Arnie Gundersen, the sole engineer of Fairewinds Associates, continues to tell lies about the radiation released from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plants. He also continues to lie about the potential effects and seeks to spread fear and uncertainty where neither one are justified. He is a dangerous man on a mission to make money by harming the industry that once employed him – until he was fired for poor performance of his assigned duties.
He recently appeared on Democracy Now, a liberal news program that recognizes the ills of unfettered capitalism and an economy that is dependent on using the atmosphere as a waste dump for massive quantities of fossil fuel waste. Unfortunately, the presenters and producers at Democracy Now also have a huge blind spot regarding the use of atomic energy. They think of it as something to fear and attack instead of recognizing it as the most powerful tool in the tool box for reducing that dependence on burning fossil fuel and dumping the waste into our shared atmosphere.
I know enough about the rules of journalism and libel to recognize that calling someone a liar produces a risk of legal action, but, by definition, a liar is someone who tells lies. I also recognize that Gundersen has apparently attracted some major backers; his publicity machine and the continuing improvements on his organization’s web site and his video productions do not come cheap. That adds to the risk of writing an article that directly accuses him of lying.
However, when talking about the radiation released from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plants Arnie has stepped into territory where his words can be fact-checked; his statements can be compared to measurements and shown to be false.
For example, in the above video, Mr. Gundersen makes the following claim:
The amount of radiation released was clearly as much as Chernobyl, but most of it headed out to sea.
Here is a direct comparison of the amount of radiation released by the two separate accidents from the science blog of Nature. Nature is one of the most respected sources of accurate information on the planet.
Indeed, the total estimate delivered to the International Atomic Energy Agency in June states that Fukushima has released 1.5×1016 becquerels (Bq) of Cs-137—about a fifth of the Cs-137 from Chernobyl. The total radioactive release from Fukushima is currently estimated at about 5.5% of Chernobyl, which spewed an incredible 1.4×1019Bq.
The Fukushima fallout is notable for what it doesn’t contain. Some very nasty contaminants like strontium-90, americium-241, and various plutonium isotopes are all absent in any significant quantity because the concrete vessels around the reactors appear to be largely intact. In Chernobyl, the explosion and subsequent fire spewed these extremely dangerous isotopes far and wide.
Mr. Gundersen also makes the following bold prediction that puts him way outside of the realm of the accepted science of radiation health effects.
My estimate is that over the next 30 years we’re going to see about a million cancers as a result of this.
Quoting from a Nature article titled Japan’s post-Fukushima earthquake health woes go beyond radiation effects
A year out, public health experts agree that the radiation fears were overblown. Compared with the effects of the radiation exposure from Fukushima, “the number of expected fatalities are never going to be that large,” says Thomas McKone, of the University of California, Berkeley, School of Public Health.
And some, including Richard Garfield, a professor of Clinical and International Nursing at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, go a step further. “In terms of the health impact, the radiation is negligible,” he says. “The radiation will cause very few, close to no deaths.” But that does not mean that the accident has not already caused wide-reaching health issues. “The indirect effects are great,” Garfield says.
There is a vast gap between a prediction of “very few, close to no deaths” and “we’re going to see about a million cancers.”
Here is a description of some of the indirect effects that worry Richard Garfield and many other caring people who understand science, engineering, modern industrial society, and medicine.
Of course, no matter how prepared a country is a massive disaster is devastating for individuals. People who lost their homes, villages and family members, and even just those who survived the quake, will likely continue to face mental health challenges and the physical ailments that come with stress, such as heart disease. “Much of the damage was really psychological—the stress of not knowing, of being relocated,” U.C. Berkeley’s McKone says.
Experts on the ground in Japan agree. “Mental health is the most significant issue,” notes Seiji Yasumura, a gerontologist at Fukushima Medical University’s Department of Public Health. Stress, such as that caused by dislocation, uncertainty and concern about unseen toxicants, has been linked to increased risk for physical ailments, such as heart disease. So even if radiation risks are low, “people are still worried,” he says. And that can also lead to unhealthy behavioral changes, “including dietary choices, lack of exercise and sleep deprivation”—all of which can have long-term negative health consequences. Many of the survivors are elderly, whom either lost a partner or even an entire family. As after the Kobe earthquake of 1995, the Japanese government has created housing for these disconnected older adults. But, as Garfield notes, “the government can’t buy you a new family.”
There are also what Garfield calls, “the immeasureable, imponderable” effects of the disaster. Those who relocated from the prefecture report having experienced discrimination and, especially immediately following the accident, were considered somehow “contaminated.” Traditional Japanese values also prize stoicism, which means that people who are suffering mental or even physical distress might be less likely to seek the care they need.
Those negative health effects are, to a large degree, produced by purposeful acts of spreading lies aimed at increasing fear so that people will be motivated to march against the restoration of power production from the 48 undamaged reactors that remain shut down.
Japan should not be experiencing another summer of severe power shortages and Japanese people should not be forced to make drastic cuts in their consumption and lifestyle. They should not be paying fossil fuel companies more than $100 million per day in extra fuel costs to supply less power than the nuclear plants could provide. The extra demand on fossil fuel in Japan is helping to keep prices up in world oil markets, so all of us are being affected. For everyone who does not sell oil or natural gas, those effects are negative.
Arnie Gundersen’s selfishly motivated campaign to build a career for himself by damaging the industry that decided to stop employing him more than 20 years ago is causing real harm to people around the world. He has been engaging in an international press push to get his worried face on as many news programs as possible. I suspect that he is seeking to increase his visibility and marketability for his one man consultancy – Fairewinds Associates. That consultancy produces antinuclear reports for hire in areas well outside of his trained expertise – like the one that the Friends of the Earth commissioned from him to determine the cause of the steam generator failures at San Onofre.
For people who do not understand the intricacies of the nuclear energy industry, it seems kind of logical to hire a man with a Master of Science in Nuclear Engineering to produce such a report. However, there is nothing in the nuclear engineering curricula at most schools that would provide someone with the technical skills required to analyze the material and mechanical performance of steam generators.
The plant owner has hired dozens to hundreds of specifically trained experts to be able to understand what happened; how can anyone believe that a single consultant with a degree in nuclear engineering, no professional engineering certification, and experience as a “nuclear industry executive” that ended more than 20 years ago, is capable of providing a reasonably accurate cause determination?
I do not mind helping Arnie Gundersen get his name into the press and into the conversation. I think it is important to share as much truth about his knowledge level and motivation as possible. If he wants tell lies and spread fear, uncertainty and doubt in public, he deserves whatever publicity he can capture. I just hope he realizes that pure celebrity comes with a price; it cannot be a reliable source of income and influence when some of know that is what he is seeking.