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Since 2008 – Progress Through Politics

Fukushima's Safe? Say it to My Face.

As the Fukushima nuclear power plant threatens to meltdown, too many otherwise sane people are ignoring the very real dangers that accompany nuclear power use. You think Fukushima, and other power plant’s are safe? Well say that to my face. Because I almost died of childhood metastatic cancer that probably came from radioactive fallout. And there wasn’t a single explosion to show for it.  

In the early through mid 1980’s, I lived within walking distance of the Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant in NY. Attended my very first protest ever there, with my mother, when a group of she and our neighbors marched up there and stood around the big, smooth silo that loomed over Highway 9. I think we made a circle around it and held hands or something. I was eight years old.

Almost every day, after school, I’d hike through the woods behind my house. The woods were exquisite, high cathedrals of gnarled trees dotted with postage stamp ponds choked with skunk cabbage and giant red spathes of some sort, underneath, patches of shy violets, tiny wild strawberries, impossibly green ferns and moss trimming the forest floor leading out into white carpets of lily of the valley and bleeding hearts; a wild, funky trillium here, a bottle rocket of a tiger lily there, tendrils from an unknown plant spilling out through sassafras, nightshade, hairy red sumac, and white winter berries. I’d trot down the horse paths, and when the horse paths ended, I’d tumble onward through deer paths seeking fiddle head ferns and the headless horseman, for this was the legendary region of his nightly rides.

When Winter came, icicles and snow and dusk would combine to turn the forest into sheer cobalt.

In Spring, crocus would come up along with puffball mushrooms the size of my small head.

A year passed. I was watching a game show with my grandparents, who had come to visit, when suddenly I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t breathe at all and went limp. They loaded me quickly into the car, took me to the ER, and I was dispatched, at the age of nine, with a diagnosis of anxiety attacks.

My diligent mother sent me to therapy for three years to help with these anxiety attacks, which became increasingly frequent, and which caused me to grow a large, extremely visible lump somewhere in my neck that was dismissed as “hormones.” The so-called anxiety attacks seemed to worsen when I ran, and twice, I passed out in PE and was taken by ambulance home and given sedatives to “calm me down.”

About four years later, my physician started thinking my constellation of symptoms was, well, a bit curious. Three weeks later, I was being prepped for emergency cancer surgery, since it was noted that I had perhaps another month or two to live. Lumps had begun cropping up all over my body. The metastatic body grows much like the forest floor in Spring.

When I awoke, there I was, a twelve-year old mummy wrapped up and strapped down, tubes going in and out of me to pump and drain. A Frankenstein’s monster with a line of airplane glue running over the eight-inch scar on my neck, swaddled in pillow-thick cotton, itching, sutured up with giant metal staples. I couldn’t really hear. I couldn’t really see. Thinking was a bit of a chore. Vomiting came pretty naturally, however. It was summer in NYC and the AC was broken. I recall nurse’s wiping the sweat from my immobilized boy.

The doctors came clucking in like some busy white ducks one morning or another, with manila folders flying, a phalanx of grave-faced doctors, and told my mother and I that the cancer was Stage IV, it was not the “good” kind (there’s a good kind; who knew?) but a mixed kind, and that they had removed about seventy tumors, many lymphatic, one on my carotid artery, a dangerous spot for it, one on my voice box, one the size of a plum, one the size of an orange, and another, that was compressing my windpipe, that one was the size of a grapefruit. They had also removed much of the muscles in my neck, a good deal of my vascular system, assuring me I’d never miss it, and several vital glands without which one cannot live, but no matter, they have fine pills for that these days.

And I’d need to have radiation treatment as well.

“Why has this happened?” cried my mother.

Video of Fukushima

They told her it was because the woods where we lived, this was an area that was then a well-known cancer cluster. They couldn’t be sure of course. But most of their patients with this sort of cancer were coming from there. This was characteristic of certain kinds of radiation exposure, they said. A few years later, or was it before, Chernobyl happened, and it’s true that the children had the same forms of cancer that I did.

And they had to take films of my brain to be sure it hadn’t gotten in there, as well as my lungs, my intestines, and so forth. They wanted to be sure I didn’t need any more of my stuffing removed.

Drinking radioactive iodine is really an acquired taste. It tastes like molten plastic with a sort of rubbing alcohol aftertaste. It’s thick and viscous and has a toxic flavor.

For a few years, intermittently, they carted me in and out of that hospital. They’d take one thing or another thing out until I felt like something out of the Wizard of Oz. Some of my experiences in the operating room were outright nightmarish. Like waking up on the operating table and being quickly knocked out again, but not before getting a face full of blood. Having some dimwit night nurse try to change my lymphatic tube catch bulb thing, fucking it up, and drenching me in about a cup of my own lymphatic fluids, thinking I was asleep and just leaving me there inert and soaked. If these things don’t give you a black sense of humor, really I don’t know what will. It’s important to be able to laugh at yourself. Especially when they keep telling you you’re going to probably die.

My mother hired a lawyer to sue, but needless to say, that didn’t go far.

The Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant, built in the mid 1970’s, has been in and out of the news for as long as I can remember now, for various leaks, scandals, and controversies. It’s still up and functioning. I was declared in “remission” finally, over twenty years later. So now I’m up and functioning as well.

If you want to tell me that nuclear power is safe, that Fukushima is fine and well, that there’s nothing to be concerned about, then say it to my face. I dare you. Because I’ve stared down nuclear power and lost. The families who live near that plant, the children in particular, have no idea what they are handling. TEPCO, the company that owns Fukushima, has 29 violations on record. The Japanese Government has been long condemned for downplaying the risks of their plants. Fukushima is not a new plant. It was built before Indian Point, in fact. Whether or not it has an actual meltdown, which it’s reported to still be at risk for, Japanese people, Japanese children, are very much at risk for suffering from the consequences of this plant that we have yet to see, and in many cases, may not see for years and years.

Go ahead. Tell me nuclear power is safe.

Chernobyl may have been a weapons plant, but Indian Point wasn’t. It was an energy plant. It didn’t explode. It didn’t send out plumes. It just felt evil. You’d have to be dead inside to not feel the strange and curious evil coming off of that place, it’s
weirdly smooth, sky-high walls, it’s deathly silence, it’s overgrowth.

They said the headless horseman rode those woods. Perhaps he did. A long, pink scar runs from one side of my neck to the other like a scythe wound. I suppose he only nicked me.

Others won’t be so lucky.

Fuck nuclear power!

Say it loud and proud!

Fukushima is an important reminder of why nuclear power is out-and-out dangerous, grade-A unadulterated bullshit, nothing more than a bunch of money-grubbers dabbling in what amounts to modern necromancy spun by oligarchs and flim-flam men.

From Greenpeace:

   Reacting to reports that radioactive materials including the isotope Cesium-137 have been released from the Fukushima power plant, and that increased levels of radiation have been detected in the immediate vicinity, Jan Beranek, Head of Greenpeace International Nuclear Campaign said:

       “Our thoughts continue to be with the Japanese people as they face the threat of a nuclear disaster, following already devastating earthquake and tsunami. The authorities must focus on keeping people safe, and avoiding any further releases of radioactivity.”

       “The evolving situation at Fukushima remains far from clear, but what we do know is that contamination from the release of Cesium-137 poses a significant health risk to anyone exposed. Cesium-137 has been one if the isotopes causing the greatest health impacts following the Chernobyl disaster, because it can remain in the environment and food chain for 300 years.”

       “Fukushima remains under threat of a serious reactor meltdown; this would potentially create an iodine cloud, which could spread high radiation levels to both the environment and population over many tens of kilometres. By simply communicating to local populations the importance of staying indoors, the government could limit potential radiation doses from this cloud by a factor 2 to 5.”

