How the New York Times has for decades downplayed—indeed suppressed—the dangers of radioactivity is detailed in an exhaustive study by a professor of journalism at the University of Hawaii.
Before becoming a teacher, Beverly Ann Deepe Keever was a reporter for Newsweek, the New York Herald Tribune and the Christian Science Monitor whose work included covering the Vietnam War. A Ph.D. in the university’s School of Communications, she begins her just-published News Zero: The New York Times and The Bomb (Common Courage Press), with the birth of the nuclear age and finds that distortions and suppression of nuclear information by the Times started then.
“From the dawn of the atomic-bomb age, [William L.] Laurence and The Times almost single-handedly shaped the news of this epoch and helped birth the acceptance of the most destructive force ever created,” writes Keever.
Laurence, the science reporter for the Times, was the granddaddy of embedded reporters—plus. He was hired by the Manhattan Project, the World War II crash program to build an atomic bomb and, while working for the government, Keever relates, remained on the Times payroll his Times weekly salary going to his wife while he also was paid by the government.
The arrangement was made by the Manhattan Project’s head, General Leslie Groves, and Times publisher Arthur Hays Sulzberger and managing editor Edwin James. “To sell the bomb, the U.S. government needed the Times…and the Times willingly obliged.” It was “hardly the nation’s biggest newspaper then” but its readers were influential. “Government officials handpicked the Times because of the quality of its readers.”
At the Manhattan Project, Laurence participated in “the government’s cover-up of the super-secret Trinity shot.” Held a month before the U.S. dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, in the Trinity test a nuclear device was exploded for the first time.
There was concern about public inquiry over the explosion that lit up the New Mexico night sky so Laurence prepared press releases to “disguise the detonation and resulting radiation.” The “fake news” distributed as a “cover story” was a release Laurence wrote claiming there had been a “jumbo detonation of an ammunition magazine filled with high explosives at the 2000-square mile Alamogordo Air Base.”
He didn’t stop with this deception. After the bombs fell on Japan, the Times ran and then “on behalf of the government” distributed free “to the press nationwide” a 10-part series Laurence readied while at the Manhattan Project glorifying the making of the atomic bombs and all but ignoring the dangers of radioactivity.
Laurence’s avid pro-nuclear writings continued when he returned to the Times and, Keever finds, this became an institutional stance. The Times “became little more than a propaganda outlet for the U.S. government in its drive to cover up the dangers of immediate radiation and future radioactivity emanating from the use and testing of nuclear weapons.”
It “tolerated or aided the U.S. government’s Cold War cover-up that resulted in minimizing or denying the health and environmental effects arising from the use in Japan and later testing of the most destructive weaponry in U.S. history in Pacific Islands once called paradise….The Times aided the U.S. government in keeping in the dark thousands of U.S. servicemen, production workers and miners, even civil defense officials, Pacific Islanders and others worldwide about the dangers of radiation.”
Other Times writers who participated in the pro-nuclear spin included its military editor, Hanson Baldwin. “In editorials and articles, the Times clearly favored Operation Crossroads,” a major nuclear test in the Pacific, and when President Truman “postponed the first scheduled dates for the test, Baldwin wrote that ‘well-meaning but muddled persons, in and out of Congress, are proposing the permanent cancellation of the tests.’”
The atomic dysfunction of what became the paper of record of the U.S. continued unceasingly. The nuclear testing-caused tragedy “from 1947 to 1991 unfolding in the faraway Marshall Islands,” for instance, was “largely untold by the Times.”
“A huge outcry followed the revelation of a breach of reporting ethics by a single individual when the Times in mid-2003 exposed the plagiarism and fraud committed,” by Jayson Blair, notes Keever, “yet the issues raised” by her research “are far more pervasive and more importantly condoned and institutionalized as part of media management policies and practices. This investigation serves as a wake-up call for journalists of today and tomorrow.”
Karl Grossman is author of Cover Up: What You Are Not Supposed To Know About Nuclear Power, host of TV programs on nuclear technology for EnviroVideo and professor of journalism at SUNY/College at Old Westbury.
CNN’s Frank Buckley (9/21/03) could hardly contain himself. “Dr. Johnson, we admire the heck out of you!” Buckley exclaimed on-air as he finished interviewing Dr. Torrance Johnson, project scientist for NASA’s Galileo space probe mission, minutes after it plunged into the atmosphere of Jupiter after an eight-year voyage through the solar system.
Buckley’s excitement was characteristic of the media treatment of Galileo’s finale: a chorus of cheerleading.
“The Battered but Undefeatable Space Explorer,” was the front-page headline of the Christian Science Monitor (9/23/03). “Goodbye to Gallant Galileo,” editorialized the New York Times (9/24/03). Alexandra Witze of the Knight Ridder/Tribune news service (9/19/03) wrote, “If any spacecraft deserved a dignified retirement, Galileo is it.”
A Nexis survey found no reporting by any media about the dangers presented by the 49.25 pounds of radioactive plutonium-238 that fueled Galileo’s nuclear electric system (manufactured by General Electric, half-owner of MSNBC). Indeed, almost no account made any mention of plutonium at all. An Associated Press dispatch (9/21/03) perfunctorily related that the space probe’s electronic instruments were “powered” by plutonium.
There was not a word in or on any media found in Nexis about the litigation and demonstrations against Galileo, sparked by concern that the highly toxic plutonium could be released in an accident on launch or during the two Earth “flybys” NASA had Galileo perform. Although NASA had earlier used other planets for flybys–low, fast passes over a planet to increase a space probe’s velocity–NASA in 1990 had Galileo whip by the Earth 600 miles overhead, and in 1992 buzz the Earth 185 miles high. This marked the first time NASA had used Earth as a flyby target for a space probe–with or without nuclear material on board.
The Earth flybys were arranged because Galileo was originally to have been launched on a space shuttle for a trip to Jupiter in 1986, preceded by a shuttle lofting another plutonium-fueled probe, Ulysses, that was to do a survey of the sun. Then came the shuttle Challenger disaster on January 28, 1986; indeed, the next mission of the ill-fated Challenger was to have lofted Ulysses with its 24.2 pounds of plutonium fuel.
In the wake of the Challenger tragedy, astronauts balked at going up on a shuttle that carried in its cargo bay the liquid-fueled rocket that was to take Galileo directly from Earth to Jupiter. A less volatile–and also less powerful–solid-fueled rocket was substituted, and the Earth flybys were arranged-”slingshot” maneuvers that permitted Galileo to reach Jupiter with a weaker propulsion.
