The World Is In Denial About Nuclear Risks

Fukushima Nuclear Reactors 1-4. Photo: National Land Image Information (Color Aerial Photographs, Ministry of Land, Infastructure, Transport and Tourism

Fukushima Nuclear Reactors 1-4. Photo: National Land Image Information (Color Aerial Photographs, Ministry of Land, Infastructure, Transport and Tourism

What will it take for our world to recognize the dangers that nuclear scientists and even Albert Einstein were warning about at the “dawn” of the nuclear age?

Amy Goodman reminds us of the prophetic statement by Australian journalist Wilfred Burchett who tried to find words to describe the horror he was seeing in Hiroshima in 1945 after the bomb fell.

“It looks as if a monster steamroller had passed over it and squashed it out of existence. I write these facts … as a warning to the world.”

The world heard his warning, but seems to have ignored it. In fact, what followed has been decades of nuclear proliferation, the spread of nuclear power plants and the escalation of the arms race with new higher tech weaponry.

As Hiroshima becomes yesterday’s distant memory and Fukishima the current threat, the full extent of the casualties and body count are not yet in, partly because the Japanese government and the power companies don’t want to alarm the public.

Years earlier, a similar cover-up was in effect at Thee Mile Island complex in Pennsylvania where reports of the damage people suffered from a serious accident was minimized, never examined in depth by some of the very same media outlets who are today criticizing Japan for a lack of transparency.

On August, 6, 2008, the anniversary of the dropping of the first nuclear bomb, Alternet.org reported that the government and media were complicit in minimizing public awareness of the extensive suffering that did take place:

“But the word never crossed the conceptual chasm between the “mainstream” media and the “alternative.” Despite a federal class action lawsuit filed by 2400 Pennsylvania families claiming damages from the accident, despite at least $15 million quietly paid to parents children with birth defects, despite three decades of official admissions that nobody knows how much radiation escaped from TMI, where it went or who it affected, not a mention of the fact that people might have been killed there made its way into a corporate report”

Was this just accidental or is there a deeper pattern of denial? The great expert on psycho history, Robert J. Lifton, wrote a book, Hiroshima In America, with journalist Greg Mitchell about the aftermath of Hiroshima in America exploring what they call  “50 years of denial.”

One reviewer explained,

“The authors examine what they perceive to be a conspiracy by the government to mislead and suppress information about the actual bombing, Truman’s decision to drop the bomb, and the birth and mismanagement of the beginning of the nuclear age. The authors claim that Americans then, and now, are haunted by the devastating psychological effects of the bomb.”

Lifton and Mitchell are evidence-based writers, not conspiratologists, but they could find no other explanation for how such a seminal event could have been distorted and misrepresented for a half century.

Nuclear power and nuclear weapons have been sold to the public relentlessly, in the first instance as necessary, and the second, as safe. Rory O’ Connor and Richard Bell coined the term “Nuke Speak” to describe the Orwellian methods deployed by the nuclear industry’s PR offensive in a book length analysis of a well funded campaign that continues to this day using euphemistic language to mask its real agenda.

And today, as the world watches the dreadful and even Darwinian struggle for survival by the earthquake and tsunami victims in Japan, as information about the extent of the nuclear danger trickles out, President Obama has reaffirmed his commitment to build new nuclear plants.

Others stress more parochial concerns.  The TV production community fears a shortage in Japanese made magnetic and recording tape. Consumers are being told that they may face a delay in ordering new iPads so get your orders in now. And, the Israeli new service YNET says people there worry about a sushi shortage.

Meanwhile, in Germany, more than 50,000 activists took to the streets in protest, but, so far, there has been no organized outcry here in the U.S. At the Left Forum in New York, the issue was barely addressed in the opening plenary.

On the right, flamboyant talking head/provocateur Ann Coulter defended the imagined health benefits of a release of radiation to counter what she calls the alarmism of the environmentalists. She calls it a “cancer vaccine.”

