Nuclear propagandists lies exposed and debunked (by David Rothscum Reports)

Posted on March 14, 2011

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Source: David Rothscum Reports

A superb academic like analysis of hazards nuclear plants posess for public health by David Rothscum Reports blog.

There are a number of lies about nuclear energy being promoted by the industry, and I figured I’d make myself useful by taking a look at them.

Lie #1: Nuclear energy poses no threat, because your exposure to radioactivity through the eating of Bananas is higher.

First we start with the simplest. The “Banana equivalent dose”. As explained by Wikipedia:

A banana equivalent dose (BED) is a concept occasionally used by nuclear power proponents to place in scale the dangers of radiation by comparing exposures to the radiation generated by a common banana. Many foods are naturally radioactive, and bananas are particularly so, due to the radioactive potassium-40 they contain. The banana equivalent dose is the radiation exposure received by eating a single banana. By comparing the exposure from these events to a banana equivalent dose, a more intuitive assessment of the actual risk can sometimes be obtained. The average radiologic profile of bananas is 130 Bq (3 520 pCi/kg), or roughly 19,2 Bq (520 pCi) per 150 g banana. The equivalent dose for 365 bananas (one per day for a year) is 36 μSv (3.6 mrems). Bananas are radioactive enough to regularly cause false alarms on radiation sensors used to detect possible illegal smuggling of nuclear material at US ports. (Link)

Yes, people actually use this argument. An example can be found here:

Shortly after the partial meltdown at Three Mile Island in 1979, antinuclear activists claimed they had found radioactive Iodine in cows milk at nearby farms. This immediately caused a fear of a poisoned food supply. However, when put it terms of Banana Equivalent Dose, this radio-iodine wasn’t nearly as scary. There was only 20 picocuries per liter of radio-iodine in the cows milk. That equals just 1/75th BED. So you would need to consume 75 liters of that scary nuclear milk to equal the radiation dose of eating just one banana. Of course, no mortal man could possibly drink 75 liters of any cows milk without developing unfathomable, non-nuclear side effects.(Link)

The Banana equivalent dose concept is also used in other places, on Reddit for example by a a “nuclear-trained submarine officer”:

Speaking of radiation, there are far more sources of it than you probably realize. Things as simple as taking a long flight, inhaling cigarette smoke, eating a banana, and even living in brick houses in some areas can significantly contribute to radiation exposure for individuals. Although prudence dictates keeping away from all known sources of radiation, it seems that even continuous exposure to very low levels is not dangerous. (Link)

Another example on Reddit:

There are ways to help put radiation exposure into perspective for people so it’s less scary. I suggest banana equivalent doses.(Link)

The fact of the matter is that not all types of radiation are created equal. The body carefully regulates the amount of Potassium-40. It’s explained here:

The problem is that this system implies that all radioisotopes are created equal—That there’s no difference between 520 picocuries of Potassium-40 and a similar intake of, say, radioactive iodine. And that simply isn’t true. I contacted Geoff Meggitt—a retired health physicist, and former editor of the Journal of Radiological Protection—to find out more.

Meggitt worked for the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority and its later commercial offshoots for 25 years. He says there’s an enormous variation in the risks associated with swallowing the same amount of different radioactive materials—and even some difference between the same dose, of the same material, but in different chemical forms.

It all depends on two factors:
1)The physical characteristics of the radioactivity—i.e, What’s its half-life? Is the radiation emitted alpha, beta or gamma?
2) The way the the radioactivity travels around and is taken up by the body—i.e., How much is absorbed by the blood stream? What tissues does this specific isotope tend to accumulate in?

The Potassium-40 in bananas is a particularly poor model isotope to use, Meggitt says, because the potassium content of our bodies seems to be under homeostatic control. When you eat a banana, your body’s level of Potassium-40 doesn’t increase. You just get rid of some excess Potassium-40. The net dose of a banana is zero.

And that’s the difference between a useful educational tool and propaganda. (And I say this as somebody who is emphatically not against nuclear energy.) Bananas aren’t really going to give anyone “a more realistic assessment of actual risk”, they’re just going to further distort the picture.(Link)

When you hear someone bring up Bananas in an argument about nuclear energy, you know you have to ignore them. Mr. Meggitt is right, but there is more to the story. The type of isotope you’re exposed to is very important. As Mr. Meggitt mentions, it is for example important to know what types of tissue the particles accumulate in, if it accumulates at all.