It was quite a gamble: NASA documents acknowledged that only after the second flyby and “escape of the spacecraft from the Earth’s gravitational pull” did the plutonium on Galileo “no longer present a potential risk to the Earth’s population.” If Galileo dipped into the 75-mile-high atmosphere during a flyby, it would have disintegrated–it had no heat shield–and the plutonium would vaporize as dust falling to Earth, an enormous lung cancer threat.
But not only was this aspect of the Galileo mission totally ignored by media as the Galileo mission concluded, but in reporting Galileo’s finale, media swallowed NASA’s line about directing Galileo into Jupiter’s atmosphere.
NASA’s line was that it decided to send Galileo into Jupiter to protect Europa, a moon of Jupiter with features scientists say are similar to those of an early Earth. CNN’s Buckley said to Galileo scientist Johnson (9/21/03): “You didn’t want to potentially contaminate Europa? Is that right?”
“Galileo to Exit in Blaze of Glory, Protecting Potential Life on Jupiter Moon,” was the headline in Newsday (9/20/03), with the story, by Bryn Nelson, telling how “NASA engineers chose the crash course with Jupiter . . . negating even the slightest chance that [Europa] could be contaminated.”
In fact, from the start the plan was to send Galileo into Jupiter. Moreover, in another aspect of the story unreported by media in September, Galileo was the first space probe launched by NASA that was not sterilized before launch. Up until that point, the U.S. adhered to the Outer Space Treaty, which it helped initiate, and its provision that “parties to the treaty shall pursue studies of outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, and conduct exploration of them so as to avoid their harmful contamination.” But NASA decided not to sterilize Galileo to save money.
It would only have taken some Internet checking of science publications a few years back to retrieve an article such as “The Dirty Jupiter Space Probe” by Linda Strand in Science Digest (8/92). “This is the first time that a U.S. spacecraft has been sent into an environment that is potentially habitable for terrestrial microorganisms without being sterilized. And some scientists are seriously concerned about contamination,” Strand wrote. She observed that on Galileo, “beneath its sparkling exterior are billions and billions of bacteria. And in 1998 [the original date for Galileo to be sent into Jupiter] these biological agents will be put to the ultimate test as they dive with the probe headlong into the Jovian atmosphere.” She reported, “For all its impressive airs, the Galileo probe is, deep in its heart, a garbage can.”
Among the scientists particularly concerned about the planned dive of the unsterilized Galileo into the Jovian atmosphere was astronomer Carl Sagan, founder and first president of the Planetary Society. In a paper entitled “Particles, Environments and Possible Ecologies in the Jovian Atmosphere,” he and co-author E.E. Salpeter wrote: “The possible existence of indigenous Jovian organisms is also relevant to the question of sterilization of spacecraft intended for entry into the atmosphere of Jupiter.” Life in “the Jovian clouds” would not parallel life on Earth but, they postulated, there could be organisms that could be impacted by “terrestrial contaminants” on Galileo.
Michael Benson in a lengthy article on Galileo’s end in The New Yorker (9/3/03), although not mentioning that Galileo was the first unsterilized NASA space probe, did report that NASA was sending it into Jupiter because of the microorganism problem–and that “obliteration” in the hot Jupiter atmosphere would solve the problem. Benson wrote: “Obliteration is precisely what NASA intends for the spacecraft.” NASA could have left Galileo “to circle Jupiter after running out of propellant” but was concerned that “it might eventually crash into Europa” and “NASA officials decided that it was necessary to avoid the possibility of seeding Europa with alien life-forms. And so the craft has been programmed to commit suicide, guaranteeing a fiery spectacular end.”
“We chose,” Johnson told CNN’s Buckley, “one of the other options we had, which was to send it into Jupiter, where we had already put an atmospheric entry probe into Jupiter, and things burn up in the atmosphere. So that’s no problem.”
There was no media questioning of whether, in fact, the heat of the Jovian atmosphere would really destroy all the foreign microorganisms.
But an unquestioning stance by media toward U.S. space activities has been the norm since the space program began in the 1950s. Insert nuclear power, a subject on which the U.S. press has historically been soft or even derelict in its reporting, and the situation gets worse.
In the wake of the Challenger accident, William Boot, former editor of the Columbia Journalism Review, wrote an article in CJR headed “NASA and the Spellbound Press” (7-8/86)–which charged that the press bore some of the guilt for the disaster because of its boosterish reporting on the space program. “Dazzled by the space agency’s image of technological brilliance, space reporters spared NASA the thorough scrutiny that might have improved chances of averting tragedy–through hard-hitting investigations drawing Congress’s wandering attention to the issue of shuttle safety,” he wrote.
“U.S. journalists have long had a love affair with the space program,” Boot continued. “In the pre-[Challenger] explosion days, many space reporters appeared to regard themselves as participants, along with NASA, in a great cosmic quest. Transcripts of NASA press conferences reveal that it was not unusual for reporters to use the first person plural. ‘When are we going to launch?’”
“Some new blood” was brought in to report on the space program after the Challenger catastrophe, wrote Boot, indicating that “the days of NASA as a journalist’s sacred cow are presumably gone forever.” He added: “It is sad that it took the deaths of seven astronauts to goad journalists into assuming the thoroughly skeptical role they should have been playing all along.”
In fact, media cheerleading of the space program has never stopped. Boot’s hope of NASA no longer being a “journalist’s sacred cow” never became reality.
New York Times space reporter John Noble Wilford gave a lecture on “Science and the Media” to scientists at Brookhaven National Laboratory in 1990, stressing, “I am a great admirer of science, of scientists.” I was in the audience and asked him about the Boot article and its points that space reporters were too cozy with and failed to challenge NASA. Wilford said: “This is one of the problems in journalism, particularly reporters who cover a specific beat. You get to know people, you get to be friendly with some and not so friendly with others. But you get to know them and you get to respect them, and maybe you trust what they say and maybe you do let your guard down and not ask the tough questions.”
Later, in an interview, Wilford said: “Some of the things that NASA does are so great, so marvelous, so it’s easy to forget to be critical. You go in and watch pictures of the back of Neptune and stand in awe, but then you read about some of the management snafus” and wonder “how did we ever do what we did?”
