Hard to Believe Story About TMI Radiation and Health Effects
As part of my rambling effort to catch up with events and commentary about nuclear power, I found an article about “new” whistleblower accusations of a massive cover up following TMI.
A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned the Steven Wing studies that claim that the health records of people who lived near the facility indicate patterns that would be consistent with much higher radiation releases than were reported.
It is important to note that Wing does not present any evidence that those higher releases occurred. He ASSUMES that the cancer rates that he teased out of health records are accurate and cannot be explained by any other phenomenon. Here is a quote from Wing in a 1997 Washington Post article about his study:
“The cancer findings, along with studies of animals, plants and chromosomal damage in Three Mile Island area residents, all point to much higher radiation levels than were previously reported,” said Steven Wing, an associate professor of epidemiology at the University of North Carolina and co-author of the study. “If you say there was no high radiation, then you are left with higher cancer rates . . . that are otherwise unexplainable.”
In the article I found today, titled Investigation: Revelations about Three Mile Island disaster raise doubts over nuclear plant safety the author details a number of anecdotes that claim that there really were higher than reported doses. A major source of information for the story is a revelation by two people who claimed to have been hired as health physicists shortly after the accident and who apparently computed much higher releases than everyone else who was there. The comment thread for the article is quite interesting – it has been visited several times by both the article author and one of her other quoted sources – Arnie Gundersen. (That name should be familiar to people who are following the Vermont Yankee and Indian Point sagas.) Here is my addition to the comment thread:
It would be very difficult for me to tackle a point by point rebuttal of the claims made in this story, but it is important to understand that there is excellent technical information available that contradicts the anecdotes. While I am sure that whistleblowers like Arnie Gunderson and the Thompsons are sincere in their beliefs, I hope that at least some of the readers here will accept the fact that the nuclear industry is not composed of ogres but includes thousands of well educated, caring professionals who take their jobs and responsibilities very seriously.
As a nuclear trained submarine officer who has hundreds of associates in the nuclear technology field, I can testify that many of us recognize that profit seeking managers exist, but we also have one of the strongest “safety cultures” of any major enterprise. From day one, even Navy nukes are trained to operate with a questioning attitude that does not allow us to blindly follow orders or to engage in cover ups. When I served as a submarine Engineer Officer I made it very clear to my people that we were all human and subject to making errors so it was important for all of us to admit those errors so that real learning could take place and we could back each other up. This attitude came directly from Admiral Rickover who emphasized personal responsibility and accountability. The quickest path out the door in the nuclear power program is getting caught lying or falsifying records.
That is a long way of explanation as to why I do not believe and do not agree with the claims made here. It is beyond belief that such a coverup could be imposed on the thousands of people who were involved in the accident event, response and decades long investigation.
There are plenty of financial reasons why some people – including the several times cited Amory Lovins – want to spread fear, uncertainty and doubt about atomic energy. Like all commodities, the value of energy products depends on the balance between supply and demand. When the supply exceeds the demand, the price drops – often quite precipitously. Take a hard look at the behavior of energy fuel prices in the past year – not just oil, but coal and natural gas as well. See what happens to the profits of fossil fuel companies when demand falls. Then think about how those companies would behave if they saw a major new source of energy entering the market and stealing their market share like nuclear power was during the 1970s when we were building 10-12 new plants every year.
For example, take Amory Lovins, a man who has been publishing articles recommending an “anything but nuclear” energy philosophy since the mid 1970s. Here is a quote from his July 18, 2008 appearance on Amy Goodman’s Democracy Now program:
“You know, I’ve worked for major oil companies for about thirty-five years, and they understand how expensive it is to drill for oil.”
He also wrote the following about coal in his 1976 seminal work in Foreign Affairs called Energy Strategy: The Road Not Taken. (Note: the quote comes after a Lovins style long and wordy commentary about “new” coal technology.)
“Coal can fill the real gaps in our fuel economy with only a temporary and modest (less than twofold at peak) (Emphasis added) expansion of mining, not requiring the enormous infrastructure and social impacts implied by the scale of coal use in Figure 1.
In sum, Figure 2 outlines a prompt redirection of effort at the margin that lets us use fossil fuels intelligently to buy the time we need to change over to living on our energy income.”
If you want to see the figures mentioned, you can find them at Blast from the past from a “clean coal” advocate – Amory Lovins. It is interesting to note that US coal consumption has done almost exactly what Lovins wanted in 1976 – it has essentially doubled. If we had continued building nuclear plants at the rate achieved then, we would not be burning any coal today.