When dealing with radioactive material we have to keep in mind that the body has a natural mechanism to repair radioactive damage. When a cell is damaged by a radioactive particle it starts to repair itself, a process which is followed by duplication. During this time period, the cell is far more vulnerable to any new mutation, because it can’t repair this new mutation. This is why a burst of radiation that is followed within a few hours by another burst of radiation is more dangerous to a cell than two exposures to radiation days or weeks apart. This is called the “second event” theory.

It is important because it means that not all types of radioactive particles are created equally. A particle that decays only once may not be even close to half as dangerous as a particle that decays once, only to decay again a few hours later. In normal circumstances it is extremely unlikely for a cell to be mutated by radiation twice, within the time frame of a few hours. With radioactive particles trapped in your body that decay multiple times within the time frame of a day, this is of course more likely to happen.

This is the Second Event Theory by Chris Busby. Busby explains the second event theory as following:

The Second Event theory proposes a radiobiological mechanism explaining how low doses of radiation from some man-made radionuclides and anthropogenic forms of natural radioactive substances are significantly more likely to cause genetic mutations leading to a range of diseases than radiation from natural sources.

It is a serious challenge to the present model of radiation risk at the kind of doses involved in environmental contamination from industrial processes.
Its predictions easily accommodate phenomena such as the Seascale leukaemia cluster, which the Committee on Medical Aspects of Radiation in the Environment fails to ascribe to known radioactive pollution.

It is now well established that living cells in vitro respond to sub-lethal radiation damage by proceeding into cell-cycle arrest which involves the setting up of an irreversible sequence of chromosomal DNA repair, followed by a forced replication.

This repair-replication cycle, which lasts for 8 – 15 hours, is known to contain a period which is exquisitely susceptible to radiation damage. In the last ten years the existence of such a critical period has been used to explain a number of anomalous low dose effects involving split or protracted doses. In addition, and in support of the existence of a critical phase, the very earliest reearch shows that dividing cells are much more susceptible to radiation than cells in G0 or quiescent phase.

Since 1945 there have existed on earth a number of novel beta emitters which have sequential decay pathways. Examples of such isotopes are the series

  • Strontium-90 – Yttrium-90
  • Tellurium-132 – Iodine-132

The Second Event theory argues that when such isotopes are incorporated and immobilised in body tissue their initial decay is capable of initiating cell cycle repair/replication sequences, during which the second decay damages the repair at some critical point. The repair sequence is irreversible, and sub-lethal damage sustained during the sequence will be passed on to one or both daughter cells and to their progeny.

At natural background levels of radiation (NBR) cells receive on average one hit per cell per year. Calculations using simple probability theory show that the chances of NBR intercepting the critical window in a replicating cell are very low, but that dose for dose, internal radiation from incorporated sequential emitters is thousands of times more likely to cause the two event hazard.(Link)

To get back to the banana, and the radioactive Potassium it contains. Is Potassium-40, the radioactive type of potassium found in bananas, likely to cause such a problem? As explained on the LLRC website, Potassium-40 only decays once, in other words, our cells have a perfect mechanism to cope with Potassium-40:

ECRR’s biophysical hazard factors address physical aspects. Thus external exposures such as Xrays carry a hazard weighting if they are repeated within 24 hours. This is to compensate for the possibility of intercepting the cell repair cycle. Sequential emitters like Strontium-90 and Tellurium-132 when inside the body carry weightings of between 20 – 50 depending on the number and spacing of their decays. By contrast the natural isotope Potassium-40 only decays once and therefore has a weighting of 1. Internal insoluble particles like Plutonium and
Uranium Oxide have hazard weightings between 20 and 1000, depending on activity and particle size.(Link)

Hence the radioactive Potassium found in our body does not pose a major risk. This is very important to remember because we will come back to this issue multiple times.

Lie #2: Coal plants emit more radioactivity than Nuclear power plants.

