Remembering a Friend

Remembering Dr. Steve Wing
by Arnie Gundersen


Dr. Steve Wing - New York Academy of Medicine March 2013

Our friend and colleague University of North Carolina (UNC) professor and epidemiologist Dr. Stephen [Steve] Wing died this week.  I will miss his inquiring mind and his friendship.  Maggie and I were lucky enough to spend some time visiting Steve last summer when we attended a family wedding in North Carolina.

Steve and I first met back in 2006 when each of us was an invited speaker at the Pennsylvania Statehouse in Harrisburg for the 30th commemoration of the nuclear meltdown at the TMI atomic power reactor. 

I spoke first, discussing how the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) had deliberately understated the amount of radiation released during the nuclear power disaster.  Steve followed with a presentation that showed that cancer rates in the vicinity of Harrisburg increased significantly after the meltdown radioactive releases. 

You may view both of our presentations here on the Fairewinds website.

Steve and I had never met before that day in Harrisburg, and neither of us knew of each other’s TMI testimony or what the other was presenting on that 30th commemoration of the first commercial atomic power reactor meltdown. 

Before seeing Steve’s data that day, I could not understand why more people had not gotten cancer as a result of the radioactive releases I analyzed and the NRC attempted to cover-up.  Steve could not understand how cancer rates could have risen so much when he reviewed the NRC’s grossly underestimated calculations. 

When we finished presenting on that March day, we both understood the logical consequences of each other’s expert reports and evidentiary testimonies and the full magnitude of the TMI meltdown became apparent to both of us.  In that ‘eureka moment’ we became fellow truth-sayers, respected colleagues, and fast friends.

Steve was a renowned epidemiologist not just for his work on TMI but also for his pursuit of the truth in many cases where the public health was often jeopardized.  He will be sorely missed by many, not just Maggie and I.  Goodbye old friend. 

Related to TMI but as an aside, Fairewinds recorded eye witness account of their experiences immediately after the disaster at TMI. The experiences of these Pennsylvania natives parallels those of Chernobyl and Fukushima residents, and Fairewinds recommends you give them a listen.

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Air Quotes:  The ‘Soft Sell’ Approach
by Sue Prent

Oftentimes, the atomic power industry tries to burnish its academic credibility by subtly nudging an audience that regards itself as environmentally savvy into agreement that nuclear energy is so necessary for a sustainable planet that it’s not really all that dangerous.

Academic journals and websites that share articles written by academic researchers are the perfect venue for this effort of nuke industry outreach and green washing.  The Conversation offers an excellent opportunity to illustrate how the ‘Soft Sell’ can work, and it recently featured one such article entitled Can environmentalists learn to love – or just tolerate – nuclear power? by Bowdoin College associate professor of history David K. Hecht. 

First it should be noted that Mr. Hecht’s academic credentials appear to be strictly in the field of History and History of Science, and his writings seem to center on landmarks in the nuclear age and their juxtaposition against the evolution of environmental thought.  Certainly, this is a legitimate course of investigation if one is discussing the evolution of environmental thought through the nuclear age, but this academic background does not carry the weight of expertise in physical science, engineering, and nuclear power reactors.

I want to emphasize, right from the start, that I am not implying that Mr. Hecht is a nuclear industry shill, but his article will undoubtedly be cited in the future as an example of academic agreement with the arguments made by the atomic power industry and its proponents. That makes this as much a study in rationalizations as anything else.

In his August 3 piece for The Conversation entitled Can Environmentalists Learn to Love-Or Just Tolerate-Nuclear Power, Mr. Hecht reflects on California’s move away from nuclear power, when he writes:

“Pacific Gas and Electric’s decision to replace nuclear output with renewable energy seems to be an environmental victory, a belated vindication of the anti-nuclear efforts of the 1970s.”

However, Mr. Hecht quickly changes course to suggest that this move is likely only temporary, because he sees it occurring “alongside a modest reappraisal of a technology that was once vilified by the vast majority of environmentalists.”

That last statement by Mr. Hecht IS the ‘money sentence’ for nuclear energy promoters, because it suggests that a whole lot more support for this ‘once vilified’ technology is coming soon.  The attraction in Mr. Hecht’s wording lies in his characterization of opponents to nuclear energy as belonging to a prejudiced past and not the optimistic future that embracing nuclear energy represents.

Mr. Hecht goes on to cite James Hansen, who once testified before Congress on the subject of Climate Change, as “one of a number of prominent environmentalists to support nuclear power”. 

Hansen has his own nuclear baggage and was petitioned in January 2014 by 300 worldwide environmental groups, who pleaded with him to embrace the effort to expand truly renewable energy rather than advocate for atomic reactor power with all of its unique hazards and toxicities for the planet.  Moreover, Hansen has truly tarnished his Climate Change credentials for much of the community by becoming what amounted to a nuclear energy shill in Exelon’s effort to blackmail the State of Illinois into financing the continued operation of outdated and decrepit Exelon-owned nukes in the state.

Mr. Hecht goes on to pine for nuclear power when he writes:

“…the real but remote dangers of nuclear power may prove more manageable than the more visible – and accelerating – consequences of a warming planet.”

Yes, the dangers from nuclear power reactors are indeed real, and just ask the people of Fukushima, Japan how “remote” or “manageable” those dangers are!

Unfortunately, Mr. Hecht seems to have accepted a favorite nuclear industry premise that our only choice is between continued exposure to risk and pollution from the nuclear energy fuel chain or the ‘consequences of a warming planet.’  Truly this is a false choice.

Then, Mr. Hecht hopefully opines:

“Diablo today might be sitting on a second juncture in nuclear history in the United States, one where environmentalists will have to embrace – or even just accept – the very technology that helped teach them to be suspicious of relying too much on technical solutions to the political and social challenge of powering our society.”

This is the fondest hope of the entire nuclear power industry.  We are not even being asked to ‘embrace’ atomic energy, just passively accept it.  In fact, we will ‘have’ to accept it. The remainder of that sentence is a real puzzle because he seems to be making the argument against nuclear power immediately after saying we have to ‘accept’ it.

Nostalgia sells, and Hecht, a historian, makes use of Eisenhower’s “Atoms for Peace” speeches to have us harken back ta kinder, gentler age of nuclear energy when we were all ‘onboard’ with “the dream of a technology-fueled future that might help extend postwar prosperity indefinitely.”

Mr. Hecht unfurls his own historical narrative through the sixties by suggesting that the nuclear power industry and environmentalists strolled hand-in-hand until

“Activist networks in California targeted the plant, and new organizations formed that valued resistance over accommodation and negotiation. David Brower, the executive director of the Sierra Club, helped lead a well-publicized fight with his own board of directors; he would eventually resign to found the more radical group Friends of the Earth.”

That’s right, everything was just fine until those ‘radicals’ like Friends of the Earth spoiled everything.  How come they couldn’t just give in and go away?   Didn’t they know that resistance is futile and California would one day be powered entirely by the miraculous atom?

Oh, wait…

Mr. Hecht then introduces the theories of his science history colleague Spencer Weart, whose 1988 book Nuclear Fear essentially takes the position that anxiety over the deadly potential of nuclear energy is all in our heads.  Well, at least that seems to be Mr. Hecht’s takeaway.

“By the 1970s, despite the energy shocks of the time, nuclear energy became for environmentalists what fossil fuels are today: a symbol of the mistaken choices of decades past, and a clarion call for rethinking the entire energy landscape.”

Mr. Hecht goes on with his historical narrative, citing Three-Mile Island and the movie The China Syndrome “and the anti-nuclear weapons activism of the early 1980’s” (as if there have been no worldwide efforts against nuclear proliferation since then) as still more psychological reasons for our irrational ‘fear’ of nuclear energy.

It was this statement, however, that struck me as particularly accommodating to nuclear industry hypocrisy.

“The Nuclear Regulatory Commission would ultimately conclude that the health effects were minimal – certainly nothing like environmentalists had feared could happen.”

Yes, Mr. Hecht, that is the official story; but very few informed observers still take it at face value. The Three Mile Island (TMI) trial testimony by Fairewinds chief engineer Arnie Gundersen and University of North Carolina epidemiologist Dr. Steve Wing unveiled the true magnitude of the TMI meltdown and its impact on human health.

The final ‘witness’ in his exculpatory history of nuclear energy is Stewart Brand, editor of those many…many… Whole Earth Catalogs that filled the remainder piles and recycling bins of countless bookstores and households from 1968 on.  Despite his prodigious use of pulp and paper, Stewart Brand was an early environmental advocate and an icon of the 60’s drug culture. 

He is one of those “prominent environmentalists” that Hecht cites as squarely in the tank for nuclear energy “I’m so pro-nuclear now,” he told NPR in 2010, “that I would be in favor of it even if climate change and greenhouse gases were not an issue.

To which I say, “Good for you, Mr. Brand…would you like another hit?”

That’s about all the expertise Mr. Hecht has lined up for his arguments.

The defectors that now support nuclear energy, Hecht says, have an “awareness that the environmental crisis is even worse than they imagined in early 1970s, in particular the threat of climate change from the buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.”

(An important thing to emphasize, given that most environmentalists who oppose nuclear energy have been totally unaware of the threat from greenhouse gases all these years.)

Mr. Hecht must have a keen ear for the dog whistle?

There is reference to the relatively few defectors to nuclear energy as being “more moderate” than their “still skeptical environmental supporters.”

This language, like earlier references to “radicals” conveys the not very subtle message that opponents of nuclear energy are nothing more than emotional outliers resisting a new era of “nuclear enlightenment.”

Mr. Hecht concludes that “it may well be that increased reliance on nuclear power
will be part of the toolkit we need to survive climate change”.

