent fuel pool might be capable of starting a high-temperature fire that could release large quantities of radioactive material into the environment.”

The report found that the vulnerability of the spent fuel to fire depends on how old it is and how it is stored. As the fuel ages, it cools, so it becomes less susceptible to a fire.

“The industry standard is that fuel that is older than five years can be dry-stored,” said Kevin Crowley, director of the nuclear and radiation board for the National Research Council, part of National Academies.

The report recommended that the nuclear industry take steps to decrease the vulnerability of the storage pools to fire. Some of those steps are classified, Crowley said. But he said others, like making sure there were fire hoses or spray systems above the pools, were pretty simple.


The nuclear industry disagreed with the national academy about the vulnerability of the spent fuel to a fire.

So a Fukushima-type disaster was inevitable ... and will be inevitable in the U.S. as well, unless steps are taken to make the plants safer.

Whistleblowers Ignored

In addition, years before Fukushima engineer Mitsuhiko Tanaka blew the whistle on the fact that Tepco covered up a defective containment vessel, the above-quoted Japan Times article blew the whistle:

Yoichi Kikuchi, a Japanese nuclear engineer who also became a whistle-blower, has told me personally of many safety problems at Japan's nuclear power plants, such as cracks in pipes in the cooling system from vibrations in the reactor. He said the electric companies are "gambling in a dangerous game to increase profits and decrease government oversight."

[Kei Sugaoka, a Japanese-American senior field engineer who worked for General Electric in the United States, who previously blew the whistle on Tepco's failure to inform the government of defects at the reactors] agreed, saying, "The scariest thing, on top of all the other problems, is that all nuclear power plants are aging, causing a deterioration of piping and joints which are always exposed to strong radiation and heat."

Kikuchi and Sugaoka were ignored. Just like American whistle-blowers are being ignored.

Cesium Fallout from Fukushima ALREADY Rivals Chernobyl

As I've previously noted, many experts say that the Fukushima plants will keep on leaking for months. See this and this.

And the amount of radioactive fuel at Fukushima dwarfs Chernobyl.

As the New York Times notes, radioactive cesium is the main danger from the Japanese nuclear accident:

Over the long term, the big threat to human health is cesium-137, which has a half-life of 30 years.

At that rate of disintegration, John Emsley wrote in “Nature’s Building Blocks” (Oxford, 2001), “it takes over 200 years to reduce it to 1 percent of its former level.”

It is cesium-137 that still contaminates much of the land in Ukraine around the Chernobyl reactor.


Cesium-137 mixes easily with water and is chemically similar to potassium. It thus mimics how potassium gets metabolized in the body and can enter through many foods, including milk.
So it is bad news indeed that, as reported by New Scientist, cesium fallout from Fukushima already rivals Chernobyl:

Radioactive caesium and iodine has been deposited in northern Japan far from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, at levels that were considered highly contaminated after Chernobyl.

The readings were taken by the Japanese science ministry, MEXT, and reveal high levels of caesium-137 and iodine-131 outside the 30-kilometre evacuation zone, mostly to the north-north-west.


After the 1986 Chernobyl accident, the most highly contaminated areas were defined as those with over 1490 kilobecquerels (kBq) of caesium per square metre. Produce from soil with 550 kBq/m2 was destroyed.

People living within 30 kilometres of the plant have evacuated or been advised to stay indoors. Since 18 March, MEXT has repeatedly found caesium levels above 550 kBq/m2 in an area some 45 kilometres wide lying 30 to 50 kilometres north-west of the plant. The highest was 6400 kBq/m2, about 35 kilometres away, while caesium reached 1816 kBq/m2 in Nihonmatsu City and 1752 kBq/m2 in the town of Kawamata, where iodine-131 levels of up to 12,560 kBq/m2 have also been measured. "Some of the numbers are really high," says Gerhard Proehl, head of assessment and management of environmental releases of radiation at the International Atomic Energy Agency.

While Japan has been exposed to very high levels of cesium, so far, the levels of cesium in other parts of the world appear to be relatively low:

And see this.

But anyone who believes that Fukushima cannot possibly become as bad as Chernobyl has no idea what they are talking about.