Example of the lie:

Over the past few decades, however, a series of studies has called these stereotypes into question. Among the surprising conclusions: the waste produced by coal plants is actually more radioactive than that generated by their nuclear counterparts. In fact, the fly ash emitted by a power plant—a by-product from burning coal for electricity—carries into the surrounding environment 100 times more radiation than a nuclear power plant producing the same amount of energy. * [See Editor’s Note at end of page 2] (Link)

This of course ignores a whole bunch of issues. It ignores the fact that during the mining of uranium, radiation is released into the environment as well. Another article that makes the same claim is a little fairer when it gives us the number of the whole process:

For comparison, according to NCRP Reports No. 92 and No. 95, population exposure from operation of 1000-MWe nuclear and coal-fired power plants amounts to 490 person-rem/year for coal plants and 4.8 person-rem/year for nuclear plants. Thus, the population effective dose equivalent from coal plants is 100 times that from nuclear plants. For the complete nuclear fuel cycle, from mining to reactor operation to waste disposal, the radiation dose is cited as 136 person-rem/year; the equivalent dose for coal use, from mining to power plant operation to waste disposal, is not listed in this report and is probably unknown.(link)

There a bit of a difference between 136 rem per year and 4.8 rem per year. But even that pales in comparison to the “Editor’s note” at the end of page 2.

In response to some concerns raised by readers, a change has been made to this story. The sentence marked with an asterisk was changed from “In fact, fly ash—a by-product from burning coal for power—and other coal waste contains up to 100 times more radiation than nuclear waste” to “In fact, the fly ash emitted by a power plant—a by-product from burning coal for electricity—carries into the surrounding environment 100 times more radiation than a nuclear power plant producing the same amount of energy.” Our source for this statistic is Dana Christensen, an associate lab director for energy and engineering at Oak Ridge National Laboratory as well as 1978 paper in Science authored by J.P. McBride and colleagues, also of ORNL.

As a general clarification, ounce for ounce, coal ash released from a power plant delivers more radiation than nuclear waste shielded via water or dry cask storage.

This is where the cat comes out of the bag. They’re comparing coal ash released from a power plant with nuclear waste that is properly being shielded. This is of course comparing apples and oranges. First of all nuclear waste isn’t properly shielded. Nuclear waste gets into the environment all the time.

For example, The Herald reported recently:

A nuclear power station has been sent a final warning letter after radioactive waste leaked into the sea.

Around 2600 litres of low-level waste was discharged from Hunterston B into the Firth of Clyde because of a problem with a valve. The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) said the leak did not cause an environmental issue, but it issued the Ayrshire power station with a final warning letter because procedures were not followed.(Link)

In other words, the claim that nuclear waste is less radioactive than coal waste assumes that the waste is properly stored behind water which absorbs the radiation, whereas in reality, the nuclear waste often is released into our environment, where it will enter the food chain, our atmosphere, and eventually settle into our bodies. This means that the article is dealing with a hypothetical situation that will never occur in reality. The author is very much aware of this I am convinced.

However, 95% of people will simply see the headline and perhaps read the first few paragraphs of his article before moving on and will never question it. They will just remember “coal plants are 100 times more radioactive than nuclear power plants”. They won’t question the facts and assumptions made to arrive at this conclusion and make up their minds on the basis of a cheap one-liner.

Second, radioactive nuclear waste is inherently more dangerous than the natural isotopes we get from coal. I have brought this argument up earlier, and it is true for this case as well. For example, we have about three times the plutonium waste than was earlier estimated in the United States alone. (Link) Plutonium is a second event emitter. The waste created by nuclear power plants is chemically toxic as well. The artificial isotopes created by nuclear power plants are not comparable to the isotopes in coal emissions. All of this increases the complexity of comparing different types radioactive material.

Then there is the fact that when nuclear power plants blow up, they release far more nuclear waste than coal plants have in all of recorded history. In fact, the Chernobyl accident is estimated to have released 25–50 million curies (1–2 exabecquerels) (IAEA estimations), whereas the collective radioactivity resulting from all coal burning worldwide between 1937 and 2040 is estimated to be 2,700,000 curies or 0.101 EBq). In other words the Chernobyl accident alone released ten times as much radiation as all coal burning worldwide between 1937 and 2040 did. The disaster currently unfolding in Japan shows us that meltdowns are still possible. However, it must again be mentioned that the artificial isotopes released in the Chernobyl disaster are hard to compare to the natural radioactive isotopes in our environment, because some of them are Second event emitters.

