December 2, 2011
By Helen Caldicott
International Herald Tribune
The nuclear power industry has been resurrected over the past decade by a lobbying campaign that has left many people believing it to be a clean, green, emission-free alternative to fossil fuels. These beliefs pose an extraordinary threat to global public health and encourage a major financial drain on national economies and taxpayers. The commitment to nuclear power as an environmentally safe energy source has also stifled the mass development of alternative technologies that are far cheaper, safer and almost emission free — the future for global energy.
When the Fukushima Daiichi reactors suffered meltdowns in March, literally in the backyard of an unsuspecting public, the stark reality that the risks of nuclear power far outweigh any benefits should have become clear to the world. As the old quip states, “Nuclear power is one hell of a way to boil water.”
Instead, the nuclear industry has used the disaster to increase its already extensive lobbying efforts. A few nations vowed to phase out nuclear energy after the disaster. But many others have remained steadfast in their commitment. That has left millions of innocent people unaware that they — all of us — may face a medical catastrophe beyond all proportions in the wake of Fukushima and through the continued widespread use of nuclear energy.
The world was warned of the dangers of nuclear accidents 25 years ago, when Chernobyl exploded and lofted radioactive poisons into the atmosphere. Those poisons “rained out,” creating hot spots over the Northern Hemisphere. Research by scientists in Eastern Europe, collected and published by the New York Academy of Sciences, estimates that 40 percent of the European land mass is now contaminated with cesium 137 and other radioactive poisons that will concentrate in food for hundreds to thousands of years. Wide areas of Asia — from Turkey to China — the United Arab Emirates, North Africa and North America are also contaminated. Nearly 200 million people remain exposed.
That research estimated that by now close to 1 million people have died of causes linked to the Chernobyl disaster. They perished from cancers, congenital deformities, immune deficiencies, infections, cardiovascular diseases, endocrine abnormalities and radiation-induced factors that increased infant mortality. Studies in Belarus found that in 2000, 14 years after the Chernobyl disaster, fewer than 20 percent of children were considered “practically healthy,” compared to 90 percent before Chernobyl. Now, Fukushima has been called the second-worst nuclear disaster after Chernobyl. Much is still uncertain about the long-term consequences. Fukushima may well be on par with or even far exceed Chernobyl in terms of the effects on public health, as new information becomes available. The crisis is ongoing; the plant remains unstable and radiation emissions continue into the air and water.