Government Responds to Nuclear Accident by Trying to Raise Acceptable Radiation Levels and Pretending that Radiation is Good For Us

When the economy imploded in 2008, how did the government respond?

Did it crack down on fraud? Force bankrupt companies to admit that their speculative gambling with our money had failed? Rein in the funny business?

Of course not!

The government just helped cover up how bad things were, used claims of national security to keep everything in the dark, and changed basic rules and definitions to allow the game to continue. See this, this, this and this.

When BP - through criminal negligence - blew out the Deepwater Horizon oil well, the government helped cover it up (the cover up is ongoing).

The government also changed the testing standards for seafood to pretend that higher levels of toxic PAHs in our food was business-as-usual.

So now that Japan is suffering the worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl - if not of all time - is the government riding to the rescue to help fix the problem, or at least to provide accurate information to its citizens so they can make informed decisions?

Of course not!

The EPA is closing ranks with the nuclear power industry:

EPA officials, however, refused to answer questions or make staff members available to explain the exact location and number of monitors, or the levels of radiation, if any, being recorded at existing monitors in California. Margot Perez-Sullivan, a spokeswoman at the EPA's regional headquarters in San Francisco, said the agency's written statement would stand on its own.

Critics said the public needs more information.

"It's disappointing," said Bill Magavern, director of Sierra Club California. "I have a strong suspicion that EPA is being silenced by those in the federal government who don't want anything to stand in the way of a nuclear power expansion in this country, heavily subsidized by taxpayer money."

The EPA has pulled 8 of its 18 radiation monitors in California, Oregon and Washington because (by implication) they are giving readings which seem too high.

Remember, for the sake of context, that the government has covered up nuclear meltdowns for fifty years to protect the nuclear power industry.

And now, the EPA is considering drastically raising the amount of allowable radiation in food, water and the environment.

As Michael Kane writes:
In the wake of the continuing nuclear tragedy in Japan, the United States government is still moving quickly to increase the amounts of radiation the population can “safely” absorb by raising the safe zone for exposure to levels designed to protect the government and nuclear industry more than human life. It’s all about cutting costs now as the infinite-growth paradigm sputters and moves towards extinction. As has been demonstrated by government conduct in the Gulf of Mexico in the wake of Deepwater Horizon and in Japan, life has taken a back seat to cost-cutting and public relations posturing.

The game plan now appears to be to protect government and the nuclear industry from “excessive costs”… at any cost.


In 1992, the EPA produced a PAGs manual that answers many of these questions. But now an update to the 1992 manual is being planned, and if the “Dr. Strangelove” wing of the EPA has its way, here is what it means (brace yourself for these ludicrous increases):

  • A nearly 1000-fold increase for exposure to strontium-90;
  • A 3000 to 100,000-fold hike for exposure to iodine-131; and
  • An almost 25,000 rise for exposure to radioactive nickel-63.
The new radiation guidelines would also allow long-term cleanup thresholds thousands of times more lax than anything EPA has ever judged safe in the past.

And see this.

Indeed, some government scientists and media shills are now "reexamining" old studies that show that radioactive substances like plutonium cause cancer to argue that prevent cancer.

It is not just bubbleheads like Ann Coulter saying this. Government scientists from the Pacific Northwest National Laboratories and pro-nuclear hacks like Lawrence Solomon are saying this.

In other words, this is a concerted propaganda campaign to cover up the severity of a major nuclear accident by raising acceptable levels of radiation and saying that a little radiation is good for us.

Note: Environmentalists might naively assume that the EPA is always on the side of the environment and human health. However, the EPA has become thoroughly politicized, and has been instrumental in many recent cover ups. For example, as Newsday noted in 2003:

In the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, attack on the World Trade Center, the White House instructed the Environmental Protection Agency to give the public misleading information, telling New Yorkers it was safe to breathe when reliable information on air quality was not available.

That finding is included in a report released Friday by the Office of the Inspector General of the EPA.

The senior policy analyst at the EPA’s Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response, and former the EPA ombudsman's chief investigator accused the EPA of "doing a cover up" regarding the use of dispersants in the Gulf of Mexico, and said government agencies such as the EPA have been "sock puppets" for BP in this cover up".