Wilford’s account of Galileo’s dive into Jupiter–”Many Miles, Many Moons: A Galileo Album” (9/16/03)–began by speaking of how “several hundred engineers and scientists will gather at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., and await the end of the Galileo spacecraft. . . . They freely concede that they will be there at the end as an act of homage.” The words plutonium and nuclear were not used, nor did they appear in Wilford’s Times articles on the Galileo Earth flybys. Writing on the 1992 flyby (12/8/92), he reported that “Galileo’s course was true, with no chance of an errant plunge into Earth’s atmosphere.” His 1995 piece (12/9/95), when Galileo arrived in the Jupiter system after years of problem-plagued operations, was headlined “Jupiter Rendezvous Is Marvel of Perfection.”
The Columbia shuttle tragedy on February 1, 2003, like the Challenger disaster before it, resulted in official revelations of NASA’s dysfunctional ways, its bureaucratic bumbling, scientific hubris and “broken safety culture,” as concluded the report of the Columbia Accident Investigations Board.
“We get it,” NASA administrator Sean O’Keefe immediately told the press upon the issuance of the 248-page report (Washington Post, 8/28/03). And he promised changes including working for better “communications” within NASA and openness of internal criticism. Will it happen? Quite unlikely, especially if media continue to be a lapdog rather than a watchdog for NASA.
Consider how NASA is right now moving to substantially expand its program of using nuclear power in space–to conduct more plutonium-fueled space probe missions like Galileo, and to bring back the scheme of building actual nuclear-propelled spacecraft. And media are paying minimal attention.
Two days after the Columbia disaster, NASA unveiled its broadened space nuclear program–Project Prometheus–to cost $3 billion over five years.
The nuclear dangers represented by Galileo would be multiplied. NASA, in trying to build nuclear-propelled spacecraft, would be rocketing back to the past, bringing back a program of the 1950s and ‘60s on which billions of dollars were spent. That attempt was finally cancelled, largely out of concern about a nuclear spacecraft falling back to Earth–a key problem still present. What if the Columbia shuttle had been nuclear-powered? A broad swath of nuclear debris would have spread over Texas and Louisiana.
Problems with using nuclear power in space are not theoretical. In 1964, a U.S. satellite carrying a SNAP-9A plutonium-fueled power source fell back to Earth, disintegrating and spreading plutonium worldwide. Dr. John Gofman, professor emeritus of medical physics at the University of California at Berkeley, has long linked that accident to an increased level of lung cancer on Earth.
The nuclear industry media–not the general media–have noted a main reason why NASA’s O’Keefe is gung-ho for nuclear power in space. “As a youngster,” related Nuclear Energy Insight (1/03), the publication of the Nuclear Energy Institute trade group, “Sean O’Keefe didn’t have to go far to learn about nuclear technology–his family’s dinner table was enough. There, O’Keefe’s father, a nuclear submariner, regaled his son with descriptions of the complex workings of the sub’s propulsion system. Decades later, those dining room tutorials would pay dividends to O’Keefe” as he moves to expand nuclear power in another dimension–space–and “envisions the development of new propulsion systems for spacecraft powered by nuclear technology.”
Not mentioned, however, in the nuclear industry media–or general media–is another big element behind the new program: the lobbying of corporations like Boeing and Lockheed Martin that produce the nuclear space systems.
After the Challenger disaster, Nobel Prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman, a member of the commission that investigated that disaster, wrote in the commission’s report that NASA officials must “deal in the world of reality.” Very concerned himself about the odds NASA was placing on a nuclear accident on the Galileo mission, he wrote that NASA “exaggerates the reliability of its product to the point of fantasy. . . . For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, for Nature cannot be fooled.”
Nature cannot be fooled, but the U.S. press sure can, and it’s been happily letting itself be fooled when it comes to NASA–then and now.
Karl Grossman, professor of journalism at SUNY/College at Old Westbury, has received the Project Censored Award six times for his reporting on NASA’s nuclear space program. He is the author of The Wrong Stuff: The Space Program’s Nuclear Threat To Our Planet and writer and narrator of a series of Nukes in Space TV documentaries available from EnviroVideo (1-800-ECO-TVGO)
FOUR years after Sept. 11, 2001, the United States Department of Homeland Security is finally facing reality. That’s right, the agency announced last month that it had decided to replace Plum Island Animal Disease Center with a new federal biological and agricultural defense center at a location yet to be determined.
Several local and state politicians are upset. For them the news means a loss of jobs and federal tax dollars for the region. Mayor David Kapell of Greenport has called the loss of the center’s 200 jobs a disaster. Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton and Representative Timothy Bishop, Democrat of Southampton, have protested the announcement, saying that the laboratory should remain in operation, and that any new research center should be on Plum Island.
But Plum Island has a major and unfixable problem: it’s an easy target for terrorists, indeed a sitting duck – and, frankly, Long Island has room for only one big duck on the East End. In the wake of 9/11, the center, housing highly virulent disease agents a mile and a half off Long Island, constitutes a serious risk not just to New York, but also to Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island, which are all within 100 miles of Plum Island.
Why not forget about using Plum Island as a biological laboratory and instead build something that Long Island needs – a wind turbine farm? With no one living on 840-acre Plum Island, the turbines could not be considered eyesores, and it would be far better than having a potential terrorist target in such a vulnerable position.
Homeland Security knows that the outmoded laboratory, which it described as too “costly to maintain,” is a problem. In the press release announcing the news, it highlighted “growing concerns about accidental or intentional introduction of foreign animal diseases into the country.”
A little more than a century ago, the federal government bought Plum Island. Fort Terry, which was built on the island in the late 1890’s, served as an artillery post from which the United States military could attack enemy ships heading west to New York City during the Spanish-American War. The fort’s mission continued through World War I and World War II, and a maze of trenches from which guns once bristled remains on the east side of the island.
After World War II, with bombers in the sky regarded as more likely instruments of a wartime assault than ships in the water, the guns were removed. In the 1950’s, the United States Army set up a laboratory on Plum Island to conduct research into biological warfare. Then in 1954, the Department of Agriculture took over the island and used the facilities to study foreign animal diseases that might accidentally come to America or be used by an enemy aiming to hurt the food supply.
But post-9/11 there are new realities. In the way that terrorists used commercial airliners to attack the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, a new concern is that terrorists would turn the stockpiles of disease agents on Plum Island into weapons against Americans. In a 2003 report, the General Accounting Office, now the Government Accountability Office, pointed out that there is a substantial risk that “an adversary might try to steal pathogens” from Plum Island to use them against people or animals in the United States.
