Saturday, April 30, 2011

Downplaying Deadly Dangers in Japan and at Home, After Fukushima, Media Still Buying Media Spin

Published in Extra! The Magazine of FAIR—The Media Watch Group
May 2011 Cover Story

Ever since the start of nuclear technology, those behind it have made heavy use of deception, obfuscation and denial--with the complicity of most of the media. New York Times reporter William Laurence, working at the same time with the Manhattan Project, wrote a widely-published press release covering up the first nuclear test in New Mexico in 1945, claiming it was nothing more than an ammunition dump explosion. The Times and Laurence went on to boost nuclear power for years to come (Beverly Deepe Keever, News Zero: The New York Times and The Bomb).

A central concern of nuclear promoters, as Rosalie Bertell writes in her book No Immediate Danger: Prognosis for a Radioactive Earth, has been: "Should the public discover the true health cost of nuclear pollution, a cry would rise from all parts of the world and people would refuse to cooperate passively with their own death." In the U.S., nuclear industry and government nuclear agencies lied after the accident at Three Mile Island. In the Soviet Union, government lies flowed after the catastrophe at Chernobyl. There have been cover-up after cover-up of the smaller accidents in between (Harvey Wasserman and Norman Solomon, Killing Our Own, The Disaster of America’s Experience with Atomic Radiation; Jay M. Gould and Benjamin A. Goldman, Deadly Deceit; Low-level Radiation, High-level Cover-up).

The nuclear enterprise, with its army of PR people, has had little trouble through the years manipulating a largely compliant media, a major component of which it has owned: Westinghouse owning CBS for many years, and General Electric, NBC. And this continues in the still-unfolding nuclear disaster in Japan.

Media coverage of the Fukushima nuclear power facility disaster has ranged from dreadful to barely passable. Much of the reporting about the threats of nuclear power and the impacts of radioactivity has been outrageously poor, as journalists and their talking-head experts have parroted the assurances of Japanese and other officials that the amounts of radioactivity being released were low and thus posed "no health threat" to people (e.g., AP, 3/21/11).

Decades ago, there was the notion of a "threshold dose" of radiation, below which there was no harm. That’s because when nuclear technology began and people were exposed to radioactivity, they didn’t promptly fall down dead. But as the years went by, it was realized that lower levels of radioactivity take time to result in cancer and other illnesses--that there is a five-to-40-year "incubation" period.

Now most scientists acknowledge that any amount of radioactivity can lead to illness and death, especially in fetuses and children whose cells are dividing more rapidly than in adults. As the National Council on Radiation Protection (No. 136, 2001) has said: "Every increment of radiation exposure produces an incremental increase in the risk of cancer." Or the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission ("Fact Sheet: Biological Effects of Radiation"): "Any amount of radiation may pose some risk for causing cancer.”

Much coverage reassured the public that, even if there was some risk, potassium iodide pills being distributed in Japan "block radioactivity" (CNN, 3/18/11). In fact, potassium iodide pills work only on the thyroid, filling it with "good" iodine so radioactive iodine-131, which causes thyroid cancer, cannot be absorbed. But there are hundreds of other fission products--including cesium-137 and strontium-90, both of which were discharged when the Fukushima nuclear plants erupted--and there are no magic pills for any of them.

Fox News took its coverage to another level, with Geraldo Rivera declaring (3/18/11): "I love nuclear power." And right-wing firebrand Ann Coulter on the O'Reilly Factor (Fox News, 3/17/11) asserted that "radiation [amounts] in excess of what the government says are the minimum amounts we should be exposed to are actually good for you and reduce cases of cancer." Even fellow right-wing firebrand Bill O’Reilly was taken aback. "You have to be responsible," he told her.

Coulter's comment stems from a wild theory of some nuclear scientists called "hormesis," which holds that radioactivity is good because it exercises the immune system. Coulter challenged media for not pursuing the radiation-is-good hypothesis. They should--they'll find that it's been dismissed by national and international agencies involved with radiation protection, including the U.S. National Research Council, the National Council on Radiation Protection and the U.N. Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation.

There have been huge scientific errors, even by people who acknowledged the seriousness of the disaster—such as the explanation for cesium-137 by "expert" Bill Nye, aka "The Science Guy," on CNN (3/12/11). "We hear about this substance called cesium, which is being released," anchor John Vause said to Nye. "What's the significance of that?" The "Science Guy" responded: "Cesium is used to slow and control the nuclear reaction, the fission of these very large atoms of uranium. And so when cesium can’t get in there to slow things down, it gets hotter and hotter."

In fact, cesium-137 has absolutely nothing to do with slowing or controlling fission (that's boron); it is one of the deadliest radioactive products created by fission, and one of the main reasons there's still a 1,660-square-mile Exclusion Zone around the site of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. "The Science Guy" flubs a high-school physics exam question, and one that is crucial to understanding the health effects of nuclear accidents.

Media have betrayed a lack of understanding about the hydrogen explosions that blew the roofs off the Fukushima plants as well. It was reported that this had to do with fuel rods, and sometimes zirconium was mentioned. (e.g. LA Times, 3/16/11). But missed was a huge issue: Zirconium, which is used to make nuclear fuel rods because it allows neutrons to pass freely, is extremely volatile. It explodes at 2,000[o] F with the explosive power, pound for pound, of nitroglycerin. (A tiny speck of zirconium produces the flash in a flashbulb; a typical nuclear plant contains 20 tons.) With lesser heat, it emits hydrogen, which itself can explode, and this is what occurred at Fukushima. Using zirconium in a nuclear plant is like building a bridge out of firecrackers. It’s not hard to explain, but that didn’t happen.

Then there were the reports about three GE nuclear engineers who resigned because of defects in the GE Mark 1 Boiling Water Reactor used at Fukushima (ABC News, 3/16/11). This was in line with the spin that the problem is not nuclear power in general, but merely one flawed plant design.

While the Mark 1 design was, indeed, a factor in why the three GE nuclear engineering supervisors, Dale Bridenbaugh, Richard Hubbard and Gregory Minor, left the nuclear industry, their broader point went missing in media coverage: As they declared in a statement to the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy in Congress in 1976,
"We did so because we could no longer justify devoting our life energies to the
continued development and expansion of nuclear fission power--a system we
believe to be so dangerous that it now threatens the very existence of life on
this planet."

Meanwhile, disinformation about the impacts of previous nuclear plant disasters has served to downplay the potential impacts of the Fukushima disaster.

U.S. media regularly reported that only a few thousand people died as a result of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear power plant catastrophe--commonly used as a baseline of comparison (e.g. New York Times, 3/27/11). These numbers ignore the most comprehensive study done on the effects of Chernobyl, a book published in 2009 by the New York Academy of Sciences titled Consequences of the Catastrophe for People and the Environment. A team of scientists from Russia and Belarus studied health data, radiological surveys and scientific reports--some 5,000 in all--from 1986 to 2004, and estimated that the accident caused the deaths of 985,000 people worldwide. More deaths, they wrote, will follow. That’s the real baseline for a major disaster at one nuclear power plant.

Indeed, the senior scientist in that study, Dr. Alexey Yablokov, at a March 25 press conference in Washington, D.C., pointed out that because of the multiple nuclear power plants and spent fuel pools involved in the Fukushima disaster, and "because the area is far more densely populated than around Chernobyl, the human toll could eventually be far worse." The New York Times did not cover or run a story on that press conference at the National Press Club--or the New York Academy of Science's book.

There were also declarations that "no one died" as a result of the Three Mile Island accident in 1979 (e.g., O'Reilly Factor, 3/16/11). NPR (3/28/11) went so far as to claim that "relatively small amounts of radiation had escaped from the plant. No one was even injured."

That myth was long ago long exploded by the book Killing Our Own, which includes a chapter called "People Died at Three Mile Island," detailing infant and adult deaths. I wrote and narrated a TV documentary on the impacts of the TMI partial meltdown, Three Mile Island Revisited, that focused on the cancers and death in the area around the plant, and how its owner has quietly given pay-outs, many for $1 million apiece, to settle with people who suffered health impacts or lost family members because of the accident.