And see this.

Monday, March 28, 2011

The War in Libya: It's Really About Broccoli

While President Obama didn't touch on it in his speech tonight, the U.S. is really militarily involved in Libya to protect our strategic interests in broccoli.

Specifically, Gaddafi has been threatening to nationalize Libya's broccoli resources for years, as Reuters and the Financial Times have previously documented.

Here is a map of the important U.S. and European broccoli producers in Libya:

Pravda argues:

The Libyan leader proposed the nationalisation of U.S. [broccoli] companies, as well as those of UK, Germany, Spain, Norway, Canada and Italy in 2009.

On January 25, 2009, Muammar Al Gaddafi announced that his country was studying the nationalisation of foreign companies due to lower [produce] prices.


As a result of these contract changes, Libya gained 5.4 billion dollars in [vegetable-related] revenues.

Congressman Ed Markey previously said:

Well, we're in Libya because of [broccoli]. And I think [this has] once again highlighted the need for the United States to have a renewable [produce] agenda going forward.

Similarly, former Congresswoman Cythina McKinney writes:

The reason Muammar Qaddafi is a target is because he has been a thorn in the side of anti-revolutionary forces since he took power in Libya, overthrowing the King and nationalizing the [broccoli] industry so that the people could benefit from their [vegetable] resources.

And leading trend forecaster Gerald Celente asked "would the United States have invaded Iraq if their major export was[n't] broccoli, or would we be in Libya if they didn't have the sweetest [broccoli] on the planet?":

As I've previously pointed out, Alan Greenspan, John McCain, George W. Bush, a high-level National Security Council officer and others say that the Iraq war was also really about broccoli.

And according to French intelligence officers, the U.S. wanted to run a lettuce pipeline through Afghanistan to transport Central Asian arugula more easily and cheaply. And so the U.S. told the Taliban shortly before 9/11 that they would either get "a carpet of gold or a carpet of bombs", the former if they greenlighted the pipeline, the second if they didn't. See this, this and this.

Politicians are hesitant to discuss such important matters of national security. But once you understand what's at stake, you'll no doubt agree that a third war is a small price to pay to secure America's national vegetative needs.

How Dangerous is the Plutonium from the Japanese Nuclear Plant?

MSNBC reports that plutonium has been found in soil around the Fukushima plant:

The Tokyo Electric Power Co., which operates the plant, said it found three radioactive isotopes of plutonium — plutonium 238, 239 and 240 — in five locations outside the plant in soil tests on March 21-22.

NHK tv notes that a giant crane fell over and probably crushed spent fuel rods at in Fukushima reactor number 3, which contain a plutonium-uranium mix:

(starting around 1:40 into video).

CNN points out:

Plutonium can be a serious health hazard if inhaled or ingested, but external exposure poses little health risk, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
As the Argonne National Laboratory notes:
Essentially all the plutonium on earth has been created within the past six decades by human activities involving fissionable materials.


Atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons, which ceased worldwide by 1980, generated most environmental plutonium. About 10,000 kg were released to the atmosphere during these tests.

Average plutonium levels in surface soil from fallout range from about 0.01 to 0.1 picocurie per gram (pCi/g).

Accidents and other releases from weapons production facilities have caused greater localized contamination.
So like radioactive cesium and iodide - which I discussed yesterday - plutonium doesn't exist in nature in any significant quantity, and so "background radiation" is a meaningless concept.
Plutonium stays radioactive for a long time. Pu-238 has an 88-year half-life, Pu-239 has a 24,000-year half-life, and Pu-240 has a 6,500-year half life.

As I noted yesterday, "internal emitters" (radioactive substances which get inside our bodies) are more dangerous than "external emitters". Plutonium is not that dangerous as an external emitter, but deadly as an internal emitter.