The report noted that there were pathogens on Plum Island lethal to both animals and humans. A camel pox strain being researched at the center, it warned, could be converted into “an agent as threatening as smallpox,” and the Venezuelan equine encephalitis virus being studied could be “developed into a human biowarfare agent.” The report also emphasized that the center, which Homeland Security took over from the Agriculture Department in 2003, “was not designed to be a highly secure facility.”
This is not idle anxiety. In his book “Lab 257: The Disturbing Story of the Government’s Secret Plum Island Germ Laboratory,” which relied heavily on research obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, Michael Christopher Carroll wrote that in a 2002 raid of the Kabul, Afghanistan, residence of Sultan Bashiruddin Mahmood, a nuclear physicist who American officials have identified as an associate of Osama bin Laden, C.I.A. operatives and Army commandos found a “dossier” containing “information on a place in New York called the Plum Island Animal Disease Center.”
And it’s easy to see why terrorists would find Plum Island an easy target. The main laboratory sits along the island’s northern coast. Indeed, the ferries that shuttle passengers between Orient Point and New London, Conn., pass directly in front of the building. From a boat, terrorists armed with shoulder-fired rockets would have a clear shot. Diving a plane into the main lab would be simple. Moreover, terrorists who managed to get on the island would find little resistance. The General Accounting Office report found serious security flaws.
In the post-9/11 era, Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Bishop are wrong to want to continue using Plum Island for bio-terrorism research. The location is just too dangerous. Work involving highly toxic pathogens that requires the highest bio-safety level should be done at a heavily guarded facility inland, perhaps constructed underground.
A far better use of Plum Island would be a wind turbine farm. It would create jobs and provide for Long Island’s future. The impact of Hurricane Katrina has underlined the folly of our nation’s oil dependence. Plum Island, sitting in the Atlantic, constantly being buffeted by ocean winds, could serve as the base for hundreds of wind turbines providing us with large amounts of clean, safe and renewable power.
Karl Grossman is a journalism professor at the State University of New York College at Old Westbury.
I recall as a young journalist four decades ago interviewing a sculptor for a feature story and his telling me how he once contemplated suicide and then, looking at the gun he held in his hand, began to think about the work, the fine craftsmanship, the effort through the years that went into developing devices of death.
His musing interrupted and, fortuitously, ended his suicide attempt.
The E-Bomb: How America’s New Directed Energy Weapons Will Change the Way Future Wars Will Be Fought involves the efforts of recent times to produce killing machines way beyond pistols in their impacts.
Doug Beason is not just the author of the book but “a key architect” during the past twenty-six years of such weaponry. He currently works at the U.S. government’s Los Alamos National Laboratory, the facility that a half-century ago gave us the atomic bomb, and he served under the U.S. president’s science advisor in both the Clinton and first Bush administrations.
A “revolution in military affairs” is before us, writes Dr. Beason, “a revolution in warfare so dramatic, so disruptive, and so profound that it changes the way wars are fought….But this revolution is not built on bombs or bullets” (pp. 4-5). It involves “directed energy…weapons—lasers, high-power microwaves…and particle beams….Directed energy is making world-changing, revolutionary advances from fighting wars to battling terrorism” (p. 9).
“National leaders,” Beason relates, will soon have the ability to instantly deter threats anywhere in the world with infinite precision at the speed of light. The dynamic changes this will make to international relations will reverberate throughout American society. It will transform our way of life. (P. 10).
Now, as an old journalist, I understanding what he is talking about, having done a good deal of research into plans by the United States to arm the heavens using orbiting lasers, hypervelocity guns, and particle beams. In 2001, my book Weapons In Space was published. A major focus of Dr. Beason’s book is space weaponry. His inside account will allow even an average reader to understand the technology of this kind of weaponry.
His work also considers terrestrial conflict; he opens the book with a hypothetical attack on a U.S. embassy. In years past, the Marine guards “only had two options: to shout at the insurgents, pleading with them to stop—or to shoot them” (p. 3).
But directed energy weapons are coming to the rescue.
Suddenly the rioters feel intense heat, as if a gigantic oven had suddenly opened in front of them. Within seconds the pain is unbearable. They cannot think, they cannot reason—they can only react. They turn and flee…from the dipole antenna that directed the…waves from the world’s first nonlethal directed energy weapon, Active Denial.” (P. 3)
Dr. Beason assures us that “Active Denial is being tested today.”
The problem with Dr. Beason’s book is that it is blind to the political and historical realities that follow the introduction of new weapons systems. At his Los Alamos National Laboratory, indeed, there were those who thought fifty years ago that the U.S. would have an exclusive on the atomic bomb. That didn’t last very long.
Every time a new, yet more destructive weapon is developed, others come out with their own versions, and the process goes on and on. Today, after expending billions of dollars (a lot of that money at Los Alamos), the United States has the technology to move into space with directed energy weapons.
For a while, the U.S. might have an advantage, but to think it will be the only nation up there with weaponry is a huge miscalculation. In response, China and Russia—and who knows what country next—will be up there, too.
Moreover, consider if space is armed and there is a shooting war with laser weapons and hypervelocity guns and particle beams (a preferred energy source for space weapons: on-board nuclear power) exchanging fire. There would be so much debris left orbiting at high speed above the planet that humanity would be precluded for millennia from getting up and out and exploring space. As Edgar Mitchell, a former astronaut who walked on the moon, has said, “Future generations will be precluded from using space at at all…Getting out to deep space would be like swimming in a piranha-full river or running through a hail of bullets” (statement at rally, Kennedy Space Center, 1989).
But the weapons designers have been, and are, myopic. The flow of funds to their government laboratories and corporate treasuries is what counts, along with inventing tools of death for invention’s sake. Morality and reality are not factors. Talk about Active Denial.
They might, like that sculptor, consider the killing devices they have in hand and the diversion of humanity’s energy and talent that’s gone into producing them and decide to forgo their part in what in modern times could be mass suicide.
State University of New York
College at Old Westbury
It was issued quietly: 5 p.m. on the Friday before the long Columbus Day weekend, a release seemingly designed to get little notice. But what it involved deserves major attention: a new US National Space Policy that could set the stage for the heavens being turned into a battleground.
For decades, the Outer Space Treaty of 1967 has shaped how nations approach space. Developed by the United States, United Kingdom and Soviet Union — and now ratified essentially by all the world’s countries — the landmark agreement sets space aside for peaceful purposes.
But the United States became uncomfortable with the treaty in the 1980s during President Ronald Reagan’s “Star Wars” program. That discomfort was marked in the 1990s by US opposition to efforts (still ongoing) led by Canada — and including Russia and China — to ban all weapons in space; the treaty only bans weapons of mass destruction.
