Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Nuclear Pinocchios

Published in Long Island newspapers this week.

“Remember, we can change the world. Or at least Long Island,” Nora Bredes, former executive director of the Shoreham Opponents Coalition, just wrote on her Facebook page. With her message was a New York Times article about a massive demonstration 25 years ago this month protesting the Shoreham nuclear plant.

“More than 600 protesters were arrested here today after 15,000 demonstrators gathered,” the piece began. The headline noted it was “One of the Largest Held Worldwide” against nuclear power.

Because of demonstrations, legal challenges, political initiatives and other actions by organizations and individuals, and work by Suffolk County, state and local officials, the Shoreham plant was stopped.

Two months before that June 1986 demonstration, the Chernobyl nuclear plant catastrophe occurred in the former Soviet Union clearly showing the deadliness of nuclear power, despite the claims of nuclear promoters—including on Long Island—that it was safe.

Now, the disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plants in Japan has again proven the lethality of nuclear power. A baseline for how many people will likely die from Fukushima radiation is provided by a 2009 book published by the New York Academy of Sciences, “Chernobyl: The Consequences of the Catastrophe for People and the Environment.” Using medical data from between 1986 and 2004, a team of eminent European scientists concludes that 985,000 people died worldwide from the radioactivity discharged from Chernobyl. And the Fukushima disaster involved not one but a cluster of nuclear power plants and is ongoing with radioactivity still streaming out and spreading worldwide.

But the nuclear Pinocchios are still at it.

Last week, the Nuclear Energy Institute, the nuclear industry trade group, held a press conference in Washington at which it issued a statement asserting: “No health effects are expected among the Japanese people as a result of the events at Fukushima.” And as for the rest of us: don’t worry.

“This is as believable as the Marlboro man offering you the same assurance,” said Paul Gunter, director of Reactor Oversight at the organization Beyond Nuclear ( “The global nuclear industry should focus on bringing this catastrophic nuclear accident to an end rather than damage control for its increasingly radioactive public image.”

Reaction to Fukushima has varied. Germany, Switzerland, Italy and other nations have declared they will now abandon nuclear power and instead pursue safe, clean, renewable energy technologies such as solar and wind. A difference between today and 25 years ago is that such technologies are more highly developed and if fully utilized can provide all the energy the world needs, as recent studies have shown. They render nuclear power unnecessary.

In Washington this week, a Congressional Renewable Energy & Energy Efficiency Expo and Forum involving safe energy advocates and members of Congress was held. But the Obama administration, heavily influenced by Steven Chu, the nuclear scientist who heads the Department of Energy, is still pushing atomic power. It wants, despite the Fukushima disaster, more nuclear plants built in the U.S. and is seeking $34 billion in taxpayer monies to build them. Next week, a New Nuclear Energy Summit to “advance” nuclear power will be held in Washington involving Obama administration and nuclear industry officials.

Shoreham was stopped, along with Long Island Lighting Company plans to build other nuclear plants here as well. Long Island is nuclear-free. But across the Sound in Connecticut, the two Millstone nuclear plants continue to operate, dangerously. The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission has just issued a report finding “pervasive performance lapses” by plant operators during a serious “unexpected power spike” at Millstone 2 on February 12, a month before the Fukushima meltdowns. Taking on Millstone is the Standing for Truth About Radiation Coalition, restarted by Priscilla Star of Montauk ( since Fukushima.

The threat of nuclear power continues, as does the struggle to end the deadly technology and shift to safe, clean, renewable energy.

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