As Argone National Labs notes:
When plutonium is inhaled, a significant fraction can move from the lungs through the blood to other organs, depending on the solubility of the compound. Little plutonium (about 0.05%) is absorbed from the gastrointestinal tract after ingestion, and little is absorbed through the skin following dermal contact. After leaving the intestine or lung, about 10% clears the body. The rest of what enters the bloodstream deposits about equally in the liver and skeleton where it remains for long periods of time, with biological retention halflives of about 20 and 50 years, respectively, per simplified models that do not reflect intermediate redistribution. The amount deposited in the liver and skeleton depends on the age of the individual, with fractional uptake in the liver increasing with age. Plutonium in the skeleton deposits on the cortical and trabecular surfaces of bones and slowly redistributes throughout the volume of mineral bone with time.

Plutonium generally poses a health hazard only if it is taken into the body because all isotopes except plutonium-241 decay by emitting an alpha particle, and the beta particle emitted by plutonium-241 is of low energy. Minimal gamma radiation is associated with these radioactive decays. However, there is an external gamma radiation hazard associated with plutonium-244 from it short-lived decay product neptunium-240m. Inhaling airborne plutonium is the primary concern for all isotopes, and cancer resulting from the ionizing radiation is the health effect of concern. The ingestion hazard associated with common forms of plutonium is much lower than the inhalation hazard because absorption into the body after ingestion is quite low. Laboratory studies with experimental animals have shown that exposure to high levels of plutonium can cause decreased life spans, diseases of the respiratory tract, and cancer. The target tissues in those animals were the lungs and associated lymph nodes, liver, and bones.
NPR claims:
Although plutonium is a long-lived emitter of radiation, it is also quite heavy, so it is not likely to move very far downwind from its source.
However, plutonium from Chernobyl has been discovered in Sweden and Poland.

So plutonium might be heavier than other radioactive materials, but it is not so heavy that it can't travel hundreds of miles in the right circumstances.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Comparing Japan's Radiation Release to "Background Radiation"

Apologists for the type of old, unsafe nuclear reactors which are leaking in Japan argue that the amount of radiation released from Fukushima is small compared to the amount of "background radiation".

There Are NO Background Levels of Radioactive Caesium or Iodine

Wikipedia provides some details on the distribution of cesium-137 due to human activities:

Small amounts of caesium-134 and caesium-137 were released into the environment during nearly all nuclear weapon tests and some nuclear accidents, most notably the Chernobyl disaster. As of 2005, caesium-137 is the principal source of radiation in the zone of alienation around the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Together with caesium-134, iodine-131, and strontium-90, caesium-137 was among the isotopes with greatest health impact distributed by the reactor explosion.

The mean contamination of caesium-137 in Germany following the Chernobyl disaster was 2000 to 4000 Bq/m2. This corresponds to a contamination of 1 mg/km2 of caesium-137, totaling about 500 grams deposited over all of Germany.Caesium-137 is unique in that it is totally anthropogenic. Unlike most other radioisotopes, caesium-137 is not produced from its non-radioactive isotope, but from uranium. It did not occur in nature before nuclear weapons testing began. By observing the characteristic gamma rays emitted by this isotope, it is possible to determine whether the contents of a given sealed container were made before or after the advent of atomic bomb explosions. This procedure has been used by researchers to check the authenticity of certain rare wines, most notably the purported "Jefferson bottles".

As the EPA notes:

Cesium-133 is the only naturally occurring isotope and is non-radioactive; all
other isotopes, including cesium-137, are produced by human activity.
So there was no "background radiation" for caesium-137 before above-ground nuclear testing and nuclear accidents such as Chernobyl.

Japan has already, according to some estimates, released 50% of the amount of caesium-137 released by Chernobyl, and many experts say that the Fukushima plants will keep on leaking for months. See this and this. The amount of radioactive fuel at Fukushima dwarfs Chernobyl.

Likewise, iodine-131 is not a naturally occurring isotope. As the Encyclopedia Britannica notes:

The only naturally occurring isotope of iodine is stable iodine-127. An exceptionally useful radioactive isotope is iodine-131...

And New Scientist reports that huge quantities of iodine-131 are being released in Japan:

Austrian researchers have used a worldwide network of radiation detectors – designed to spot clandestine nuclear bomb tests – to show that iodine-131 is being released at daily levels 73 per cent of those seen after the 1986 disaster.
(Indeed, some experts are saying that the amount of radioactivity released in Japan already exceeds Chernobyl.)