Meanwhile, media didn't mention that Japan in recent years has become a global giant in the sale of nuclear power plants. GE and Westinghouse have long been the Coke and Pepsi of nuclear power plants worldwide, historically manufacturing or designing 80 percent of all nuclear plants. In 2006, Toshiba bought Westinghouse's nuclear division and Hitachi entered into a partnership with GE to run its nuclear division. How might this huge Japanese stake in selling nuclear plants worldwide affect what Japanese officials were saying about Fukushima? This area was ignored by U.S. media--many of which have links to the nuclear industry themselves. (See FAIR Blog, 4/12/11).

A pioneer journalist on nuclear technology, Anna Mayo, had one word to describe U.S. media coverage of the Japanese disaster: "grotesque." From 1969 to 1989, Mayo worked for the Village Voice, writing a column titled "Geiger Counter." She once said (Karl Grossman, Cover Up), "I built a full-time career on covering nuclear horror stories that the New York Times neglected." Mayo was forced out after changes of ownership at the Village Voice, with "nuclear industry pressure" having much to do with her ouster: "The nuclear industry went after me. It was very obvious."

The nuclear industry on the disaster in Japan, said Mayo, "is trying desperately to conceal the extent of radiation exposure, and they’ve wheeled out the same old lies." And media, as usual, have bought the deadly nuclear deception.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Nuclear Power Can Never Be Made Safe

With the 25th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear plant catastrophe having arrived, and with the disaster at the Fukushima nuclear complex still unfolding—and radioactivity continuing to spew from those plants—some people are asking: can nuclear power be made safe?

The answer is no. Nuclear power can never be made safe.

This was clearly explained by Admiral Hyman Rickover, the “father” of the U.S. nuclear navy and in charge of construction of the first nuclear power plant in the nation, Shippingport in Pennsylvania. Before a committee of Congress, as he retired from the navy in 1982, Rickover warned of the inherent lethality of nuclear power—and urged that “we outlaw nuclear reactors.”

The basic problem: radioactivity.

“I’ll be philosophical,” testified Rickover. “Until about two billion years ago, it was impossible to have any life on Earth; that is, there was so much radiation on earth you couldn’t have any life—fish or anything.” This was from naturally-occurring cosmic radiation when the Earth was in the process of formation. “Gradually,” said Rickover, “about two billion years ago, the amount of radiation on this planet…reduced and made it possible for some form of life to begin.”

“Now, when we go back to using nuclear power, we are creating something which nature tried to destroy to make life possible,” he said. “Every time you produce radiation” a “horrible force” is unleashed. By splitting the atom, people are recreating the poisons that precluded life from existing. “And I think there the human race is going to wreck itself,” Rickover stated.

This was Rickover, a key figure in nuclear power history, not Greenpeace.

The problem is radioactivity—unleashed when the atom is split. And it doesn’t matter whether it’s a General Electric boiling water reactor such as those that have erupted at Fukushima, or the Westinghouse pressurized water design, or Russian-designed plants like Chernobyl, or the “new, improved” nuclear plants being touted by U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu, a nuclear scientist and zealous promoter of nuclear technology.

All nuclear power plants produce radiation as well as radioactive poisons like the Cesium-137, Iodine-131 and Strontium-90 that have been—and continue to be--spewed from the Fukushima plants.

Upon contact with life, these toxins destroy life. So from the time they’re produced in a nuclear plant to when they’re taken out as hotly radioactive “nuclear waste,” they must be isolated from life—for thousands for some millions of years.

In the nuclear process, mildly radioactive uranium is taken from the ground and bombarded by neutrons—and that part of the uranium which can split, is “fissile,” Uranium-235, is transformed into radioactive twins of safe and stable elements in nature: There are hundreds of these “fission products.” The human body doesn’t know the difference between these lethal twins and safe and stable elements. Also produced are alpha and beta particles and gamma rays, all radioactive.

In addition, much of the larger part of uranium, Uranium-238, which cannot split, grabs on to neutrons and turns into Plutonium-239, the most radioactive substance known.

In this atom-splitting, too, heat is produced—which is used to boil water. Nuclear power plants are simply the most dangerous way to boil water ever conceived.

Why use this toxic process to boil water and generate electricity? It has far less to do with science than with politics and economics—from the aftermath of the Manhattan Project to today During the World War II Manhattan Project, scientists working at laboratories secretly set up across the U.S. built atomic weapons. By 1945
it employed 600,000 people and billions of dollars were spent. Two bombs were dropped on Japan. And, with the war’s end, the Manhattan Project became the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission and more nuclear weapons were built. But what else could be done with nuclear technology to perpetuate the nuclear undertaking?

Many of the scientists and government officials didn’t want to see their jobs end; corporations which were Manhattan Project contractors, notably General Electric and Westinghouse, didn’t want to see their contracts ended. As James Kunetka writes in his book City of Fire about Los Alamos National Laboratory, with the war over there were problems of “job placement, work continuity…more free time than work…hardly enough to keep everyone busy.”

Nuclear weapons don’t lend themselves to commercial spinoff. What else could be done with atomic technology to keep the nuclear establishment going? Schemes advanced included using nuclear devices as substitutes for dynamite to blast huge holes in the ground—including stringing 125 atomic devices across the isthmus of Panama and setting them off to create the “Panatomic Canal,” utilizing radioactivity to zap food so it could seemingly be stored for years; building nuclear-powered airplanes (this didn’t go far because of the weight of the lead shielding needed to protect the pilots)—and using the heat built up by the nuclear reaction to boil water to produce electricity.

All along, the nuclear scientists—such as Chu now—attempted to minimize, indeed deny, the lethal danger of radioactivity and, like Nuclear Pinocchios, they pushed their technology.

Nuclear power plants—all 443 on the earth today—should be closed and no new ones built. As Rickover declared, nuclear reactors must be outlawed.

During the Bill Clinton campaign years ago, the slogan was, “It’s the economy, stupid.” With nuclear power plants, “It’s the radioactivity”—inherent in the process and deadly.

Instead we must fully implement the use of safe, clean, renewable energy technologies like solar, wind (now the fastest growing energy source and cheaper than nuclear) and geothermal and all the rest which, major studies have concluded, can provide all the energy the world needs—energy without lethal radioactivity, energy we can live with.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Fukushima: A Month of Media Disinformation

Today marks exactly a month since the nuclear power disaster in Japan began. Along with the ongoing discharges of radioactivity from the Fukushima nuclear plant complex, there has been a largely outrageous flow of media coverage.

Brian Williams on NBC Nightly News on April 6th asked a good question: “And what about all that water, the many million gallons of it, highly radioactive, dumped in the Pacific Ocean for days on end—and we’ve all been told it will dissipate. But how can this not be harmful?” he queried correspondent Miguel Almaguer.

The question might have been good but the response to it, Almaguer’s report, was far from that. He presented a talking head expert, Luca Centurioni of Scripps Institution of Oceanography, who said: “No, there is no immediate danger.” (Centurioni’s background, according to his resume posted on the Internet, reflects no background in radioactivity.)

“The bottom line,” said Almaguer, “experts are in agreement there’s no threat to our water or our food.” He added: “And as you can see Brian, California’s coastline is as beautiful as ever.” Radioactivity, of course, is invisible.

Or consider Charles Osgood on “The Osgood File” on CBS radio on April 1—stressing that there was nothing to fear but fear. Indeed, he played President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s declaration in 1933 that “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” That might have been a reasonable reassurance amid the Depression. But here were the first indications of radioactivity having come to the U.S. from Japan.with radioactive iodine being “found in milk in the states of California and Washington,” noted Osgood.

But, he quickly added, “the contamination is described as miniscule, posing no threat to the public.” To bolster that assertion he presented Blair Thompson, “spokesman for the Washington Dairy Products Commission.”