       “How many more warnings do we before we finally grasp that nuclear reactors are inherently hazardous? The nuclear industry always tells us that situation like this cannot happen with modern reactors, yet Japan is currently in the middle of a potentially devastating nuclear crisis. Once again, we are reminded of the inherent risks of nuclear power, which will always be vulnerable to the potentially deadly combination of human error, design failure and natural disaster.”

       “Greenpeace is calling for the phase out of existing reactors, and no construction of new commercial nuclear reactors. Governments should invest in renewable energy resources that are not only environmentally sound but also affordable and reliable.”

Whether or not it melts down, how many warnings indeed?

I’ve already had one too many.

Nuclear’s power’s safe? Say it to my face. I’m living proof… it’s not.

h/t to kck for the excellent 1997 NYT article on long-term nuclear fallout studies, hey 40 years isn’t so long to wait for these figures right?:

   The National Cancer Institute today released information from a study of radiation doses from atomic bomb tests in the 1950’s that was long, long-awaited and mostly inconclusive: 115,000 pages produced over 14 years that predict an increase in thyroid cancer of 2 percent to 20 percent above normal.

CNN is now reporting an increased risk of Fukushima’s possible meltdown despite earlier assurances. Time will tell and it’s not my job to prognosticate. 160 people are now reported, by Tokyo Reuters, to be treated for radiation exposure. However, 130,000 have been evacuated and the American Embassy itself has issued strong warnings. TEPCO, the company which owns Fukushima, presently has 29 previous violations on file and does not seem to have a reputation for credible presentation of facts about their plant. Moreover, we should consider the lessons learned in the US, ranging from big tobacco, to BP, to PG&E and on and on about how corporations tend to skew the truth when widespread health problems are reported, or when disaster strikes.

x-posted from the Daily Kos.  


  1. mahakali overdrive

    After much urging from many here, I wanted to say hi and made an account yesterday. I don’t diary often. But this Fukushima incident has moved me intensely.

    Couldn’t figure how to embed the video. The normal embed code didn’t seem to take. So I linked to it instead.


  2. Shaun Appleby

    Of Westchester woodlands were very moving, I grew up in nearby Ossining and spent many afternoons wandering the woodland near my home.  Indian Point actually started up in 1962 and I have a faint memory of an elementary school field trip there in the fourth grade.  Indian Point No 1, the only reactor active at the time, was originally a thorium reactor.  Back in those days there was a much more cavalier attitude taken towards regulation and safety concerns.  These plants were considered practically part of the national security infrastructure.  Are you suggesting there was some incident at IPEC that accounts for your condition as a child?  I would be curious to know more about that.

    It strikes me as ominous that in virtually every nuclear disaster event the authorities and regulatory bodies have been economical with the truth, both at the time and in subsequent years.  Given the industry advocacy, liability and general unwillingness to take responsibility by elected officials combined with the invisibility of radioactive materials and the tendency of long term effects being lost in background statistical “noise” the industry has earned an unenviable reputation for lack of disclosure and downright misrepresentation.  Then they point to there safety record as justification for further construction.

    When looking at the early history of nuclear energy for both civilian and military applications it is fascinating to note how little cognizance was taken of the risks of radioactive materials in the past.  That we would still have this attitude regarding safety issues and disposal of nuclear wastes, for example, isn’t inspiring.

  3. Shaun Appleby

    It is increasingly unclear whether the anodyne assurances emanating from the Japanese government are transparent and open:

    Japan’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA) said March 12 that the explosion at the Fukushima Daiichi No. 1 nuclear plant could only have been caused by a meltdown of the reactor core, Japanese daily Nikkei reported. This statement seemed somewhat at odds with Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano’s comments earlier March 12, in which he said “the walls of the building containing the reactor were destroyed, meaning that the metal container encasing the reactor did not explode.”