There were bellicose declarations in the 1990s, too, from the US Space Command speaking of “dominating the space dimension of military operations to protest US interests and investment.”
Moreover, as George W. Bush took office, a commission chaired by his defense secretary-to-be, Donald Rumsfeld, spoke of how “in the coming period the US will conduct operations to, from, in, and through space to support its national interests.”
Then the Bush administration began revising the US National Space Policy as issued by President Bill Clinton. A front-page, lead article in “The New York Times” last year reported that the US Air Force was “seeking President Bush’s approval of a national-security directive that could move the United States closer to fielding offensive and defense space weapons.”
It told of how one “Air Force space program, nicknamed Rods from God, aims to hurl cylinders of tungsten, titanium or uranium from the edge of space to destroy targets on the ground striking at speeds of about 7,200 miles an hour with the force of a small nuclear weapon.”
The new policy does not explicitly declare the United States will now move ahead with such space weapons — but it opens the door.
“Freedom of action in space is as important to the United States as air power and sea power,” it asserts in its introduction. Under “National Security Space Guidelines,” it says, “United States national security is critically dependent upon space capabilities, and this dependence will grow.” So the United States will “develop and deploy space capabilities that sustain US advantage.”
Also, the 10-page policy says the United States “will oppose the development of new legal regimes or other restrictions that seek to prohibit or limit US access to or use of space.”
Further, the policy authorizes the use of nuclear power overhead to “enhance space exploration or operational capabilities… The use of space nuclear power systems shall be consistent with US national and homeland security, and foreign policy interests.”
Bruce Gagnon, coordinator of the Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space, speaks of the document’s “very provocative language…. This is the kind of talk that will create a new arms race in space, clearly just what the military-industrial complex wants.” And, he says, “Bush’s new space policy enshrines the rejection of an international treaty to ban weapons in space.”
The vision of the Outer Space Treaty — to set aside space as a global commons and to prevent the armed conflict that has marked human history on Earth from extending into the heaven — would be altered by the new US policy.
The United States sees its potential military supremacy in space — and seeks to take advantage of this. But that’s similar to the US attitude in 1945 when we had the atomic bomb and no one else did. It will not take long if space is opened up to war for other nations, notably Russia and China, to meet the United States in kind. We still have an opportunity now to adhere to and strengthen the Outer Space Treaty and, with verification, continue to keep space for peaceful purposes.
Or we can turn the heavens into a war zone and a place for nuclear activity. We are at a crossroads. The policy must not be slipped through quietly. The people of the United States must have a voice and there should be wide public discussion on this fateful decision.
Karl Grossman, journalism professor at the State University of New York/College at Old Westbury, wrote and narrated the award-winning TV documentary: “Weapons in Space: The Nuclearization and Weaponization of the Heavens.” (EnviroVideo)
Actor Alan Alda has embarked on an initiative to help scientists in “communicating science.” Alda and Howard Schneider, founder of the Center for Communicating Science at the new journalism school at the State University of New York’s Stony Brook University, spent a day recently at Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL) working with scientists.
Alda told a packed auditorium of BNL scientists, according to the Long Island newspaper North Shore Sun, that “nothing communicates better than an authentic presentation of yourself–not hidden by jargon in some cases, or by nervousness and that kind of thing. If you can really be there and communicate with the person you are talking to, then you get something happening between you and that person.”
Alda’s effort with scientists is an extension of his hosting the PBS series “Scientific American Frontiers.” For Stony Brook University, having a Center for Communicating Science connects to its long-time main focus of scientific research and, in recent years, co-management of BNL.
BNL was set up in 1947 by the then U.S. Atomic Energy Commission to conduct research into nuclear science and also develop civilian uses for nuclear technology. It was managed from the start by a group of universities including Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Columbia and MIT, but their contract was terminated in 1997 in the face of a public uproar over tritium leaking from a BNL nuclear reactor into the water table below. Long Island, in the center of which BNL is located, depends on its underground water table as its sole source of potable water. The Department of Energy, which replaced the AEC, charged the schools were derelict in their supervision of BNL; the leakage had been going on for years. DOE then gave Stony Brook University and Battelle Memorial Institute the contract to manage BNL.
However, many BNL scientists argued and still maintain that the DOE move was an overreaction, that although tritium is a radionuclide and causes cancer, the substance is widely used in what are marketed as “self-luminous” exit signs. These signs, they’ve stressed, are common in schools, stores, shopping centers, theatres and other public places. Tritium is a radioactive form of hydrogen. It has a 12.3 year half-life meaning it continues releasing radioactivity for more than a century. Among the issues involving tritium exit signs are the dangers of disposal.
To help scientists in “communicating science,” to instruct them not to speak in jargon and to be personable, that is fine. There have been great accomplishments in science and getting information out is important.
But, on the other hand, science has become institutionalized over the last half-century and in the name of science some very bad things have been done and continue to be done, a lot of which has not been challenged by media.
Many of us are familiar with President Eisenhower’s warning in his farewell address of 1961 about the rise of a “military-industrial complex.” What most people do not know is that the original draft of that speech warned not just of a “military-industrial complex” but of a “military-industrial-scientific complex.” Only because of the plea of Eisenhower’s science advisor, former MIT President James Killian, was the word “scientific” eliminated.
Although allowing the removal of “scientific,” Eisenhower went on in the speech with other words on the matter. He said, “Today, the solitary inventor, tinkering in his shop, has been overshadowed by task forces of scientists and laboratories” and warned that “in holding scientific research and discovery in respect…we must also be alert to the equal and opposing danger that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific technological elite.”
David E. Lilienthal, the first chairman of the AEC, used words similar in a 1963 book Change, Hope, and the Bomb. He wrote that “the classic picture of the scientist as a creative individual, a man obsessed, working alone through the night, a man in a laboratory pursuing an idea–this has changed. Now scientists are ranked in platoons. They are organization men. In many cases, the independent and humble search for new truths about nature has become confused with the bureaucratic impulse to justify expenses and see that next year’s budget is bigger than last’s.”
Lilienthal spoke about the “elaborate and even luxurious [national] laboratories that have grown up at Oak Ridge, Argonne, Brookhaven” and the push to use nuclear devices for “blowing out harbors, making explosions underground to produce steam, and so on.” They demonstrated “how far scientists and administrators will go to try to establish a nonmilitary use” for nuclear technology.