At least, Mr. Hecht seems to be convinced, and then adds the following proviso: “Can we power our society without resorting to industrial-scale technology with significant risks? It may not be possible – or desirable – to live with the trade-offs our appetite for energy demands of us.”

This is the perfect set-up for a discussion of the so-called modular nukes that the industry would have us believe are just around the corner if we just let energy companies run the existing atomic rust buckets just a little longer; maybe twenty more years…or, then again maybe not.

Coming soon to an atomic power industry newsletter near you: Can Environmentalists learn to love nuclear power?

According to Mr. Hecht it all boils down to the nuclear industry’s continuous plea that it is an absolute necessity to think inside the box and not deviate from the aging 20th century paradigm of huge industrial nuclear power plants creating the ‘energy of tomorrow’.  While thinking outside that box by using 21st century sustainable resources of renewable energy generated by farms, families, communities, villages, towns and cities around the globe enriches our US economy, creates millions of jobs, protects our environment, saves land from turning into leaking radioactive waste dumps, and save trillions of dollars of investment from going down the drain. 

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The Smokescreen Masquerade

Although Halloween is over once again, US atomic power advocates are planning their own Masquerade Ball with new nukes posing as a solution to greenhouse gas emissions and global climate change. Fairewinds chief engineer Arnie Gundersen recently gave two speeches at the University of Quebec at Montreal and at McGill University (also in Montreal) titled “The CO2 Smokescreen: New Nukes Make Global Warming Worse”.  As you will see, the attached report  shows that the enormous amount of time required to build those new nukes coupled with the huge cost to do so, diverts attention and money from the better opportunity of renewable energy.  Building Small Modular Renewables is the right choice to impact global climate change; it saves trillions of dollars of investment, creates clean energy production in less than five year increments, and creates millions of American jobs.  Renewables are both patriotic and good business!

Coming Soon to Your Neighborhood

The debacle of Climate Change and the extreme weather patterns accompanying it are real challenges worldwide. Every country on the planet is seeking solutions that protect our cities and communities as well as improve our business investments around the world. What are the right choices? The World Nuclear Association (WNA) claims that building 1,000 new nukes – that is one large nuclear plant or five Small Modular Reactors every twelve days for the next thirty-five years – is the only feasible way to slow down climate change!  Fairewinds Energy Education’s new animation to be released next week will show you why new nukes will only make global warming worse!

Fairewinds In The News:


Power Struggle Recap:

During the past two weeks the Gundersens have attended Sneak Preview showings of the full-length documentary film Power Struggle directed and produced by Turning Tide Production’s Robbie Leppzer and featuring Fairewinds President Maggie Gundersen and Fairewinds Chief Engineer Arnie Gundersen. Check out the trailer below or read about our attendence at the last week's showing in Northampton, Massachusetts.

Checkout for more information about the film.

Energy News: 

Toxic Sludge:

“Car wash septic tanks emerge as radiation threat in Fukushima” according to an article in The Japan Times noting that highly radioactive sludge is building up in large quantities in the storage tanks below car washes in Japan’s Fukushima Prefecture. Government officials claim that this radioactivity was emitted by “ash and soot that stuck to vehicles shortly after the triple core meltdown at the Fukushima No. 1” back in 2011.  However, pooling of radioactivity in areas like these Fukushima storage tanks was confirmed by Fairewinds data collected in Japan last February and March by Arnie Gundersen when he spent a month speaking in Japan. Fairewinds data shows that radioactive particles are continuously moving through soil and water, causing recontamination of areas that the Japanese Government claims were already decontaminated.

Samples taken from this sludge are emitting radioactivity readings of 57,400 Becquerels per kg (Bq/kg) ­– these readings are more than seven times higher than the designated limit in Japan. What’s most disturbing is that this waste is manually removed by maintenance personnel untrained in the critical methodology of handling radioactive materials, thereby causing numerous hazards for the workers and further recontamination. Despite repeated efforts for government assistance in this cleanup effort, it is still left to the car-wash owners. Legal statutes have not kept up with the aftermath of meltdowns, instead the decontamination law only requires that companies report radiation levels in sewage sludge and incinerated ash, and not in other waste products or debris.

Fukushima Prefecture already has some 1,700 auto maintenance facilities and currently a growing number of septic tanks are reaching capacity, accumulating to an estimated several thousands of tons of radioactively “tainted sludge”.

Lets Play Ball: 

As we all know, the 2020 Olympic games will be hosted in Tokyo, Japan, and final arrangements are being made to locate numerous baseball venues in Fukushima Prefecture.

Listed as a reason for choosing Fukushima, the Tokyo Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games announced that “the name of the city would effectively convey to the world the prefecture's reconstruction from the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake” despite the remaining radiation and many areas still left to be cleaned and decontaminated.

The Committee claims that final decision on the location within Fukushima Prefecture will be made at its executive board meeting December 6-8 following their inspection of the area. Will that be a thorough radiological examination by independent scientists and including the radiological assessment of dirt and dust samples that could be inhaled?