Naturally-Occurring Radiation

There are, of course, naturally occurring radioactive materials.

But lumping all types of radiation together is misleading ... and is comparing apples to oranges.

As the National Research Council's Committee to Assess the Scientific Information for the Radiation Exposure Screening and Education Program explains:

Radioactivity generates radiation by emitting particles. Radioactive materials outside the the body are called external emitters, and radioactive materials located within the body are called internal emitters.
Internal emitters are much more dangerous than external emitters. Specifically, one is only exposed to radiation as long as he or she is near the external emitter.

For example, when you get an x-ray, an external emitter is turned on for an instant, and then switched back off.

But internal emitters steadily and continuously emit radiation for as long as the particle remains radioactive, or until the person dies - whichever occurs first. As such, they are much more dangerous.

Dr. Helen Caldicott and many other medical doctors and scientists have confirmed this. See this and this.

As Hirose Takashi notes:
All of the information media are at fault here I think. They are saying stupid things like, why, we are exposed to radiation all the time in our daily life, we get radiation from outer space. But that’s one millisievert per year. A year has 365 days, a day has 24 hours; multiply 365 by 24, you get 8760. Multiply the 400 millisieverts by that, you get 3,500,000 the normal dose. You call that safe? And what media have reported this? None. They compare it to a CT scan, which is over in an instant; that has nothing to do with it. The reason radioactivity can be measured is that radioactive material is escaping. What is dangerous is when that material enters your body and irradiates it from inside. These industry-mouthpiece scholars come on TV and what to they say? They say as you move away the radiation is reduced in inverse ratio to the square of the distance. I want to say the reverse. Internal irradiation happens when radioactive material is ingested into the body. What happens? Say there is a nuclear particle one meter away from you. You breathe it in, it sticks inside your body; the distance between you and it is now at the micron level. One meter is 1000 millimeters, one micron is one thousandth of a millimeter. That’s a thousand times a thousand: a thousand squared. That’s the real meaning of “inverse ratio of the square of the distance.” Radiation exposure is increased by a factor of a trillion. Inhaling even the tiniest particle, that’s the danger.

[Interviewer] So making comparisons with X-rays and CT scans has no meaning. Because you can breathe in radioactive material.

[Takashi] That’s right. When it enters your body, there’s no telling where it will go. The biggest danger is women, especially pregnant women, and little children. Now they’re talking about iodine and cesium, but that’s only part of it, they’re not using the proper detection instruments. What they call monitoring means only measuring the amount of radiation in the air. Their instruments don’t eat. What they measure has no connection with the amount of radioactive material. . . .
There are few natural high-dose internal emitters. Bananas, brazil nuts and some other foods contain radioactive potassium-40, but in extremely low doses.

As the American Journal of Public Health noted in 1962:
Of the radioisotopes originally present in rock-type formations, some may become internal emitters through natural processes. They may be leached or dissolved into ground and surface waters, thus gaining access to man's water and food supply. For either physical or biological reasons, only a few of the naturally radioactive heavy atoms are important sources of internal radiation exposure. The three most important are believed to be radium 226, the most abundant natural isotope of radium; lead 210, a daughter of radium 226 and of radon 222, and radium 228, a daughter of natural thorium.

Radon 222 has a half life of less than 4 days. Radium has a much longer half-life. However,radium ions do not form complexes easily, due to highly basic character of ions. Radium compounds are quite rare, occurring almost exclusively in uranium ores.

Some parts of the country are at higher risk of exposure to naturally-occurring radium than others. It is not only those built on top of uranium mines. For example, the American Journal of Public Health article notes:

Water derived from surface sources such as rivers, lakes, or wells penetrating unconsolidated sand or gravel deposits were, in general, found to contain considerably lower concentrations of radium 226 than wells penetrating deep sandstone formations of Cambrian or pre-Cambrian ages.
In contrast, cesium-137 - one of the main types of radioactivity being spewed by the Japanese plants - has a much longer half life, and can easily contaminate food and water supplies. As the New York Times noted recently:

Over the long term, the big threat to human health is cesium-137, which has a half-life of 30 years.

At that rate of disintegration, John Emsley wrote in “Nature’s Building Blocks” (Oxford, 2001), “it takes over 200 years to reduce it to 1 percent of its former level.”

It is cesium-137 that still contaminates much of the land in Ukraine around the Chernobyl reactor.


Cesium-137 mixes easily with water and is chemically similar to potassium. It thus mimics how potassium gets metabolized in the body and can enter through many foods, including milk.

As the EPA notes in a discussion entitled " What can I do to protect myself and my family from cesium-137?":

Cesium-137 that is dispersed in the environment, like that from atmospheric testing, is impossible to avoid.
Radioactive iodine can also become a potent internal emitter. As the Times notes:
Iodine-131 has a half-life of eight days and is quite dangerous to human health. If absorbed through contaminated food, especially milk and milk products, it will accumulate in the thyroid and cause cancer.
The bottom line is that there is some naturally-occurring background radiation, which can - at times - pose a health hazard (especially in parts of the country with high levels of radioactive radon or radium).

But cesium-137 and radioactive iodine - the two main radioactive substances being spewed by the leaking Japanese nuclear plants - are not naturally-occurring substances, and can become powerful internal emitters which can cause tremendous damage to the health of people who are unfortunate enough to breathe in even a particle of the substances, or ingest them in food or water. Unlike low-levels of radioactive potassium found in bananas - which our bodies have adapted to over many years - cesium-137 and iodine 131 are brand new, extremely dangerous substances.

And unlike naturally-occurring internal emitters like radon and radium - whose distribution is largely concentrated in certain areas of the country - radioactive cesium and iodine are spreading not only nationally, but world-wide.

At the very least, it is important to note that each individual internal emitters behaves differently. They each accumulate in different places in the body, target different organs, mimic different vitamins and minerals, and are excreted differently (or not at all). Therefore, comparing radioactive cesium or iodine with naturally occurring radioactive substances - even those which can become internal emitters - is incorrect and misleading.

This is not to say that we're all going to get cancer. Most of use probably won't. This is solely an attempt to counter the misleading propaganda from apologists for old, unsafe nuclear reactors. For background information on "safe" radiation levels, see this.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

No, the Amount of Radiation Released from the Japanese Nuclear Reactors is NOT "Safe"

Just as with the Gulf oil spill - where BP, government spokesmen and mainstream talking heads spewed happy talk about how "benign" the dispersants were and how all the oil had disappeared - there is now an avalanche of statements that the radiation is at "safe" doses for everyone outside of the immediate vicinity of Fukushima.

For example, Japanese government call-in advice lines are telling people to simply rinse off any produce covered with radioactive dust.

Ann Coulter claims that radiation is good for you

It is not very confidence-inspiring that:

EPA officials, however, refused to answer questions or make staff members available to explain the exact location and number of monitors, or the levels of radiation, if any, being recorded at existing monitors in California.

Or that the EPA has pulled 8 of its 18 radiation monitors in California, Oregon and Washington because (by implication) they are giving readings which seem too high.

What Levels of Radiation Are Being Released?

So what levels of radiation are being released at Fukushima?

New Scientist reports that the radioactive fallout from Japan is approaching Chernobyl levels:

Japan's damaged nuclear plant in Fukushima has been emitting radioactive iodine and caesium at levels approaching those seen in the aftermath of the Chernobyl accident in 1986. Austrian researchers have used a worldwide network of radiation detectors – designed to spot clandestine nuclear bomb tests – to show that iodine-131 is being released at daily levels 73 per cent of those seen after the 1986 disaster. The daily amount of caesium-137 released from Fukushima Daiichi is around 60 per cent of the amount released from Chernobyl.
Tyler Durden points out that - when you consider the fact that the amount of Caesium-137 released at Fukushima in the first 3-4 days of the crisis amounted to 50% that released by Chernobyl over 10 days - the real run rate of the radiation released at Fukushima is now about 120-150% the figure released by the Chernobyl explosion.

There are other signs of high levels radiation. See this and this. And it is important to remember that the amount of radioactive fuel at Fukushima dwarfs Chernobyl.

This Could Continue for a While

Many experts say that it could take months to contain Fukushima. See this and this. And therefore, high radiation levels might continue to be released for some time.

Evidence for the fact that a quick fix is unlikely is widespread. For example, reactors 1, 2, 3 and 4 were all leaking steam yesterday.

There was some indication that reactors 5 and 6 are leaking as well. As Kyodo News reports:

The firm [Tokyo Electric Power Company] also said it found both iodine-131 and cesium-137 in a sample taken from near the drain outlets of the plant's No. 5 and No. 6 reactors that stabilized Sunday in so-called ''cold shutdown.''

CNN notes today:

Authorities in Japan raised the prospect Friday of a likely breach in the all-important containment vessel of the No. 3 reactor at the stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, a potentially ominous development in the race to prevent a large-scale release of radiation.
The New York Times reports:
A senior nuclear executive who insisted on anonymity but has broad contacts in Japan said that there was a long vertical crack running down the side of the reactor vessel itself. The crack runs down below the water level in the reactor and has been leaking fluids and gases, he said.


“There is a definite, definite crack in the vessel — it’s up and down and it’s large,” he said. “The problem with cracks is they do not get smaller.”

The cores of reactors 1 and 3 appear to be leaking as well.

This is not to say that there will be a full meltdown which sends radioactive plumes high into the stratosphere. I am assuming that will not happen. But the release of radioactivity is severe and ongoing.

But Low Doses of Radiation Are Safe ... Aren't They?

While most would dismiss as crackpot ramblings Coulter's claim that radiation is good for you, what about the pervasive claims that the amount of radiation which has been released is so low that it is "safe" for people outside of the immediate vicinity of Fukushima?

Physicians for Social Responsibility notes:

According to the National Academy of Sciences, there are no safe doses of radiation. Decades of research show clearly that any dose of radiation increases an individual’s risk for the development of cancer.

“There is no safe level of radionuclide exposure, whether from food, water or other sources. Period,” said Jeff Patterson, DO, immediate past president of Physicians for Social Responsibility. “Exposure to radionuclides, such as iodine-131 and cesium-137, increases the incidence of cancer. For this reason, every effort must be taken to minimize the radionuclide content in food and water.”

“Consuming food containing radionuclides is particularly dangerous. If an individual ingests or inhales a radioactive particle, it continues to irradiate the body as long as it remains radioactive and stays in the body,”said Alan H. Lockwood, MD, a member of the Board of Physicians for Social Responsibility.


Radiation can be concentrated many times in the food chain and any consumption adds to the cumulative risk of cancer and other diseases.
John LaForge notes:

The National Council on Radiation Protection says, “… every increment of radiation exposure produces an incremen­tal increase in the risk of cancer.” The Environmental Protection Agency says, “… any exposure to radiation poses some risk, i.e. there is no level below which we can say an exposure poses no risk.” The Department of Energy says about “low levels of radiation” that “… the major effect is a very slight increase in cancer risk.” The Nuclear Regulatory Commission says, “any amount of radiation may pose some risk for causing cancer ... any increase in dose, no matter how small, results in an incremental increase in risk.” The National Academy of Sciences, in its “Biological Effects of Ionizing Radiation VII,” says, “... it is unlikely that a threshold exists for the induction of cancers ....”

Long story short, “One can no longer speak of a ‘safe’ dose level,” as Dr. Ian Fairlie and Dr. Marvin Resnikoff said in their report “No dose too low,” in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

And Brian Moench, MD, writes:

Administration spokespeople continuously claim "no threat" from the radiation reaching the US from Japan, just as they did with oil hemorrhaging into the Gulf. Perhaps we should all whistle "Don't worry, be happy" in unison. A thorough review of the science, however, begs a second opinion.

That the radiation is being released 5,000 miles away isn't as comforting as it seems.... Every day, the jet stream carries pollution from Asian smoke stacks and dust from the Gobi Desert to our West Coast, contributing 10 to 60 percent of the total pollution breathed by Californians, depending on the time of year. Mercury is probably the second most toxic substance known after plutonium. Half the mercury in the atmosphere over the entire US originates in China. It, too, is 5,000 miles away. A week after a nuclear weapons test in China, iodine 131 could be detected in the thyroid glands of deer in Colorado, although it could not be detected in the air or in nearby vegetation.