The press in the United States was envisioned by the founders of the nation as an instrument to check, to watchdog government. A hundred years later, with the rise of huge corporations, the press was flexible enough to expand to not only challenging vested political power but also vested economic power–taking on the robber barons and their corporations during the muckraking era. In our time, the media must take on a new vested power: scientific and technological interests.
Where does the initiative in assisting scientists in “communicating science” stop and public relations and facilitating propaganda begin?
It started this June in California. Speaking about the problems at the troubled San Onofre nuclear plants through the perspective of the Fukushima nuclear complex catastrophe was a panel of Naoto Kan, prime minister of Japan when the disaster began; Gregory Jaczko, chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) at the time; Peter Bradford, an NRC member when the Three Mile Island accident happened; and nuclear engineer and former nuclear industry executive Arnie Gundersen.
This week the same panel of experts on nuclear technology — joined by long-time nuclear opponent Ralph Nader — was on the East Coast, in New York City and Boston, speaking about problems at the problem-riddled Indian Point nuclear plants near New York and the troubled Pilgrim plant near Boston, through the perspective on the Fukushima catastrophe.
Their presentations were powerful.
Kan, at the event Tuesday in Manhattan, told of how he had been a supporter of nuclear power, but after the Fukushima accident, which began on March 11, 2011, said, “I changed my thinking 180-degrees, completely.” He said that in the first days of the accident it looked like an “area that included Tokyo” and populated by 50 million people might have to be evacuated.
“We do have accidents such as an airplane crash and so on,” said Kan, “but no other accident or disaster” other than a nuclear plant disaster can “affect 50 million people… no other accident could cause such a tragedy.”
All 54 nuclear plants in Japan have now been closed, Kan said. And “without nuclear power plants we can absolutely provide the energy to meet our demands.” Meanwhile, in the two-plus years since the disaster began, Japan has tripled its use of solar energy — a jump in solar power production that is the equivalent of the electricity that would be produced by three nuclear plants, he said. He pointed to Germany as a model in its commitment to shutting down all its nuclear power plants and having “all its power supplied by renewable power” by 2050. The entire world could do this, said Kan. “If humanity really would work together… we could generate all our energy through renewable energy.”
Jaczko said that the Fukushima disaster exploded several myths about nuclear power including those involving the purported prowess of U.S. nuclear technology. The General Electric technology of the Fukushima nuclear plants “came from the U.S.,” he noted. And, it exploded the myth that “severe accidents wouldn’t happen.” Said the former top nuclear official in the United States: “Severe accidents can and will happen.”
And what the Fukushima accident “is telling us is society does not accept the consequences of these accidents,” said Jaczko, who was pressured out of his position on the NRC after charging that the agency was not considering the “lessons” of the Fukushima disaster. In monetary cost alone, Jaczko said, the cost of the Fukushima accident is estimated at $500 billion by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.
Nuclear engineer Gundersen, formerly a nuclear industry senior vice president, noted that the NRC “says the chance of a nuclear accident is one in a million,” that an accident would happen “every 2,500 years.” This is predicated, he said, on what the NRC terms a probabilistic risk assessment or PRA. “I’d like to refer to it as PRAY.” The lesson of “real life,” said Gundersen, is that there have been five nuclear plant meltdowns in the past 35 years — Three Mile Island in 1979, Chernobyl in 1986 and the three at Fukushima Daiichi complex. That breaks down to an accident “every seven years.”
“This is a technology that can have 40 good years that can be wiped out in one bad day,” said Gundersen. He drew a parallel between Fukushima Daiichi “120 miles from Tokyo” and the Indian Point nuclear plant complex “26 miles from New York City.” He said that “in many ways Indian Point is worse than Fukushima was before the accident.” One element: The Fukushima accident resulted from an earthquake followed by a tsunami. The two operating plants at Indian Point are also adjacent to an earthquake fault, said Gundersen. New York City “faces one bad day like Japan, one sad day.” He also spoke of the “arrogance and hubris” of the nuclear industry and how the NRC has consistently complied with the desires of the industry.
Bradford said that that the “the bubble” that the nuclear industry once termed “the nuclear renaissance” has burst. As to a main nuclear industry claim in this promotion to revive nuclear power — that atomic energy is necessary in “mitigating climate change”–this has been shown to be false. It would take tripling of the 440 total of nuclear plants now in the world to reduce greenhouse gasses by but 10 percent. Other sources of power are here as well as energy efficiency that could combat climate change. Meanwhile, the price of electricity from any new nuclear plants built has gone to a non-competitive 12 to 20 cents per kilowatt hour while “renewables are falling in price.”
Bradford also sharply criticized the agency of which he was once a member, the NRC, charging among other things that it has in recent years discouraged citizen participation. Also, as to Fukushima, the “accident really isn’t over,” said Bradford who, in addition to his role at the NRC has chaired the utility commissions of Maine and New York State.
Nader said that with nuclear power and the radioactivity it produces “we are dealing with a silent cumulative form of violence.” He said nuclear power is “unnecessary, unsafe, and uninsurable… undemocratic.” And constructing new words that begin with “un,” it is also “unevacuatable, unfinanceable, unregulatable.”
Nader said nuclear power is unnecessary because there are many energy alternatives — led by solar and wind. It is unsafe because catastrophic accidents can and will happen. He noted how the former U.S. Atomic Energy Commission in a 1960s report projected that a major nuclear accident could irradiate an area “the size of Pennsylvania.” He asked: “Is this the kind of gamble we want to take to boil water?”
Nuclear power is extremely expensive and thus uneconomic, he went on. It is uninsurable with the original scheme for nuclear power in the U.S. based on the federal Price-Anderson Act which limits a utility’s liability to a “fraction” of the cost of damages from an accident. That law remains, extended by Congress “every ten years or so.”
As for being “unevacuable,” NRC evacuation plans are “fantasy” documents,” said Nader. The U.S. advised Americans within 50 miles of Fukushima to evacuate. Some 20 million people live within 50 miles of the Indian Point plants and New Yorkers “can hardly get out” of the city during a normal rush hour.” Nuclear power is “unfinancable,” he said, depending on government fiscal support through tax dollars. And it is “unregulatable” with the NRC taking a “promotional attitude.” And, “above all it is undemocratic,” said Nader, “a technology born in secrecy” which continues. Meanwhile, said Nader, “as the orders dry up in developed nations” for nuclear plants, the nuclear industry is pushing to build new plants in the developing world.
