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Life in a nuclear world: 

How many deaths is the nuclear industry responsible for? 

The following calculations of numbers of cancers caused by radiation are the latest and most accurate: [*]

from nuclear bomb production and testing: 385 million

from bomb and plant accidents: 9.7 million

from the 'routine discharges' of nuclear power plants (5 million of them among populations living nearby): 6.6 million

likely number of total cancer fatalities worldwide: 175 million

[Added to this number are 235 million genetically damaged and diseased people, and 588 million children born with diseases such as brain damage, mental disabilities, spina bifida, genital deformities, and childhood cancers.]

from 'The Secret Nuclear War,' The Ecologist, Apr 2001 

 

It is a known fact that above-ground and below-ground testing during the cold war dispersed a tremendous amount of radioactive material into our atmosphere.  When those toxic elements returned to earth, it was called 'fallout.'  And the fallout, which is comprised of long-lived radioactive toxins, won't decay to safe levels for thousands of years.  And the fallout hasn't gone away.  It is all around us.  

So, is there still any danger?  What are, if any, the public health consequences?   

The atomic age began in 1945, when the United States dropped two atomic bombs on Japan.  However, the disaster and horrors that plagued Hiroshima and Nagasaki did not prevent the continued use of nuclear weapons.  In the U.S., atomic testing continued - the first test was conducted in July 1945 - until the U.S. Congress initiated a unilateral moratorium on nuclear testing in 1992.  

What is shocking is that fallout from cold war testing entered into the higher levels of the atmosphere and traveled across the globe, sickening people when it fell to the ground.  The map below, created by Richard Miller, an environmental consultant, shows areas of the continental U.S. crossed by three or more nuclear clouds.  The map only details fallout from atmospheric testing at the Nevada Test Site during the years 1951-1962.  (In 1962, the U.S. moved nuclear testing at the Nevada Test Site underground, where it continued until 1992.  54% of the 804 underground tests conducted at the Nevada Test Site leaked into the air above the soil; a few of the worst leaks carried fallout across the U.S.)

The fallout from the cold war tests contained a myriad of radioactive isotopes, also known as radionuclides, from the atomic explosions.  One such isotope is Iodine-131.  Iodine-131 is the most water soluble of any byproduct of atomic explosions and it easily enters the food supply.  In the days following atomic tests conducted at the Nevada Test Site, thousands of people, without knowing it, drank radioactively contaminated milk from I-131 that fell onto pastures; the fallout contaminated the grass, which was consumed by cows and contaminated their milk.  People also received doses of I-131 from eating other contaminated dairy products, eggs, and leafy vegetables.  When the I-131 particle enters the body, it concentrates in the thyroid gland and increases the risk of thyroid cancer.

In 1997, the National Cancer Institute (NCI) 'released' a study of the health impacts of fallout from the atmospheric atomic testing era (1951-1962).  In their conclusion, the NCI predicted that there would likely be an increase in thyroid cancer among the U.S. population that lived downwind from the Nevada weapons test site as a result of exposure to radioactive fallout from the conduct of above-ground tests.  In the study, which focused on the spread of I-131, the NCI produced the below map.  The map estimates the thyroid doses of I-131 received by Americans from Nevada atmospheric nuclear bomb tests.  For more about the study, click here.

 

Read articles in the Toxic Utah series:

February 11, 2001: Toxic Utah: Paying the price 

...the desert's beauty also harbored dark, deadly secrets — lands contaminated with residue from chemical weapons and nuclear fallout, air sullied with countless tons of pollutants and water swirling a potent brew of toxins....

2/12/01:Toxic Utah: A land littered with poisons

2/13/01:Uranium mining left a legacy of death

2/14/01:Toxic Utah: Goshutes divided over N-storage

MUST READ: 2/15/01: Toxic Utah: Ghosts in the wind  

2/16/01:Toxic Utah: Trash, troubles are piling up

2/17/01:Toxic Utah: Firms take pains to avoid polluter list

2/18/01:Toxic Utah: Mending toxic Utah

 

Iodine-131, which only has a half-life of 8 days, ceased to become a danger to human health within a few weeks of the tests.  Unfortunately, the half-lives of other byproducts of atomic tests, including Strontium-90, Plutonium-239, Cesium-137 and countless others have much longer half-lives.  Plutonium-239 has a half-life of over 20,000 years, and poses a danger to life for over 200,000 years.  The 1997 NCI study didn't address the human health effects of these other radionuclides.

