Fuke Nuke’s Spooks and Kooks

In January 1976, at a meeting at the Washington Sheraton, Ralph Nader introduced us to a spy who had come in from the cold. His name was David Comey and during the Second World War he had worked in OSS, trying to head fake the Third Reich about where the landings would come for the Allied invasion of France. He was a real life spook.

In 1975, the Atomic Industrial Forum had invited David Comey to tell the nuclear industry how it could be more credible with the public. He was a high-priced consultant; not a lobbyist, an historian. Comey gave them his standard answer. To become credible you must tell the truth.

As Comey told us a few months later at this party Nader had thrown, the way the OSS deceived Hitler was by always being accurate in its leaked communications. Sometimes the Allies had to take painful losses in order to gain the Wehrmacht’s trust. But when the final invasion came, on June 6, 1944, it was not at Pas-de-Calais, where Hitler had positioned his SS Panzers, but at Normandy, where his armored divisions were manned by the Hitlerjugend (Hitler Youth). Fake out.

Comey had told the nuclear industry’s spokesmen to become credible they must tell the truth: admit that low-level radiation causes cancer and long-term genetic effects; confess that important safety research has never been done, or done improperly; reveal all the hidden and external costs, both present and into the future; acknowledge there is no solution to the waste issue; and perhaps most importantly, "Talk about the ethics of consuming electricity from fission reactors for 50 years and saddling 20,000 future generations with social and environmental problems."

On that day in 1976 when Nader gathered us at that swank hotel in the District, Comey flipped his speech over and gave the same advice to the anti-nuke stalwarts — ourselves, Dana Meadows, Harvey Wasserman, Pat Birney, Kay Drey, Anna Gyorgy, Tony Roisman and others. He warned us that we didn’t need to embellish the truth. It was our strongest ally. Moreover, it was our ally alone, at that moment. He said he was perfectly confidant that the nuclear industry would never follow his advice, would never tell the truth, and would never be credible.

Fast forward 36 years and we see that Comey was absolutely right about one thing. The nuclear industry has never taken his advice. 

Unfortunately, neither have some of the opposition.
The Radiation and Public Health Project is a nonprofit organization of scientists and physicians trying to publicize the links between low-level nuclear radiation and public health. Their programs include The Tooth Fairy Project, which collects baby teeth and charts stored body burden levels by region; the Long-Term Effects Study, that follows the lifetime medical histories of 85,000 tooth donors; and an outreach campaign that involves testimony to state and national regulatory agencies, publications and videos, and commissioned research studies. Their board members include Clinton Department of Energy Undersecretary Robert Alvarez, Reagan speechwriter Karl Grossman, actor Alec Baldwin and Superspokesmodel Christie Brinkley. They are the epitome of a well-greased, inside-the-beltway opposition machine.

They have sponsored 28 scientific studies that have appeared in peer-reviewed medical journals. Most of these are authored by RPHP Executive Director Joseph Mangano. They have made it clear that at least in the USA, the 104 licensed commercial power reactors are not accidents waiting to happen, they are accidents in progress. In November, 2010, they reported cancer incidence rates in the four counties closest to the Indian Point nuclear plant have risen much more rapidly than the U.S. on average, since the early 1990s. “If trends in local rates had equaled U.S. trends, over 20,000 fewer local residents would have been diagnosed with the disease,” the report said.

On December 1st, 2010, a report from the Tooth Fairy Project found a link between atomic bomb testing in the 1950s and cancer deaths in St. Louis. Average Strontium-90 in teeth of Missourians who died of cancer was significantly greater than for controls, which suggests that many thousands of Americans have died or will die of cancer due to exposure to radioactive fallout, far more than previously believed.

Since the earthquake and tsunami at Fukushima in March that caused multiple core-meltdowns and radiation releases on a scale not seen since Chernobyl, RPHP has been running on overdrive. In April, Mangano’s team analyzed official EPA data on reactor fallout that drifted to the U.S., and discovered it was 20 times normal background. Levels in Idaho were about 100 times above normal. 

The Obama Adminstration responded on May 3rd by ordering the EPA to stop taking weekly samples, as they did in the aftermath of Chernobyl, and go to quarterly samples, even though the weekly samples showed marked elevations in the preceding month — several hundred times the norm.  In June, RPHP published a preliminary report showing rising infant deaths in North American areas hardest hit. Using CDC data, the researchers found a 35% rise in the Pacific Northwest and a 48% rise in Philadelphia.

