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John Passant

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March 2011



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Me interviewed by Sharon Firebrace on Razor Sharp on Tuesday 18 February. (0)

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Why nuclear is not safe

On 21 December 1999 Hisashi Ouchi died in the University of Tokyo hospital as a result of an industrial accident at the Tokaimura Nuclear Fuel Processing Plant where he worked.

On the morning of 30 September Hisashi and two of his colleagues were completing the final steps in the production of uranyl nitrate, the fuel of the Joyo experimental reactor.

None of the three workers were aware of the dangers of this procedure and only one of them had ever been involved in the process before. They followed the safety manual provided for them by their employer, which instructed them to mix the oxide and nitric acid in 10-litre stainless steel buckets rather than in the dissolving tank.

Then, as they were rushed to finish their task before the next shift started, they added the bucket contents directly to the precipitation tank rather than to the buffer tank. The buffer tank was designed to stop the onset of nuclear fusion. As Masato Shinohara poured the final bucket of the uranyl nitrate solution into the precipitation tank the men saw a blue flash and immediately began to experience pain, waves of nausea, difficulty in breathing, and problems with mobility and coherence.

They had created a self-sustaining chain reaction that lasted for 20 hours, exposed 300,000 people to radiation and which killed both Hisashi and Masato. Hisashi was given the best medical treatment Japan could provide, including daily blood transfusions and the world’s first transfusion of peripheral stem cells. None of this could save his life.

His immune system had been utterly destroyed by the radiation exposure; it was only a matter of time. During his remaining 83 days no amount of pain killers could relieve his extreme and obvious pain as his skin melted off and his intestines haemorrhaged blood. His wife was advised not stand next to his bedside because of the risks of radiation. He was 35 years old.

The nuclear industry makes lots of claims about how safe nuclear power is. They lie. Every step of the nuclear power process produces vast quantities of nuclear waste, which is disastrous to human health, and will be for thousands of years. In order to make more and more money off their investments the nuclear power bosses cut costs; they don’t train their staff properly; they speed up work process; they use shoddy equipment: and accidents expose millions to the dangers of radiation.

The World Nuclear Organisation, a peak body for the nuclear industry, claims only 56 people died as a result of the Chernobyl meltdown. The UN estimates 15,000 to 30,000 people died.

The World Nuclear Organisation’s “Safety of Nuclear Power Reactors” report claims: “Apart from Chernobyl, no nuclear workers or members of the public have ever died as a result of exposure to radiation due to a commercial nuclear reactor incident.” The accident at Tokaimura doesn’t count, they claim, because it was at a fuel preparation plant for experimental reactors.

There are three major nuclear accidents acknowledge by the nuclear industry: Three Mile Island in 1979, Chernobyl in 1986, and the presently unfolding disaster at Fukushima.

The meltdown at Three Mile Island spewed radiation across the surrounding population. There are serious concerns about the government’s actions in relation to the radioactive leak and no ongoing investigation into the health impacts on the local population was ever made. A study by Columbia University concluded there were no significant health impacts, although other scientists interpret their data much differently.

Studies that were conducted by local residents like Jane Lee and Mary Osborne – who went door-to-door in neighbourhoods where the fallout was thought to be worst – showed substantial numbers of cancer, leukaemia, birth defects, respiratory problems, hair loss, rashes, lesions and much more.

Radiation is present in the environment from naturally occurring sources, like the sun. This is called background radiation. Exposure to more radiation than background levels is dangerous to a person’s health, even at a low level increase. It has been scientifically established that low-level radiation damages tissues, cells, DNA and vital molecules.

Effects of low-level radiation doses include cell death, genetic mutations, cancers, leukaemia, birth defects, and reproductive, immune and endocrine system disorders. Despite this, the nuclear energy industry is extensive. At the end of 2009 there were 437 nuclear energy power plants in the world. 127 of them were more then 30 years old.

This nuclear industry releases its destructive by-products into the environment as part of the production process. For example the US government regulations allow radioactive water to be released into the environment at “permissible” levels.

Radiation leaks and spills are common in the nuclear energy industry; finding out about them is much more difficult. Even the International Atomic Energy Agency, the body whose job it is to monitor these events, admits: “In many Member States … information about significant events are not being shared…. In addition, low level events and near misses are not generally shared amongst Member States.”

One such example of a “low level event” happened in Johannesburg on 12 September 2010. Ninety-one workers were exposed to radiation at the Koeberg power plant whilst doing maintenance work. The event was treated as trivial by the company. A spokesperson remarked “Frankly, they would pick up more radiation from a couple of plane trips to Jo’burg.”

Workers were not even immediately evacuated from the work site although the company did offer counselling about the contamination. In the words of the company spokesperson: “We had a chat with the workers because the issue was an emotional one.” These workers had been exposed to cobalt 58. This radioactive material can cause lung damage, and changes in the genetic materials within cells, which may result in the development of some types of cancer.

Is it any wonder then that those who work in the nuclear energy industry suffer adverse health effects? More then 1 million people world wide have worked in the nuclear industry since its establishment in the early to mid 1940s and most of these people have been exposed to long term above average levels of radiation.

A 2009 report produced by the UK government found that these workers are more likely to develop cancers such as leukaemia then those who work in other industries. Other studies point to greater occurrence of multiple myeloma (a cancer of the plasma cells) and lung cancer.

At all stages of production nuclear power is dangerous to people’s health. Uranium mining has been proven to be especially dangerous. One of the particularly disturbing effects of uranium mining was found in an investigation in New Mexico: babies from mothers who lived in the area of the mine were significantly more likely to be born with birth defects.

Companies involved in the nuclear industry constantly claim that what they are doing is not dangerous. Take for example Areva. Areva is a French state-owned company that mines uranium that supplies France’s nuclear power plants. The company operates a uranium mine in northern Niger. The company never informed its workers uranium was dangerous. They never provided any protective clothing until after the Chernobyl reactor accident; then they only gave their workers a paper respiratory mask to wear.

From the city of Arlit a massive hill made up of 35 million tons of waste material from the mine is visible. Although the uranium has already been extracted from the material, it retains 85 per cent of its radiation, stemming from substances like radium and thorium, which have half-lives measured in thousands of years.

The waste material lies there, uncovered, exposed to the desert winds. Residents grow tomatoes and lettuce between the waste dump and the city. A total of 80,000 people live in the two cities which service the mines. Well water is radioactively contaminated, and precious fossil groundwater is used in the uranium ore processing plant.

Uranium mining is dangerous wherever it happens. The Sydney Morning Herald reported in June 2010 that workers at the Olympic Dam uranium mine had been exposed to unsafe levels of polonium-210, the toxic by-product of uranium production, over a long period of time. The mines owners, BHP Billiton, were aware of the dangers for some years but instead of fixing the issue the company manipulated sampling results. Then there is the accident at Ranger Uranium Mine in 2004: uranium contaminated water was added to the system that supplied drinking water. The employees at the mine drank and showered in uranium until the mistake was discovered.

At the other end of the production cycle nuclear power plants produce extremely toxic radioactive wastes. This waste will be radioactive for thousands of years and there is no safe way to store or dispose of it. Currently spent fuel rods are stored in a storage pools next to the reactor. This pool must be kept full of boric acid to absorb some of the radiation.

If the rods are placed too close to each other it could start a nuclear chain reaction. There is concern about the level of overcrowding in storage pools around the world. Rods can be stored in dry cask storage containers above ground but this is again only a temporary storage solution. No viable way has yet been proposed to safely store this radioactive material for the next thousand years.

They tell us nuclear energy is safe. It obviously is not. The entire filthy industry is dangerous to its core and should be shut down – from the uranium mines to power plants. There is no way nuclear power could ever be safe. Fukushima is only the most recent example of the industry’s history of destruction.

This article, by Naomi Farmer, first appeared in Socialist Alternative.



Comment from Eric Smith
Time March 30, 2011 at 8:00 pm

Thanks John, now to convince the powers that be…

Comment from Auntie Rhoberta
Time March 30, 2011 at 8:07 pm

ALL major industries, especially under capitalism, are dangerous and filthy. Shut them down too?

Comment from Ross
Time March 31, 2011 at 5:21 pm

At Fukushima they were using old technology ,poor,designs and wrong locations.40 yrs of spent fuel rods were stored just above the main reactors.Uranium should not be used at all.Thorium is far safer emiting less radiation but the Corps want to get the most out of old dangerous technology before they move on.The production of plutonium is also profitable for the nuke arms industry.The USA is also using depleted Uranium on their shells and bullets.So the waste has a market also.DU is presently being used on Libyan citizens so they can be free.

Go to There are many articles explaining what is really happening.

The Japanese Govt says that the backgound radiation levels are not bad.This is not an indication of safety.R.A Iodine are at levels 4000 times normal.Only small amount will affect your health adversely if it enters your body and becomes part of your metabolism.It then becomes a permanent internal source of cell destruction also causing genetic dysfunction.

They cannot find the means by which this RA Iodine is reaching the oceans.They deny melt down,meaning the core of the reactor has melted though the floor and deep into the earth entering the water table.This may have happened and will explain how the radiation is secretly reaching the ocean.

The nuclear industry is still in its infancy.We cannot rely on private Corps to self regulate.Unlike John, I don’t say have out right bans, but better technology and far better regulations with independant inspections.

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