“Radiation can be a scary word, but I think it’s important to remember that actually we live surrounded by radiation every day,” said milk industry PR man Thompson.

Indeed, chirped Osgood: “Some of our most common foods—potatoes, carrots, bananas and Brazil nuts—contain radioactive potassium.”

Yes, there is naturally occurring “background radiation” of various sorts—and that causes a level of cancer. As the Nuclear Information and Resource Service ( states: “Even exposure to background radiation causes some cancers. Additional exposures cause additional risks.” Cited is a 700-page 2005 National Academy of Sciences report, “Health Risks from Exposure to Low Levels of Ionizing Radiation,” that concluded that: “There is no safe level or threshold of ionizing radiation exposure.” There have been numerous similar reports.

And not only were reporter after reporter over the past month unaware of the facts about radioactivity, the experts they presented were quite a crew, too.

Consider David Brenner. He was on PBS Nightly News on March 18, two days after being featured in the New York Times story about him headlined: “Countering Radiation Fears With Just the Facts.” In the article, he was quoted as saying “I think there is a role for safe nuclear power.” Just a fact? Clearly, he was ready for TV, too.

Asked by Jeffrey Brown about “the plutonium found in the ground” around the Fukushima nuclear plants, Dr. Brenner, director of the Center for Radiological Research at Columbia University, responded: “Well, there are various sources that the plutonium could have come from. But I think we’re relieved that the levels of plutonium are actually very low, and actually, typical of plutonium—natural plutonium contamination in this country.”

Plutonium is the most lethal of all radioactive substances. There is no level “actually very low.” A millionth of a gram inhaled, a microscopic particle, is all that’s needed to produce lung cancer. Furthermore, there is no “natural plutonium contamination in this country.”

Plutonium is a manmade substance. It was discovered by Glenn Seaborg in 1941 and used in the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki and almost all atomic weapons since. Plutonium-239 is what Uranium-238 can become when in the proximity of fission.

Nuclear power plants build up 500 to 1,000 pounds of plutonium every year. Indeed, the concept for nuclear power plants came from the plutonium production reactors built at the Hanford reservation in the state of Washington during the Manhattan Project crash program of World War II to build atomic bombs. Also produced in those reactors were large amounts of heat. With the war over, seeking to do more with nuclear technology than just build more nuclear weapons, the scientists, engineers and corporate contractors of the Manhattan Project—which became the Atomic Energy Commission—pushed a scheme to use that heat to boil water to turn a turbine and generate electricity.

Among their schemes, too, has been using plutonium as fuel in nuclear plants for the same reason plutonium was turned to by the Manhattan Project: limits of high-grade uranium. Manmade plutonium has been seen as the fuel for what’s called “breeder” reactors.

Meanwhile, amid all the disinformation about radioactivity there has been the effort by most of media to frame a debate between nuclear and coal—chpose your poison. In fact, the energy debate is between nuclear, coal and oil, on one side, and safe, clean, renewable energy technologies, led by solar and wind, on the other.

But you wouldn’t know that from media reports over the past month. The New York Times, for example, devoted part of a long “Science Times” article on March 29 to what the subhead stated: “Alternatives Carry Risks Too.” It said: “Radiation is a real threat, nuclear physicists say, but not as great as many people believe it is, and not as great as other threats. Indeed, every energy source comes with dangers, from mine or wellhead or the smokestack or tailpipe.” The piece went on to discuss coal-mining accidents and gas pipeline explosions. There was not a mention of the safe, clean energy technologies such as solar and wind.

Editorial cartoonist Walt Handelsmann in Newsday on April 4 went even further, drawing a picture of two pieces of wood with the caption: “Looking for cheap, risk free, all-natural, abundant energy…Start rubbing.” That’s not the choice.

As Lester Brown, president of Earth Policy Institute, concludes in his new book, World on the Edge: How to Prevent Environmental and Economic Collapse—as have many studies and reports—solar, wind and geothermal energy can provide all the energy the world’s needs. He dismisses nuclear power as too expensive and dangerous.