Fallout map purporting to be by USNRC is an internet hoax
On December 19, RPHP called a press conference to announce the publication in the January 2012 issue of International Journal of Health Services (Volume 42, Number 1, Pages 47–64) of their completed study: “An Unexpected Mortality Increase in the United States Follows Arrival of the Radioactive Plume from Fukushima: Is There a Correlation?” According to the results, “deaths rose 4.46 percent from 2010 to 2011 in the 14 weeks after the arrival of Japanese fallout, compared with a 2.34 percent increase in the prior 14 weeks. The number of infant deaths after Fukushima rose 1.80 percent, compared with a previous 8.37 percent decrease. Projecting these figures for the entire United States yields 13,983 total deaths and 822 infant deaths in excess of the expected.”

Actual seawater radiation plume -- not a hoax.

The only problem with this finding is that it does not pass the sniff test. We know from 60 years of human studies — radium dial painters, Navajo uranium miners, Hiroshima and Nagasaki casualties, children x-rayed in-utero who later developed leukemia, workers at atomic plants, and the atomic veterans of Cold War human experiments — that radiation induces fatalities by transposing nucleoprotein sequences in living cells. It scrambles our DNA. A cell that is damaged by a small dose is more likely to survive and propagate than a cell that is damaged by a large dose. Hence, devices like airport scanners are more deadly than x-rays or working in a nuclear power plant — the curve of cancers is superlinear at low doses.

To produce a cancer, however, is not a quick process. The damaged cell has to divide, pass along its damaged code, and then divide again. For leukemias, which are produced when bone marrow cells are unable to properly code for the production of white blood cells, it takes 5 years from exposure to see the effect. For most soft-tissue cancers, 15 to 20 years of replication is needed before tumors can emerge that are observable and life-threatening. Since cancer growth is exponential, acceleration is rapid once the growth passes out of the latency period. That is the catch-22 of cancer: you can’t treat it until you can observe it and by then it may be too late.

For birth defects, the timetable is somewhat faster. An embryo is a ball of rapidly dividing cells, going from zygote to fully-sustaining mammal in just 9 months. Any corruption in coding shows up immediately if it involves physical structures, and in many cases those will be fatal, either to the fetus or to the infant. More subtle defects — including thousands of genetically-determined immune disorders, from allergies to pre-disposition to exotic diseases — can manifest gradually over a lifetime, or not at all, but be passed intact to offspring, ad infinitum.

Because fallout is inhaled or ingested and hot particles then become resident internal emitters, exposure is ongoing. This is equally true of Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and all the nuclear tests of the post-war era, including those being conducted today, openly or in secret. In the case of low-dose, high-impact fallout from Fukushima, we would expect to see:

1.    A spike in be spontaneous abortion, premature birth, and neo-natal deaths in the second half of 2011 and continuing at least through 2012 (depending on rates of ongoing emissions from Fukushima and the ocean currents carrying the radioactive slug);
2.   A spike in observed birth effects in the second half of 2011 and continuing at least through 2012. Depending on the time of in utero radiation exposure, this might low birth weight, stillbirth, sudden infant death, congenital malformations, or brain damage;
3.   A spike in miscarriages in the second half of 2011 and continuing at least through 2012;
4.   A spike in leukemias, especially in children, beginning no sooner than mid-2016;
5.    Increases in thyroid neoplasms in children, beginning no sooner than mid-2016;
6.   Increases in nearly all forms of cancer, beginning around 2026; and
7.   Second generation effects, beginning around 2030, when children born with latent genetic damage have children of their own. We have known since the 1930s that fewer than 10% of latent genetic defects are expressed in any single generation.

Contrast this with what RPHP reports: “deaths rose 4.46 percent … after the arrival of Japanese fallout…. The number of infant deaths after Fukushima rose 1.80 percent, compared with a previous 8.37 percent decrease. Projecting these figures for the entire United States yields 13,983 total deaths and 822 infant deaths in excess of the expected.”
While it is possible to connect the 822 infant deaths to Fukushima by inference, we would want to know how those infants died. How many were killed in automobile accidents, for instance, or home fires? Of those who died from “crib death,” what were the symptoms? How many had observed birth defects?

As for the 13,161 non-infant deaths, those have to be excluded because of what we know about latency in carcinogenesis. Even if that were not the case, we might want to ask questions like how many of the excess deaths could be attributed to suicide as a result of the global financial crisis, or other causal agents that might be suddenly elevated. So, for instance, 2011 was 10 years after the 9-11 attacks, and 6 to 9 years after the dramatic elevation in radioactive airport scanning.

How did the researchers explain the physical mechanisms that could explain such sudden deaths? They said, “Patterns of deaths among persons of all ages strongly reflect patterns among the elderly, who account for over two-thirds of all deaths. For the older population, explanations for excess deaths must be considered after exposure to higher levels of radioactive fallout. If cancer in some patients becomes active again, it may mean they already have cells carrying all but one of the three to four requisite mutations to express cancer. Exposure to radiation (or a toxic chemical) can provide the one final mutation to reactivate a quiescent tumor. Also vulnerable are those elderly with depressed immune status, made worse by exposure to radiation.”

To us, having a very long history with this subject, that seems a pretty weak argument. Threadbare, really. Rather than employing a double-blind, the researchers are fixated on their special causal agent — radiation — as being the only possible weapon at the crime scene.

Naturally, nuclear power’s proponents could be counted on to seize a propaganda victory from the overblown hyperbole of their opponents. It was like going to an old-timey Liar’s Contest at the county fair. No less an esteemed source than Scientific American weighed in to challenge the champion liar. In their December 20 blog, Scientific American’s Michael Moyer called the Fuke mortality study “sloppy, agenda-driven work.” Rather than agreeing with Mangano that EPA was negligent, not to say nefarious, in halting the monitoring of incoming fallout, Moyer chastised the researchers for relying instead on data from radioactivity in milk, water and air in the weeks right after the Fuke meltdown up until the Obama Administration suspended monitoring. Rather than agreeing with Mangano and lamenting that detailed death certificates won’t be publically available for another 2 years, necessitating resort to less precise raw mortality data from the National Centers for Disease Control, Scientific American chastised the researchers for their entire methodology, which, while thin, is not without some value. 

On December 21 the Big Health blogosphere jumped into the Fuke fray. Barbara Feder Ostrov, blogging from the University of California (which has its own sorry history of human radiation experiments gone awry), lauded Scientific American’s trashing of Mangano and RPHP. Ostrov demanded the Journal of International Health Services, which published the Fuke mortality study, respond to the criticism. The journal’s editor-in-chief Vicente Navarro, professor of health policy at Johns Hopkins University’s Bloomberg School of Public Health, wrote her back:
In reply to your questions, this quarterly is a peer-reviewed journal and the paper was reviewed by 2 outstanding scholars in the subject being discussed. We trust our referees’ judgment. We do not publish letters to the editors, but when we receive criticisms we believe merit attention, we publish them asking the authors of the original article to reply if they so wish, publishing the exchange in the same issue and let the readers judge. This is how academic debates should be handled. 
We have invited Mr. Moyer to submit his criticisms published in the Scientific American blog to the IJHS in its entirety as a reprint or in a modified form and we very much hope he will agree. If he does, the IJHS will publish it in one of the next issues with a reply from the authors if they so wish, which I suspect they will. 

Navarro’s solicitation to openly debate was quashed by Michael Moyer, who wrote back:
In short: I'm a journalist, not a scientist. My post is the property of Scientific American, so there's rights issues. My post also argued against both the paper and the claims made by the authors in their press release. And since the authors' strategy seems to be to gain legitimacy for their public claims by the simple fact of appearing in a peer reviewed journal, I didn't want to give them another opportunity to trumpet their success.
In other words, we (Scientific American) are not scientists. We are just bloggers, really. All this scientificy stuff, well, y’all discuss what you want. We have our opinions.

Bottom line: Was the anti-nuke RPHP study and press package over the top? Yes. One simply cannot assume, as Mangano did, that CDC’s observed excess deaths after March 20 are due to Fukushima, and not just a statistical aberration with other possible explanations.

Was the response from the pro-nuke Big Science lobby equally lame? Yes. Mangano acknowledged he was awaiting better data and in the meantime couched his research in cautious, preliminary terms, saying that if the effect of Fuke is as bad as it might well be, we are seeing what you would expect to see now. 

Swirling all around this debate we have the spectacle, in science, as we’ve seen before in politics, of blame-games and posturing substituting for earnest discussion of very serious issues. It supplies still more momentum to the march off the cliff and our own extinction.
More nuclear power plants are being built even as we write this. Nuclear power plants are little more than disguised bomb factories. They kill with impunity while they amass their stockpiles of deadly armaments and even deadlier poisons. Genetically, we could be poisoning future generations with immune impairments that will render them unable to survive in the toxic environments they are being bequeathed. 

In the United States it is a huge industry, and it buys plenty of votes. It lies, it kills, it destroys economies, but it is seldom being publicly exposed. Indeed, the routine security screening involving x-raying broad swaths of the population as they pass though airports and government buildings will, as surely as night follows day, cause a huge spike in radiation-related disease and death in pulses of 5 years, 15 years, 30 years and beyond. 

And, as the RPHP authors point out, all life is sensitive to nuclear radiation exposure, including plants, fungi, insects spiders, birds, fish, and other animals. This is fair game for science and a legitimate subject for policy debate. To obscure that discussion with parlor tricks and unscrupulous advocacy is tragic. 

David Comey must be turning in his grave.


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