Then, there has to be a final point made. Nobody ever said that coal plants are safe either. The argument made here is comparable to the argument that “it is safe to smoke cigarettes, because injecting heroin is 100 times as lethal as smoking a cigarette”. Even coal plants cause deaths and birth defects. China’s main coal producing province has the highest birth defect rate in the entire country for example.(Link) Dirty coal ought to be rejected in the same manner that nuclear power should be.

However, the overwhelming evidence points towards coal plants still being nowhere near the danger that is posed by nuclear power plants, because all coal plants on the planet still released less than 10 times the amount of radiation released during the Chernobyl disaster.

Lie #3: Low levels of radiation are actually good for you, because they trigger a protective response in your body.

Example of the lie:

Many things that are toxic at high concentrations are beneficial at low concentrations. Radiation may be one of those things, Google “radiation hormesis” for the details. Radiation hormesis was considered a crackpot theory 10 years ago but there is a growing body of scientific evidence supporting it.

If radiation hormesis is valid the Chernobyl accident may actually extend more lives than it shortens. I believe that within ten years regulatory bodies will take a neutral position in which the LNT assumption is cutoff at levels where hormesis is detected.(Link)

This is a mistake that is reached because there is a non-linear dose response relationship. It works as following (in very simple terms): No radiation means no deaths. A little radiation means a lot of deaths. Some radiation means some deaths. A lot of radiation means a lot of deaths.

What the proponents of this idea do is compare exposure to a little radiation to exposure to some radiation. Because they see a decrease in deaths, they assume it means that raising the radiation exposure for everyone on the planet would be a good thing.

An example can be seen in the number of leukemia deaths when looking at the amount of radiation the public is exposed to.(link)

What we see is that an increase in exposure leads to an increase in leukemia deaths. However, when the dose becomes high enough, there is a decline again. This is what is misinterpreted as being a hormesis effect. The explanation is simple. As we move to the right, the fast-dividing cells are mutated, which leads to leukemia. However, as we move further to the right, the fast-mutating cells die due to the increasing radiation dose, because cells vulnerable to mutation are also vulnerable to die due to the radiation. This means that the cells that would cause the leukemia don’t cause leukemia because they die due to the radiation. As the dose increases further however, the damage because so severe that the organism dies nonetheless.

This is also what was seen in the children exposed in the Chernobyl disaster.(link) A low dose meant no leukemia, a moderate dose meant a high risk of leukemia, and a high dose meant a low risk of leukemia:

I hope this clarifies how people come to the erroneous conclusion that a small amount of radiation is good for you. Because varying levels of radiation have varying results, it’s very easy to come to the wrong conclusion, namely, that radiation from power plants is not a health threat at all. For example, if you are studying the effects of radiation on animals and your control cases happen to be exposed naturally to a level of 0.1mSv, and your exposed cases are exposed to a level of 0.5 mSv, what would you notice? A moderate decline in leukemia. There might be other sorts of health effects arising, but you would certainly notice a decline in leukemia.

This principle is well known. This is why radioactive iodine when released into the environment will cause thyroid cancer in people and animals, but why radioactive iodine can also be used to treat thyroid cancer, because it is absorbed by the thyroid where it will proceed to kill the cancerous cells. Of course this will mean that other people will be exposed to the radioactive iodine used to treat the thyroid cancer patient, and possibly develop thyroid cancer as a result of that, but the radioactive iodine may nonetheless save the thyroid cancer patient, as least, for the time being.

Another issue that needs to be mentioned is that low dose studies in humans tend to find an increased cancer risk.(link) With this issue behind us, we can move on to…

Lie #4: Nobody ever died due to nuclear power, except in the Chernobyl accident.

An example of the lie:

“No member of the American public has ever been killed by commercial nuclear power — a record unmatched by other fuels,” wrote Alexander, a Tennessee Republican, along with Theodore Rockwell, a fellow of the American Nuclear Society and a vice president of Radiation, Science and Health Inc.