It not only can happen, it is happening, emphasizes Brown. “The old energy economy, fueled by oil, coal, and natural gas, is being replaced with an economy powered by wind, solar, and geothermal energy. Despite the global economic crisis, this energy transition is moving at a pace and on a scale that we could not have imagined even two years ago.”

But the real energy choices were largely not being discussed by media through the past month of Fukushima disinformation.

The classic book on disinformation on nuclear technology is Nukespeak, published in 1982. It is dedicated to George Orwell, author of 1984, and written by Stephen Hilgarten, Richard C. Bell and Rory O’Connor.

It opens by declaring that “the history of nuclear development has been profoundly shaped by the manipulation through official secrecy and extensive public-relations campaigns. Nukespeak and the use of information-management techniques have consistently distorted the debate over nuclear weapons and nuclear power. Time and time again, nuclear developers have confused their hopes with reality, publicly presented their expectations and assumptions as facts, covered up damaging information, harassed and fired scientists who disagreed with established policy, refused to recognize the existence of problems…claimed that there was no choice but to follow their policies.”

In the first month of the Fukushima disaster, there’s been an explosion of Nukespeak by the nuclear power establishment aided and abetted by a compliant media.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

My book, "Cover Up: What You Are Not Supposed to Know About Nuclear Power," Is Being Distributed Free by Publisher Online

People can now get free copies of my book "Cover Up: What You Are Not Supposed to Know About Nuclear Power" -- with a new updated preface I've written in the midst of the ongoing Fukushima nuclear power disaster.

Just go to and you will see the book displayed on the homepage--and a box to click on and have the book downloaded at no cost.

What I emphasized in putting the book together was printing actual documents, as facsimiles, documents from the nuclear industry and government nuclear agencies. I believed that would be a good way to counter the Atomic Pinocchios and their lies -- something we're being intensely hit with now as the nuclear propagandists try to cover-up the consequences of the Fukushima disaster.

For example, in recent days I received an email asking for the source of the line in a government report that a major nuclear plant accident could involve an area the size of the state of Pennsylvania. It is on Page 9 of Cover Up, exactly as it appears in a government report titled "WASH-740-update" -- "the possible size of the area of such a disaster might be equal to that of the State of Pennsylvania." This projection is repeated over and over again in this report about the consequences of nuclear power plant accidents that was done by Brookhaven National Laboratory and kept secret for years. It was written a little more than a decade before the Three Mile Island accident.

By pasting down portions of such reports on the flats from which the book was printed, between narrative, I hoped to empower people by providing them with primary documents and thus make them fully aware of the truth about nuclear power -- and give them tools to refute the snow-jobs and the lies.

Marty and Judy Shepard of The Permanent Press had the guts to put out the book while publishers in New York refused claiming at the time that they didn't think interest in nuclear power was long-lasting. My agent, a top New York agent, was astonished. I eventually understood that this was part of the overall media cover-up on nuclear power. A good part of a chapter in the book is about this informational cover-up. Chapters include: "What Is At Stake?," "How It Works," "Accident Hazards," "Medical Consequences," "Radioactive Waste," "Economics and Jobs," "How We Got So Far," "The Alternatives," and "What You Can Do About It."

Marty says on his publisher's blog that the book is being distributed free because: "We’re not interested in making a nickel off Cover Up....Our passion in publishing has always been the good feeling that comes from doing worthy books, which trumps profits any time."

Publisher's Weekly said when the book came out that it was "powerfully documented" and that I make "a strong case for the view that giant nuclear energy corporations have taken extreme measures to hide the shocking facts about nuclear power, and are now stalling development of other energy sources in order to protect their huge investment."

So, please download the book. And, please put this information on other websites and list-servs so even more people can at no cost download the book.

Also, videos I have done on nuclear power are available for viewing free at They include: "Three Mile Island Revisted," "The Push to Revive Nuclear Power," and "Chernobyl: A Million Casualties."