Immediately after the November elections in the United States, Dr. Helen Caldicott, a well-known antinuclear activist from Australia, offered commentary for publication by the Huffington Post titled simply The Election. A part of her message was another round of fire in of what I believe will be a lengthy campaign leading to a loud crescendo on or about April 26, 2011 – the 25th anniversary of the Chernobyl accident.
Here is the quote from her comment:
3. Nuclear Power. A huge conspiracy of silence has been perpetrated by the global nuclear industry in its quest to build hundreds more nuclear reactors around the world as a solution to global warming. Aside from the fact that the generation of atomic electricity adds substantially to global warming, an alarming recent publication by the New York Academy of Sciences titled “Chernobyl, the Consequences of the Catastrophe for People and the Environment” documented that the accident in 1986 has so far killed over 985,000 people from cancer in all nations affected by the radioactive fallout. Whereas the International Atomic Energy Agency which represents the nuclear industry predicted only 4000 deaths from Chernobyl. Have the Tea Partiers and Republicans read this report? Are people aware that the Academy of Sciences only printed 700 copies in 2010 of this outstanding scientific publication for which they charge $150 and they are reluctant to print more? Why?
First of all, there is no conspiracy of silence – quite the contrary. There are a lot of nuclear advocates who are working hard to loudly explain why we believe it is time to build a lot of new nuclear power stations – starting several years ago. We also address, with patience (most of the time), questions from people about what they have been told regarding the potential dangers of nuclear energy.
I also happen to be familiar with the publication that Dr. Caldicott describes and recommends; it was discussed in great detail on several email lists to which I subscribe. The people on those lists include a number of well-credentialed health physics and radiation specialists. Though they completely panned the “report” and were outraged that the NYAS had decided to publish what was obviously a political, not a scientific piece, the general feeling on the mailing list was that it would be best to simply ignore the report rather than take effective action to have it discredited. The idea was that maybe the high price put on the report would discourage readers and it would fade away.
I thought that was a bad idea – terrible politics masquerading as bad science should be strongly resisted, especially if it is published under the auspices of an organization that is normally considered to be a credible source of information. There is enough scientific illiteracy in the world so that most people, including journalists and high school teachers, would be unable to make the distinctions between truth and falsehood. Allowing the report to be unchallenged would leave a ticking time bomb of misinformation that may have devastating effects when triggered.
At least one of the correspondents on that mailing list decided to take some action. As a member of the NYAS, Ted Rockwell asked the organization to explain why they had published the report. He also wrote a letter to the editors of Nuclear News to warn his fellow nuclear professionals about the book. With Rockwell’s permission, I republished that letter last month in an Atomic Insights post titled Chernobyl Consequences – Myths and Fables Versus Science.
After reading Dr. Caldicott’s contribution to the Huffington Post, I followed up with Ted to find out if the NYAS had finished their promised review of the Greenpeace Report of reconstructed, unscientifically accumulated dose effect folklore that is still masquerading as a “study” published by the New York Academy of Sciences. He told me that he had heard nothing and that the assembled panel was still meeting and discussing – nearly 6 months after its formation. Rockwell also shared a letter that he had written in rebuttal. He told me I could share it with Atomic Insights readers, so here it is:
Rebuttal to Greenpeace Chernobyl Report
The facts in this case are simple and straightforward. Surprisingly, the report itself makes it easier for us: it concedes, starting on page 2, and repeatedly thereafter, the case we’d otherwise have to make from inference. The Report says that science does not support the conclusions they reach, and therefore science is wrong. So, that’s the case we should address, and not get trapped into arguing trivia.
The report also concedes that the study was “initiated by Greenpeace International,” which effectively became the report’s editors. Some people think of Greenpeace as a general do-good organization that any green-minded person should support. We should quote from their website, that their mission is to destroy the nuclear industry–bombs, power and presumably everything else (although they don’t mention medicine) and shut down permanently all nuclear reactors). Greenpeace is clearly not an impartial seeker of scientific truth.
We have a couple of serious problems in making our case. Greenpeace has a lot more money and brand recognition than we have. And the NY Academy of Sciences paid for the translation of all these reports and is now publishing the Report itself. As a member of NYAS, I’ve pushed its officers into considering repudiating it. They claim their lawyer won’t let them do that, without first setting up a panel of independent scientists to evaluate the report. They have been carrying out this evaluation process for months, but they claim that it’s not really an Academy report, they’re just making the report available for people to make up their own minds. I say that’s nonsense. By publishing the report, they’re claiming that it’s a valuable document, worthy of scientists’ attention. If that’s not their policy, it ought to be.
So while Greenpeace touts it as a NYAS report, we should refer to it as a “Greenpeace Report.”
I believe that Greenpeace started the project for the purpose of springing “The True Story of Chernobyl” for April 2011, the 25th Anniversary of the meltdown, with the claim that it happened once; it will happen again. And again. That’s like using motorcycle accident statistics to predict automobile statistics.
The Report’s cost, $150, has kept it mostly unknown up to now. When they start their campaign, Greenpeace could make the Report available at low cost, and its history would look quite authentic.
That’s the situation as of now. Keep tuned.