Fukushima Anniversary: Theatre of the Absurd

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It’s the 1-year anniversary of the disaster at Fukushima Daiichi. For more than a week I’ve struggled to find something to say about it that hasn’t already been said a hundred times in a hundred ways. I kept drawing a blank, even as the noise level coming from industry apologists and their willing partners in the media rose over the past week to a deafening level. There’s some truly appalling stuff making the rounds that would be hilarious if it were being presented with a straight face by Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert on Comedy Central. But these people are serious, hence my title: Theatre of the Absurd.

And it is well and truly absurd. Good God, I thought to myself as the days ticked by and the hits kept coming. All the same lies, the same deceptions, the same sleights of mind, the same pretenses to knowledge not owned, the same casket-salesman smarminess, the same old… same old same. Just insert words specific to the current nuclear disaster and you’re good to go. Dutiful flunkies at ‘the usual’ propaganda outlets like The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal swallow it whole and regurgitate on command.

The worst – or at least the most obvious – came from the Health Physics Society. HPS is a consortium of dedicated industry hacks, associated academics and other wannabe “super-duper radiological experts” with odd degrees in things that look a little homeopathic to me. They staged a PR event at the National Press Club on Tuesday, where a group of giddy “Certified Health Professionals,” “Certified Industrial Hygienists,” “Doctor of Public Health” type not-quite EMTs waxed enthusiastic about how it’s all over, everything’s fine now, nobody who’s anybody will get cancer, and the dead zone should be repopulated immediately.”

The first thing I have to say about this weirdness is that health physics is NOT a branch of health care. All this Marcus Welby style posturing is downright bizarre. Real HPs in real nuclear facilities have a fairly broad job description, but it doesn’t include passing out cough drops, re-stocking the tongue depressor jar or arguing with BCBS pinheads. In the industry at issue the HP’s job is to monitor radiation, monitor releases of radiation to air and water, take and analyze samples for isotopes, concentrations and chemistry, provide protection for workers in contaminated areas, keep track of the doses, maintain off-site radiation and/or seismic monitoring, and decontaminate workers who manage to get crapped up anyway.

The HPS presentation amounted to a flippant dismissal of health effects from the Daiichi meltdowns, fires and explosions. It must have been deemed necessary for the industry’s post-Fukushima PR effort because the report upon which the HPS supposedly based their dismissal wasn’t rosy enough for ‘Renaissance’ work. That’s right, HPS didn’t actually publish any ‘research’ of their own on health effects from the Japanese disaster, they were sugar coating a report from ANS which they published on their website.

That report from the American Nuclear Society [pdf alert] addresses issues of health physics and public health on pages 15-18, sans footnoted attributions and with a total of 6 references and 2 maps from the National Nuclear Security Administration that are so widely divergent that they basically cancel each other out. I mean, you can’t have actual measurements of between .25 and 12.5 mr per hour along a large swath of countryside and end up with a 1-year dose estimate of .1 to 2 Rem. That math does not compute.

For context, ANS is the nuclear industry’s oldest fraternal, promotional, lobbying and PR organization, established in 1954 at Oak Ridge. Their report was not nearly as rose colored as the HPS members at the Press Club talked it up to be. And given the large area of northeastern Japan that is MORE contaminated than the evacuation zone around Chernobyl, ANS didn’t claim everything is hunky-dory or suggest sending families back into the exclusion zone. Why, NHK reported just Friday that 80% of people from the Fukushima evacuation zone tested last April for iodine-131 exposure had received from 1 to 8.7 Rems to their thyroid glands. People who remained in the high dose plume path outside the zone have accumulated much more exposure than that over the past year. This cannot honestly be characterized as “minor” unless your comparison is to the Hibakusha.

But I guess at least one of the incestuous nuclear lobbying groups had to go the extra mile to put a smiley face on the situation. The point is to convince the American public it’s all over. I’m sure they don’t expect to convince the people still getting dumped on every day in Japan or those anywhere with enough knowledge of the subject to know better.

Of particular merit for absurdity was this aside from Wald’s NYT bit of fluff:

Not that the additional radiation exposure won’t induce a few extra cases of cancer, the experts said, but these will be indistinguishable from the background rate of cancer, which will eventually strike about 41 out of every 100 people.

Really? Why, just last year about this time the average lifetime cancer rate in Japan was hovering around 33 out of 100. Now it’s to go to 41 out of 100 according to the HPS? I’ve got news for these sub-geniuses: that’s not a “minor” increase. 41%… 41%… where had I seen that figure before? Oh, yeah. It was under the heading of Health Effects of Nuclear Testing from way back during the height of the bad old Cold War…

In 1980, People magazine revealed some consequences of continental nuclear testing for American citizens. The magazine disclosed that of some 220 cast and crew who filmed a 1956 film, The Conquerorwith an unheard of 41 percent morbidity rate. Of these, forty-six had died of cancer by 1980. Among the victims were John Wayne and Susan Hayward, the stars of the film.

Seems that a 41% cancer morbidity rate is no longer so “unheard of.”

This PR Campaign to Save The Nuclear Renaissance would be downright depressing if a survey last week hadn’t demonstrated that more than half of Americans are now firmly against nuclear power. The Japanese are even less impressed with nukes. The last two plants still operating will go down this summer, and the Japanese people may wake up the next day to find they didn’t really need nukes in the first place. That would be a great start on ending this crazy industry’s overblown power and influence in the world, and perfectly fitting that it come through Japan.

So maybe things will work out in the end, you never know. For a very good and well-sourced run-down on the many lies, distortions, deceptions and sleights of mind associated with these absurd theatrics, check out US Media Promotes Another Flawed “Study”, Downplays Fukushima from SimplyInfo.

As for myself, I still couldn’t think of a thing to say about Fukushima Daiichi one year later that hasn’t already been said a hundred times in a hundred ways. So I’ll just say what an old friend helpfully suggested I say when this time came…

No Nukes.

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