Challenging NYAS Decision to Keep Yablokov’s Chernobyl Fiction Online
In December 2009, the editor of the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences decided to provide printing services for a small group of people who had a history of pursuing an agenda against the use of nuclear energy. They had translated a book titled Chernobyl: Consequences of the Catastrophe for People and the Environment that had initially been sponsored by Greenpeace and written by a co-founder of Greenpeace Russia, Alexey V. Yablokov.
Using scientifically unsupportable techniques, Yablokov claimed that hundreds of millions of people had been exposed to radiation from the Chernobyl accident and close to a million had already died as a result of that exposure. Several months after the book was published, Ted Rockwell, a long time member of the NYAS began a letter writing effort to convince his organization that the work violated many of the principles on which the organization was founded. You can find a number of articles on Ted’s saga here on Atomic Insights.
A couple of days ago, Ted sent out an update that he wants shared widely. Ted is a tenacious man who is a staunch defender of the scientific method and the integrity of scientific organizations against efforts to co-opt their credibility with the public. He wants everyone to understand the reasons he is so offended by the continued availability of the unscientific work on the web site of the organization of which he is a proud member. I’ll let Ted do the rest of the talking:
In June 2010 I learned that the NY Academy of Sciences, of which I am a member, had just published a 327-page report on the meltdown of the nuclear reactor at Chernobyl, calling it “the largest technological catastrophe in history… nearly 400 million [sic!] human beings have been exposed to Chernobyl’s radioactive fallout and, for many generations, they and their descendants will suffer the devastating consequences.”
That conclusion is in stark contrast to the international scientific consensus that the radiological damage to the public health was minor and decreasing, and that serious, widespread damage, including deep depression, alcoholism, needless abortions and suicides had resulted from fear of radiation, fueled by continued deliberate gross overstatement of the radiation danger.
The NYAS report recognizes this disparity and admits that the rules of science do not support the massive radiological health disaster they claim to be evident. So the authors conclude that the rules of science must be abandoned in favor of collecting virtually all reports of health problems and attributing them to radiation from the incident. The fact that the rest of the scientific community does not agree with them they attribute (without offering any evidence) to sell-out to the corrupt international nuclear community, including its regulators.
The authors’ theory of radiation damage is bizarre:
“One physical analogy can illustrate the importance of even the smallest load of radioactivity: only a few drops of water added to a glass filled to the brim are needed to initiate a flow…we simply do not know when only a small amount of additional Chernobyl radiation will cause an overflow of damage and irreversible change in the health of humans and in nature.” But that analogy is simply not true; adding another drop of water does not empty the glass. A toilet works that way, only because it has a float and other equipment to make it so.
I immediately asked the Academy to withdraw this anti-scientific report from publication, and was told that they were informed by counsel that they could not do so (a conclusion challenged by the top legal advisor of the Authors Guild). The Academy said it would set up an advisory panel to evaluate the Report, which might take a few weeks, but it would not be ethical to hurry them. That was two and a half year ago. (How long can one reasonably take for such an evaluation?)
Recently, the Academy hired a new executive, Michael Goldrich, to act as VP and Chief Operating Officer, and members were told this would be a “game changer.” It was not. I pursued the question de novo with him, and have now been informed by him that no Academy action is necessary. He wrote:
“The Academy is committed to publishing content deemed scientifically valid by the general scientific community, from whom the Academy carefully monitors feedback.”
But, of course, that is the very issue! The Report is a defiant repudiation of the scientific community. Mr. Goldrich’s letter continues:
“We are continuing our efforts to have the report evaluated. In the meantime the official position of NYAS with regard to the volume has not changed and is clearly spelled out in the statement we have posted on our website [above]. And when a proper evaluation of the volume is prepared, it will be posted on our website. The volume is no longer for sale. However, we have no grounds for removing it from our website”.
My efforts to resolve this issue have been greatly restrained by my resolve not to embarrass or harm the reputation of the Academy. But I can no longer believe that the Academy is acting in good faith. Despite continued queries for more than two years, I have seen no reports from the alleged review body nor any estimate as to when its work will be done. Why is it so important to the Academy that this piece of anti-scientific Greenpeace propaganda continue to have the Academy’s name and reputation supporting it? I know of no other NYAS Annal Report for which control and distribution have been given away, without accountability, to a political organization.
