Editor’s Note: On March 11, 2013, Dr. Timothy Mousseau gave a presentation at the Helen Caldicott sponsored symposium on the Medical and Ecological Consequences of Fukushima. This analysis by Dr. Patrick Walden, was posted as a TRIUMF wiki soon after that event and is republished here with his permission.
Dr. Walden is a retired nuclear physicist who earned his PhD at Caltech.
This is the presentation that Dr. Walden critiques.
to The Helen Caldicott Symposium on the Medical and Ecological Consequences of Fukushima
March 11, 2013
By Patrick Walden
The Helen Caldicott Symposium on the Medical and Ecological Consequences of Fukushima was held March 11 and 12, 2013 on the second anniversary of the incident at the Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Plant facility in Japan. It was also the second anniversary of the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami which killed 15,883 people and caused USD $235 to $300 billion in damage. The reactor incident killed no one but has occupied most of the media attention in the past two years.
The Symposium was not a meeting of scientists and their peers coming together to discuss their respective research. This was organized by the Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR), a Helen Caldicott founded ultra anti-nuclear group, who are committed to bring about a nuclear free planet under any and all circumstances and that also includes nuclear power. This is an ideological driven organization and not a factual driven organization. This meeting could be compared to a Global Climate Change Denial symposium given by the Heartland Institute, or maybe even the equivalent of the Discovery Institute organizing lectures on why Evolution is not true.
It matters not if nuclear power can alleviate CO2 emissions into the atmosphere to mitigate global climate change; Helen Caldicott and the PSR are here to stop that. Do not be fooled by the “New York Academy of Medicine” sign on the podium. This is just the venue. They did not sanction the meeting. The crowd you hear in Mousseau’s presentation are not those of fellow scientists, but are those of the celebrated anti-nuclear activists in the streets.
It was into this setting that Mousseau was invited to give his talk.
Mousseau starts off by making the surprising announcement that his Japanese colleagues have decided to withdraw their names from his talk. I guess the supposed implication being that they were afraid to speak out against the Japanese nuclear industry. However Joji Otaki and his butterfly group were not afraid to publish findings showing increased mutancy rates in butterflies from locations nearby Fukushima Dai-ichi. Jota Kanda, an oceanographer at Toyko University of Marine Science and Technology, was not afraid to stand up to TEPCO and challenge their official statements regarding the magnitude of the radionuclide spills since 11-Mar-2011. TEPCO employees may feel intimidated but the Japanese science establishment does not.
However, perhaps Mousseau’s Japanese colleagues were afraid. Afraid not of the back lash from the nuclear industry but afraid perhaps of having their scientific reputations tarnished by having their names presented at this symposium, or maybe having their names associated with the speaker’s conclusions from the research. But this is just speculation. It suffices to note that I have never seen a conference speaker need to apologize because his collaborators withdrew their names.
However, it is best to move on to my main criticism. I will have you go to 20:07 of the talk. Here Mousseau asks us to look at the map carefully. I will ask you to do the same. Notice how the high radiation zones occupy less area than the lower radiation zones. Now look at the target figure to the right. Imagine that on the periphery of the target we have a low radiation zone and as we go towards the centre, the radiation levels increase accordingly until we reach a maximum in the centre. We will now make a simple geometrical plot of the area of each annulus of the target as a function of the distance from the periphery. We get the plot shown below. Notice how the areas of the annuli decrease as we go towards the centre. Now if this target were transported to any wild location on the earth’s surface, the area occupied by each annulus will be directly proportional to the inventory of fauna or species found in that annulus. Likewise the distance from the periphery will be directly proportional to the radiation field found in each annulus. Hence we do not have a plot showing annulus area vs. distance from the periphery but a plot of fauna or species abundance vs. radiation fields. It shows a steady decline in fauna and species abundance as the radiation field increases, and furthermore this will be the case for every fauna and species count.
But this result has nothing to do with radiation. It is a pure geometrical artifact. Is this not what Mousseau reports from 21:45 to 25:15 for Chernnobyl and from 26:20 to 26:40 for Fukushima? I do not see how he can claim that any of his plots have any significance unless he accounts for this geometrical effect. I have listened carefully and I do not see him state this. Indeed if he did account for geometry it would have to be apparent on the plots. “(Radiation Field)/Area” would have to be plotted along the horizontal axis. Without accounting for this geometrical effect, his results are meaningless. If these plots are meaningless, is not his whole talk meaningless? Q.E.D.?
Another point to note is that there is a lot of scatter in these no. of individuals vs. radiation plots. That is indicative of the accuracy of his data and the correlation coefficients should be close to zero (no dependency whatsoever). There is an obvious negative correlation but it is weak, and the fits seem to be not much more than an aid to the eye to highlight this weak dependence. If the geometrical effect is properly accounted for, there could be no dependence whatsoever.
This should be enough to bring into question all of Mousseau’s findings, but I will continue. At 33:15 there is a plot showing sperm abnormalities vs. radiation. The fit shows about 9% abnormalities at 0.1 mRad/h or 1 μSv/h. This is within the upper bound of what can be considered normal background radiation. Indeed nuclear radiation workers can be in such fields 24/7 without restrictions. At 1 μSv/h, 24/7, the annual dose would be 8.8 mSv. A pelvic CT scan delivers 10 mSv all at once. Having 9% sperm abnormalities due to a field of 1 μSv/h seems incredulous. If this were a lecture delivered to his peers, Mousseau would have been called up on that. However this was an audience of anti-nuclear activists and nobody was going to complain. I mean there are tourists walking the beaches in Brazil where the natural background radiation field is 50 μSv/h, and there are guys sitting on these beaches in just their underpants. According to Mousseau they could experience sperm abnormalities of 28%. This does not seem to be happening.
Dormice sequestered in Chernobyl’s Red Forest (Radioactive Wolves @ 36:50) experienced a rate of 4 to 6% slight abnormalities, twice as high as in the clean areas, but the fields here are > 350 μSv/h.
At these fields Mousseau’s sperm abnormalities would be off the chart, and yet the observed dormice birth abnormalities are just 4 to 6%. I am sorry, but Mousseau’s graph is just not believable.
Aside: The fields inside the Chernobyl zone are nowhere near as high as they are in the Red Forest, which is by far the hottest spot in the zone. For more typical levels within the zone here is Bionerd23′s video showing radiation levels in the abandoned city of Pripyat.
Remember the fields on the Brazilian beach were 50 μSv/h.
Then there is this. At 15:49 in the Mousseau presentation we see a spectrum from their radionuclide identifier, which Mousseau claims also, measures the field. The field on the shown graph is 0.06 μSv/h. Natural background is around 0.4 μSv/h almost 10 times that rate. This is obviously not a typical spectrum, and it makes me wonder if this piece of equipment would not experience dead time distortions in the radiation fields found around Chernobyl. There must be some explanation why Mousseau showed this particular spectrum, but it does not give me a great deal of confidence. Again no one in the audience called him up on this, which shows again that this is not an audience of his peers, but an anti-nuclear crowd who do not know very much about nuclear science.
Then there are the firebugs around 32:20. Some Swiss artist named Cornelia Hesse-Honegger, an amateur scientist, has documented abnormalities in firebugs around nuclear power plants in drawings that she has made. She is apparently a great favourite with this crowd because of her findings. Mousseau latches onto this popularity by announcing he has observed the same thing, firebug abnormalities strongly correlated to background radiation fields. There is one problem in this. Nuclear power plants do not give off radiation fields. The increase in the measured background fields around these plants is in the order 0.04 μSv/y. The normal background is around 4mSv/y, 100,000 times larger. No possible effect could ever have been seen by Cornelia Hesse-Honegger. Yet Mousseau accepts her stuff at face value, and compares his stuff to hers. If this were presented before Mousseau’s peers, someone would have questioned that surely this was nonsense.
Throughout the talk Mousseau makes light of his scientific colleagues and competitors to the compliant approval of the crowd. He suggested that the abundance of wildlife around Chernobyl is a hoax fabricated by the Chernobyl Forum in 2006 (go to 18:30) because the Forum had no information to go on. He stated that there were no studies, so the Forum had no evidence that anything was wrong, thus it must be good. He as good as accused the Chernobyl Forum, a world body consisting of the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency), the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization), the OCHA (United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs), the UNDP (United Nations Development Programme), the UNEP (United Nations Environment Programme), the UNSCEAR (United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation), the WHO (World Health Organization), the World Bank, and representatives from the governments of Belarus, Russia and Ukraine, of fabricating its conclusions. This is hardly credible that a world organization would do this. The Forum should have had plenty of reports submitted to it of the rising abundance of the wildlife in the area as witnessed by this account from 2000.
Here Robert J.Baker et al. report on 12 expeditions to the most radioactive areas of the zone. There is but one conclusion, contrary to what Mousseau states, the statement from the Forum regarding the ecosystem around Chernobyl was fully substantiated by observations in the field.
Mousseau continues his disparaging remarks against the Forum and colleagues throughout the talk. He insinuates that mammals are not very plentiful except for the occasional one that wanders in from outside the zone. In order to see mammals, the Ukrainian authorities had to set up a petting zoo.
Yah, some wolves are there, but they’re mostly dogs”, he states.
And on, and on, and on. He claims he is the only one doing any real research and it is obvious to him what devastation the radiation has done. All you have to do is look, he says. Well contrary to what he states, Mousseau is not the only one doing research, and these others are taking a good look as well, and they see something quite different from what Mousseau would have us believe. They do not see devastation, and the documentary Radioactive Wolves confirms this.
Not only are there wolves present, there is a full complement of them, typical of a pristine wilderness and thus evidence of a fully viable healthy ecosystem. Other top predators are present in abundance as well. Wildlife is relatively easy to find as witness this video about Przewalski Horses by Bionerd23, an enthusiastic tourist to the forbidden zone.
Not only are healthy packs of wild horses found, but also there are birds and insects chirping in the background and insects fluttering about in the face of the camera. The horses are twitching their ears, moving their heads, and switching their tails to keep the insects off. If I believe I have correctly interpreted what Mousseau stated, we shouldn’t be seeing or hearing birds and insects. I believe he would be reticent to show this clip after the presentation he made. In short there are many sources that are contradicting what Mousseau says about the environment around Chernobyl.
I was surprised that Mousseau featured a TV personality, Jeremy Wade, host of the BBC show, River Monsters, doing a segment called The Atomic Assassin. He happened upon Mousseau while filming. What is this Atomic Assassin? It’s a dangerous giant mutated catfish that Wade has perilously stalked through hazardous radiation fields and caught.
Big Hero! He was out catching a relatively tame catfish and supposedly killing it. He portrayed the catfish earlier in other clips as a dangerous man-eating mutant.
What malarky, and does Mousseau really want to be asociated with him? Here is Bionerd23′s version.
Here she is looking at and feeding the catfish, as you would gold fish, relatively unconcerned of the radiation dose she is getting. She says quite clearly that the catfish are not mutants. They are large because they are not being caught. They are free of defects and appear normal. They probably have a high concentration of radioactivity in their flesh. What the Jeremy Wade and the Bionerd23 clips do show, however, is how abundant is the aquatic wildlife right in the shadow of the Chernobyl sarcophagus.
What Wade presents is fiction and I would think Mousseau would not want this to be associated with his scientific work. A crowd of his scientific peers would not be impressed with Jeremy Wade’s Atomic Assassin, but perhaps a crowd of anti-nuclear activists would be.
Who were Mousseau’s fellow presenters at this conference?
First of all there is Helen Caldicott, the host, who still maintains that Chernobyl has killed a million people as a result of the accident even though it has been shown the result is demographically impossible and the initial analysis that came up with that number has been shown to be grossly in error. Caldicott’s main weapon is to exploit the irrational fear the public has towards anything that makes a Geiger counter click.
There was Robert Alvarez who was the author of “Fukushima has 85 times the amount of Cesium-137 as Chernobyl”.
One more earthquake at the right place could distribute this deadly material world-wide and wipe out, as claimed by Akio Matsumura, also present at this conference, life on earth as we know it. Caldicott and her associates raised this figure to 200 times more Cesium-137 without any justification. The said earthquake actually did come and go in December 2012 and nothing happened.
There was Joseph Mangano co-author of a paper who, along with Janette Sherman claimed 14,000 Americans died from radiation from Fukushima in the 14 weeks following the event. This was funny because no one in Japan died from radiation. Since cancer takes longer than 14 weeks to kill people, it would mean that 14,000 Americans would have had to receive lethal doses of radiation. Is this not crazy?
Dr. Alexy Yablokov was also there. He was the author of Chernobyl: Consequences of the Catastrophe for People and the Environment, which claims that Chernobyl resulted in a million deaths. This is the source of Caldicott’s superlative figure. It seems T. Mousseau with Greenpeace allies pulled some levers within the New York Academy of Sciences and had this volume published in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. Janette Sherman of the 14,000 deaths was lined up as the editor. Good choice. It seems the NYAS let the volume go out-of-print as soon as publishing costs were recovered and then published a scathing review of this volume by Mikhail I. Balonov who wrote,
Yablokov’s assessment for the mortality from Chernobyl fallout of about one million before 2004 puts this book in a range of rather science fiction than science.
Finally there was also present Arnie Gundersen who not to be outdone by the superlative claims of Caldicott, Yablokov, Mangano, and Sherman, has also claimed Fukushima will result in a million deaths. So far no one has died, and we are still waiting.
Thus the whole symposium seemingly consisted of presenters of questionable material. Maybe it’s no wonder Mousseau’s Japanese colleagues dropped out. Being involved with this crowd could have the possibility of damaging their scientific reputation.
References and Footnotes
- From Beyond Smoke and Mirrors by Burton Richter, 2010
- Here is a BBC news file attesting to the existence of a seemingly healthy environment around Chernobyl.
Here is a blog about a paper published in Biology Letters which directly contradicts the findings of Mousseau
- Japan earthquake and tsunami triggers Fukushima fears. Pay no attention to the headline. Read the text. Nothing significantly untoward happened at Fukushima.
- Here is another criticism from Scientific American. From the comments following the article you can see how many people will readily believe the impossible nonsensical claims about radiation and Fukushima.
- Here is a link to a pdf version of Mangano and Sherman’s article. The journal in which it was published is not really a scientific journal, but a social science journal. Their referees would not have had the experience to debunk the claims put forward by Mangano and Sherman.
- A lethal dose of radiation is about 4 Sv
Patrick Walden B.Sc. UBC, Ph.D. Caltech
Nuclear Physicist Retired
Mousseau mentioned the importance of the contributions made by his collaborator, Anders Moller.
These articles also mention Anders Moller: