On most issues, I tend to side with the opinions expressed on Democracy Now. The journalists on that viewer/listener-supported show do real investigative journalism and often question the spin provided by commercial media.
When it comes to nuclear energy, however, the show and its host are unreliable and biased. On March 19, 2014, Democracy Now aired a segment titled Fukushima Fallout: Ailing U.S. Sailors Sue TEPCO After Exposure to Radiation 30x Higher Than Normal during which they gave a tort attorney a microphone with which to spout his nonsense about supposed health effects suffered by sailors who participated in Operation Tomodachi.
Here is the video of the segment.
I suspect that some of the sailors featured in the segment have serious health problems; in any large population of people it is possible to find a surprising variety of illnesses. Though the Navy does not like to admit it, that is somewhat more true among a population that includes people who are exposed to a high concentration of jet exhaust fumes and other chemicals associated with operating and maintaining aircraft along with the stress associated with lengthy deployments, family separation, and post service unemployment.
However, there is plenty of evidence contradicting the absurd claim that the illnesses were caused by exposure to radioactive material.
The US Navy has a pretty fair level of knowledge about radiation and employs a number of professionals who understand how to measure it. The Navy’s only real weakness when it comes to radiation is a tendency to overreact to the smallest doses or levels of contamination. That tendency answers the following kind of claim:
However, the Navy leadership continues to deny sailors were exposed to harmful levels of radiation, even though those aboard were later told to scrub the ship and equipment in protective suits.
It does not not surprise me at all to hear that Navy leaders told people to use protective suits. They would do that if they thought there was any risk at all of skin contamination, even at doses many orders of magnitude lower than those that might cause any physical harm.
Following Operation Tomodachi, the US Department of Defense created a registry of doses in which they used measurements to calculate the highest possible doses received by sailors who participated in the humanitarian mission. The dose estimates for shipboard personnel were based on the following assumptions, all of which would tend to put an upper bound on the possible dose:
- spending 24 hours outdoors/on-deck,
- having a constantly high physical activity level (and associated breathing rates)
- being exposed to the radiation over the entire 60-day period
The computed dose estimates are posted on the web for all to see because there is no association between the doses and the names of any individual. There are dose information sheets posted for each ship (example – USNS Bridge) and for every shore location. There is nothing hidden here and no underlying agenda.
Here is the table of computed doses for each ship that participated in the operation.
It is almost unbelievable that anyone would honestly attempt to claim that radiation doses at those levels could possibly cause any measurable harm to anyone.
In fact, I don’t believe anyone is honestly making that claim. This whole story is a completely dishonest attempt by an attorney who should go back to chasing ambulances and stop preying on sailors in hopes of a profitable settlement by a company that just wants him to go away. The lawyer’s tactic of throwing in every argument he can think of is exposed in this quote:
Meanwhile, these young sailors on board the USS Ronald Reagan are cruising into this unknown. They do not know all of this disaster is occurring. But more importantly, TEPCO does not tell them that they are in an active meltdown, that the reactor number one has melted down within four hours following the earthquake, and there have been all kinds of explosions. Major releases are happening. There’s radioactive releases, including 300 tons of radioactive water is being released into the Pacific Ocean.
The over-hyped story of 300 tons of radioactive water — which was not very radioactive, by the way — was an internet meme in August of 2013, more than two years after Operation Tomodachi ended.
I’m disappointed that a news source which questions almost everything else has such a blind spot when it comes to the assertion that any radiation can cause harm.