A year after the NCI study was 'released,' in 1998, the Centers for Disease Control began a long-term study into the health consequences from nuclear testing in the 1950s and 1960s on people living in the American southwest.  They began tracking the thyroid conditions of 4,000 former students who lived in southwestern Utah and eastern Nevada in 1965.  In 2005, the government pulled the plug on the long-term study before it was complete, citing financial considerations.  The lead researcher on the study told the Deseret News, 'The only interpretation I can put on it is that the Bush administration doesn't want to know the health effects of fallout on American citizens."  Read more Bush Administration Kills Nuclear Fallout Study, March 2005

About the same time the long-term thyroid study commenced in 1998, Congress insisted on finding out more about fallout after reading the NCI summary.   The 1997 NCI study raised other questions about health and fallout: What about all the other radioactive elements in the fallout?  What about fallout from the many tests not done in Nevada, such as those in the former Soviet Union or the Pacific? What was the human toll?  Congress ordered a sweeping follow-up study into the health effects of global nuclear fallout.  By 2002, the study still wasn't complete, however excerpts of the unfinished study were published in newspapers worldwide.  (It was later learned that the study had been withheld from the public for nearly one year.)  The government study, prepared by the National Cancer Institute and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, showed that at least 15,000 people in the U.S. died as a result of nuclear testing between 1945 and 1992.   It estimated that 80,000 people who lived or were born in the US in the past 50 years have contracted or will contract cancer as a result of global nuclear tests.

Since 1983, when Congress commissioned the first fallout study, the U.S. governmental health agencies have failed to offer any significant information regarding the effects of Cesium-137 and Strontium-90, two water soluble radionuclides that entered our food and water supplies and may still be lurking as toxic dangers to everyone.  Despite this failure, Congress, when it approved the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act in 1990, concluded that Cesium 137 and Strontium 90 are responsible for some of the illnesses connected to cold war fallout.  Why hasn't the government attempted to complete studies on these other elements, especially when Iodine-131 comprised only 2 percent of all fallout?  One individual wrote in their letter to the editor of The Spectrum, published in October 2005: 

'The longer the government takes to determine the effects of spraying countless Americans with poisonous fallout, the fewer survivors there will be to compensate for their sacrifice.  The longer the government can stall on offering more information about the effects of radiation poisoning, the farther along the research and testing of this needless next generation of nukes is allowed to progress.'

In 1991, International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW)- the group that won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1985 - published their study, ``Radioactive Heaven and Earth.''  In the study, the group estimated that by 2000 there would be a total of 430,000 cancer deaths worldwide - some of which already would have occurred - from the various radioactive elements in the fallout.  The director of the commission claimed that roughly half of the cancer deaths expected by 2000 may come from testing at the Nevada Test Site.  The study went on to say that the atomic tests created long-lived radioactive particles scattered over vast distances that continue to spread through the food chain and will continue to cause cancer and death.  ``The long-lived radioactive residues of atmospheric testing, such as plutonium-239, cesium-137 and strontium-90 still pollute the Earth, increasing cancer risk.....small portions of which are continually being incorporated into our food supply.''  Over the centuries to come, the group estimated that 2.4 million people will die from cancer as a result of the legacy of atmospheric testing.  

The IPPNW's assertion that fallout is present in our living environment is one accepted in the scientific community. Dr. F. Owen Hoffman, Ph.D., a consultant to a Congressional panel in 1997 that studied the NCI's Iodine-131 report, believes that strontium-90, cesium-137, and plutonium-239/240 are "still in soil and in present-day food products."   The U.S. government study, ordered by Congress in 1998 and released in 2002 stated: "Any person living in the contiguous United States since 1951 has been exposed to radioactive fallout and all organs and tissues of the body have received some radiation exposure." 

Although International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War had the credibility and purview to estimate fatalities blamed on atomic testing fallout, what about other nuclear activities?  What about fallout from other sources of nuclear contamination?  

One journalist, Eduardo Goncalves, in 2001, wrote an article for The Ecologist in which he detailed not only the health consequences of nuclear testing fallout, but also from nuclear accidents, nuclear weapons production, nuclear energy use and other sources.  His article, titled 'The Secret Nuclear War,' outlined the deaths due to nuclear accidents, experiments and cover ups by the nuclear industry.

The article, 'The Secret Nuclear War,' is below in full text.   

For even more about fallout in the United States from domestic nuclear testing, click here.  This website is sponsored by Idealist.ws.

 


This article first appeared in the APRIL 2001 issue of The Ecologist Volume 31, No. 3 www.theecologist.org.

The Secret Nuclear War 

by Eduardo Goncalves

The equivalent of a nuclear war has already happened. Over the last half-century, millions have died as a result of accidents, experiments, lies and cover-ups by the nuclear industry. Eduardo Goncalves pulls together a number of examples, and counts the fearful total cost.

Hugo Paulino was proud to be a fusilier. He was even prouder to be serving as a UN peacekeeper in Kosovo. It was his chance to help the innocent casualties of war. His parents did not expect him to become one.

Hugo, says his father Luis, died of leukaemia caused by radiation from depleted uranium (DU) shells fired by NATO during the Kosovo war. He was one of hundreds of Portuguese peacekeepers sent to Klina, an area heavily bombed with these munitions. Their patrol detail included the local lorry park, bombed because it had served as a Serb tank reserve, and the Valujak mines, which sheltered Serbian troops.

In their time off, the soldiers bathed in the river and gratefully supplemented their tasteless rations with local fruit and cheeses given to them by thankful nuns from the convent they guarded. Out of curiosity, they would climb inside the destroyed Serbian tanks littering the area.

Hugo arrived back in Portugal from his tour of duty on 12 February 2000, complaining of headaches, nausea and 'flu like symptoms'. Ten days later, on 22 February, he suffered a major seizure. He was rushed to Lisbon's military hospital, where his condition rapidly deteriorated. On 9 March, he died. He was 21.

The military autopsy, which was kept secret for 10 months, claimed his death was due to septicaemia and 'herpes of the brain'. Not so, says Luis Paulino. 'When he was undergoing tests, a doctor called me over and said he thought it could be from radiation.'

It was only then that Luis learnt about the uranium shells - something his son had never been warned about or given protective clothing against. He contacted doctors and relatives of Belgian and Italian soldiers suspected of having succumbed to radiation poisoning.

'The similarities were extraordinary', he said. 'My son had died from leukaemia. That is why the military classified the autopsy report and wanted me to sign over all rights to its release.'

Today, Kosovo is littered with destroyed tanks, and pieces of radioactive shrapnel. NATO forces fired 31,000 depleted uranium shells during the Kosovo campaign, and 10,800 into neighbouring Bosnia. The people NATO set out to protect - and the soldiers it sent out to protect them - are now dying. According to Bosnia's health minister, Boza Ljubic, cancer deaths among civilians have risen to 230 cases per 100,000 last year, up from 152 in 1999. Leukaemia cases, he added, had doubled.

Scientists predict that the use of DU in Serbia will lead to more than 10,000 deaths from cancer among local residents, aid workers, and peacekeepers. Belated confessions that plutonium was also used may prompt these estimates to be revised. But while NATO struggles to stave off accusations of a cover-up, the Balkans are merely the newest battlefield in a silent world war that has claimed millions of lives. Most of its victims have died not in war-zones, but in ordinary communities scattered across the globe.

The hidden deaths of Newbury

Far away from the war-torn Balkans is Newbury, a prosperous white-collar industrial town in London's commuter belt. On its outskirts is Greenham Common, the former US Air Force station that was one of America's most important strategic bases during the Cold War. The base was closed down after the signing of the INF (Intermediate Nuclear Forces) Treaty by Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev. The nuclear threat was over. Or so people thought.

In August 1993, Ann Capewell -- who lived just one mile away from the base's former runway -- died of acute myeloid leukaemia. She was 16 when she passed away, just 40 days after diagnosis. As they were coming to terms with their sudden loss, her parents - Richard and Elizabeth - were surprised to find a number of other cases of leukaemia in their locality.

The more they looked, the more cases they found. 'Many were just a stone's throw from our front door,' says Richard, 'mainly cases of myeloid leukaemia in young people.'