Lovins and his Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) have consulted for many major energy companies and establishment organizations like the Department of Defense and freely discuss the fact on their web site that the consulting fees represent more than half of the institute’s income. There may be NO relation at all between his decades of anti-nuclear activism and the income that he gets by helping the fossil fuel industry to prosper. Then again, there might be a reason why atomic fission competitors continue to hire him for a fee that some people tell me exceeds ten thousand dollars per day.
Publisher, Atomic Insights
Host and producer, The Atomic Show
Founder, Adams Atomic Engines, Inc.
Disclosure: I have hopes for financial prosperity in a revived nuclear power industry, but my current income has nothing to do with that industry.
We CAN replace all Nuclear Reactors with CONSERVATION and ENERGY EFFICIENCY. RIGHT NOW, TODAY. Off the shelf technology. 30-40% of our demand will go away.
But interestingly enough, the utilities don’t want demand to go down. They don’t make MONEY from LESS power used. They are out to MAKE MONEY.
We have to take back the power and the responsibility for our energy use.
The TIME is NOW to make the changes we need in the amount of greenhouse gases we emit.
We need extensive conservation and energy efficiency measures at all levels of business and government to reduce our energy use and thereby reduce our carbon emissions.
Read Carbon Free and Nuclear Free: A Roadmap for US energy policy. online for free!!
Each of us needs to take personal responsibility for our carbon load.
Change ALL your light bulbs to CFL’s or LED’s!
Turn lights off that are not being used!
Plug appliances into power strips that are REALLY shut OFF. TV, DVD, Stereo, Computer…
Turn up the AC.
Turn down the heat.
Insulate, Insulate, Insulate
Replace with Energy Star appliances-washer, fridge, dishwasher – Hang clothes out to dry.
Install solar thermal hot water collectors.
Install solar PV.
Setup a water collection system with the rain gutters. use to water the garden and lawn.
Grow vegetables for food. organically.
Join a CSA or shop at farmer’s markets.
Recycle everything. Buy used. Don’t buy from overseas. Use cloth bags and reuse.
Eat locally. Reduce Meat consumption.
Drive 55mph, if we all did, we would not need oil from the Middle East. Drive less. Walk, ride a bike to shop, work, play.
Don’t fly. Take the train.
We are down to 3 kwhr per day. The national average is 29kwhr/day. Where are you?
Check your electric bill. Do a few of these things and check your next months bill. It really doesn’t take much to reduce!!
Try the Low Carbon Diet!
Unbelievable. How can a professor put their name on such a comment.
When I read such an articles, if it does seem right, I start to question it. First I look at my assumptions. I assume that the US government has radiation monitoring stations around the TMI plant. I have no reason to believe this is not true. Without both evidence and a motive, you can?t just say it is a cover up.
The second thing I did was some research. I looked up TMI on a map and found that it is next to Harrisburg PA. To confirm a hunch I looked up Harrisburg on Wikipedia. I confirmed that Harrisburg was a long time and major steel centre in the US. I remember that the early steel industry is associated with toxic slug ponds. It would not surprise me if high cancer rates are found everywhere along the Susquehanna river near Harrisburg. Also burning coal releases natural uranium into the air. Although coal is much cleaner today, it was not in the past. I expect much more radiation to be released into the air from the steel plants than from TMI.
I have to wonder what other old dirty heavy industries are located on that river near Harrisburg. Makes you think that nuclear should be located away from people and all their dirty industry.
The high cancer rates are caused by the EMI from the high voltage power lines coming from the plant. funny, most high voltage power line are located in industrial areas. But that has nothing to do with the high cancer rates.
Google “Sydney tar ponds”.
Central PA is in the middle of a Zone 1 Radon area. Most folks in that area have basements and a lot of those are finished (TVs and game rooms).
Local residents are in fact getting a higher dose than folks living Miami, San Francisco, Dallas etc. But the issue for the aforementioned study is that the cancer rates showed no proportional change after the accident. Hence the judge ruled against the claimants in the lawsuits.
What an interesting display of smoke and mirrors from nuclear industry defender Rod Adams. On the one hand, it “would be very difficult” for him to offer any concrete details about what is incorrect in the TMI whistleblowers’ claims as reported in my story. Yet it is not at all difficult for him to go on for more than 800 words spouting:
1) Distractions, such as pointing out that there are thousands of well-educated, caring professionals in the nuclear industry. I’m also sure there are thousands of well-educated, caring professionals in the food safety industry, too, but tell that to the people dead from salmonella in their peanuts.
2) Propagandistic nonsense about a “safety culture” in the nuclear industry, when there is abundant evidence to the contrary.
3) Unfair attacks on Amory Lovins, who he portrays as a stooge of the oil and coal industries, which anyone who has even a glancing familiarity with the work of Lovins and the Rocky Mountain Institute knows is ridiculous.
Perhaps what I find most interesting is that a champion of complex technology like nuclear power should resort to faith when rationality fails to support his case. “It is beyond belief that such a coverup could be imposed on the thousands of people who were involved in the accident event, response and decades long investigation,” Adams writes.
But of course, the question of whether there has been a “coverup” of information at TMI is not a matter of belief. It is a relatively simple matter of fact.
The fact is, there were numerous documented cases of people and animals who lived near TMI displaying symptoms of acute radiation poisoning. If we believe them (and I would note that neither Adams nor any other industry defenders who have commented at my story have suggested all those people are lying), then there has been, by definition, a “coverup” of their experiences.
1. any action, stratagem, or other means of concealing or preventing investigation or exposure.
Long-term follow-up of the residents of the three mile island accident area: 1979-1998. (Environmental Medicine).
In conclusion, the mortality surveillance of this cohort, with a total of almost 20 years of follow-up, provides no consistent evidence that radioactivity released during the TMI accident (estimated maximum and likely gamma exposure) has had a significant impact on the mortality experience of this cohort through 1998. Slight increases in overall mortality and overall cancer mortality persist. The findings of increased risk of LHT for males for maximum gamma exposure and in females for background gamma are of interest and merit continued surveillance to determine if the trend continues. With the exception of breast cancer risk and all lymphatic and hematopoietic tissue (LHT) and maximum gamma exposure, no apparent trends were seen with any of the radiation exposure variables. The slight trend for female breast cancer and likely gamma exposure seen in the earlier update is no longer evident.
This area of Pennsylvania is one of heavy Radon exposure. How the study delineated between this effect and any radiation from reactor release is over my head but is a key factor in the efficacy of this study. It said the following:
Additional investigation of natural background radiation as it relates to the cancer rates in this population. The data used in the analysis of natural background radiation were ecological in nature (i.e., area averages were applied to individuals in the database, as individual dose estimates were not computed). Verification of an exposure gradient within this area on an individual exposure basis would be important to determine if slight increases in SMRs for lymphatic and hematopoietic cancers are due to confounding factors or misclassification bias because of incorrect exposure measures related to the ecological assignment of background radiation levels.
This area of approximation in the analysis of natural background radiation is where contention may arise. In my opinion, it?s no big thing.
@Sue – welcome to Atomic Insights.
I might not have been as clear as I could have been. My comment about the thousands of well educated, caring people referred directly to the people who have been involved in the investigations conducted by the industry, the courts and the regulators over the past 30 years. I have had the opportunity to talk with many of them including Ted Rockwell and Frank Manganaro both of whom had long established reputations as tough investigators. Frank, for example, was a retired vice admiral who had been in charge of an investigation of cost overruns on submarine construction and found serious evidence of fraud. (Documented on pages 251-256 of Francis Duncan’s Rickover: The Struggle for Excellence Naval Institute Press, 2001)
He was no industry stooge. He was appointed in the aftermath of the accident to be in charge of the effort to determine what had happened and to perform detailed analysis of the melted fuel and the plant physical condition.
I had the opportunity for some lengthy discussions with him about what those investigations found – there was no evidence to support the claims of a massive radiation leak as shown by the material that was chipped out of the reactor pressure vessel. There was no evidence that the vessel had been penetrated – if the pressure vessel was intact, how could the hydrogen explosion have occurred? If the pressure vessel was intact and the used fuel material did not escape, where did the reported, but not measured radiation come from?
My “unfair” attacks on Lovins as a long time consultant to the fossil fuel industry were based on quotes directly from Lovins himself. I even provided the references.
Quite frankly, the “documentation” that you provided in your story is on about the same level as that provided in cover stories in those “news” magazines that are found at the supermarket checkout. They are hearsay, unsubstantiated and illogical. There is a good reason that Judge Rambo threw out all of the cases after giving all possible benefit of the doubt to the plaintiffs.