    NISA has also overseen the entire government response to the nuclear reactor problems following the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami. It is difficult to determine at this point whether the NISA statement is accurate, as the Nikkei report has not been corroborated by others. It is also not clear from the context whether NISA is stating the conclusions of an official assessment or simply making a statement. However, the Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), the operator of the Fukushima nuclear plant, also said that although it had relieved pressure, nevertheless some nuclear fuel had melted and further action was necessary to contain the pressure.

    If this report is accurate, it would not be the first time statements by NISA and Edano have diverged. When Edano earlier claimed that radiation levels had fallen at the site after the depressurization efforts, NISA claimed they had risen due to the release of radioactive vapors.

    Japanese Government Confirms Meltdown STRATFOR 13 Mar 11

    I’m not entirely confident we are getting the full story on the release of radioactive materials as a consequence of this event especially given the catastrophic failure of the containment building, the presence of caesium and radioactive iodine outside the reactor and the subsequent unconfirmed radiation death of one worker at the site and the “radiation poisoning” diagnoses for at least two others.

    With passing hours throughout this crisis the evacuation has been enlarged and the information provided by authorities has become more conflicting and ambiguous.

  4. sricki

    So great to see you here!

    And I have more substantive things to say, but I’m currently hacking away at a monstrous diary, so I’ll come back later tonight when I need a break.

    Awesome that you’re here!  

  5. Kysen

    Welcome to the Moose, MO! Good to see ya in purple (finally!). I knew if we worked on ya long enough you’d give in. 😉

    Wowzers, hon…I had no clue you’d been thru the wringer like that…it is a shame that it was not caught earlier, but, an obvious blessing that it was indeed caught.

    Hope to see ya here more often now that you have dipped your toe in…if you have ANY questions feel free to use the ‘Contact the Moose’ link at the bottom of each page—or just ask in a comment…we are pretty laid back here.  😉

    Make yourself at home, hon…


  6. Shaun Appleby

    Looking dire:

    The plant’s operator said that so much water had evaporated from the number-three reactor that at one stage the top three metres of the fuel rods were exposed to the air, although they were later covered again.

    Japan’s ambassador to the United States Ichiro Fujisaki told CNN: “There was a partial melt of a fuel rod, melting of fuel rod. There was a part of that… but it was nothing like a whole reactor melting down.”

    A total of 22 people have also been hospitalised after being exposed to radioactivity, although it was not immediately clear to what degree they were exposed and what condition they were in.

    Kelly Macnamara – Japan battles nuclear emergency after deadly quake AFP via Yahoo News 13 Mar 11

    Just a layman but I would assume that if you had ten feet of fuel rods exposed without coolant for any period of time you would have a difficult situation on your hands.  And the number of hospitalisations for radiation exposure probably indicate some pretty desperate measures at the plant itself, these workers would know exactly how much radiation is a risk and have ways of measuring it.

  7. Shaun Appleby

    The issue with the first reactor event is whether the reactor core is stabilised or continues to heat up no matter what the coolant situation.  An excellent, sober, and sobering, explanation can be found here:

    The cooling systems for the Unit 1 reactor have not been operating and, as the core heats up, the water surrounding the fuel has evaporated to the point where the fuel becomes exposed to the air. Unless there is a way to replace the water the fuel will continue to heat up.

    To attempt to cool the reactor, TEPCO has been pumping sea water into the reactor vessel. Since this is very corrosive and will seriously damage the reactor, this is an option of last resort and indicates that they do not expect to get the cooling systems back online.

    Reports note that boric acid is being added with the sea water. Boric acid is a soluble form of boron, which is very good at absorbing neutrons. By adding this to the water around the fuel rods, it would capture neutrons that could otherwise cause additional atoms to fission. This is being added to the reactor to make sure it does not become critical again, which might happen in two ways: (1) fuel rod damage that results in fuel rod segments dropping to the bottom of the reactor vessel, where they could form a critical mass, or (2) withdrawals of the control rods caused by malfunctions of the hydraulic control units that move the control rods in and out of the core.