Considering the history of incidents like Three Mile Island and the deadly Chernobyl disaster in the Ukraine, we decided to take a closer look at the history of commercial nuclear power plants, and see if, in fact, no one has ever been killed by commercial nuclear power in the United States.

In order to help narrow our search, we decided not to count a death from a workplace hazard, for example slipping and falling. We’re specifically looking at the workers in plants who are killed from the process of creating nuclear power.

Alexander’s staff told us the senator got his facts from the American Nuclear Society Web site, which states in a “Myths and Facts” section that “No member of the public has ever been injured or killed in the entire 50-year history of commercial nuclear power in the U.S.”

We confirmed that with David Decker, congressional analyst for the government’s Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the federal agency in charge of nuclear plants.

“I believe that the senator’s statement was that there have been no deaths due to nuclear-related accidents at commercial nuclear power plants. From our perspective, this would be true,” Decker said. (Link)

Another example of the lie:

Apart from Chernobyl, no nuclear workers or members of the public have ever died as a result of exposure to radiation due to a commercial nuclear reactor incident. Most of the serious radiological injuries and deaths that occur each year (2-4 deaths and many more exposures above regulatory limits) are the result of large uncontrolled radiation sources, such as abandoned medical or industrial equipment. (There have also been a number of accidents in experimental reactors and in one military plutonium-producing pile – at Windscale, UK, in 1957, but none of these resulted in loss of life outside the actual plant, or long-term environmental contamination.)(Link)

This is simply not true. People who live closer to a nuclear power plant have a higher risk of leukemia. From GlobalResearch:

Leukemia death rates in U.S. children near nuclear reactors rose sharply (vs. the national trend) in the past two decades, according to a recent study. The greatest mortality increases occurred near the oldest nuclear plants, while declines were observed near plants that closed permanently in the 1980s and 1990s. The study was published in the most recent issue of the European Journal of Cancer Care.(Link)

Seventeen studies done on leukemia rates near nuclear reactors have found an increase in leukemia rates:

The Mangano/Sherman report follows a 2007 meta-analysis also published in the European Journal of Cancer Care by researchers from the Medical University of South Carolina. That report reviewed 17 medical journal articles on child leukemia rates near reactors, and found that all 17 detected elevated rates.(Link)

Infant mortality rates near nuclear power plants become higher when they are opened, and remain elevated:

In the United States, utility companies have recently begun ordering new nuclear power reactors, the first such orders in the country since 1978. One potential site would be the Grand Gulf plant near Port Gibson, Mississippi. In 1983-1984, the first two years in which the existing Grand Gulf reactor operated, significant increases were observed in local rates of infant deaths (+35.3%) and fetal deaths (+57.8%). Local infant mortality remained elevated for the next two decades. These changes match those experienced in the same five local counties during atomic bomb testing in the 1950s and 1960s. This report examines potential reasons why an indigent, largely African American community may be at higher risk than other populations from exposure to an environmental toxin such as radiation. It also considers potential health risks posed by new reactors at Grand Gulf.(Link)

Infant mortality rates decline when nuclear plants close in areas in the vicinity of the nuclear power plants when the power plants close, however, they do not decline in areas outside of the vicinity of nuclear power plants. Furthermore, the decline in birth defects was especially strong:

Subsequent to 1987, 8 U.S. nuclear plants located at least 113 km from other reactors ceased operations. Strontium-90 levels in local milk declined sharply after closings, as did deaths among infants who had lived downwind and within 64 km of each plant. These reductions occurred during the first 2 yr that followed closing of the plants, were sustained for at least 6 yr, and were especially pronounced for birth defects. Trends in infant deaths in proximate areas not downwind, and more than 64 km from the closed plants, were not different from the national patterns. In proximate areas for which data were available, cancer incidence in children younger than 5 yr of age fell significantly after the shutdowns. Changes in health following nuclear reactor closings may help elucidate the relationship between low-dose radiation exposure and disease.(Link)

A significant childhood cancer cluster was found near a nuclear plant in Germany too:

