Radiation Dangers from Fukushima and Indian Point Nuclear Power Plants
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Health Action's Bob Lederer interviews Joseph Mangano, Executive Director of the Radiation and Public Health Project (http://www.radiation.org ), and an expert on the health effects of low-level radiation. Mr. Mangano will discuss the dangerous health effects of the radiation released by the meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan, both for residents of Japan, and also for U.S. residents receiving the plume of radiation that has already arrived.
In addition, Mr. Mangano will review the toll in disease and deaths from the Three Mile Island and Chernobyl meltdowns, and will detail the greatly increased cancer rates in the vicinity of the Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant over the last few decades since it opened, and the need to shut down that plant. (For more information on activist efforts to shut down Indian Point, go to the site of the Indian Point Safe Energy Coalition, http://www.closeindianpoint.org .) According to a book published by the New York Academy of Sciences, one million people died as a result of Chernobyl over the years.
Good evening. Welcome to Health Action. I’m Bob Lederer. Tonight we’re going to focus
on the health effects of the meltdown of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan that began on March 11, and its health implications, both the potential for damage to the health of U.S. residents from radiation blowing to the Western hemisphere, and the lessons of this accident about the health risks of U.S. nuclear plants, particularly the two nuclear reactors known as Indian Point in Buchanan, NY, just 35 miles from midtown Manhattan.
On Friday, March 25, the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research, based in Takoma Park, Maryland, reported the following: “The damaged Fukushima Daiichi reactors in Japan continue to release radioactivity into the atmosphere. So far, the accident has released far more radioactivity than the 1979 Three Mile Island (TMI) accident. While Chernobyl had one source of radioactivity, its reactor, there are seven leaking radiation sources at the Japanese site. Together, the three damaged reactors and four spent fuel pools at Fukushima Daiichi contain far more long-lived radioactivity, notably cesium-137, than the Chernobyl reactor. The French radiation protection authority…estimates the radioactive releases of iodine-131 in Japan had reached about … 160,000 times the best estimate of the amount released during the TMI accident in Pennsylvania…. It is about 10 percent of the estimated amount released during the Chernobyl accident…The releases…have already reached a level that could affect the region around the site for a prolonged period. It is simply a fantasy and highly misleading for the official accident level to remain at level 5, given the estimated radioactivity releases and the extended evacuation, contamination of food and water, and other countermeasures that have already been ordered by the government.”
We are now joined on the phone by Joseph Mangano, MPH (Master’s of Public Health), who is Executive Director of the Radiation and Public Health Project, a nonprofit organization established by scientists and physicians dedicated to understanding the relationships between low-level, nuclear radiation and public health. Mr. Mangano is a public health administrator and researcher who has studied the connection between low-dose radiation exposure and subsequent risk of diseases such as cancer and damage to newborns. He has published numerous articles and letters in medical and other journals in addition to books including Low Level Radiation and Immune System Disorders: An Atomic Era Legacy.
Joseph Mangano, thanks for joining us on Health Action. First, based on your research over the years, can you lay out for us the risks, both short-term and long-term, to the health of the Japanese population from the radiation released thus far and likely to be released in coming weeks?
In a March 21 press release from your Radiation and Public Health Project, you wrote:
“Radiation released from stricken Japanese nuclear reactors now entering the U.S. environment and diet may pose a health risk to Americans, according to scientists who studied U.S. health patterns after the 1986 Chernobyl meltdown. In particular, increased rates of disease and death could soon occur among fetuses and infants, as the radioactive plume now moving across the Pacific Ocean enters the American diet, similar to what occurred after Chernobyl. Chernobyl fallout reached the U.S. atmosphere just nine days after the meltdown, and entered the American diet. Medical journal articles show American infants and children suffered from higher rates of infant deaths, leukemia, thyroid cancer, and under-active thyroid glands. Similar studies should be conducted in the U.S. to measure effects of radiation from Japan….Any current declarations that elevated radiation levels in the U.S. environment and diet are “harmless” are premature. The 2005 report of the blue ribbon Committee on the Biological Effects of Ionizing Radiation, concludes that all radiation exposures, even low doses, carry risk.” Joseph Mangano, can you lay out for us in more detail exactly what those health risks are?
Since the Indian Point nuclear power plant opened in the 1970s, environmental activists have been organizing to shut it down, citing its severe risks to the surrounding population. Last week, Gov. Andrew Cuomo reaffirmed his longstanding position on this, since he was Attorney General, saying “The plant is risky, and the plant should not operate.” The licenses for the two reactors expire in 2013 and 2015, and the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission is now considering whether to renew them for another 20 years.
In November 2010, your organization, the Radiation and Public Health Project, released a study finding that cancer incidence in the four counties closest to the Indian Point nuclear plant have risen much more rapidly than U.S. rates since the early 1990s. You wrote, “Cancer incidence rates in counties closes to Indian Point were 11% below the U.S. two decades ago, but now are 7% ABOVE the U.S. There are reasons for this gap, and one that should be considered is continuing radioactive emissions from Indian Point.” Also, in 2009, your organization, found that the rate of thyroid cancer in those same four counties was 66% above the U.S. rate, a sharp increase from the 1970s, before the two Indian Point reactors opened. Susan Shaprio, a board member of the environmental advocacy group Clearwater, said, “This new report proves our worst fears that the area surrounding Indian Point is toxic and causing thyroid cancer in large numbers.” Talk to us about the implications of these statistics, and put it in the context of the best estimates of the toll in illnesses and deaths from the Three Mile Island and Chernobyl meltdowns.
Japanese authorities have ordered evacuation of residents living up to 19 miles the Fukushima reactor complex. In a NY Times article on March 20, reporter Peter Applebome wrote: “…American officials have told citizens of the United States to stay at least 50 miles away from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station in Japan as the nuclear crisis continues. In the case of a comparable disaster here, this is what a 50-mile circle around the Indian Point nuclear plant on the Hudson River in Westchester County would look like: past Kingston in Ulster County to the north; past Bayonne and Elizabeth, N.J., to the south; almost to New Haven in the east; and into Pennsylvania to the west. It includes almost all of New York City except for Staten Island; almost all of Nassau County and much of Suffolk; all of Bergen County, N.J.; all of Fairfield, Conn. Try evacuating that on short — or long — notice.
“Many scholars have already argued that any evacuation plans shouldn’t be called plans, but rather ‘fantasy documents,’ ” Daniel P. Aldrich, a professor of political science at Purdue University and the author of “Site Fights: Divisive Facilities and Civil Society in Japan and the West,” said in an e-mail. They are often bureaucratic documents meant to meet policy requirements, not to work in the real world, he added.
FANTASY or not, the nuclear accident in Japan is putting renewed attention on exactly how to protect or evacuate the population around Indian Point, 35 miles from Midtown Manhattan in the most populous part of the country, with population of almost 20 million people in the metropolitan region. And in the end, the future of Indian Point, which is facing renewed calls that it be shut down, is not a referendum on nuclear power. It’s a question of whether this nuclear plant at this site makes sense.”
Joseph Mangano, in your opinion, does having a nuclear plant at this site or for that matter at any site make sense?
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which recently ranked Indian Point as the reactor with the highest risk of earthquake damage in the U.S. needs to act quickly to shut down the plant permanently.
The Indian Point Safe Energy Coalition (IPSEC), a coalition of environmental, health and public policy organizations, has been campaigning since 2001 to shut down Indian Point. To get involved in their current efforts, go their website, www.closeindianpoint.org or call them at 888-47408848. That’s 888-474-8848.
I want to thank my guest, Joseph Mangano, Executive Director of the Radiation and Public Health Project. For those who want to contact the Radiation and Public Health Project, you can visit their website at www.radiation.org or call them at 609-399-4343. That’s 609-399-4343.
If you’d like to hear the archive of this program, including an additional part of the interview that we didn’t have time to air, and to get all of the preceding weblinks, go to our website, www.wbaihealthaction.org .
We’ll go out with an exerpt from Drunken Fist and the Apocalypse from the Voice of the Dragon CD, on the Big Red Media label released in 2001. Performance by Fred Ho.
I want to thank my engineer, John Riley. This is Bob Lederer for Health Action. Until next time, stay healthy and stay balanced.