With this report unchallenged on the public record, the US National Academies have failed in their duty to properly advise the Government and the Public on radiation safety. But the ANS, HPS, et al. have also failed in their duty to advise the Academies in their own areas of expertise. Nuclear News ran the story when I first reported it, but there has been no follow-up action. This is the first time I’ve brought in the DCSWAns. Perhaps one of their eager science reporters will pick up the gauntlet. Or the National Press Club. This is a particularly egregious misuse of both Science and Journalism, but I’ve been unable to get anyone to act on it. So long as this report, backed by the reputation of the NYAS, can be used as a measure of the dangers of radiation, return of the Fukushima people to productive life will be impeded, as will other efforts to apply the benefits of nuclear energy.
As has been repeatedly demonstrated, it is fear of radiation, rather than radiation itself, that causes the harm (e.g., there has not been a single case of lasting radiation injury from Fukushima, including the conscientious plant operators (called “the suicide squad” by much of the media) who worked in the dark, and in radioactive water, to shut down the reactors and bring the plants to a safe condition.
The following link describes the effort to date to resolve this issue with the NYAS:
The Chernobyl meltdown occurred in 1986 in a fundamentally unstable Soviet weapons reactor. One could argue that the safety of this type of reactor is not indicative of the safety of commercial power reactors, which is true but not relevant to the issue here.
This dose rate from the meltdown was four times lower than I would experience visiting places in Norway where the natural external radiation (up to 11.3 mSv/year) from the rocks is higher than over the Central European plane. It was also some 100 times lower than in an Iranian resort Ramsar, where the annual dose reaches about 250 mSv per year, or more than 300 times lower than at the Brazilian beaches (790 mSv per year) or in South-West France (up to 870 mSv per year). No adverse health effects have ever been reported among the people living in these areas with high natural background radiation.
Yesterday, Ted sent out another message that reiterates his reasoning for taking agressive action to spread the truth that low doses of radiation are not harmful and that even the worst nuclear accident in history resulted in exposing the public to doses whose harm is so low that it cannot be measured.
Friends and Colleagues:
The following link describes how 638 elderly people were killed by needless evacuation from the Fukushima area dictated by unwarranted fear of radiation, while radiation itself has caused not a single lasting radiation injury, and the danger from radiation continues to decrease.
Over-stating the danger of radiation is not conservative; it has led to despair, depression and death. Greenpeace International continues to use the prestige of the Academy and its Governors by name to promote this aggressively anti-scientific report. It justifies this action (see letter above) by proclaiming:
“The Academy is committed to publishing content deemed scientifically valid by the general scientific community, from whom the Academy carefully monitors feedback.”
You can contribute to that feedback. You can express your feelings as to the scientific validity of a report that defiantly opposes the use of generally accepted scientific protocol and criteria. If you wish to express an opinion to the NYAcademy, address your message to:
If you are empowered to speak for an organization on such matters, and wish to do so, you may indicate that fact in your message. The U.S. National Academies have been delinquent in their duty to advise the Government and the People, by not commenting on this Report that is in such contrast to other unchallenged reports on the record. But the professional organizations in the field, such as the American Nuclear Society and the Health Physics Society have not adequately performed their duty to advise the National Academies out of their specialized knowledge and experience. We are now working to correct that deficiency.
If you decide to contact the NYAS and express your thoughts on this matter, please leave a comment on this post. Feel free to quote your message to the NYAS. Perhaps the only way to achieve the desired result is for people who support the truth about radiation to put as much pressure on the organization as those who are seeking to refute science in order to advance their antinuclear, pro-fossil fuel agenda.
Update: (August 25, 2012) While researching for another post, I came across a web site that demonstrates one of the reasons why Ted and I think it is worth a strong effort to push the NYAS to do the right thing. The ridiculously named NuclearFreePlanet.org (How can a planet be free of nuclear material?) provides a number of ways to obtain the book on a page titled Read or Download- Chernobyl : Consequences of the Catastrophe for People and the Environment for free. It includes this sales pitch:
Consequences of the Catastrophe for People and the Environment
Originally published in 2009 by the New York Academy of Sciences at $150.00, the copyright has been transferred to the authors and the book plus a separate index that was not part of the original publication are now available for $10.00, plus postage.