Between February 1990 and December 1995, professionals diagnosed six cases of childhood leukemia among residents of the small rural community of Elbmarsch in northern Germany. Five of these cases were diagnosed in only a 16-mo period between February 1990 and May 1991. All cases lived in close proximity (i.e., 500-4,500 m) to Germany’s largest capacity nuclear boiling-water reactor. We calculated standardized incidence ratios and exact 95% confidence intervals for a 5-km-radius circular area around the plant. The standardized incidence ratio for the time period 1990-1995 was 460 (95% confidence interval: 210, 1,030). The analysis was restricted further to the years 1990 and 1991, and the standardized incidence ratio increased to 1,180 (95% confidence interval: 490, 2,830). Presently, this cluster of childhood leukemia cases cannot be explained in terms of established and putative risk factors–including radiation from medical sources–for childhood leukemia.(Link)

In other words, we can establish that people living near nuclear power plants have an increased risk of having children that will die due to leukemia or birth defects. Of course something has to happen to the nuclear waste as well. Unfortunately, people living near the nuclear waste reprocessing plants have an increased risk of Leukemia too:

The observed number of cases of leukaemia in the study region as a whole was consistent with the expected value (SIR=1.03; 95%CI: 0.73, 1.41). No cases were observed on Alderney. The SIR in the Beaumont-Hague electoral ward was 2.17 (95%CI: 0.71, 5.07). The highest SIR was observed in the 5 to 9 years age group (SIR=6.38; 95%CI: 1.32, 18.65). This consists in acute lymphoblastic leukaemia cases.This study indicates an increased incidence of leukaemia in the area situated at less than 10 km from the plant. Monitoring and further investigations should be targeted at acute lymphoblastic leukaemia occurring during the childhood incidence peak (before 10 years) in children living near the La Hague site and may be other nuclear reprocessing plants.(Link)

 

People living near nuclear waste dumps have a higher risk of cancer:

It emerged on Thursday that the number of leukaemia cases in the area surrounding the Asse dump had risen. Between 2002 and 2009, there were 18 cases of leukaemia – cancer of the blood or bone marrow – according to figures confirmed by Wolfenbüttel district authorities.

Men in the area have twice the rate of leukaemia cases as the rest of Germany. Among women, there was a tripling of the rate of thyroid cancer between 2002 and 2009.(Link)

In the general area of Three Mile Island, an increase in infant mortality happened after the disaster there.(Link) People living near the uranium mines suffer from an increase in cancer and birth defects as well.(Link)

Lie #5: Nuclear energy is a cost efficient method of energy generation

In reality, the Nuclear industry keeps lying to us about the price of nuclear energy. For example, the Congressional Budget Office reported in May 2008 that the actual costs of building 75 of the existing nuclear power plants in the U.S. exceeded industry quoted estimated by more than 300 percent.(link)

After Fifty years, nuclear energy is still dependent on government subsidies. More than 30 subsidies have supported every stage of the nuclear fuel cycle, from uranium mining to long-term waste storage. Added together, these subsidies often have exceeded the average market price of the power produced.(link)

The only reason such a thing as nuclear energy exists is because the governments of the world keep it alive through subsidies.
Lie #6: An event like happened in Chernobyl can never happen again.

Examples of the lie:

In a US reactor a coolant loss automatically shuts down the reactor’s chain reaction and automatically limits the consequences of the accident. There is no graphite or other combustible material in the reactor, so there is nothing to catch fire. The severe consequences of Chernobyl were mainly a result of the smoke distributing the radioactive material. This cannot happen without smoke, and with nothing to burn there cannot be smoke.(Link)

BrianDunning, author of a science podcast Skeptoid, explains: “Fukushima nuclear plant does NOT have a combustible graphite core like Chernobyl. A total meltdown should flow into underground containment.(Link)

Chernobyl had a graphite moderated core that caught fire spreading radioactivity as a result of the fire. Fukushima has a water moderated and cooled core. There would be no fire. The core might be damaged, but even if water levels within the vessel fell below the top of active fuel, significant steam cooling would still occur.(Link)

The fact of the matter is, that this is just not true. It can still happen. The mechanism may differ, but the amount of radioactive pollution released can still be similar.

First of all the story that the graphite was responsible for the spread of the radiation is unsubstantiated. To continue on with nuclear power something had to take the fall and it seems it was decided by some to blame the graphite in the core that exists as a neutron moderator.

The fact of the matter however is that the Graphite in Chernobyl does not appear to have been responsible for the disaster at all. From the General Atomics website:

It is often incorrectly assumed that the combustion behavior of graphite is similar to that of charcoal and coal. Numerous tests and calculations have shown that it is virtually impossible to burn high-purity, nuclear-grade graphites. Graphite has been heated to white-hot temperatures (~1650°C) without incurring ignition or self-sustained combustion. After removing the heat source, the graphite cooled to room temperature. Unlike nuclear-grade graphite, charcoal and coal burn at rapid rates because:

  • They contain high levels of impurities that catalyze the reaction.
  • They are very porous, which provides a large internal surface area, resulting in more homogeneous oxidation.
  • They generate volatile gases (e.g. methane), which react exothermically to increase temperatures.
  • They form a porous ash, which allows oxygen to pass through, but reduces heat losses by conduction and radiation.
  • They have lower thermal conductivity and specific heat than graphite.

In fact, because graphite is so resistant to oxidation, it has been identified as a fire extinguishing material for highly reactive metals.

The oxidation resistance and heat capacity of graphite serves to mitigate, not exacerbate, the radiological consequences of a hypothetical severe accident that allowed air into the reactor vessel. Similar conclusions were reached after detailed assessments of the Chernobyl event; graphite played little or no role in the progression or consequences of the accident. The red glow observed during the Chernobyl accident was the expected color of luminescence for graphite at 700°C and not a large-scale graphite fire, as some have incorrectly assumed.(Source)

And from world-nuclear:

There are also several referrals to a graphite fire occurring during the October 1957 accident at Windscale Pile No. 1 in the UK. However, images obtained from inside the Pile several decades after the accident showed that the graphite was relatively undamaged.(Source)

Thus we can so far establish the following. Nuclear propagandists need an excuse to be able to claim that Chernobyl could never happen again in modern reactors. For this they need a design element of the Chernobyl reactor to take the blame, and they choose the neutron moderator used in the reactor, graphite. They claim that the supposed graphite fires spread the radiation. Evidence points to this not being the case.

But let us not stop here. Let us look at some expert opinions. An Israeli professor has the following to say about the disaster at the light water reactor in Japan:

Hebrew University Professor Menachem Luria, an expert on air quality and poisoning, told Channel 2 on Saturday: “This is very worrying. There is no doubt that we have not seen anything like this in years, perhaps ever since nuclear experiments were conducted in the atmosphere in the 1950s. From what we can gather, this disaster is even more dangerous than Chernobyl, both from the standpoint of the population’s exposure to radioactive material and the spread of radioactive contamination in the area.”

Luria continued: “Once there is an uncontrollable heating up, the nuclear fuel undergoes a metamorphosis into the gaseous phase. Since we are talking about metals and solid items, they turn into particles that are capable of traveling great distances. They can wander thousands of kilometers.”

If these gases are indeed emitted into the atmosphere in large quantities, the wind regime could carry them all the way to China, South Korea, and eastern Russia, or in the other direction, toward Hawaii and the west coast of the United States. The likelihood of this happening, though, is not high.(link)

A theoretical physicist has the following to say about the Fukushima disaster currently unfolding:

A theoretical physicist today calls the Japan reactor explosion a “Chernobyl in the making.”

Speaking to ABC News, theoretical physicist Michio Kaku said, “This could be a Chernobyl in the making. We are now going into uncharted territory, we are thinking the unthinkable.”

These inflamatory statements came after hydrogen released from the super-hot nuclear rods ignited, creating an explosion at the plant that was disabled after the 8.9 earthquake and tsunami.(Link)

Further evidence by US experts indicates that Chernobyl scale events are still possible. In testimony before Congress in 1986, NRC Commissioner James Asselstine stated the following:

While we hope that their occurrence is unlikely, there are accident sequences for U.S. plants that can lead to rupture or bypassing of containment in U.S. reactors which would result in the off-site release of fission products comparable or worse than the releases estimated by the NRC staff to have taken place during the Chernobyl accident.(Link)

A report mandated by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in 1982 concluded that events can still happen at all US nuclear power plants that will lead to thousands of direct deaths in the first year and thousand of cancer deaths later. The authors also concluded that changing some of the criteria for data gathering would actually increase the number of early fatalities by a factor of 3 to 4 depending upon circumstances.(Link) Anyone who tries to convince you that Chernobyl was an incident that could never be repeated is lying to you.