Also at the event in New York City, moderated by Riverkeeper President Paul Gallay and held at the 92nd Street Y, a segment of a new video documentary on nuclear power by Adam Salkin was screened. It showed Salkin in a boat going right in front of the Indian Point plants and it taking nearly five hours for a “security” boat from the plant to respond, and Salkin, the next day, in an airplane flying as low as 500 feet above the plants. The segment demonstrated that the nuclear plants on the Hudson are an easy target for terrorists and, it noted, what it showed was what “terrorists already know.”
The San Onofre nuclear power plants were closed permanently three weeks after the June panel event — and after many years of intensive actions by nuclear opponents in California to shut down the plants, situated between San Diego and Los Angeles. The panel’s appearances this week in New York City Tuesday and Boston Wednesday, titled “Fukushima — Ongoing Lessons for New York and Boston,” are aimed at the same outcome occurring on the East Coast.
The forums are online. For links, click here.
With the third anniversary of the start of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear catastrophe coming next week, the attempted Giant Lie about the disaster continues—a suppression of information, an effort at dishonesty of historical dimensions.
It involves international entities, especially the International Atomic Energy Agency, national governmental bodies—led in Japan by its current prime minister, the powerful nuclear industry and a “nuclear establishment” of scientists and others with a vested interest in atomic energy.
Deception was integral to the push for nuclear power from its start. Indeed, I opened my first book on nuclear technology, Cover Up: What You Are NotSupposed to Know About Nuclear Power, with: “You have not been informed about nuclear power. You have not been told. And that has been done on purpose. Keeping the public in the dark was deemed necessary by the promoters of nuclear power if it was to succeed. Those in government, science and private industry who have been pushing nuclear power realized that if people were given the facts, if they knew the consequences of nuclear power, they would not stand for it.”
Published in 1980, the book led to my giving many presentations on nuclear power at which I’ve often heard the comment that only when catastrophic nuclear accidents happened would people fully realize the deadliness of atomic energy.
Well, massive nuclear accidents have occurred—the 1986 Chernobyl disaster and the Fukushima catastrophe that began on March 11, 2011 and is ongoing with large discharges of radioactive poisons continuing to be discharged into the environment.
Meanwhile, the posture of the nuclear promoters is denial—insisting the impacts of the Fukushima catastrophe are essentially non-existent. A massive nuclear accident has occurred and they would make believe it hasn’t.
“Fukushima is an eerie replay of the denial and controversy that began with the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki,” wrote Yale University Professor Emeritus Charles Perrow in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists last year. “This is the same nuclear denial that also greeted nuclear bomb tests, plutonium plant disasters at Windscale in northern England and Chelyabinsk in the Ural Mountains, and the nuclear power plant accidents at Three Mile Island in the United States and Chernobyl in what is now Ukraine.”
The difference with Fukushima is the scale of disaster. With Fukushima were multiple meltdowns at the six-nuclear plant site. There’s been continuing pollution of a major part of Japan, with radioactivity going into the air, carried by the winds to fall out around the world, and gigantic amounts of radioactivity going into the Pacific Ocean moving with the currents and carried by marine life that ingests the nuclear toxins.
Leading the Fukushima cover-up globally is the International Atomic Energy Agency, formed by the United Nations in 1957 with the mission to “seek to accelerate and enlarge the contribution of atomic energy to peace, health and prosperity throughout the world.”
Of the consequences of the Fukushima disaster, “To date no health effects have been reported in any person as a result of radiation exposure from the accident,” declared the IAEA in 2011, a claim it holds to today.
Working with the IAEA is the World Health Organization. WHO was captured on issues of radioactivity and nuclear power early on by IAEA. In 1959, the IAEA and WHO, also established by the UN, entered into an agreement—that continues to this day—providing that IAEA and WHO “act in close co-operation with each other” and “whenever either organization proposes to initiate a program or activity on a subject in which the other organization has or may have a substantial interest, the first party shall consult the other with a view to adjusting the matter by mutual agreement.”
The IAEA-WHO deal has meant that “WHO cannot undertake any research, cannot disseminate any information, cannot come to the assistance of any population without the prior approval of the IAEA…WHO, in practice, in reality, is subservient to the IAEA within the United Nations family,” explained Alison Katz who for 18 years worked for WHO, on Libbe HaLevy’s “Nuclear Hotseat” podcast last year.
On nuclear issues “there has been a very high level, institutional and international cover-up which includes governments, national authorities, but also, regrettably the World Health Organization,” said Katz on the program titled, “The WHO/IAEA—Unholy Alliance and Its Lies About Int’l Nuclear Health Stats.” Katz is now with an organization called IndependentWHO which works for “the complete independence of the WHO from the nuclear lobby and in particular from its mouthpiece which is the International Atomic Energy Agency. We are demanding that independence,” she said, “so that the WHO may fulfill its constitutional mandate in the area of radiation and health.”
“We are absolutely convinced,” said Katz on “Nuclear Hotseat,” “that if the health and environmental consequences of all nuclear activities were known to the public, the debate about nuclear power would end tomorrow. In fact, the public would probably exclude it immediately as an energy option.”
WHO last year issued a report on the impacts of the Fukushima disaster claiming that “for the general population inside and outside of Japan, the predicted risks are low and no observable increases in cancer rates above baseline rates are anticipated.”
Then there is the new prime minister of Japan, Shinzo Abe, who last year insisted before the International Olympic Committee as he successfully pushed to have the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo (180 miles from Fukushima): “There are no health-related problems until now, nor will there be in the future, I make the statement to you in the most emphatic and unequivocal way.” Abe has been driving hard for a restart of Japan’s 54 nuclear power plants, all shut down in the wake of the Fukushima catastrophe.
His is a totally different view than that of his predecessor, Naoto Kan, prime minister when the disaster began. Kan told a conference in New York City last year of how he had been a supporter of nuclear power but after the Fukushima accident “I changed my thinking 180-degrees, completely.” He declared that at one point it looked like an “area that included Tokyo” and populated by 50 million people might have to be evacuated. “We do have accidents such as an airplane crash and so on,” Kan said, “but no other accident or disaster” other than a nuclear plant disaster can “affect 50 million people… no other accident could cause such a tragedy.” Moreover, said Kan, “without nuclear power plants we can absolutely provide the energy to meet our demands.” Japan since the accident began has tripled its use of solar energy, he said, and pointed to Germany as a model with its post-Fukushima commitment to shutting down all its nuclear power plants and having “all its power supplied by renewable power” by 2050. The entire world could do this, said Kan. “If humanity really would work together… we could generate all our energy through renewable energy.”