What none of them knew was that they were the victims of a nuclear accident at Greenham Common that had been carefully covered up by successive British and American administrations.

On February 28 1958, a laden B-47 nuclear bomber was awaiting clearance for take-off when it was suddenly engulfed in a huge fireball. Another bomber flying overhead had dropped a full fuel tank just 65 feet away. The plane exploded and burnt uncontrollably for days. As did its deadly payload.

A secret study by scientists at Britain's nearby nuclear bomb laboratory at Aldermaston documented the fallout, but the findings were never disclosed. The report showed how radioactive particles had been 'glued' to the runway surface by fire-fighters attempting to extinguish the blazing bomber - and that these were now being slowly blown into Newbury and over other local communities by aircraft jet blast.

'Virtually all the cases of leukaemias and lymphomas are in a band stretching from Greenham Common into south Newbury,' says Elizabeth. However, the British government continues to deny the cluster's existence, whilst the Americans still insist there was no accident.

Yet this was just one of countless disasters, experiments and officially-sanctioned activities which the nuclear powers have kept a closely-guarded secret. Between them, they have caused a global human death toll which is utterly unprecedented and profoundly shocking.

Broken Arrows

In 1981, the Pentagon publicly released a list of 32 'Broken Arrows' -- official military terminology for an accident involving a nuclear weapon. The report gave few details and did not divulge the location of some accidents. It was prepared in response to mounting media pressure about possible accident cover-ups.

But another US government document, this time secret, indicates that the official report may be seriously misleading. It states that 'a total of 1,250 nuclear weapons have been involved in accidents during handling, storage and transportation', a number of which 'resulted in, or had high potential for, plutonium dispersal.' [1]

Washington has never acknowledged the human consequences of even those few accidents it admits to, such as the Thule disaster in Greenland in 1968. When a B-52 bomber crashed at this secret nuclear base, all four bombs detonated, and a cloud of plutonium rose 800 metres in the air, blowing deadly radioactive particles hundreds of miles. The authorities downplayed the possibility of any health risks. But today, many local Eskimos, and their huskies, suffer from cancer, and over 300 people involved in the clean-up operation alone have since died of cancer and mysterious illnesses.

We may never know the true toll from all the bomb accidents, as the nuclear powers classify these disasters not as matters of public interest but of 'national security' instead. Indeed, it is only now that details are beginning to emerge of some accidents at bomb factories and nuclear plants that took place several decades ago.

Soviet sins

In 1991, Polish film-maker Slawomir Grunberg was invited to a little-known town in Russia's Ural mountains that was once part of a top-secret Soviet nuclear bomb-making complex. What he found was a tragedy of extraordinary dimensions, largely unknown to the outside world, and ignored by post-Cold War leaders.

His film - Chelyabinsk: The Most Contaminated Spot on the Planet - tells the story of the disasters at the Soviet Union's first plutonium factory, and the poisoning of hundreds of thousands of people. For years, the complex dumped its nuclear waste -- totalling 76 million cubic metres -- into the Techa River, the sole water source for scores of local communities that line its banks. According to a local doctor, people received an average radiation dose 57 times higher than that of Chernobyl's inhabitants.

In 1957, there was an explosion at a waste storage facility that blew 2 million curies of radiation into the atmosphere. The kilometre-high cloud drifted over three Soviet provinces, contaminating over 250,000 people living in 217 towns and villages. Only a handful of local inhabitants were ever evacuated.

10 years later, Lake Karachay, also used as a waste dump, began to dry up. The sediment around its shores blew 5 million curies of radioactive dust over 25,000 square kilometres, irradiating 500,000 people. Even today, the lake is so 'hot' that standing on its shore will kill a person within one hour.

Grunberg's film tells of the terrible toll of these disasters on local families, such as that of Idris Sunrasin, whose grandmother, parents and three siblings have died of cancer. Leukaemia cases increased by 41 per cent after the plant began operations, and the average life span for women in 1993 was 47, compared to 72 nationally. For men it was just 45.

The secret nuclear war

Russia's nuclear industry is commonly regarded as cavalier in regard to health and safety. But the fact is that the nuclear military-industrial complex everywhere has been quite willing to deliberately endanger and sacrifice the lives of innocent civilians to further its ambitions.

The US government, for example, recently admitted its nuclear scientists carried out over 4,000 experiments on live humans between 1944 and 1974. They included feeding radioactive food to disabled children, irradiating prisoners' testicles, and trials on new-born babies and pregnant mothers. Scientists involved with the Manhattan Project injected people with plutonium without telling them. An autopsy of one of the victims reportedly showed that his bones 'looked like Swiss cheese'. At the University of Cincinnati, 88 mainly low-income, black women were subjected to huge doses of radiation in an experiment funded by the military. They suffered acute radiation sickness. Nineteen of them died.

Details of many experiments still remain shrouded in secrecy, whilst little is known of the more shocking ones to come to light -- such as one when a man was injected with what a report described as 'about a lethal dose' of strontium-89. [2]

In Britain too, scientists have experimented with plutonium on new-born babies, ethnic minorities and the disabled. When American colleagues reviewed a British proposal for a joint experiment, they concluded: 'What is the worst thing that can happen to a human being as a result of being a subject? Death.' [3]

They also conducted experiments similar to America's 'Green Run' programme, in which 'dirty' radiation was released over populated areas in the western states of Washington and Oregon contaminating farmland, crops and water. The 'scrubber' filters in Hanford's nuclear stacks were deliberately switched off first. Scientists, posing as agriculture department officials, found radiation contamination levels on farms hundreds of times above 'safety' levels.

But America's farmers and consumers were not told this, and the British public has never been officially told about experiments on its own soil.

Forty thousand Hiroshimas

It is believed that the estimated 1,900 nuclear tests conducted during the Cold War released fallout equivalent to 40,000 Hiroshimas in every corner of the globe. Fission products from the Nevada Test site can be detected in the ecosystems of countries as far apart as South Africa, Brazil, and Malaysia. Here, too, ordinary people were guinea pigs in a global nuclear experiment. The public health hazards were known right from the beginning, but concealed from the public. A 1957 US government study predicted that recent American tests had produced an extra 2,000 'genetically defective' babies in the US each year, and up to 35,000 every year around the globe. They continued regardless.

Ernest Sternglass's research shows how, in 1964, between 10,000 and 15,000 children were lost by miscarriage and stillbirth in New York state alone - and that there were some 10 to 15 times this number of foetal deaths across America. [4]

Those who lived closest to the test sites have seen their families decimated. Such as the 100,000 people who were directly downwind of Nevada's fallout. They included the Mormon community of St George in Utah, 100 miles away from 'Ground Zero' -- the spot where the bombs were detonated. Cancer used to be virtually unheard of among its population. Mormons do not smoke or drink alcohol or coffee, and live largely off their own home-grown produce.

Mormons are also highly patriotic. They believe government to be 'God-given', and do not protest. The military could afford to wait until the wind was blowing from the test site towards St George before detonating a device. After all, President Eisenhower had said: 'We can afford to sacrifice a few thousand people out there in defence of national security.' [5]

When the leukaemia cases suddenly appeared, doctors - unused to the disease - literally had no idea what it was. A nine-year-old boy, misdiagnosed with diabetes, died after a single shot of insulin. Women who complained of radiation sickness symptoms were told they had 'housewife syndrome'. Many gave birth to terribly deformed babies that became known as 'the sacrifice babies'. Elmer Pickett, the local mortician, had to learn new embalming techniques for the small bodies of wasted children killed by leukaemia. He himself was to lose no fewer than 16 members of his immediate family to cancer.

By the mid-1950s, just a few years after the tests began, St George had a leukaemia rate 2.5 times the national average, whereas before it was virtually non-existent. The total number of radiation deaths are said to have totalled 1,600 - in a town with a population of just 5,000.

The military simply lied about the radiation doses people were getting. Former army medic Van Brandon later revealed how his unit kept two sets of radiation readings for test fallout in the area. 'One set was to show that no one received an [elevated] exposure' whilst 'the other set of books showed the actual reading. That set was brought in a locked briefcase every morning.' [6]

Continuous fallout

The world's population is still being subjected to the continuous fallout of the 170 megatons of long-lived nuclear fission products blasted into the atmosphere and returned daily to earth by wind and rain - slowly poisoning our bodies via the air we breathe, the food we eat, and the water we drink. Scientists predict that millions will die in centuries to come from tests that happened in the 1950s and 1960s.