“The fact is, there were numerous documented cases of people and animals who lived near TMI displaying symptoms of acute radiation poisoning.”
Acute ratiation poisoning requires a huge dose of radiation. That would require a steam explosion powerful enough to break through the 3 feet of concrete and steel containment, followed by a fire. I remember TMI and don’t remember see clouds of anything, nore any visible damage in the news casts.
It must be one hell of a cover up.
“there were numerous documented cases of people and animals who lived near TMI displaying symptoms of acute radiation poisoning. If we believe them …
Sturgis tries to slide over the part where we decide whether or not to believe her and the “documenters”. If they are the weak link, there’s a chance, which I believe to be fact, that the afflicted people and animals were neither lying nor truthful, because they never existed.
The fallacy she tries to get away with is a well-worn one, although I can’t remember its name.
This may be a little off topic, but today in the NYT there’s an article called “Dissenter on Warming Expands His Campaign” (sorry I don’t know how to link) which talks of global warming denier Marc Morano. Within the article is this…
Kert Davies, the research director of Greenpeace, said he would like to dismiss Mr. Morano as irrelevant, but could not.
?He is relentless pushing out misinformation,? Mr. Davies said. ?In denying the urgency of the problem, he definitely slows things down on the regulatory front. Eventually, he will be held accountable, but it may be too late.?
Isn’t this Greenpeace own playbook when it come to atomic power.
A copy of the comment I left on Ms Sturgis website:
Okay, I am willing to consider a cover-up. I am willing to consider that the industry is corrupt. However, I am puzzled that only a few researchers claim to find the high cancer rates. The cigarette companies and the asbestos companies were found to be lying by many independent researchers and the government confirmed it. For such high exposures, I would expect that illness rates would be easily seen as they were at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Maybe the nuclear industry is just better at conspiracies than the tobacco industry? 🙂
It is in the best interest for the military to keep nuclear their sole domain.
The Republicans have an interest in Oil and Coal lobbies.
The Democrats have some interest in the Oil and Coal lobbies. They may have even more in the Renewable Energy lobbies.
The power utilities and many of the Nuclear suppliers profit from any type of centralized power production.
So just who is benefiting from this cover-up?
A lot of people are at risk of going to jail for a long time if they are caught. Who are these people? How are they going to profit?
I will remind everyone that the Obama energy plan mentions the word nuclear NOT ONCE:
You guys voted that man in, and he will cater to the likes of Amory Lovins. You deserve what you got, but our grandchildren don’t deserve your choices.
Obama is a smart politician. He will use people like Amory Lovins to get the support of voters. He also knows that he has to do what is right to be successful in the long term.
We need to continue to educate the people.
“I will remind everyone that the Obama energy plan mentions the word nuclear NOT ONCE:”
I can?t help but stop thinking that the days for the role of fission in weapons design and use is nearing an end. With that end will go all the associated fears of radiation and mass destruction. The use of fission in weapons can then be banned from the world and fission reserved solely for the use of nuclear power production. All the plutonium could then be incinerated over a time to power the world. Light Water Reactor nuclear waste will also be burnt and the fears that plague so many like the subject of this thread will gradually recede. Such is the prospect of pure scientific research and its application to the betterment of the human condition. This is the Obama dream for nuclear power; yes we can.
The Wasserman and Sturgis articles read, at best, like screenplay treatments. They cannot be called responsible, fact-based journalism.
But the authors need to update those treatments before they pitch them in Hollywood. Don’t they realize that Obama is a part of the huge gigantic enormous conspiracy that tens of thousands of people at various prestigious and otherwise highly reliable institutions have managed to keep under wraps until the past few weeks?
You want proof?
In Prague our new president said:
We must harness the power of nuclear energy on behalf of our efforts to combat climate change, and to advance peace opportunity for all people.
We certainly wish our president well in his effort to harness the power of nuclear energy to combat climate change and advance peace for all people. However we could wish that he would express that support for nuclear power at home as well as abroad. It is troubling to find that his appointee to the NRC board was the only no vote for a 20 year extension to the license of an existing reactor. We could wish for him to invest some political capital at home in support of nuclear power.
John, you might reasonably claim that Jaczko is Harry Reid’s appointee, but he is not especially President Obama’s choice.
@John – our current president has not appointed anyone to the NRC yet. Commissioner Jaczko, the person who cast the no vote that you mention was appointed by the Bush administration.
