The nuclear disaster in Fukushima, Japan, is both reminder and portent. Nuclear "accidents" have happened before, and will again. Atomic bomb testing and the two bombs were not accidents, but, rather, purposeful. People who live within 100 miles of a nuclear facility are at least subliminally conscious of the fact that radiation can cause cancer, unless, of course, they are completely unconscious. In that case, the cells in their bodies are more conscious than their brains, if less capable of acting beneficially on that knowledge.
Nuclear radiation from Fukushima is, at this writing, floating in the waters and on the winds around the world. That radiation will, in the natural course of things, corrupt the cells of some humans and other beings and turn them cancerous. We all know about cancer and of the suffering, heartache and destroyed lives it brings to the world.
It is certain, though not provable, that nuclear radiation poisoning caused some of those cancers. If, for instance, 1 million people are exposed to excess radiation from Fukushima (or Chernobyl or Three Mile Island or the tests at Yucca Flats or, even the polluted grounds and waters of Idaho National Laboratory in eastern Idaho), it is certain that some will get cancer. Who and where and when, however, cannot be determined. It is irrelevant to the corrupted cell and the human body hosting it whether the poison floats on the winds and waters by accident or intention, but the nuclear industry is fully aware that float it will. And the nuclear industry is just that—an industry.
And the effect of industry and its lobbyists (and lobbying dollars) on government and government regulatory agencies charged with protecting the public good is similar to the corruption that radiation brings to a human cell. This corruption extends beyond just the nuclear industry. But if you believe that industry gives a cancerous cell more for your health than for their profits, then I have a first-rate Japanese nuclear reactor I'd like to sell you.
Everyone who lives downwind or downstream from a nuclear facility would do well to learn as much as possible about the nuclear world.
A good place to start is with the book "American Ground Zero" by Carole Gallagher, published in 1993 by MIT Press. In 1983, Gallagher abandoned a successful career as a New York photographer and moved to Utah. She spent the next eight years documenting in well-researched words and haunting photographs the human tragedy of some of the people downwind of the more than 120 above-ground nuclear bombs the U.S. government set off at Yucca Flat. Almost every one of those bombs released radiation levels comparable to the Chernobyl accident. In the book's index is a map showing where more than two clouds of radiation covered America. The map alone is worth the price of the book. If you are reading this column, it is more than likely that you or your parents were in those clouds. The book is full of stories of U.S government nuclear regulatory agencies, charged with protecting U.S. citizens, instead deceiving their own employees, servicemen and citizens in a sophisticated scientific cover-up to protect the nuclear industry at the expense of the American landscape and everything that lives upon it.
Gallagher introduces us to John Gofman, who, among other things, isolated the first milligram of plutonium for J. Robert Oppenheimer, and co-discovered uranium-233. He also first proposed using the Nuremberg principles as the standard by which to judge the nuclear industry and the government lackeys serving it. He refers to them as "the scoundrels of the earth." The Nuremberg principles established that a person's moral responsibility to the rest of humanity does not diminish as one's power, prestige and position in a hierarchy rises.
She also quotes Edward Teller, known as the father of the hydrogen bomb, the model for Dr. Strangelove in the film of that name and an advocate of building new ocean harbors in Alaska with thermonuclear explosives as well as of implementing Ronald Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative. Teller wrote, "Are abnormalities harmful? Because abnormalities deviate from the norm, they may be offensive at first sight. But without such abnormal births and mutations, the human race would not have evolved and we would not be here. Deploring the mutations that may be caused by fallout is somewhat like adopting the policies of the Daughters of the American Revolution, who approve of a past revolution but condemn future reform."
A mind that could compare the monstrosity of nuclear radiation-caused genetic deformity with social reform staggers the concept of human decency. This is not to imply that every person involved in the nuclear industry is as cavalier towards humanity as Edward Teller. But as Liz Woodruff of the Idaho's nuclear watchdog Snake River Alliance recently wrote, "The devastating events in Japan demonstrate, once again, that the risks associated with nuclear power are unacceptable ... in terms of the threats posed to public health and safety and unacceptable in terms of economic risks. Nuclear costs too much (so much so that the industry cannot compete on Wall Street) and takes too long to build. ... They must have vast quantities of water, there is no solution to their waste, and the threats they pose to our health and resources are far too great. It was once said that nuclear power would be 'too cheap to meter.' It is now clear that it is both too expensive and too dangerous to matter."
Fukushima is a reminder that it is time to apply a few Nuremberg principles to the nuclear industry and to the people who cover its insidious tracks with the false claims that it is clean, safe and affordable.
That is, unless you don't mind living at American ground zero.