Please order directly from:
260 W. Ann Arbor Rd.
Plymouth, MI 48170
Include credit card number and expiration date, number of books and shpping (sic) address.
NYAS executives like to deny it, but their failure to effectively denounce an earlier decision to print the book has provided a club to the antinuclear lobby. They compounded the damage by giving away a free copyright to files already formatted to enable easy, on demand printing using readily available – and cheap technology. End Update.
Just to say that this report has been described by quite prominent anti-nuclear campaigners as either “report by the New York Academy of Sciences” or a “report by the Russian Academy of Sciences”, neither of which is true.
I have noticed that these people aren’t mentioning this report so much anymore or making the 1 million deaths claim either.
I think it is quite a good tactic when Chernobyl comes up in a debate to ask why they don’t mention it anymore and see what they have to say.
I really hope Ted and others in the scientific community can get traction in calling BS on the Yablakov book. . . but I’m afraid that Ted showed entirely too much deference to the NYAS. By allowing it to go more-or-less publically unchallenged for 2 years, the moment to refute it in the media/public awareness may have passed.
When a respected scientific body publishes junk-science, giving it the authority of *actual science* to the public, those who see it’s faults must aggressively and *immediately* make as much noise as possible and try to as quickly as possible get the attention of the media.
Why? Because modern media is driven by “the story”. When the Yablakov book came out in the US, it was “the story”, and you had a small window of opportunity to be part of that story as a dissenting voice. But, the media isn’t likely to go back and re-visit the issue now that it’s “old news”. The media has a serious case of ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) in my experience.
Still, for whatever it’s worth, I’ll do my part to try to share this story with people I know. Maybe we can get the story to “go viral” as they say.
Now would be a good time for Ray Suarez to do some real journalism. Well, maybe not.
The publishing arm of the NYAS was challenged over this book right at the time of its publishing. Search this blog for this backstory.
Yeah, I’m familiar with that, but as we can see, it mostly lead to 2 years of hemming, hawing, and foot-dragging. I will give them some credit for at least putting up an analysis on the book’s page on their website which details some of the bad flaws in the book, but might point is, I think a bit more aggressive reaction to the publishing of this might have been able to get some coverage in the media while the book was still “news”.
I don’t know – I’m no media relations expert, and I’m certainly no scientific expert, and I realize it’s easy to criticize decisions with the benefit of hindsight, but, I’m just saying, I think because of his ties to NYAS, Ted (and others) might’ve has played it too soft.
This cannot be a case of simple incompetence. It just goes to show us how deeply the Environmental Cult has managed to permeate academia.
…or lots of funding from old, oil money. There does seem to be a sect of environmentalism that holds the believe that if humans were to have access to nearly unlimited and affordable energy, that we would consume and destroy nature.
A minute after writing the above, a thought occurred to me. One way to make this “news” again might be to start a “Defund the NYAS!” campaign on the grounds of scientific fraud.
Does anyone know if the NYAS gets any Federal funding, at all? If they get even a dollar, we could, and SHOULD start a Defund! campaign. I don’t want any of my tax dollars going to an organization, under the guise of scientific funding, which perpetrates scientific fraud.
Such a campaign, if it got enough attention from Congress, would become a new “story” for the media to focus on.
@ Jeff S
I bet you that the NYAS gets plenty of Greenpeace funds.
Overall, The whole concept of secret funding for non-profits needs to be revisited. All too often they become a sock puppet for god-knows-who. Fortuantely they sometimes get caught, as per this old story we all know about:
26 million…. The equivalent of 260,000 one hundred dollar contributions… Well, we know who the Sierra Club is a sock puppet for. I simply don’t think they received that many contributions greater than or equal to $100….. yet ever.
We need to change the status that allows secret funding for Non-Profits. If the American public could “follow the money” with respect to non-profit entities, then the whole energy debate would change overnight.
And we know Russian gas finances Greenpeace in Europe. It is just a matter of knowing how much.
When you look at the financial resolve of Greenpeace Germany, you have to wonder.
Unlike certain other environmentalist groups in Germany (WWF, Friends of the Earth and Naturschutzbund Deutschland between them took €10m from a Gazprom front organization), Greenpeace claims that it doesn’t take any corporate money — do you have any evidence that they’re in receipt of Gazprom money.