With regard to statements made at home, please review the confirmation testimony of Secretary Chu and many statements made during the campaign. President Obama is certainly no “fan” of nuclear power, but he recognizes that it plays a vital role in our current energy supply. Hde has stated on a number of occasions that he is willing to support its expansion when he believes that it is safe and that there is a reasonable plan for dealing with the leftovers.
It is up to US to produce the persuasion. There are PLENTY of powerful, well educated, and well position people who oppose nuclear power development – some of them are in the established nuclear industry. I strongly believe that the truth has a chance to win here, but not if the people who know the truth remain silent.
One of the reasons that I tolerate SOME of the comments made by the anonymous troll here is that he does remind us that there is a lot of work left to do to make the case to the people who have decision making authority today that nuclear fission is a far BETTER choice than dependence on coal (clean or not), methane gas (despite its “clean” and “natural” branding), wind (which is a nasty intrusion into the environment) or solar (whose supporters seem to believe that deserts are wastelands whose current flora and fauna cannot wait to be shaded by solar panels for human enjoyment).
One thing that we do need to do is to pay close attention to the process of finding and confirming a new member of the NRC and make our opposition very clear to anyone who will work as hard as Jaczko to slow or halt the expansion that is already underway. I watched the video suggested by a commenter a week or so ago and was not reassured. Though he does not “have horns”, he completely ignores the relationship between slowing down nuclear power and increasing fossil power along with its attendant dangers. I wish we had fought harder against the apparently dangerous political deal accepted by the Bush Administration.
On one point Sturgis is correct: Lovins’ opposition to nuclear power effectively makes him a supporter of coal, but that’s not his intent. Lovins’ Big Idea is efficiency. That quote you keep using ? “I?ve worked for major oil companies for about thirty-five years” ? is meant to say that he’s not a theorist, but that he’s gotten his hands dirty working on technology, so he knows whereof he speaks. You don’t have to believe that, of course. Personally, I thought Brittle Power was an interesting book.
The really damning quote from Lovins is, “If you ask me, it’d be little short of disastrous for us to discover a source of clean, cheap, abundant energy because of what we would do with it.“
Bill – one thing I have never questioned about Lovins was his intelligence. (His academic accomplishments, yes, intelligence, no.)
With regard to his lifelong selling of the idea of energy efficiency, I believe that Lovins’ is smart enough and well read enough to have a good grasp of The Jevons Paradox. Just in case you do not click on the link, here is a brief excerpt:
“William Stanley Jevons in his 1865 book The Coal Question. In it, Jevons observed that England’s consumption of coal soared after James Watt introduced his coal-fired steam engine, which greatly improved the efficiency of Thomas Newcomen’s earlier design”.
With regard to his quote about “clean, cheap, abundant energy” and what we would do with it – just imagine those same words coming from Lee Raymond, T. Boone Pickens, or Ken Lay. What if all we want to do with it is REPLACE fossil fuel consumption. How scary is that for fossil fuel pushers?
Finally – I have met and spoken with Lovins on at least two occasions. I could be completely mistaken here, but I cannot believe that Lovins EVER got his hands dirty trying to implement his suggestions. If anyone can provide me with evidence that he has turned a wrench, welded a pipe or driven a nail to implement any of his designs himself, I will publicly apologize on the front page of my blog.
Thanks Rod for setting me straight on the Jaczko appointment to the NRC Commission. I had seen news items about Jackzo being Harry Reid’s man. I suppose a deal with Bush was to keep this baggage away from Obama. It is too bad that an anti-nuke got on the Commission. The two most over-regualated industries in our country are nuclear power and nursing homes. There is already too much foot dragging. I worry that Lovens’ disciples will succeed in limiting our emission free energy investments to the so-called renewables and conservation They are inadequate and/or costly alternative to fossil fuels. If the rest of the world finds abundant and low cost emission-free energy in fission ahead of us we may spiral toward becoming a third world country.
Here is a very good web about health and radiation (in spanish): http://www.radiacionysalud.com
Comments are closed.
Recent Comments from our Readers
@Cyril R What was Tesla’s learning rate starting at the first Roadster? How much do you think that first unit…
A new engine or turbine product line doesn’t just cost triple a unit. That’d make it pointless. Yet this is…
Cyril First of a Kind (FOAK) applies to products whose parts and method of assembly are new, not just products…
The problem with the FOAK argument is that FOAK LWRs were built half a century ago for under $300/kWe. And…
I kind of wonder if there aren’t some smart Canadians looking across the border and rubbing their hands with glee.…