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Indybay FeatureRelated Categories: California | Environment & Forest Defense
Fukushima, San Onofre and Our Health
It’s been two years since Fukushima’s multiple meltdowns. San Onofre in the Southland has been shut down for over a year.
Time to look back and gaze forward. This article will concentrate on nuclear power plants’ radioactive emissions and their effects on our health.
It's been two years since Fukushima. San Onofre nuclear power plant in the Southland has been been shut down for over a year. Time to look back and gaze forward.
To do this I’ll be drawing on a recent book, Mad Science: The Nuclear Power Experiment.
This book came out last year, authored by Joseph Mangano, executive director of the Radiation and Public Health Project (radiation.org). The RPHP has been studying nuclear power plant radioactive release effects on human health for several decades.
Numerous peer reviewed epidemiological and clinical studies published in various scientific journals by Mangano and his associates in the RPHP have found that children living within 50 miles of nuclear power reactors have higher amounts of radioactivity in their teeth; have higher rates of cancer, including leukemia; and that such rates drop after reactors shut down.
As the world well knows, on March 11, 2011, a 9.0 earthquake and subsequent gargantuan tsunami devastated northeastern Japan, causing the six reactor Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station to become powerless.
Mangano writes: “What happened next was a nightmare. There were meltdowns in three of the reactor cores, and two of the spent fuel pools. Television viewers watched with horror as several explosions in the next few days tore apart the containment buildings, and huge amounts of radiation were released.”
And that radiation wasn’t confined to Japan for long.
As Mangano continues, “It took precisely six days after the earthquake/tsunami for airborne radiation to hit the [North American] west coast. In the days that followed, the EPA produced data showing that environmental radiation levels had jumped. Elevated levels had reached all parts of the US.”
And subsequent data indicated that this radiation had almost immediate effects.
“Preliminary data,” Mangano relates, “from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stated that in the first fourteen weeks after the radioactive plume entered the US, the average number of weekly reported infant deaths in 119 US cities (30 percent of the population) rose 3.99% higher than the fourteen weeks of a year before.
“The 2010-2011 change for the prior fourteen week periods was a decrease of 8.37%. There was also a gap for deaths for all ages.”
In other words, death rates rose for all age groups after the Fukushima plume passed over the US.
Mangano and associate Janette Sherman subsequently calculated that this amounted to nearly 22,000 “excess deaths;” that is, that many more deaths than had occurred during the same period the previous year.
San Onofre and the LA Meltdown
San Onofre hasn’t melted down—yet. Since both its formerly operating reactors closed down in January last year, it hasn’t had much of a chance to. And most people would like to keep it that way.
The reality is that no one knows what would happen if one or both reactors restarts.
Nor does anyone know what would happen if a 9.0 earthquake or monster tsunami hit San Onofre.
And who wants to find out?
But then again, have radioactive releases from San Onofre already caused us harm?
Evidence in Mangano’s book suggests so. To get to that though we first have to look at a nuclear meltdown that did happen in Southern California.
Mangano presents considerable detail about the meltdown of an experimental reactor at the Santa Susana nuclear facility, operated by Atomics International, in July, 1959.
Mangano calls this meltdown “quite possibly the most severe in the sixty plus years of the UA atomic era.”
That facility is located in Simi Valley, 30 miles northwest of downtown Los Angeles. Mangano reports that the nuclear part of Santa Susana facility was developed “with Southern California Edison.”
The meltdown, as explained by Mangano, began on July 12, 1959, in an experimental sodium cooled reactor at Santa Susana. Things got out of control, heat inside the reactor skyrocketed, and nuclear fuel began to melt, creating vast amounts of radioactivity.
The reactor wasn’t shut down until the next day. But, incredibly, Atomics International started it back up the day after that. With the underlying problems unaddressed, radiation kept accumulating in holding tanks.
After the tanks were filled up, the company began to release the radioactivity into the air, usually at night.
One worker at the facility, Mangano reported, said, “They tried to make sure [the wind] was blowing towards the Pacific Ocean, instead of the San Fernando Valley, so it would affect fewer people.”
And how did it affect people?
The public was largely not informed this meltdown was happening, and what information did leak out minimized any possible impact Santa Susana’s releases might have on people.
And no studies subsequently were done to check out the public health situation in relation to the releases.
Until Mangano’s book came out, in 2012, over 50 years later.
Within Nuclear Madness Magano includes his studies comparing Ventura County (where Santa Susana is located) with California’s 17 other largest counties for vital factors and disease rates that can be associated with chronic exposure to radioactive releases from nuclear reactors.
Mangano found that residents of Ventura County had increasingly high rates of low birth weight babies in more recent years, Ventura also had the highest rates in the largest 18 state counties for childhood cancer incidence 2002-06; highest for childhood cancer deaths 2003-07; and fourth highest county rate for thyroid cancer 1988-2008.
All of these diseases can be associated with chronic exposure to radiation.
Also disturbing in this research is San Diego County’s high rates for some of these diseases.
San Diego County had the third highest rate in childhood cancer incidence 2002-06; second highest for childhood cancer deaths 2003-07; and fourth highest for thyroid cancer 1988-2008. Again, these are of California’s 18 most populous counties.
San Onofre, like all nuclear power plants, has to release radioactive poisons into the environment in order to operate.
Until the final chapter of San Onofre’s history is written, these poisons will continue to proliferate, and so too will the risk of the diseases they can cause. And so too will the risk of meltdown continue.
The sooner that chapter is written the better. And the time for its writing is now.