The idea that a threshold exists or there is a safe level of radiation for human exposure began unraveling in the 1950s when research showed one pelvic x-ray in a pregnant woman could double the rate of childhood leukemia in an exposed baby. Furthermore, the risk was ten times higher if it occurred in the first three months of pregnancy than near the end. This became the stepping-stone to the understanding that the timing of exposure was even more critical than the dose. The earlier in embryonic development it occurred, the greater the risk.

A new medical concept has emerged, increasingly supported by the latest research, called "fetal origins of disease," that centers on the evidence that a multitude of chronic diseases, including cancer, often have their origins in the first few weeks after conception by environmental insults disturbing normal embryonic development. It is now established medical advice that pregnant women should avoid any exposure to x-rays, medicines or chemicals when not absolutely necessary, no matter how small the dose, especially in the first three months.

"Epigenetics" is a term integral to fetal origins of disease, referring to chemical attachments to genes that turn them on or off inappropriately and have impacts functionally similar to broken genetic bonds. Epigenetic changes can be caused by unimaginably small doses - parts per trillion - be it chemicals, air pollution, cigarette smoke or radiation. Furthermore, these epigenetic changes can occur within minutes after exposure and may be passed on to subsequent generations.

The Endocrine Society, 14,000 researchers and medical specialists in more than 100 countries, warned that "even infinitesimally low levels of exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals, indeed, any level of exposure at all, may cause endocrine or reproductive abnormalities, particularly if exposure occurs during a critical developmental window. Surprisingly, low doses may even exert more potent effects than higher doses." If hormone-mimicking chemicals at any level are not safe for a fetus, then the concept is likely to be equally true of the even more intensely toxic radioactive elements drifting over from Japan, some of which may also act as endocrine disruptors.

Many epidemiologic studies show that extremely low doses of radiation increase the incidence of childhood cancers, low birth-weight babies, premature births, infant mortality, birth defects and even diminished intelligence. Just two abdominal x-rays delivered to a male can slightly increase the chance of his future children developing leukemia. By damaging proteins anywhere in a living cell, radiation can accelerate the aging process and diminish the function of any organ. Cells can repair themselves, but the rapidly growing cells in a fetus may divide before repair can occur, negating the body's defense mechanism and replicating the damage.

Comforting statements about the safety of low radiation are not even accurate for adults. Small increases in risk per individual have immense consequences in the aggregate. When low risk is accepted for billions of people, there will still be millions of victims. New research on risks of x-rays illustrate the point.

Radiation from CT coronary scans is considered low, but, statistically, it causes cancer in one of every 270 40-year-old women who receive the scan. Twenty year olds will have double that rate. Annually, 29,000 cancers are caused by the 70 million CT scans done in the US. Common, low-dose dental x-rays more than double the rate of thyroid cancer. Those exposed to repeated dental x-rays have an even higher risk of thyroid cancer.


Beginning with Madam Curie, the story of nuclear power is one where key players have consistently miscalculated or misrepresented the risks of radiation. The victims include many of those who worked on the original Manhattan Project, the 200,000 soldiers who were assigned to eye witness our nuclear tests, the residents of the Western US who absorbed the lion's share of fallout from our nuclear testing in Nevada, the thousands of forgotten victims of Three Mile Island or the likely hundreds of thousands of casualties of Chernobyl. This could be the latest chapter in that long and tragic story when, once again, we were told not to worry.

Note: People who rationally discuss the hazards from nuclear accidents are dismissed as "anti-nuclear". However, that is like saying that people who are against pilots drinking tequila during flights are anti-flying. As Bloomberg points out, the operator of the Fukushima reactors faked safety tests and results and cut every corner in the books for decades, just as BP cut every safety corner prior to the Gulf oil spill. Moreover, the Fukushima reactors were not designed to withstand an earthquake or a tsunami, and their peculiar design makes the spent fuel rods an even greater danger than the reactors themselves.

Demanding a safer design - e.g. thorium reactors - and ongoing maintenance and safety tests doesn't mean one is anti-nuclear.