A major factor in Abe’s stance is Japan having become a global player in the nuclear industry. General Electric (the manufacturer of the Fukushima plants) and Westinghouse have been the Coke and Pepsi of nuclear power plants worldwide, historically building or designing 80 percent of them. In 2006, Toshiba bought Westinghouse’s nuclear division and Hitachi entered into a partnership with GE in its nuclear division. Thus the two major nuclear power plant manufacturers worldwide are now Japanese brands. Abe has been busy traveling the world seeking to peddle Toshiba-Westinghouse and Hitachi-GE nuclear plants to try to lift Japan’s depressed economy.
As for the nuclear industry, the “Fukushima accident has caused no deaths,” declares the World Nuclear Association in its statement “Safety of Nuclear Power Reactors…Updated October 2013.” The group, “representing the people and organizations of the global nuclear profession,” adds: “The Fukushima accident resulted in some radiation exposure of workers at the plant, but not such as to threaten their health.”
What will the consequences of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster be?
It is impossible to know exactly now. But considering the gargantuan amount of radioactive poisons that have been discharged and what will continue to be released, the impacts will inevitably be great. The claim of there being no consequences to life and the prediction that there won’t be in the future from the Fukushima catastrophe is an outrageous falsehood.
That’s because it is now widely understood that there is no “safe” level of radioactivity. Any amount can kill. The more radioactivity, the greater the impacts. As the National Council on Radiation Protection has declared: “Every increment of radiation exposure produces an incremental increase in the risk of cancer.”
There was once the notion of there being a “threshold dose” of radioactivity below which there would be 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
Projecting a death toll of more than a million from the radioactivity released from Fukushima is Dr. Chris Busby, scientific secretary of the European Committee on Radiation Risk who has been a professor at a number of universities. “Fukushima is still boiling radionuclides all over Japan,” he said. “Chernobyl went up in one go. So Fukushima is worse.”
Indeed, a report by the Institute for Science in Society, based in the U.K., has concluded: “State-of-the-art analysis based on the most inclusive datasets available reveals that radioactive fallout from the Fukushima meltdown is at least as big as Chernobyl and more global in reach.”
A death toll of up to 600,000 is estimated in a study conducted for the Nordic Probabilistic Safety Assessment Group which is run by the nuclear utilities of Finland and Sweden.
Dr. Helen Caldicott, a founder of Physicians for Social Responsibility, told a symposium on “The Medical Implications of Fukushima“ held last year in Japan: “The accident is enormous in its medical implications. It will induce an epidemic of cancer as people inhale the radioactive elements, eat radioactive vegetables, rice and meat, and drink radioactive milk and teas. As radiation from ocean contamination bio-accumulates up the food chain…radioactive fish will be caught thousands of miles from Japanese shores. As they are consumed, they will continue the the cycle of contamination, proving that no matter where you are, all major nuclear accidents become local.”
Dr. Caldicott, whose books on nuclear power include Nuclear Madness, also stated: “The Fukushima disaster is not over and will never end. The radioactive fallout which remains toxic for hundreds to thousands of years covers large swaths of Japan will never be ‘cleaned up’ and will contaminate food, humans and animals virtually forever.”
Arnie Gundersen, a former nuclear industry senior vice president, has said: “The health impacts to the Japanese will begin to be felt in several years and out to 30 or 40 years from cancers. And I believe we’re going to see as many as a million cancers over the next 30 years because of the Fukushima incident in Japan.”
At Fukushima, “We have opened a door to hell that cannot be easily closed—if ever,” said Paul Gunter, director of the Reactor Oversight Project at the U.S.-based group Beyond Nuclear last year.
Already an excessive number of cases of thyroid cancers have appeared in Japan, an early sign of the impacts of radioactivity. A study last year by Joseph Mangano and Dr. Janette Sherman of the Radiation and Public Health Project, and Dr. Chris Busby, determined that radioactive iodine fall-out from Fukushima damaged the thyroid glands of children in California. And the biggest wave of radioactivity in the Pacific Ocean from Fukushima is slated to hit the west coast of North America in the next several months.
Meanwhile, every bluefin tuna caught in the waters off California in a Stanford University study was found to be contaminated with cesium-137, a radioactive poison emitted on a large scale by Fukushima. The tuna migrate from off Japan to California waters. Daniel Madigan, who led the study, commented: “The tuna packaged it up [the radiation] and brought it across the world’s largest ocean. We were definitely surprised to see it at all and even more surprised to see it in every one we measured.”
There is, of course, the enormous damage to property. The Environmental Health Policy Institute of Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR) in its summary of the “Costs and Consequences of the Fukushima Daiichi Disaster” cites estimates of economic loss of between $250 billion and $500 billion. Some 800 square kilometers are “exclusion” zones of “abandoned cities, towns, agricultural land, homes and properties” and from which 159,128 people have been “evicted,” relates PSR senior scientist Steven Starr. Further, “about a month after the disaster, on April 19, 2011, Japan chose to dramatically increase its official ‘safe’ radiation exposure levels from 1 mSv [millisievert, a measure of radiation dose] to 20 mSv per year—20 times higher than the U.S. exposure limit. This allowed the Japanese government to downplay the dangers of the fallout and avoid evacuation of many badly contaminated areas.”
And last year the Japanese government enacted a new State Secrets Act which can restrict—with a penalty of 10 years in jail—reporting on Fukushima. ““It’s the cancerous mark of a nuclear regime bound to control all knowledge of a lethal global catastrophe now ceaselessly escalating,” wrote Harvey Wasserman, co-author of Killing Our Own, in a piece aptly titled “Japan’s New ‘Fukushima Fascism’.”
Meanwhile, back in the U.S., the nation’s Nuclear Regulatory Commission has over the past three years consistently refused to apply “lessons learned” from Fukushima. Its chairman, Dr. Gregory Jaczko, was forced out after an assault led by the nuclear industry after trying to press this issue and opposing an NRC licensing of two new nuclear plants in Georgia “as if Fukushima had never happened.”
Rosalie Bertell, a Catholic nun, in her book No Immediate Danger, wrote about the decades of suppression of the impacts of nuclear power and the reason behind it: “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 cooperative passively with their own death.”
Thus the desperate drive—in which a largely compliant mainstream media have been complicit—to deny the Fukushima catastrophe, a disaster deeply affecting life on Earth.
Karl Grossman, professor of journalism at the State University of New York/College of New York, is the author of the book, The Wrong Stuff: The Space’s Program’s Nuclear Threat to Our Planet. Grossman is an associate of the media watch group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR). He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion.