Helen Caldicott: “Chernobyl: How many more will die?”

With radioactive contamination now spreading around the world as a result of the ongoing nuclear catastrophe in Japan, leading environmental watchdog groups, anti-nuclear activists, journalists and others joined together Saturday (Oct. 1) in a series of National Day of Action rallies in 15 cities throughout the U.S.

Highlighting the dangers posed by the nuclear power industry and its corrupt influence with government safety regulators and Congressional lobbyists, speakers focused on health and safety issues (“There is no safe dose of radiation” banners read), the fast-track relicensing of aging U.S. nuclear plants under the Obama administration, the government’s failure to address flawed, inadequate evacuation plans, the imminent risk of catastrophe from the hazardous storage of irradiated fuel (spent fuel) at nuclear plants, and the billions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies given to the nuclear industry despite fierce opposition from citizen groups.

“Fukushima fallout is traversing the Northern Hemisphere, turning up in milk, food, and water; on tourists in airports, and products in shipping bays around the world,” said pediatrician and longtime activist Dr. Helen Caldicott (author, Nuclear Power Is Not The Answer; web site, If You Love This Planet.org), keynote speaker at the flagship rally held in New York City.

As radioactive gases continue to spew forth from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, adding daily to the already massive releases of radiation into the environment that occurred following the explosions, fires, and three full core meltdowns at the plant, only 10,000 of the 300,000 children living in the Fukushima prefecture have been evacuated in the seven months since the March 11 disaster.

“The nuclear industry is a death industry—it’s killing people and it will for the rest of time,” said Caldicott, her arm raised, waving a copy of the 2009 report on the nuclear disaster in Chernobyl, Chernobyl: Consequences of the Catastrophe for People and Nature, published by the New York Academy of Science.

Caldicott and other rally speakers in New York City cited the risks posed by the three reactors at the Indian Point power plant 30 miles outside the city. Despite longstanding, unaddressed safety issues at the aging 40-year-old plant, its location near two fault lines, and the impossibility of evacuation for the 20 million people living within 50 miles of the plant, Indian Point is under review for 20-year relicensing by the Obama Administration.

“There has been accident after accident at the Indian point plants,” said journalist Karl Grossman, professor of journalism at SUNY Old Westbury. “So far we have been saved from a catastrophic accident but it’s just a matter of time. When you talk about a nuclear disaster waiting to happen, we know from Chernobyl, we know from Fukushima, what the scale of such destruction can be.”

Grossman cited a report from Robert Pollard, a former NRC resident inspector at Indian Point, who resigned his position in 1976 citing dangers linked to the plant’s bad design and faulty construction.

In a statement when he resigned, Pollard said “the magnitude of the hazards associated with these plants has been suppressed by the government because the release of such information might cause great public opposition to their operation.”

Grossman cited an NRC report, Consequences of Reactor Accident (CRAC-2) Report, published in 1982, that said peak early fatalities in the event of a meltdown at Indian Point 2 would result in 46,000 dead, 141,000 early injuries, 13,000 cancer deaths, and $274 billion dollars in property damage.

“This is the NRC, not Greenpeace,” he noted. The report is an assessment of meltdowns/risks at U.S. nuclear plants based on 1982 population data and 1982 dollars. It is available here on the website of the Nuclear Information and Resource Service.

Speaking on the dangers posed by spent nuclear fuel pools at nuclear reactors, Kevin Kamps (Radioactive Waste Specialist, Beyond Nuclear) said, “The risks are enormous. We see that at Fukushima Daiichi – it’s not just the melted down reactors, it’s those pools of high level radioactive waste.”

Kamps went to Fukushima in August 2010 on an invitation from Aileen Mioko Smith of Green Action / Japan to speak about the dangers of pool storage, and plutonium fuel in particular.  “That is what they were fighting, and it was loaded a month later into Unit 3 at Fukushima Daiichi – now it has contributed to the meltdown and the radiation releases and they’re taking desperate measures in Japan to keep those pools from boiling dry.”

“But we face those risks everyday here in the United States – pools leak, they could boil dry from lack of electricity, they could leak suddenly all of their contents due to an accident, a terrorist attack, an earthquake, or a natural disaster,” he said.

In the U.S., there is “a mountain of radioactive waste that is 70 years high and we still don’t have a solution for this stuff,” he said. Federal regulators view “radioactive waste as this minor issue” and  “sweep the problem under the rug.”

“As a united environmental movement, we’re calling for hardened on site storage for the waste that exists, fortified against attacks, and safeguarded against accidents, but our louder call is to stop making it, stop making this stuff – shut ‘em down before they melt down.”

A recent report (May 2011), Spent Nuclear Fuel Pools in the U.S.: Reducing the Deadly Risks of Storage, written by Robert Alvarez, of the Institute for Policy Studies, noted that the “largest concentrations of radioactivity on the planet will remain in storage at U.S, reactor sites for the indefinite future.”

“In protecting America from nuclear catastrophe, safely securing the spent fuel by eliminating highly radioactive crowded pools should be a public safety priority of the highest degree,” the report said.

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