Lie #7: At most a few thousand people died from the Chernobyl disaster.

Examples of the lie:

Kucik, who studies the effect of radiation on cardiovascular disease, says though the Chernobyl explosion was devastating, there have been surprisingly few long-term health effects.

“There did not seem to be a significant increase in birth defects and, so far, the incidence of cancer is not significantly elevated,” he says. “However, there has been an increased incidence of cardiovascular disease.”

Research over the years has shown that prolonged exposure to radiation, including that from cancer treatment, excessive occupational exposure and atomic bombs, is associated with increased risk of developing plaque in the arteries, Kucik says. This likely explains the incidence of heart disease in those in the Chernobyl fallout zone.(link)

The nuclear disaster at Chernobyl almost 20 years ago has so far claimed fewer than 50 lives, according to a study by the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN Development Programme and the World Health Organisation.

But about 4,000 people could eventually die from exposure to radiation released when a reactor caught fire in the Ukrainian forest and showered Europe with a plume of radioactive particles.

Scientists have released a three-volume, 600-page report on the accident and the death, disease and economic ruin that became its legacy in Ukraine, Belarus and Russia. “This was a very serious accident with major health consequences, especially for thousands of workers exposed in the early days, who received very high radiation doses, and for thousands more stricken with thyroid cancer,” said Burton Bennett, chairman of the Chernobyl Forum, which released the study.

“By and large, however, we have not found profound negative health impacts to the rest of the population in surrounding areas, nor widespread contamination.”(Link)

In reality, the increase in cancer, birth defects, cardiovascular disease, infertility and other ailments has been horrific. The genetic integrity of the people of Belarus and Ukraine has forever been destroyed and will never be recovered. A better estimate of the effects is given below:

* Thyroid Cancer: Thyroid cancer in children has increased since the disaster, particularly in the Gomel region of Belarus. The World Health Organization predicts that, in this region, 50,000 children will develop the disease during their lifetime. Throughout Belarus, the incidence of this rare disease in 1990 was 30 times higher than in the years before the accident. (3)
• Leukemia: In the Gomel region of Belarus, incidence of leukemia has increased 50% in children and adults. (4)
• Other Diseases in Children: In addition to thyroid cancer and leukemia, UNICEF reports that between 1990 and 1994, nervous system disorders increased by 43%; cardiovascular diseases by 43%; bone and muscle disorders by 62%; and diabetes by 28%. UNICEF cautioned that it is difficult to prove whether these increases were caused by radiation or another unknown factor.
• Other Cancers: Swiss Medical Weekly recently published findings showing a 40% increase in all kinds of cancers in Belarus between 1990 and 2000. (5) Some tumor specialists fear that a variety of new cancers may emerge 20-30 years after the disaster. (6) Cases of breast cancer doubled between 1988 and 1999. (7)
• Birth Defects: Maternal exposure to radiation can cause severe organ and brain damage in an unborn child. Five years after the disaster, the Ukrainian Ministry of Health reported three times the normal rate of deformities and developmental abnormalities in newborn children, as well as in increased number of miscarriages, premature births, and stillbirths. (4)
• Genetic Mutations: Hereditary defects in Belarusian newborns increased in the
years after the disaster. (8) Scientists have observed that congenital and hereditary
defects have passed on to the next generation, as young people exposed to radiation grow up and have their own children. (9)
• Cardiac Abnormalities: Heart disease in Belarus has quadrupled since the accident, caused by the accumulation of radioactive caesium in the cardiac muscle. (10) Doctors report a high incidence of multiple defects of the heart – a condition coined “Chernobyl Heart.”(Link)

It’s not easy to put a number on what happened to Belarus and I’m not going to try to. I’ll leave it at this for now.

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