    Recent reports state TEPCO has succeeded in filling the reactor vessel with water, which would mean the fuel rods are no longer exposed to air. But some form of cooling will still be required.

    Ed Lyman – Update on Fukushima Reactor All Things Nuclear 12 Mar 11

    The whole article is well worth reading.  The concern at this point is that there is no unequivocal confirmation of the stabilisation of the temperature in the reactor and recent reports lead one to believe there is still an issue regarding the status of the fuel within the reactor vessel.  In spite of all assurances to the contrary the first path to criticality mentioned above, a possible consequence of a “partial” meltdown, would probably ultimately result in a rupture of the reactor and inner containment vessels.

  8. Shaun Appleby

    A recent report:

    Tokyo – Experts in the north-eastern Japanese prefecture of Miyagi Sunday measured radiation levels 400 times above normal, the Kyodo News agency reported.


    It is believed that the radiation blew in from Fukushima province…

    Radiation levels increase 400 times in quake-hit province Deutsche Presse-Agentur 13 Mar 11

    That’s roughly 100km away, a radius from the Fukushima reactors which includes almost seven million people, although current winds are blowing gently towards Miyagi.

  9. spacemanspiff

    I’m the one who runs the show around here (if you haven’t already noticed by looking at my awesome handle).

    Fuck nuclear power!

    I love your style.

  10. Shaun Appleby

    2227: Radiation levels at Fukushima 1 nuclear plant have again topped legal limits, Kyodo News network says.

    Japan crisis ‘worst since WWII’ BBC

    Sobering reading in detail the Wikipedia account of the Three Mile Island accident.  As far as impact on the facility, the locality and the response to the accident at the time it is hard to reconcile with Fukushima being an incident of lesser magnitude.  At Three Mile Island the true nature of the accident wasn’t revealed until after three independent investigations and inspection of the core five years later.

  11. Shaun Appleby

    Of the consequences of existing conditions at Fukushima:

    Japanese cabinet officials said after Monday’s explosion that the container still appeared to be intact.

    But even before the latest blast, Pentagon officials reported on Sunday that helicopters flying 60 miles from the plant picked up small amounts of radioactive particulates – still being analyzed, but presumed to include Cesium-137 and Iodine-121 – suggesting widening environmental contamination.

    In a country where memories of a nuclear horror of a different sort in the last days of World War II weigh heavily on the national psyche and national politics, the impact of continued venting of long-lasting radioactivity from the plants is hard to overstate.

    Japanese reactor operators now have little choice but to periodically release radioactive steam as part of an emergency cooling process for the fuel of the stricken reactors that may continue for a year or more even after fission has stopped. The plant’s operator must constantly try to flood the reactors with seawater, then release the resulting radioactive steam into the atmosphere, several experts familiar with the design of the Daiichi facility said.

    That suggests that the tens of thousands of people who have been evacuated may not be able to return to their homes for a considerable period, and that shifts in the wind could blow radioactive materials toward Japanese cities rather than out to sea.

    Re-establishing normal cooling of the reactors would require restoring electric power – which was cut in the earthquake and tsunami – and now may require plant technicians working in areas that have become highly contaminated with radioactivity.

    David E Sanger and Matthew E Wald – Radioactive Releases in Japan Could Last Months, Experts Say NYT 13 Mar 11

    And that’s assuming these already acknowledged “partial” meltdowns are retained in reactor vessels and primary containment.  This is going pear-shaped, folks.

  12. Shaun Appleby

    US experts are apparently getting better information than the general public have so far:

    The International Atomic Energy Agency said that “as a countermeasure to limit damage to the reactor core,” Tokyo Electric proposed injecting seawater mixed with boron – which can choke off a nuclear reaction – and it began to do that at 10:20 p.m. Saturday.

    It was a desperation move: The corrosive seawater will essentially disable the 40-year-old plant; the decision to flood the core amounted to a decision to abandon the facility. But even that operation has not been easy.