But whilst atmospheric testing is now banned, over 400 nuclear bomb factories and power plants around the world make 'routine discharges' of nuclear waste into the environment. Thousands of nuclear waste dumping grounds, many of them leaking, are contaminating soil and water every day. The production of America's nuclear weapons arsenal alone has produced 100 million cubic metres of long-lived radioactive waste.

The notorious Hanford plutonium factory -- which produced the fissile materials for the Trinity test and Nagasaki bomb -- has discharged over 440 billion gallons of contaminated liquid into the surrounding area, contaminating 200 square miles of groundwater, but concealed the dangers from the public. Officials knew as early as the late 1940s that the nearby Columbia River was becoming seriously contaminated and a hazard to local fishermen. They chose to keep information about discharges secret and not to issue warnings.

In Britain, there are 7,000 sites licensed to use nuclear materials, 1,000 of which are allowed to discharge wastes. Three of them, closely involved in Britain's nuclear bomb programme, are located near the River Thames. Over the years, the Harwell, Aldermaston and Amersham plants have pumped millions of gallons of liquid contaminated with radioactive waste into the river.

They did so in the face of opposition from government ministers and officials who said 'the 6 million inhabitants of London derive their drinking water from this source. Any increase in [radio-]activity of the water supply would increase the genetic load on this comparatively large group.' [7] One government minister even wrote of his fears that the dumping 'would produce between 10 and 300 severely abnormal individuals per generation'.

Public relations officers at Harwell themselves added: 'the potential sufferers are 8 million in number, including both Houses of Parliament, Fleet Street and Whitehall'. These discharges continue to this day.

Study after study has uncovered 'clusters' of cancers and high rates of other unusual illnesses near nuclear plants, including deformities and Down Syndrome. Exposure to radiation among Sellafield's workers, in north-west England, has been linked to a greater risk of fathering a stillborn child and leukaemia among off-spring. Reports also suggest a higher risk of babies developing spina bifida in the womb.

Although the plant denies any link, even official MAFF studies have shown high levels of contamination in locally-grown fruit and vegetables, as well as wild animals. The pollution from Sellafield alone is such that it has coated the shores of the whole of Britain -- from Wales to Scotland, and even Hartlepool in north-eastern England. A nationwide study organised by Harwell found that Sellafield 'is a source of plutonium contamination in the wider population of the British Isles'. [8]

Those who live nearest the plant face the greatest threat. A study of autopsy tissue by the National Radiological Protection Board (NRPB) found high plutonium levels in the lungs of local Cumbrians -- 350 per cent higher than people in other parts of the country.

'Cancer clusters' have been found around nuclear plants across the globe -- from France to Taiwan, Germany to Canada. A joint White House/US Department of Energy investigation recently found a high incidence of 22 different kinds of cancer at 14 different US nuclear weapons facilities around the country.

Meanwhile, a Greenpeace USA study of the toxicity of the Mississippi river showed that from 1968-83 there were 66,000 radiation deaths in the counties lining its banks -- more than the number of Americans who died during the Vietnam war.

Don't blame us

Despite the growing catalogue of tragedy, the nuclear establishment has consistently tried to deny responsibility. It claims that only high doses of radiation -- such as those experienced by the victims of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs -- are dangerous, though even here they have misrepresented the data. They say that the everyday doses from nuclear plant discharges, bomb factories and transportation of radioactive materials are 'insignificant', and that accidents are virtually impossible.

The truth, however, is that the real number and seriousness of accidents has never been disclosed, and that the damage from fallout has been covered up. The nuclear establishment now grudgingly (and belatedly) accepts that there is no such thing as a safe dose of radiation, however 'low', yet the poisonous discharges continue. When those within the nuclear establishment try to speak out, they are harassed, intimidated -- and even threatened.

John Gofman, former head of Lawrence Livermore's biomedical unit, who helped produce the world's first plutonium for the bomb, was for years at the heart of the nuclear complex. He recalls painfully the time he was called to give evidence before a Congressional inquiry set up to defuse mounting concern over radiation's dangers.

'Chet Holifield and Craig Hosmer of the Joint Committee (on Atomic Energy) came in and turned to me and said: "Just what the hell do you think you two are doing, getting all those little old ladies in tennis shoes up in arms about our atomic energy program? There are people like you who have tried to hurt the Atomic Energy Commission program before. We got them, and we'll get you."' [9]

Gofman was eventually forced out of his job. But the facts of his research -- and that of many other scientists -- speak for themselves.

The final reckoning

But could radiation really be to blame for these deaths? Are the health costs really that great? The latest research suggests they are.

It is only very recently that clues have surfaced as to the massive destructive power of radiation in terms of human health. The accident at Chernobyl will kill an estimated half a million people worldwide from cancer, and perhaps more. 90 per cent of children in the neighbouring former Soviet republic of Belarus are contaminated for life -- the poisoning of an entire country's gene pool.

Ernest Sternglass calculates that, at the height of nuclear testing, there were as many as 3 million foetal deaths, spontaneous abortions and stillbirths in the US alone. In addition, 375,000 babies died in their first year of life from radiation-linked diseases. [11]

Rosalie Bertell, author of the classic book No Immediate Danger, now revised and re-released, has attempted to piece together a global casualty list from the nuclear establishment's own data. The figures she has come up with are chilling -- but entirely plausible.

Using the official 'radiation risk' estimates published in 1991 by the International Commission on Radiological Protection (ICRP), and the total radiation exposure data to the global population calculated by the UN Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR) in 1993, she has come up with a terrifying tally:

* 358 million cancers from nuclear bomb production and testing

* 9.7 million cancers from bomb and plant accidents

* 6.6 million cancers from the 'routine discharges' of nuclear power plants (5 million of them among populations living nearby).

* As many as 175 million of these cancers could be fatal.

Added to this number are no fewer than 235 million genetically damaged and diseased people, and a staggering 588 million children born with what are called 'teratogenic effects' -- diseases such as brain damage, mental disabilities, spina bifida, genital deformities, and childhood cancers.

Furthermore, says Bertell, we should include the problem of nonfatal cancers and of other damage which is debilitating but not counted for insurance and liability purposes' [12] -- such as the 500 million babies lost as stillbirths because they were exposed to radiation whilst still in the womb, but are not counted as 'official' radiation victims.

It is what the nuclear holocaust peace campaigners always warned of if war between the old superpowers broke out, yet it has already happened and with barely a shot being fired. Its toll is greater than that of all the wars in history put together, yet no-one is counted as among the war dead.

Its virtually infinite killing and maiming power leads Rosalie Bertell to demand that we learn a new language to express a terrifying possibility: 'The concept of species annihilation means a relatively swift, deliberately induced end to history, culture, science, biological reproduction and memory. It is the ultimate human rejection of the gift of life, an act which requires a new word to describe it: omnicide'. [13]

Eduardo Goncalves is a freelance journalist and environmental researcher. He is author of tile reports Broken Arrow -- Greenham Common's Secret Nuclear Accident and Nuclear Guinea Pigs -- British Human Radiation Experiments, published by CND (UK), and was researcher to tile film The Dragon that Slew St George. He is currently writing a book about the hidden history of the nuclear age.

(1.) 'Report of the safety criteria for plutonium-bearing weapons - summary', US Department of Energy, February 14,1973, document RS5640/1035.

(2.) Strontium metabolism meeting, Atomic Energy Division-Division of Biology and Medicine, January 17,1954.

(3.) memorandum to Bart Gledhill, chairman, Human Subjects Committee. LLNL, from Larry Anderson, LLNL, February 21,1989.

(4.) see 'Secret Fallout, Low-Level Radiation from Hiroshima to Three-Mile Island'. Ernest Sternglass, McGraw-Hill, New York, 1981,

(5.) see 'American Ground Zero; The Secret Nuclear War', Carole Gallagher, MIT Press. Boston, 1993.

(6.) Washington Post, February 24,1994.

(7.) see PRO flies AB 6/1379 and AB 6/2453 and 3584.

(8.) 'Variations in the concentration of plutonium, strontium-90 and total alpha-emitters in human teeth', RG. O'Donnell et at, Sd. Tot. Env,, 201 (1997) 235-243.

(9.) interview with Gofman, DOE/OHRE Oral History Project, December 1994, pp49-50 of official transcripts.

(10.) 'Wings of Death - nuclear pollution and human health', Dr. Chris Busby. Green Audit, Wales, 1995

(11.) see 'Secret Fallout, Low-Level Radiation from Hiroshima to Three-Mile Island', Ernest Sternglass, McGraw-Hill, New York, 1981.

(12.) from 'No Immediate Danger- Prognosis for a Radioactive Earth', Dr Rosalie Bertell. Women's Press. London 1985 (revised 2001)

(13.) pers. Comm.. 4 February 2001

Further reading:

'No Immediate Danger - Prognosis for a Radioactive Earth', Dr Rosalie Bertell, Women's Press, London (revised 2001)

'Deadly Deceit - low-level radiation, high-level cover-up', Dr. Jay Gould and Benjamin A. Goldman, Four Walls Eight Windows, NewYork, 1991

'Wings of Death - nuclear pollution and human health', Dr. Chris Busby, Green Audit, Wales, 1995

'American Ground Zero: The Secret Nuclear War', Carole Gallagher, MIT Press, Boston, 1993

'Radioactive Heaven and Earth - the health effects of nuclear weapons testing in. on, and above the earth', a report of the IPPNW International Commission, Zed Books, 1991 'Secret Fallout. Low-Level Radiation from Hiroshima to Three-Mile Island', Ernest Sternglass, McGraw-Hill. New York, 1981

'Clouds of Deceit - the deadly legacy of Britain's bomb tests', Joan Smith, Faber and Faber, London, 1985

'Nuclear Wastelands', Arjun Makhijani et al (eds), MIT Press, Boston, 1995 'Radiation and Human Health', Dr. john W. Gofman, Sierra Book Club, San Francisco, 1981

'The Greenpeace Book of the Nuclear Age - The Hidden History, the Human Cost'. john May, Victor Gollancz, 1989

'The Unsinkable Aircraft Carrier - American military power in Britain', Duncan Campbell, Michael joseph. London 1984

The cancer epidemic

Scientists at St Andrew's University recently found that cells exposed to a dose of just two alpha particles of radiation produced as many cancers as much higher doses of radiation. They concluded that a single alpha particle of radiation could be carcinogenic.

Herman Muller, who has received a Nobel Prize for his work, has shown how the human race's continuous exposure to so-called 'low-level' radiation is causing a gradual reduction in its ability to survive, as successive generations are genetically damaged. The spreading and accumulation of even tiny genetic mutations pass through family lines, provoking allergies, asthma, juvenile diabetes, hypertension, arthritis, high blood cholesterol conditions, and muscular and bone defects.

Dr Chris Busby (right), who has extensively researched the low-level radiation threat, has made a link between everyday radiation exposure and a range of modern ailments: 'There have been tremendous increases in diseases resulting from the breakdown of the immune system in the last 20 years: diabetes, asthma, AIDS and others which may have an immune-system link, such as MS and ME. A whole spectrum of neurological conditions of unknown origin has developed'. [10]

Around the world, a pattern is emerging. For the first time in modern history, mortality rates among adults between the ages of 15 and 54 are actually increasing, and have been since 1982. In July 1983, the US Center for Birth Defects in Atlanta, Georgia, reported that physical and mental disabilities in the under-17s had doubled - despite a reduction in diseases such as polio, and improved vaccines and medical care.

Defects in new-born babies doubled between the 1950s and 1980s, as did long-term debilitating diseases. The US Environmental Protection Agency adds that 23 per cent of US males were sterile in 1980, compared to 0.5 per cent in 1938.

Above all, cancer is now an epidemic. In 1900, cancer accounted for only 4 per cent of deaths in the US. Now it is the second leading cause of premature mortality. Worldwide, the World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates the number of cancers will double in most countries over the next 25 years.

Within a few years, the chances of getting cancer in Britain will be as high as 40 per cent - virtually the toss of a coin.

Chris Busby: 'A spectrum of neurological conditions of unknown origin has developed.'

(*.) Calculated by Rosalie Bertell, using the official 'radiation risk' estimates published in 1991 by the international Commission on Radiological Protection (ICRP), and the total radiation exposure data to the global population calculated by the UN Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR) in 1993.

 

 


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