In a talk during a recent visit to Iran, which insists it is not making nuclear weapons, I raised questions about what their government said they want to do: expand their nuclear power plants. When I questioned the wisdom of  that approach, I was jeered because they felt I was challenging their “right” to have what other countries have, their right to “progress.” The thought that the plants could be dangerous was dismissed,

What they don’t seem to know and what millions in Japan are finding out is this technology—with spent rods that are never “spent” and the nuclear waste that will outlive us all– is inherently unsafe.  Jonathan Schell makes this point well in a recent essay in the Nation:

“The chain of events at the reactors now running out of control provides a case history of the underlying mismatch between human nature and the force we imagine we can control. Nuclear power is a complex, high technology. But the things that endemically malfunction are of a humble kind.

The art of nuclear power is to boil water with the incredible heat generated by a nuclear chain reaction. But such temperatures necessitate continuous cooling. Cooling requires pumps. Pumps require conventional power. These are the things that habitually go wrong—and have gone wrong in Japan. A backup generator shuts down. A battery runs out. The pump grinds to a halt. You might suppose that it is easy to pump water into a big container, and that is usually true, but the best-laid plans go awry from time to time. Sometimes the problem is a tsunami, and sometimes it is an operator asleep at the switch.”

As the “incident” records of our own Nuclear Regulatory Agency make clear, these are not just Japanese problems.  The Christian Science Minitor reports, “The Nuclear Regulatory Commission failed to resolve known safety problems, leading to 14 ‘near-misses’ in US nuclear power plants in 2009 and 2010, according to a new report from a nuclear watchdog group.”

We don’t even know the full of the extent of the accidents, unintentional releases of radiation and other problems in this country much less in others with fewer rules and less oversight. No one expected Chenobyl to explode, claiming so many lives; no one knows where the next disaster will occur.

Bernie  Sandeers is calling for a full investigation of nuclear safety here. Ralph Nader writes,

“The unfolding multiple nuclear reactor catastrophe in Japan is prompting overdue attention to the 104 nuclear plants in the United States — many of them aging, many of them near earthquake faults, some on the west coast exposed to potential tsunamis.”

The global nuclear roulette game goes on. Even moderate and restrained criticisms are dismissed until there is an “event” that cannot be denied. Nuclear energy supporters promise that  “Gen 4,” the next generation of reactors, will be much safer.

Problem solved?  Not everyone thinks so. The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists carries an assessment by Hugh Gusterson on “The Lessons of Fukishima.”

“To this anthropologist, then, the lesson of Fukushima is not that we now know what we need to know to design the perfectly safe reactor, but that the perfectly safe reactor is always just around the corner. It is technoscientific hubris to think otherwise.

This leaves us with a choice between walking back from a technology that we decide is too dangerous or normalizing the risks of nuclear energy and accepting that an occasional Fukushima is the price we have to pay for a world with less carbon dioxide. It is wishful thinking to believe there is a third choice of nuclear energy without nuclear accidents.”

We are still debating if nuclear power is worth the risk as irradiated clouds float over Los Angeles and there is a panicked run in the public to buy iodine pills.  The industry’s marketing machine is in crisis response mode and hasn’t missed a beat, while many of us look on with a sense of impotence as we are told, once again, what’s in our best interest.

Filmmaker and News Dissector Danny Schechter edits Mediachannel.org.
For more on his film Plunder: The Crime of Our Time and companion book The Crime Of Our Time: Why Wall Street Is Not Too Big To Jail, visit plunderthecrimeofourtime.com.

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  • Wah

    I’m not looking! And you can’t make me… not now my eyes are melting.

  • Wah

    I’m not looking! And you can’t make me… not now my eyes are melting.

  • mrtastycakes

    There is too much BS in this article for me to respond to every claim individually. Rather than be all negative, I’ll just leave it at this: Our biggest nuclear risk is still nuclear weapons.

    • Voidthought

      Do you know how many other forms of energy we could be pursuing but we don’t because it would not be economically viable for corporations(duty to stockholders) to do so? I haven’t read the article yet but I’m just curious are you supporting Nuclear energy or what? Nikola Tesla had funding withdrawn from his research because he was on the path to unlocking the secrets to electricity and said it is everywhere and it is endlessly available, but the person funding him asked, and I paraphrase, “If there were free energy for everyone, where would we put the meter?”

      • ArgosyJones

        Not another Tessloid.

        can you text me when you find the 99mpg carbeurator pls.

        • Redapple

          Dear ArgosyJones,

          Don’t hate on Nikola Tesla. You’re just angry because he tried and succeeded to harness energy from the air inside your mom’s loins.

          • ArgosyJones

            Dear RedApple

            I don’t hate on Tesla. He was a great man. I hate on Tessloids, a species of Troll endemic to alternative news fora.

            And I think you need a lesson on women’s ‘loins’ they are not filled with air, contrary to the Tessloid version of human anatomy. But feel free to look for free energy there, if you ever get the chance. I suppose you are making the confusion based on the presence of air in your own lower intestine. I deduce the prescence of air from the fact that you must be breathing something.

            kthxbye

  • mrtastycakes

    There is too much BS in this article for me to respond to every claim individually. Rather than be all negative, I’ll just leave it at this: Our biggest nuclear risk is still nuclear weapons.

  • Voidthought

    Do you know how many other forms of energy we could be pursuing but we don’t because it would not be economically viable for corporations(duty to stockholders) to do so? I haven’t read the article yet but I’m just curious are you supporting Nuclear energy or what? Nikola Tesla had funding withdrawn from his research because he was on the path to unlocking the secrets to electricity and said it is everywhere and it is endlessly available, but the person funding him asked, and I paraphrase, “If there were free energy for everyone, where would we put the meter?”

  • ArgosyJones

    Not another Tessloid.

    can you text me when you find the 99mpg carbeurator pls.

  • Ironaddict06

    Yea-down with nuclear energy. Nuclear energy should be illegal.
    Lol

  • Ironaddict06

    Yea-down with nuclear energy. Nuclear energy should be illegal.
    Lol

  • abby

    can i re-publish this article on mediaroots.org? excellent thanks

  • abby

    can i re-publish this article on mediaroots.org? excellent thanks

  • abby

    can i re-publish this article on mediaroots.org? excellent thanks

  • abby

    can i re-publish this article on mediaroots.org? excellent thanks

  • Grinfullysinful

    Comparing us to other Countries is only mildly feasible. We have so many rules, regulations, and oversight in place it is absurd. Near-misses are not accidents, but they are assumed that only “Chance” prevented a report on something that breaks a regulation. These reports can be anything. Chernobyl was a long time ago and we have a billilon forms of containment in place to keep anything like that from ever happening again. As of current, they want to bury spent fuel in a dry deep underground place. This will not make a Radioactive Green Boogey Man as some people see. So much of this article is ridiculous, figured I’d take a moment to point some things out.

  • Grinfullysinful

    Comparing us to other Countries is only mildly feasible. We have so many rules, regulations, and oversight in place it is absurd. Near-misses are not accidents, but they are assumed that only “Chance” prevented a report on something that breaks a regulation. These reports can be anything. Chernobyl was a long time ago and we have a billilon forms of containment in place to keep anything like that from ever happening again. As of current, they want to bury spent fuel in a dry deep underground place. This will not make a Radioactive Green Boogey Man as some people see. So much of this article is ridiculous, figured I’d take a moment to point some things out.

  • Redapple

    Dear ArgosyJones,

    Don’t hate on Nikola Tesla. You’re just angry because he tried and succeeded to harness energy from the air inside your mom’s loins.

  • ArgosyJones

    Dear RedApple

    I don’t hate on Tesla. He was a great man. I hate on Tessloids, a species of Troll endemic to alternative news fora.

    And I think you need a lesson on women’s ‘loins’ they are not filled with air, contrary to the Tessloid version of human anatomy. But feel free to look for free energy there, if you ever get the chance. I suppose you are making the confusion based on the presence of air in your own lower intestine. I deduce the prescence of air from the fact that you must be breathing something.

    kthxbye

  • Grimblorski

    Link or STFU

  • Grimblorski

    Link or STFU

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