    To pump in the water, the Japanese have apparently tried used fire-fighting equipment – hardly the usual procedure. But forcing the seawater inside the containment vessel has been difficult because the pressure in the vessel has become so great.

    One American official likened the process to “trying to pour water into an inflated balloon,” and said that on Sunday it was “not clear how much water they are getting in, or whether they are covering the cores.”

    The problem was compounded because gauges in the reactor seemed to have been damaged in the earthquake or tsunami, making it impossible to know just how much water is in the core.

    And workers at the pumping operation are presumed to be exposed to radiation; several workers, according to Japanese reports, have been treated for radiation poisoning. It is not clear how severe their exposure was.

    David E Sanger and Matthew E Wald – Radioactive Releases in Japan Could Last Months, Experts Say NYT 13 Mar 11

    Not only that but by using impure seawater there is a significantly increased likelihood that trace elements in the water, if exposed to radiation, would increase the potential radioactive material in the released steam.  Honestly, this is not sounding like a “decay heat” situation any longer but a corium mass which has to be constantly cooled to inhibit nuclear activity.

    Apologies to the NYT regarding “fair use” issues but these comments seem worth repeating.

  13. Shaun Appleby

    About this:

    The Pentagon was expected to announce that the aircraft carrier Ronald Reagan, which is sailing in the Pacific, passed through a radioactive cloud from stricken nuclear reactors in Japan, causing crew members on deck to receive a month’s worth of radiation in about an hour, government officials said Sunday.

    The officials added that American helicopters flying missions about 60 miles north of the damaged reactors became coated with particulate radiation that had to be washed off.

    William J Broad – Military Crew Said to Be Exposed to Radiation, but Officials Call Risk in U.S. Slight NYT 13 Mar 11

    A month’s worth of radiation isn’t much, really.  Probably good news all things considered.  Rest of the article is about precautions being taken by US authorities in the Pacific and on the West Coast.

  14. Shaun Appleby

    How this could get worse, but here’s a start:

    TOKYO – Cooling functions have stopped and water levels are falling in the No.2 reactor at Tokyo Electric Power Co’s Fukumshma Daiichi nuclear plant damaged by a powerful earthquake, Jiji news agency said on Monday.

    Cooling functions stop at Japan nuclear reactor: Jiji Reuters via MSNBC 14 Mar 11

    That is the reactor between the two which have already experienced “partial” meltdown and facility explosions.

  15. Shaun Appleby

    The containment of these GE BWRs has known vulnerabilities:

    While the authorities continue playing down the possibility of a breach of the primary containment at these reactors, I remain concerned. Fukushima Dai-Ichi reactor Units 1, 2, and 3 are boiling water reactors with Mark I containments. The Mark I is unusually vulnerable to containment failure in the event of a core-melt accident. A recent study by Sandia National Laboratories shows that the likelihood of containment failure in this case is nearly 42% (see Table 4-7 on page 97). The most likely failure scenario involves the molten fuel burning through the reactor vessel, spilling onto the containment floor, and spreading until it contacts and breeches the steel containment-vessel wall. 

    The Sandia report characterizes these probabilities as “quite high.”  It’s not straightforward to interpret these results in the context of the very complicated and uncertain situation at Fukushima. But they are a clear indication of a worrisome vulnerability of the Mark I containment should the core completely melt and escape the reactor vessel.

    Ed Lyman – Sunday Update on Fukushima Reactors All Things Nuclear 13 Mar 11

    Not reassuring at this point.

  16. most of my writing is done online, so it is no longer likely I’ll have to literally eat my words. However, virtual mastication* isn’t any more enjoyable. While I may find myself supporting the use of nuclear power in the future, that support will be tempered by the realization of the true hidden costs of nuclear power to people like you or those who may be affected in Japan.

    * This isn’t the first time I’ve had to eat my words on the Moose. The lingering taste tends to teach one humility.

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