We have had a crack at this a while ago when you asked me to provide some sort of proof. At the time, I had read an article, (that I wish I had saved), stating that the leaders of the German chapter of Greenpeace received millions from Gazprom. (was it thru Greenpeace or another channel, I do not remember)
But it is interesting to witness the riches of those Greenpeace leaders who are operating organic farms netting hundred of millions in revenues while they go out of their way to destroy properties and projects of GM foods that can ultimately help feed the planet.
There is too much money floating thru Greenpeace for it to come from small donations. One day the truth will surface.
I wish I had saved that article.
Did you read this from John just above? I am sure Greenpeace acts similarly:
Actually, the Sierra Club was being corrupted by Big Oil money before nuclear energy was even invented.
The Sierra Club began as a conservation organization, and it was opposed to hydroelectric dams (initially for aesthetic reasons). However, oil interests in California realized that instead of flaring off their natural gas output as a dangerous waste product, they could turn it into an additional profit centre if it was burned for the purposes of electricity generation. A group campaigning against the rival power source of hydroelectric dams was an ideal proxy for their money-making ambitions.
The same old corruption is still happening, only now the threat to Big Oil comes from nuclear power rather than (mostly maxed out) hydroelectric.
George – good point. Many nuclear advocates cannot understand why environmental groups actively campaign against both nuclear and large hydro projects. They cannot see that both are technologies that successfully reduce the market demand for coal, oil and natural gas both here in the US and all around the world.
Environmentalists have been proxies for the oil industry since the days when they were used to protest the killer fogs caused by burning coal for heat in the UK. There might be an even older example.
I know I keep harping on it, but it’s time as this when all members of the Nuclear Carnival ought sign up in one voice about this and email NYAS or jot up here for a partition sign in along with regular folk. This is a BIG deal because the NYC Board of Ed (a leader in the country) eats hook line and sinker any recommendations NYAS gives on teaching curricula, which is why primary schools here have little solar powered wiindvanes with “save energy” on and off switches on them sitting on school windowsills. Sure, I can submit my voice, but nuclear bloggers and pro organizations pull far more weight and respect than my fly-turd email.
I originally logged in here to remark on a “Modern Marvels” on a cable I was just watching over breakfast about massive ships. Featured were LNG tankers which, I swear, they just as well been doing a feature in the Disney cruisers with the lively upbeat music and espousing ultra-positive without-a-doubt safety features and the casual manner they muted any hazards relating these behemoths, even stating that if a terrorist airplane flew into one that the most would happen is some of the liquid gas in the tanks would vaporize and engulf the ship, which even if detonated would only severely damage the ship. True or not, the casual manner that Modern Marvels shrugged off ANY possibility of hazard just flipped me. I swear, see if you can view this ep on Youtube. Yet when Modern Marvels did their dark feature on nuclear power, it about left you shaking under your sheets with dark deep ominous music and the undertones of “hope they work!” safety controls and procedures and portraying containment buildings as almost over sized eggshells for terrorists and tornado to breech. I just don’t know why all these nuclear conferences everywhere NEVER touch on the media/TV perspective of nuclear power and how it effects public acceptance! They can sure learn a point or two about reality from our bold advocates in Vermont! It just completely boggles me that such great minds and organizations are complete ostriches on this crucial issue which impacts their own careers and the energy security of this country!
(Picture Arnie and Helen laughing past a gaggle of ostriches….)
I’m afraid that the damage that the publication of this tripe has caused has already been done. Thus there is little to be gained by attempting to have it removed, and much to be lost as the antinuclear side will only use such efforts to claim that the “nuclear industry” is trying to suppress the truth.
The fact remains that the material is already out there and those that would use it to smear nuclear energy will not stop using it even if it is removed from the NYAS web site. On the other hand, anyone with any scientific training will see straight through the garbage and will not give it any weight.
We have seen this sort of poor work before on several occasions and clearly once it has been debunked; the best thing is to leave it alone and not keep the debate going as it only provides fuel to the other side. The fact is the public will not read the material directly anyway and will only assign it importance based on the degree of interest it is shown by the protagonists.
That is not to say it should not be answered when it is brought forward, but it doesn’t need to be continuously attacked unless it is.
I sent a comment to firstname.lastname@example.org as suggested in the article, and I received a notice that delivery failed. Details below:
Arrival-Date: Thu, 23 Aug 2012 12:00:13 -0400
Paul, that looks like their email firewall system kicked your email back.