More from release by Institute for Energy and Environmental Research (http://www.ieer.org/)
Radioactive Iodine Releases from Japan's Fukushima Daiichi Reactors May Exceed Those of Three Mile Island by Over 100,000 Times. IEER Press Release
(March 25, 2011)
The primary risk of concern with iodine-131 is thyroid cancer, with children more at risk than adults. A high enough intake of iodine-131 by children can also cause developmental problems and other thyroid diseases. Young girls are at greater risk than boys. Female infants have a risk of thyroid cancer 70 times greater than adult males for the same radiation exposure. Some iodine-131 deposits on land, including pastures. When contaminated grass is eaten by cows and goats, iodine-131 concentrates in milk. It has a half-life of about eight days, meaning that appreciable amounts will remain in the environment for a few months after large releases. Cesium-137 will take a few hundred years to decay to very low levels. Some cesium-137 from atmospheric testing in the 1950s and 1960s is still present in soil all over the world. It causes all types of radiogenic cancers since it distributes itself all over the body, like potassium. Cesium-137 contamination is the main reason that a huge exclusion zone (about 1,000 square miles) still needs to be maintained around Chernobyl.
The radioactive fallout from the damaged Fukushima reactors has already covered substantial parts of Honshu, Japan’s main island. Japanese officials have warned citizens against consuming 11 types of vegetables found to have higher than the legal levels of radioactivity, as well as milk from regions near the plant. They have urged residents to avoid giving tap water to children and infants.
Despite these warnings, authorities in Japan have not been forthcoming about the actual levels of radioactive releases, which according to some reports are grave enough that additional, immediate public protection is necessary. The large radioactivity releases, large evacuation zone, and extensive contamination of food and water indicate that it should be raised to level 6, which is also the evaluation of the French and U.S. authorities. This would give a more realistic picture to the public in Japan and allow for appropriately intensified contingency planning.
Efforts to stabilize the damaged reactors have only been partly successful; cooling with seawater may have created its own problems. A significant blockage of the space between the fuel rods with salt deposits could slow cooling water flow even if fresh water can be pumped in. The re-start of normal pumping faces formidable technical and safety problems.
“Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) and the Japanese government must inform the public of their estimates of the releases so far and the potential scale of additional releases, provide updates that are as complete as possible, and create appropriate contingency plans for the public.”
Last week, IEER noted that damages from severe spent fuel accidents in the U.S. could range from $900 million to $700 billion (http://www.ieer.org/comments/Daiichi-Fukushima-reactors_IEERstatement.pdf). Vermont Yankee, for example, contains more spent fuel in its pool than all four stricken pools at the Fukushima Daiichi plant. Yet the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has not ordered any additional actions to protect this material.
“The Nuclear Regulatory Commission should order all aged spent fuel in the U.S. to be moved from pools to hardened dry storage,” said Dr. Makhijani. “It should suspend all licensing and relicensing proceedings until the long-term safety review is complete. It should also review the nearly certified reactor designs, like the AP1000. It is lamentable that the NRC extended the license of the Vermont Yankee reactor, which is the same design as the stricken Fukushima units, while the Japanese crisis is still going on and there has been no time to learn its lessons. I am shocked the NRC did not even order the emptying of all of Vermont Yankee’s older spent fuel into dry cask storage, as a condition of the license extension.”
IPSEC petition (from http://www.ipsecinfo.org/) :
Hon. Andrew M. Cuomo
Governor, New York State
Albany, New York 12224
Re: Denying license extensions to the Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant
Dear Governor Cuomo:
I am pleased that you have told the press Indian Point should be closed and that Attorney General Schneiderman has called for an immediate assessment of all public health and safety risks posed by Indian Point. I would like you to go further and
- Publicly demand that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) shut down Indian Point and deny Entergy’s application for license extensions;
- Tell the State Department of Environmental Conservation to continue withholding a water-use permit from Entergy, the plant’s owner; and
- Develop genuinely clean alternative energy sources and institute conservation and efficiency measures.
I am one of 20 million people living within the 50-mile "peak injury" zone of Indian Point. The NRC has stated that Indian Point Reactor 3 has the highest risk of earthquake damage in the country among the 104 plants currently operating. Nuclear reactors built on earthquake faults cannot be considered safe.
Please use the power of your office to close Indian Point. It would be sheer folly to ignore the graphic images of the horror facing the Japanese and not take action to prevent them here.
Name __________________________________________ Date ____________________
Phone ____________________________ Email _________________________________
Indian Point Safe Energy Coaliton
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