Maybe you should try some of the other contacts NYAS lists on this page:
I just sent an email to Ray Suarez of PBS regarding this cause. I do not know if I will get any attention from him but it is worth a shot.
I already know the outcome of doing nothing.
Like Gandhi said : Whatever you do will be insignificant, but it is very important that you do it.
The thing is, as we are getting serious about addressing climate change and ocean acidification and are truly poised to renew our commitment to space exploration we need precise bias free radiation health studies. Several “scientific” groups have taken populist approaches to radiation studies, not just NYAS. That needs to end, and past mistakes need to be admitted and apologized for.
“as we are getting serious about addressing climate change and ocean acidification”
I don’t know who “we” are in that sentence, but it certainly doesn’t include most governments. I doubt they will get serious before the global temperature rise is abot 6 or 7 degrees C.
The German government is actually increasing the number of coal-powered stations in use. Serious??
“Starting to get serious about getting serious” I think I should say?, eh?? It took too much time just getting acceptance of the reality across. Now we are stuck with too many anti nukes in populist environmental movements and much too timid scientific authorities.
Germany is not a good example of serious environmental consideration. Theirs is a PR game – a shuffling of industries and numbers for political purposes. In terms of trends the US is actually doing much better than they are.
@ DV82XL and Brian
A while ago I was stating that the Chernobyl reactor was of a military nature. You were both asking for me to provide some sort of source as you were pointing out that they were of original military design but not used for military purposes. I do not doubt you.
But here is a quote from Mr Rockwell from this thread:
‘The Chernobyl meltdown occurred in 1986 in a fundamentally unstable Soviet weapons reactor.’
I knew I heard it somewhere. It was not from Mr Rockwell. But he seems to have the same opinion that I had before you corrected me.
The RBMK-1000 unit that was destroyed at The Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant was not a military reactor but rather a power reactor and that is a matter of record and is not disputed. It was a RBMK type which is an early Generation II reactor and the oldest commercial reactor design still in wide operation.
While it is true that plutonium breeding is done in this class of graphite-moderated nuclear reactor, there is no evidence that this was the mission of the plant at Chernobyl or that there was any work of that sort being done there. Thus we can categorically state that this was NOT a “weapons reactor.”
Daniel – DV82XL’s comment is (almost) entirely correct, but perhaps I can add some additional explanation that is a little more satisfying.
The devil is in the details, and the distinctions to be made are somewhat subtle. First of all, let’s get something clear: the RBMK reactor design was essentially a scaled-up version of a plutonium-production reactor that was used by the Soviet Union to produce weapons material. In that respect, it is not entirely incorrect to call a the RBMK a “weapons reactor.”
The objection expressed by DV82XL and me earlier was that there is no credible evidence that the Soviet Union actually used the RBMK reactors to produce weapons material. In fact, they already had dedicated, more efficient, reactors available for that purpose. I’m more than willing to accept that these reactors were used for such a purpose if someone can provide any credible evidence to support it. However, given the information that I have today, it appears that the RBMK was merely a technical “short cut” to get a high-power nuclear electricity-generating station online with the technology that was currently available and with resources that were available at the time.
It’s not surprising, considering this, that the Soviet Union was quick to adopt the VVER design (a pressurized water reactor design, based on Western technology) for all of the later reactors that they built.
Note that DV82XL is slightly wrong in his claims that the RBMK is “the oldest commercial reactor design still in wide operation.” I think that this distinction belongs to the Magnox reactors in the UK, some of which were clearly used for the dual purpose of producing both electricity and weapons material. But this is a very minor point, hardly worthy of comment. I’m merely being academic.
I hope that this clears up some of the confusion.
The first RBMK type power reactor at Obninsk started to supply power to the grid in 1954 while the first Magnox reactor at Calder Hall wasn’t connected to the grid until 1956. Arguably the former was a scaled down semi-experimental reactor producing only 5MWe, and the latter more or less full size at 60MWe, nevertheless the Russian example was first.
Furthermore it should be noted that only one Magnox power station remains in operation; Wylfa, and that will close in 2014, while some ten RBMK-1000 units are still in use with no set dates for closure.
And since we are being pedantic – the statement that the Chernobyl reactor was of a military nature – the point being argued by Daniel, is categorically incorrect and that is what I was asserting.
Comments are closed.
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